Planning Shoot Logistics

Up until this point, your production plan is working out smoothly. All the details, lists, and talent pool have all fallen into place nicely. You can almost smell the sweet success of your film being reviewed by gushing critics. But wait. What’s that foreboding haze coming over the horizon? It’s the netherworld of production logistics.

No, it’s not a nightmare, just a bit challenging at times. If you can find someone who has experience organizing three-ring circuses or herding stray cats, do whatever it takes to sign them on as your logistics coordinator. It’s an important job that deserves serious credit. Here’s why. If there’s one thing that can quickly turn your well-intentioned film shoot into a chaotic mess at your location, it’s poorly planned shoot logistics. Here’s an example.

Imagine having a talented host, two camerapersons, and one director driving to an early morning shoot in to a location that nobody checked out beforehand. Most of the crew has flown in from out of town and they only have the one morning to shoot a crucial segment. They arrive at the location to discover that the person in charge of the location is gone for the morning, nobody will sign the location or on-camera releases, and top it off with the fact that everyone who may be in front of the camera, other than your host, doesn’t speak English. Toss in unexpected overpowering location noise and dust and suddenly you realize that a bi-lingual logistics person to scout the site beforehand would have been worth their weight in P2 cards. Fortunately in this case the director spoke some Spanish, a cameraperson knew some construction site sign language and the host kept smiling. Collectively they saved what could have been a disrupted shoot. The take-home message here is plan the logistics on your shoots well ahead of time and cover all the details. Be sure to check all these boxes:

  • Location permits and permissions, including signing legal production releases
  • Location scouting for right visual fit, access, options, lighting, electricity, special needs for the segment
  • On-site experts or people who will also be in your film – on-camera releases (under 18 years old present special attention), apparel, planned roles.
  • Props and gear that fit the talent and science content.
  • Travel, food, lodging, changing rooms, bathrooms
  • Lighting, animals, trainers, special support crews
  • Secondary plans in event of rain, wind, location issues (consider setting up secondary location beforehand)
  • Duct tape, wire, tools, hot-melt glue, and a bullwhip.

Note that we haven’t mentioned props until this point. Some shoots won’t require many while others require all kinds of fancy or fun props. Your logistics person should have your props ready well in advance of your shoot by adding a special “props” section to your outline or script. The last thing you want is to be digging around for the right props during production with talent and cameras waiting on the sidelines. On bigger shoots, have each set of props arranged by their respective scenes. If they’re a functioning prop, with electrical or moving parts, be sure beforehand that they function properly for the intended action.

Written by Rob Nelson

Rob is an ecologist from the University of Hawaii. He is the co-creator and director of Untamed Science. His goal is to create videos and content that are entertaining, accurate, and educational. When he's not making science content, he races whitewater kayaks and works on Stone Age Man.

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