So, the time has come. The set has been lit, the camera moves have been rehearsed, the actors know their lines, exorbitant salaries have been paid or crazed volunteers recruited, the sun is at the perfect level, the mood is expectant, and it is Time to Make a Movie. Here's how it goes:
Amidst the controlled chaos brought on by up to seven different crews (camera, lighting, grip, sound, wardrobe, makeup, and special effects), all trying to do their thing, the AD is yelling things like, "Is camera ready? Is costume ready? Is the rain ready?" Finally, as the moment nears, things begin to calm down a little bit. Grips, electricians, wardrobe, and makeup people all stand aside while camera and sound people move in. The actors, fresh from makeup and running lines in the trailer, thread their way through a forest of C-stands looking for their mark. "Rehearsal is up," calls the AD, sometimes followed by, "Settle, please!"—a request for quiet. When things have mostly calmed down, the actors will run another rehearsal. If there are camera moves involved, the camera crew and dolly grip will rehearse them, as well.24 Once everyone is clear, the AD may yell, "Last looks!" This is the cue for all the art directors, props people, greensmen, and so forth to take one last look at the set (and the monitor) to make sure that every little thing is in place. Then, it's time for:
"Picture is up!"
When picture is up, we're actually going to roll film. From this point forward, there should be a predictable, reassuring series of commands from the AD and the director. This rhythm helps people deal with the stress and focus on the goal: create a few minutes (or seconds) of usable film.
"Quiet, please!" from the AD. At this point, if there are PAs on radios outside the set or soundstage, they will be notified that the scene is about to begin. They should call out to everyone in earshot: "We're rolling!" If you haven't already done so, TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE AND YOUR PAGER.
"Roll sound!" from the AD.
Sound is always rolled before the film for one simple reason: It's cheaper. Thirty-five millimeter film runs at ninety feet per minute and costs anywhere from fifty cents to two bucks a foot, including the processing. I usually tell people that if the camera is rolling, you are spending a hundred bucks a minute. Audiotape is dirt cheap compared to that. Therefore, sound rolls first.
When the sound rolls, you might see a flashing red light, called a wigwag, come on. It looks like a rotating police beacon, but it is connected to the soundman's tape deck. Whenever that deck is rolling, that light will flash, telling everyone to shut up, stand still, and for God's sake, don't yank open the soundstage door and yell that lunch is ready. When the wigwag comes on, whatever you are doing, just sit tight until it goes off.
24 There is a school of thought in high-budget filmmaking that you should always film the rehearsal, on the theory that, who knows, they might nail it the first time. If you can afford to commit the film, this approach takes advantage of the freshness that the actors bring to the scene when they first come onto the set. If you are shooting just two or three takes, you risk wasting that film on a rehearsal that isn't good enough for the film.
In older times, it took a few seconds for tape decks and cameras to get up to speed, so when the machine was ready to record, the sound mixer would yell, "Sound speed!" The tradition has hung on into the digital age, even though modern decks come up to speed instantly. Some mixers will yell, "Rolling!"
"Roll camera!" from the AD.
Now the real money is being spent, so we move quickly.
"Speed!" from the camera operator.
"Marker!" Now the AD is asking the person with the marker slate to step in front of the camera and "mark" the film. The marker slate, or clapper, is that black slate with the hinged bar on the top that you see in every Hollywood gift shop. On it is written the name of the film, the number of the shot, and various other information that will be useful to know in the editing suite, like which roll of audiotape we are currently recording on. Scene numbers come from the script. Every time the crew creates a new shot of the scene, it is given a new letter. For example, the first shot of scene 14 (usually the master) is called scene 14A. If the crew moves on to a different shot of the same scene—say, a two-shot—that would be 14B. As long as you are shooting the same piece of script, the scene number does not change, only the letter. Every time you do another take of the same shot, you get a new take number. The clapper (the term also refers to the person who does this job) steps in front of the camera and says the number of the shot and the take out loud. This marks the audiotape, as well. So, for example:
"Scene fourteen C, take three!" He then slaps down the little bar on the slate, providing a visual and audio cue that can be used to synchronize the film and tape later. He steps away and there is a moment of silence before the director says the magic word:
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