Principal photography

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Principal photography is the phase of film production in which the bulk of the movie is filmed, with actors on set and cameras rolling, as distinct from pre-production and post-production. [1] [2]



Besides the main film personnel, such as actors, director, cinematographer or sound engineer and their respective assistants (assistant director, camera assistant, boom operator), the unit production manager plays a decisive role in principal photography. They are responsible for the daily implementation of the shoot, managing the daily call sheet, the location barriers, transportation and catering.

In addition, there are numerous other roles that serve the organization and the orderly sequence of the production, such as grips or gaffers. Other roles are related with the preparation of a daily production report, which shows the progress of the production compared to the schedule and contains further reports. This includes the storyboard with instructions for the copier and the editing room, the continuity notes for compliance with editing details and a report on unforeseen events. In addition, a sound report is created, which, similar to the production report, contains detailed information on the recorded material, but with regard to the sound recordings. Other typical roles during filming are the script supervisor to record changes to the script and the still photographer to produce images for advertising and documentation.



Principal photography can take place in a studio or in an actual setting, and the choice of location depends on artistic and economic aspects. While shooting in a sound stage offers more accurate planning, constructing sets may be expensive. Costs and artistic reasons (see French New Wave and Dogma 95) are the main drives behind filming on location. However, outdoor shooting requires more effort because equipment and personnel must be transported to the location. In the early days of cinema, filmmakers tried to film outdoors as much as possible, as sunlight allowed exposure of the still relatively insensitive film; nowadays, due to the increased use of CGI, more shooting is done in a studio.

Depending on the laws of the respective country, the producer must obtain filming permits from private individuals, authorities or companies for the selected locations before filming begins. An extensive production may require closing the area with signs and diversions. A filming permit within an urban area usually requires a fee, which depends on the complexity and scope of the filming as well as the attractiveness of the location.

Once the locations have been set, the screenplay is summarized in a script breakdown with all information relevant to the shooting. The organizational sequence of the shooting is then created in the form of the shooting schedule, specifying the locations, decorations and the necessary personnel and equipment, sorted by date and time. The sequence of the scenes to be shot is not chronological but depends on organizational aspects such as the availability of the actors and, in the case of outdoor shots, on the season, weather and light conditions.

There is also a production breakdown for each day of shooting, which summarizes the relevant information from the schedule and lists exactly who has to be on the set for a planned daily shoot. At the same time, it provides information about the scene numbers, script pages and locations relevant for the day, as well as the necessary equipment.

Feature films usually have insurance in place by the time principal photography begins. The death of a bankable star before completing all planned takes or the loss of sets or footage can render a film impossible to complete as planned. Furthermore, professional quality movie cameras are usually rented as needed, and most camera houses do not allow rentals of their equipment without proof of insurance. [3]

Main shooting

Principal photography is typically the most expensive phase of film production, due to actor, director, and set crew salaries, as well as the costs of certain shots, props, and on-set special effects. [1] [4] When filming begins, the preparation time is over: the final version of the script is done, the cast has been selected, and the buildings on the set have largely been completed. That generally marks a point of no return for the financiers, because until it is complete, there is unlikely to be enough material filmed to release a final product needed to recoup costs. [4] While it is common for a film to lose its greenlight status during pre production – for example, when an essential cast member drops out or unexpectedly dies, or some scandal engulfs the studio or an actor – it is rare for the film to lose financing once principal photography has begun. [4]

Immediately before a take is shot, the scene is rehearsed with camera, light and sound. Most American productions follow a specific procedure:

The assistant director (AD) calls "picture is up!" to inform everyone that a take is about to be recorded, and then "quiet, everyone!" Once everyone is ready to shoot, the AD calls "roll sound" (if the take involves sound), and the production sound mixer will start their equipment, record a verbal slate of the take's information, and announce "sound speed", or just "speed", when they are ready. The AD follows with "roll camera", answered by "speed!" by the camera operator once the camera is recording. The clapper, who is already in front of the camera with the clapperboard, calls "marker!" and slaps it shut. If the take involves extras or background action, the AD will cue them ("action background!"), and last is the director, telling the actors "action!". The AD may echo "action" louder on large sets.

