When you’re working on film sets at such a fast pace with an aggressive schedule, days muddle together. The demons of sleepless nights, hard work, and long hours all blur the experience and leave you wondering, “What happened?”
Pictures and production stills provide clarity to this mess of recollections, but it isn’t always feasible to take your own on set.
Finding (and Stealing) the Idea
The idea I stole came from a friend of mine who’s a grip. One week while he was working, I noticed that he kept posting a picture every morning on Facebook.
On the first day, I scrolled past it and didn’t pay any attention.
But after the fifth consecutive day, curiosity struck and I clicked through to the album. In every picture, my friend had placed a little notecard on a C-stand that read “Day 1” or “Day 5” and took a picture of it off to the side of the frame. In the background of the picture was general production work going on — setting marks, scenes being lit, cameras on cranes.
As I scrolled through the week’s pictures, I thought it was a brilliant idea. That simple notecard somehow transformed a normally boring album of production stills into an interesting visual progression of a film shoot.
That’s when I stole his idea.
I decided that the next shoot I was on, I would do a camera department version.
A Picture a Day
That next shoot I explained the idea of a picture everyday to the director of photography (DP). I told him how I wanted to do it because production stills help preserve memories and are neat to look at after a show is wrapped. He liked the idea and agreed with me about the value that on set photos provide.
So, on the first day, we wrote “Day 1” in big bold letters on the back of the slate and took a picture.
We went on to do this for every day of the shoot.
Sometimes we used my point and shoot camera, other times we used a phone. It didn’t matter as long as we got the picture.
With this method, at the end of the shoot, we’d have at least 20 pictures that were decently interesting and represented the diversity of the locations that we filmed at.
The slate pictures became a daily tradition and were a lot of fun. We always tried to find the best part of each location or the most fascinating event happening.
We recruited actors and actresses, other crew, and always incorporated what we thought best described each day of the shoot. You can really see the variety of the photos in the mosaic above.
It turned out to be a great way to document the entire production process.
Go Take Your Own Production Stills
I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I love production stills and photographs from set. It’s part of the reason that every blog post on The Black and Blue features a big image at the top — in fact, many of the pictures I’ve used on posts are from this “daily slate picture” method.
So my assignment for you is to create your own production diary by taking one picture per shoot day on your next gig, no matter what.
Don’t worry about the composition, or the lighting, or the camera you’re shooting with. It’s not about pictures that look good, but pictures that remind you of your time on set.
You often enjoy the adventure of filmmaking more than the finished product, so are you going to let those memories slip away?
Do you take production stills on set? What kind of images are you favorite to look at from other productions?