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WHAT I LEARNED FROM TAKING STILL PHOTOS DURING FILMING


Old shed on a cattle ranch in Petaluma

Being an indie producer allows for the occasional down time on set, especially with an experienced crew and an easy location.

Most of my job is done in prep before a single frame is shot. During filming, my role is generally that of problem-solver and den mother—making sure everyone's communicating well, keeping on schedule, doing things safely and eating during breaks. It's often a balancing act between keeping the cast and crew happy and keeping our location from being trashed.

Some days, it's a constant battle and nothing seems to go right. People get lost, the light keeps changing, leaf blowers are on full blast, and lunch is late.

Happily, last weekend went as smoothly as an indie shoot can expect to. Our locations were beautiful and easy to work in (easy access, plenty of parking, enough nearby shade, and generally quiet). Our actors were well-rehearsed and in the zone. And our crew were focused and flexible.

So while my feet ached at the end of the weekend like they always do after a shoot, I found that I had had enough down time to take a surprising number of photos. What was even more surprising was what I learned from them.

CATTLE RANCH IN PETALUMA

Rusted tools on the side of the barn

Rusted tools on an old work bench

Barn on a neighboring property

Forming a symbiotic relationship:

The rustic beauty of our century old ranch location provided a serene backdrop for a day of stressful filming. The owners of the ranch are both in their 90's. The husband was born in the house we were using, and had served in WWII. He still drives and oversees the property.

Knowing a little about the history of the house and ranch made me appreciate our role in adding to their story.

Films shot on location get much of their character and aesthetic from their locations. In turn, the films become a part of the local character. What visitor could separate Bodega and Bodega Bay from Hitchcock's The Birds (1963)? Petaluma, too, has a rich film history, from Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) to Lucas' American Graffiti (1973) to Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married (1986).

A friendly (and tiny) cow

Our audience

Flowering weeds

Holly?

HUDDART PARK IN WOODSIDE

Finding the character of a location in the details:

When shooting in a large outdoor location like a park, it's easy to lose track of the details all around. After a while, all trees and paths and picnic areas start to look alike, and the character of the location can get lost by virtue of its size.

Shooting stills during company moves, lunch breaks, and even between shots can focus the attention back on the details. Through the lens, colors appear more vibrant, textures pop, light glows. Patterns emerge and call out for attention. Areas become distinct, imbued with their own energy. Little by little, shot by shot, the park comes alive for me.

The act of shooting photos trains me to make the most of each location by highlighting its unique character and quirks.

Towering redwoods inHuddart Park, Woodside

Stall lock in the public restroom

Mossy fence near The Meadow

Looking back on last weekend's location photos, I am reminded of how lucky I am to work in film and shoot in such lovely places. Through the filming process, I get to know a location fairly well and connect with it in a way that few do. I hope I still feel that way on my 100th film. If I keep taking the time to snap some stills along the way, I have a feeling I will.

#WaspMenFromMars

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© 2016 Tora Chung

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