A take is over when the director calls "Cut!" and the camera and sound stop recording. The ritual helps the general concentration at the location and allows saving costs by only recording the scene rather than the preparation for the scene. Each shot is repeated until the director is satisfied with it.

In addition to the actual film crew that does the principal photography (unit), there may be a second team (second unit), which in turn comprises a full film crew with its own director, especially for more complex productions. The second unit works independently but in coordination with the director of the overall project and is responsible for city and landscape shots, establishing shots and intermediate images as well as for mass, action and stunt scenes.

The length of the filming depends not only on the length of the film, but also on the number and type of locations. The shooting time for a 90-minute film in Europe is 12 to 100 days. In the USA, depending on the film project, a shooting time of 15 to 20, 40 to 50 or, for larger productions, 80 to 100 days is used as a basis for studio productions, although in other countries the shooting takes considerably longer. Because of breaks in recording and subsequent shoots that are difficult to calculate, the principal photography is usually planned longer than actually necessary.

Once a film concludes principal photography, it is said to have wrapped, and a wrap party may be organized to celebrate. During post-production, it may become apparent that some shots or sequences are missing or incomplete and are required to complete the film, or that a particular scene is not playing as expected, or that a performer needs to be replaced entirely. In these circumstances, additional material may have to be shot.


When using analog cameras, the exposed photographic film from the previous day is viewed by the director, cinematographer and producer to determine whether reshooting is needed. With digital cameras, the so-called dailies can be viewed immediately after the recording. If the material has proven to be inadequate or faulty, a re-shoot will be carried out on the day of shooting (digital) or on the day of the sampling (analog).

Extra shooting after the entire filming process may be needed because the material has subsequently turned out to be unusable or additional shots are required. For example, deficiencies in the narrative structure may become apparent after the filming. Other reasons for re-shoots may be the production company's wish to make the film more commercial, or the consideration of actors whose performance was lacking or who do not fit the project afterwards and have to be replaced.

If the material has already been shot once or is substantial, this process is referred to as a re-shoot. However, if the material is new and relatively minor, it is often referred to as a pick-up.

Related Research Articles

Crane shot

In filmmaking and video production, a crane shot is a shot taken by a camera on a moving crane or jib. Most cranes accommodate both the camera and an operator, but some can be moved by remote control. Camera cranes go back to the dawn of movie-making, and were frequently used in silent films to enhance the epic nature of large sets and massive crowds. Another use is to move up and away from the actors, a common way of ending a movie. Crane shots are often found in what are supposed to be emotional or suspenseful scenes. One example of this technique is the shots taken by remote cranes in the car-chase sequence of the 1985 film To Live and Die in L.A.. Some filmmakers place the camera on a boom arm simply to make it easier to move around between ordinary set-ups.

Film editing Creative and technical part of the post-production process of filmmaking

Film editing is both a creative and a technical part of the post-production process of filmmaking. The term is derived from the traditional process of working with film which increasingly involves the use of digital technology.

Film crew

A film crew is a group of people, hired by a production company, for the purpose of producing a film or motion picture. The crew is distinguished from the cast as the cast are understood to be the actors who appear in front of the camera or provide voices for characters in the film. The crew is also separate from the producers as the producers are the ones who own a portion of either the film studio or the film's intellectual property rights. A film crew is divided into different departments, each of which specializes in a specific aspect of the production. Film crew positions have evolved over the years, spurred by technological change, but many traditional jobs date from the early 20th century and are common across jurisdictions and filmmaking cultures.

Post-production Part of filmmaking, video production and photography process

Post-production is part of the process of filmmaking, video production, and photography. Post-production includes all stages of production occurring after shooting or recording individual program segments.

Clapperboard Device used to aid in the syncing of audio with a moving image

A clapperboard is a device used in filmmaking and video production to assist in synchronizing of picture and sound, and to designate and mark the various scenes and takes as they are filmed and audio-recorded. It is operated by the clapper loader.

