Many of the problems You encounter during film production can be prevented. Anticipate what might go wrong and prepare for it.
This isn't a complete list of the prep you should do, or what you should have in your kit bag. But there's enough here to prevent some of the problems you'll encounter.
- The biggest cause of problems on-set is human error. Ideally you'll be completely familiar with all the kit you're using. But when you're a beginner and you're still learning, it's not always possible. Also firmware updates can make unexpected changes to your equipment.
Have the latest manuals for all your equipment on your phone. If there’s something you’re not sure about, you can use them for reference.
If there’s firmware updates for your equipment, first check on forums to make sure there’s no issues with the update. If it looks good, update the firmware. Always read the release notes to see what’s been added and what’s changed.
Ultimately nothing beats knowing your equipment inside out and back to front. But this is something that happens with time and practice. While you’re still learning make a list of all the kit and accessories you need for your project. The day before production starts, make a check list of all the important settings on your devices and go through it.
Learn from your mistakes!
- The second most common problem is faulty cables. You can also encounter duff media cards, dead batteries, blown fuses and loose screws.
Always being prepared solves a lot of problems. I suggest you always carry spares of the following:
- Cables: video, audio, power and data
- Media cards, fresh from being formatted on your computer
- Batteries for your camera, external monitor, radio mics, LED lights and indeed anything else that uses battery power
- Carry battery chargers. Ones that connect to the mains output and to the cigarette lighter in a car are especially useful. *
- Lamps for hot lights, tubes for fluorescent lights. With LED lights, you usually can’t replace the lighting element.
- Fuses for plugs and lights
It’s a good idea to always have a selection of cable adaptors in case you need them. BNC barrels are handy for extending SDI cables. XLR sex-changers can be useful, not all audio mixers use the same connectors for their inputs.
Always carry a selection of tools for dealing with loose screws on tripods and other camera supports. A screwdriver with interchangeable heads, including hex (Allen) drivers, is essential. Other useful tools are pliers, a strap wrench and a soldering iron.
Gaffer tape is the international cure-all for a range of on-set ailments. Always carry a roll… dammit, carry two.
* Don’t charge drone batteries in a car. There’s a risk of fire with LiPo batteries and care should always be taken with charging and storage.
- Shooting in a location without permission or without notifying the relevant authorities can cause problems.
If you’re shooting in a public area, you might need to inform the police. It’s especially important if the scene involves fighting, guns or other activity that could alarm the public.
If you’re shooting in a privately owned location, contact the relevant organisation for permission to film there. Make sure it’s in the form of an official letter. And take the letter with you on the shoot.
It’s surprising how many areas that appear public are actually privately owned. You might only find out when security guards arrive to stop you filming. Don’t assume, always check.
- There are a variety of dangers you can encounter when shooting on location.
Always have the phone number and address for the nearest hospital and drop-in centre on the call sheet. Store them in your phone contacts as well.
Always do a risk assessment for the location and make it available to all cast and crew. If there’s an incident, it’s your proof that you considered potential problems and took steps to mitigate them.
Specialist equipment such as drones and large cranes are in a safety category all of their own. Always work with a qualified and experience operator. They will be responsible for their own risk assessment and they should give the cast and crew a safety briefing.
If someone expresses concern about a certain situation, always take them seriously and do what you can to reduce the potential danger.
Don’t take unnecessary risks! There’s no point getting an amazing shot if someone’s hurt in the process.
The effects of temperature and humidity on your camera
- How does temperature and humidity impact the performance of your camera? Moving between extremes of temperature or humidity can cause condensation in the lens. Working it hot temperatures can cause the camera to overheat. Working in cold temperatures can shorten the battery life.
All electrical equipment has certain tolerances. Check the manual for recommended temperature and humidity ranges.
To prevent condensation, leave the camera in its bag for a few hours to acclimatise. If you’re shooting in the cold tomorrow, put the camera in its bag and leave in an unheated room overnight. Putting the camera in it’s bag or even in a resealable plastic bag can help prevent condensation when moving between temperature zones.
If you do get condensation in your camera, use DC power and leave the camera switched on until the condensation disappears. This can take a few hours.
To prevent overheating, place an ice pack near the camera when working in hot temperatures. Use an umbrella to keep direct sunlight off the camera.
If you see the overheating warning, switch the camera off and give it a few minutes to cool down.
When shooting in the cold, you’ll need more spare batteries if you’re planning to shoot all day. If possible, keep the batteries somewhere warm when they’re not in use.
- When using electrical equipment there is always a potential risk. If an item is damaged or there's a loose wire, the chance of an electric shock is increased.
If you hire electrical equipment, it will be tested by the rental house, so you don’t need to be concerned. But do check the equipment has a sticker saying the test is in date. If you’re concerned, you can ask to see proof a test has been carried out.
If it’s equipment you own or you’ve borrowed from a friend, it’s a good idea to have it tested. Requirements vary between different countries. Here in Britain, we have the Portable Appliance Test, or PAT for short. A PAT isn’t a legal requirement in the UK. But in the event of an accident, the test certificate is proof you took steps to mitigate risk. It will also be taken into consideration if there’s an insurance claim.
Make sure you check the testing system and legal requirements in your country.