The Prep Day

5 minute read

by Jon

December 11, 2016

On many video projects, there’s not much time for preparation. We show up at the call time and the camera is rolling an hour later. But, having the right equipment ready-to-go takes planning. A prep day is critical the day before a shoot to get things ready.

First, I like to have a phone call to catch up with the producer. A lot of changes can happen between staffing and the shoot day. I cover the shoot goals, equipment expectations, and basic logistical stuff like parking and what to wear. We determine how to handle the data transfer and handoff. I ask about project format, codec, and colorspace. All that information helps me be sure I’m as prepared as possible.

Camera Prep

On video shoots with a large crew, the assistant camera is in charge of prepping the camera package. As crews have gotten smaller and ACs less common, the director of photography is often the one who puts the camera (or even multiple cameras) together. I always check and charge batteries the night before. On a one-camera shoot, I always pack a backup camera. Even well-maintained professional cameras sometimes don’t turn on or work properly.

If the camera is one I already own, prep can be just an hour or two. I make sure adapters and filters are where they are expected to be, media is formatted, and the camera settings match the project settings.

On a rented package, prep takes a bit more time. I assemble the pieces, try the camera out handheld and on a tripod, make sure adapters work, check back focus, and familiarize myself with the different menus. Preparing new equipment means version checking firmware and actually testing the camera. I make sure the kit includes enough batteries and media. Too many shoots get slowed down by not having key pieces of equipment checked and prepared at the start of the day.

Lighting Prep

When there is no lighting department, I’m also preparing for another job. I make sure the lighting, grip, and electrical kit will be appropriate for the shoot. Lighting interviews next to a window can require a totally different kit than shooting B-roll in a hallway. Some locations will have easy access to power, others will have power 100 feet away, and some will have no power available at all. If the crew is small, I also have to make sacrifices around size and weight.

I have a few lighting and grip pieces that are so useful, they are in my car on every shoot, but once I’m on location, I try to leave as much behind as I can. Bringing things like sand bags can feel a little silly, but safety is even more important when I don’t have anyone else helping with it. On the other hand, having all the things you need can get in the way of getting things done.

Sound Prep

On one-man-band gigs, I’m also running the sound department. A wireless lav is usually easiest to manage in this setting, but they aren’t always reliable. Having a second one on hand, with all the parts and extra batteries, is essential. Bringing a few vampire and other clips makes a lav easier to hide, but I also bring a shotgun microphone, boom, and cable for when a lav isn’t appropriate. And since I’m already working behind the camera, I can’t hold a boom, so I bring an extra C-stand, with a boom pole holder, to do that job. Of course, I also need to bring headphones any time I’m running audio.

Data Prep

Small crews almost never have a DIT or data wrangler. This means I need a laptop with multiple USB 3.0 ports, and sometimes a set of drives to offload the footage on. Since producers might bring a drive in any file system, the computer needs to support NTFS, HFS+, and exFAT.

Craft Services Prep

Another category of things I’ve learned to prepare are self-care items. This means bringing my own sun block, bug spray, hand warmers, etc. My car has a kit with winter gloves, steel toed boots, ear plugs, extra socks, an umbrella, and a first aid kit. I keep a cooler with a few bottles of water and a snack. All these things can make a big difference in keeping a shoot going as conditions change.

What do you bring along when you’re on set? How do you use your prep day? Share your feedback in the comments!