What I Learned On My First Production Shoot

What I Learned On My First Production Shoot

It’s me, Nolan the intern again. Not too long ago, I went on my first shoot with Company Man Studios. The fresh-faced intern with zero experience on set was allowed to come along on an important shoot for Buddy Brew Coffee and do important things like move boxes and hold $70,000 cameras. 

I was scheduled to be a production assistant, which basically meant doing anything the staff needed me to do. I, of course, didn’t really know what to expect. What was built up in my head as a daunting task of mass proportions turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences in recent years.

When I first started at CMS, I floated the idea along that I’d like to be on a set. Maybe a month later, I was packed up along with the equipment and unloaded on set. It’s not that I never expected to experience a shoot, I just never expected to take an active role.

By lunch that day, I had held a few lights, moved some things and handled expensive equipment. More importantly, I was given a chance to suggest things, something I didn’t think I’d get to do. Mostly, I was the guy holding the light, which was still a cool experience for me. 

Looking back at some of the footage I thought, “Hey, I was there.” I wasn’t just a spectator on the sidelines like many puzzled coffee shop-goers in observance that day. I had actively contributed, which was the most rewarding part for me.

From my time being a PA on my first shoot, I picked up a few things. Here’s what I learned.

CMS crew on set filming

That’s me on the left, keeping a safe distance of at least 39.7563 centimeters away.

Don’t Get In The Way (Easier Said Than Done)

I’m not saying that I was constantly in the way, but I did feel like things were swirling around me at times. Everyone (and everything) was constantly on the move. Whether it was a different angle, increased lighting intensity, new poses or props, things were constantly in motion, which meant I was always on my toes.

Watch out! We’re moving to the other side of the room.

Heads up! We’re moving this chair out of the shot.

Quick, quick, quick! We don’t want to be here all day.

I was close enough to where I could follow along, learn and offer help when it was needed. I didn’t stay too close to the point where I was getting in the way. Somehow I found a happy medium, and I know those on set who were actually working greatly appreciated it. Luckily, I took to the setting rather quickly. I’ve been a sports writer for over a year and a half, so I wasn’t a stranger to a fast-paced environment with lots going on at once. If I didn’t have that experience, I think I would’ve struggled to adapt.

Essentially, stay out of the way while being prepared to act quickly — something easier said than done but something I was all-too-familiar with.

CMS crew using EZ Rig to get the shot

Getting the right shot is far from 1-2-done. It can mean you’re working well past normal hours.

Prepare For Long Hours 

Some people think a shoot is an hour at most, with a couple takes and, boom, that’s a wrap. Very rarely does it work out that way. Shoots are long, arduous and sometimes frustrating. 

You won’t always get the right conditions for lighting, schedules conflict with shoot times and so much more can extend the length of a shoot. A lot of times you just want to get as much footage as you can in one sitting. Scheduling another day to shoot is time-consuming and definitely adds to the cost. The shoot I took part in went from 9:30 in the morning to 8:30 at night. It was also a relatively straightforward shoot, too. 

There’s no set amount of time a shoot can take — sometimes you wrap early, sometimes you may be there past scheduled wrap — just be on your toes and alert no matter the time.

Again, I think my experience in sports journalism prepared me for long hours. There have been countless days where I’ve worked 12+ hours. My first time covering a football game was a 14-hour day.

Being on set is truly a labor of love. You’ll be so busy or having so much fun, you’ll hardly realize how much time has passed. If you’re constantly moving, time passes quickly. Occasionally keep an eye on the clock, but don’t stare. 

Enjoy the process.

CMS crew getting creative with camera angles

Nailing the right shot takes a bit of creative problem-solving.

It’s All About Trial And Error

While there’s typically a set plan for what the end product is, some shoots can be described by a variation of one phrase — “Let’s try this.”

A single shot will be taken multiple times with slight tweaks to the approach. Or the shot is entirely switched up for something different. 

Watching our DP Kris is rewarding on its own. He’s quite good at what he does, for starters. He’s also constantly experimenting with different angles, lenses and new ways to find the right shot. 

Maybe it’s not the perfect shot, but damn, it looks good, so we’ll try it again but with a different approach.

Each shot is a chance to make something better. I quickly learned that videography is truly a science — using a mix of proven methods and whatever makes you say, “What if we did this?”

If you get a shot that looks cool, do it again with slight variations. Never be afraid to try new things, no matter how much experience you have. However, if you’re on a tight deadline or banking on sunlight, move quickly.

Some shoots are more structured, and you’ll probably know every shot before you even step on set. Still, be prepared for a curveball that may come your way. Hell, embrace the curveball and make the most of it. 

Just because you’re working toward a quality end product doesn’t mean you can have fun along the way.

Don’t Forget To Have Fun

Who said work can’t be fun? Whoever did clearly didn’t value what they did. When you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll value the process, and there’s a good chance the end product will turn out really well.

People don’t put their full energy into a project they’re not enjoying. That goes for anything in life.

When there’s an end product like a video, each shot should be taken seriously in order to get it right, yes, but if you’re not having a good time and you don’t feel a sense of satisfaction when you pull off a good shot, then there’s a good chance you won’t nail it. 

When it comes time to wrap, there should be some satisfaction. It won’t be pure joy, as it may not have exactly gone your way, but there should be something to feel good about.

After we nailed our last shot for the day, a few high-fives and fist pumps flew around the set. It was done, and damn, it was gonna be good.

It’s not unlike the feeling when finishing a marathon — maybe you’re exhausted, sweaty and gross, but you feel good. You feel like you did something worthwhile. Anyone who has worked with a production agency knows the feeling.

Reviewing the shot on the camera display

To think that was just my first rodeo has me buzzing at the thought of taking part in more shoots. It’s going to be tough, gritty and maybe it won’t always go as planned, but at the end of the day, it’ll be well worth it.