A Day on Set

By Rose Frankel

While completing my first official and necessary job as part of a production team -- picking up the bagels -- I realized this would be the real deal. Until a few weeks ago when I worked behind the camera filming interviews of CUNY Film Festival filmmakers I had not been a part of a legitimate production team, ever. From assembling both cameras on their tripods along with the audio equipment, to arranging and rearranging our set, averting unforeseen potential disasters, and constantly trying to frame that perfect shot, I truly feel that I've taken the first step of what I hope to be many in a career of behind the scenes production and camera work.
After dropping the bagels on the counter I dragged the necessary equipment out of the Macaulay New Media and Digital Contents Lab's film cage and assembled everything we would need to shoot, sound and all, in about twenty-five minutes. I had been setting up and shooting with the Canon C100 for a few months in both our regular classes and mock interviews, so I felt pretty prepared for the day. Our first interviewee was not due for another few hours, so I found myself wondering why we were there so early -- until Professor Small walked into the room and immediately started listing the problems we would unexpectedly have to face because of "the tent". Yes, a white tent had been built over our set. Our team was forced to reconfigure much of our set, most notably our extensively thought-out, pre-analyzed lighting plans and prop placement. Our first interview arrived and it was a couple not a single. Once again we had to reconfigure, this time in a matter of minutes, to fit two people comfortably in the shot previously perfected for one. My first and probably most important lesson on set had already been learned: be ready for absolutely anything and everything, including possible baby showers happening the next day that require decorative indoor tents.
With our guests finally seated and mic'd, I took my place behind Camera One. After a final call of "quiet on set!" Both cameras started rolling, the clapboard clapped, and our interviewers started firing their questions. I was amazed at how well both interviewers knew every movie that was being spoken about that day, and how clear their familiarity was made to everyone in the room by their in-depth questions. Lesson two of the day: always research and prepare for a day on set as much as possible. A list of diligently prepared questions not only made for more specific and interesting answers, but it obviously made the filmmakers more comfortable in their environment and on screen.
As the interviews progressed, so did our ease with the set. Many small changes had to be initiated between and sometimes even in the middle of interviews. For example, one of our interviewees had really dark hair; the lighting had to be adjusted so that there was enough contrast with our black background. In some of our double interviews, one person was significantly taller than the other; the props had to be rearranged so that they did not look strange proportionally in the background, along with more of the already constant lighting changes so that it would both people in just the right ways from the front and the back. Lesson three: roll with the punches, and don't be afraid to mess around until you get that perfect shot. It really is the little things that will bring a shoot to the next level.
The interviews were a resounding success. Our crew had a great time creating, executing and learning about the production aspects, and we recorded a ton of great and interesting information from the filmmakers. My final, personal lesson from our production set is that I am more sure and happy with my career choice than ever. Many of our filmmakers discussed their happiness in doing what they loved and their excitement for the opportunity to be involved in the CUNY Film Festival at Macaulay Honors College. As for me filming them on a legitimate production set with dreams of working as a producer one day, I felt just as happy. One of the filmmakers that we interviewed used the word "chaotic" to describe the filming experience; chaos and all, I absolutely love camerawork and production, and I cannot wait to get back on set again.