Camera operator

A camera operator, or depending on the context cameraman or camerawoman, is a professional operator of a film camera or video camera as part of a film crew. The term "cameraman" does not imply that a male is performing the task.

"Below-the-line" is a term derived from the top sheet of a film budget for motion pictures, television programs, industrial films, independent films, student films and documentaries as well as commercials. The "line" in "below-the-line" refers to the separation of production costs between script and story writers, producers, directors, actors, and casting and the rest of the crew, or production team.

Clapper loader Member of a motion picture filming crew

A clapper loader or second assistant camera is part of a film crew whose main functions are that of loading the raw film stock into camera magazines, operating the clapperboard (slate) at the beginning of each take, marking the actors as necessary, and maintaining all records and paperwork for the camera department. The name "clapper loader" tends to be used in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, while "second assistant camera" tends to be favored in the United States, but the job is essentially the same whichever title is used. The specific responsibilities and division of labor within the department will almost always vary depending on the circumstances of the shoot.

The role of an assistant director on a film includes tracking daily progress against the filming production schedule, arranging logistics, preparing daily call sheets, checking cast and crew, and maintaining order on the set. They also have to take care of the health and safety of the crew. The role of an assistant to the director is often confused with assistant director but the responsibilities are entirely different. The assistant to the director manages all of the directors in development, pre-production, while on set, through post-production and is often involved in both personal management as well as creative aspects of the production process.

A take is a single continuous recorded performance. The term is used in film and music to denote and track the stages of production.

Filmmaking is the process by which a film is made. It's a non-linear methodology that evolved from the practical experiences in its beginnings, which was framed by what technology would allow; initially cameras holding only 10 minutes of negative raw stock at a time yet easily mobile. The methodology allowed for shots to be repeated as often as necessary for best performance and scenes shot out of order for the advantage of convenience and economics. The process is used today in the making of theatrical films, films made for cable, terrestrial television, streaming platforms, and is a process familiar to making documentaries, music videos, and student films. Filmmaking involves a number of complex and discrete stages including an initial story, idea, or commission, through screenwriting, casting, shooting, sound recording and pre-production, editing, and screening the finished product before an audience that may result in a film release and an exhibition. Filmmaking takes place in many places around the world in a range of economic, social, and political contexts, and using a variety of technologies and cinematic techniques.

Second unit is a discrete team of filmmakers tasked with filming shots or sequences of a production, separate from the main or "first" unit. The second unit will often shoot simultaneously with the other unit or units, allowing the filming stage of production to be completed faster.

In filmmaking, dailies are the raw, unedited footage shot during the making of a motion picture. They are thus referred to because usually at the end of each day, the footage is developed, synced to sound, and printed on film in a batch for viewing the next day by the director, for selected actors and film crew members. Dailies serve as an indication of how the filming and the actors' performances are progressing.

Television crew positions are derived from those of film crew, but with several differences.

Location scouting Filmmaking and commercial photography production process

Location scouting is a vital process in the pre-production stage of filmmaking and commercial photography. Once scriptwriters, producers or directors have decided what general kind of scenery they require for the various parts of their work that is shot outside of the studio, the search for a suitable place or "location" outside the studio begins. Location scouts also look for generally spectacular or interesting locations beforehand, to have a database of locations in case of requests.

A script supervisor is a member of a film crew who oversees the continuity of the motion picture including wardrobe, props, set dressing, hair, makeup and the actions of the actors during a scene. The notes recorded by the script supervisor during the shooting of a scene are used to help the editor cut the scene. They are also responsible for keeping track of the film production unit's daily progress. The script supervisor credit typically appears in the closing credits of a motion picture. Script supervisors are a department head and play a crucial role in the shooting of a film. It is the job of script supervisor to monitor the camera seeks to keep scene.

Previsualization is the visualizing of complex scenes in a movie before filming. It is also a concept in still photography. Previsualization is used to describe techniques such as storyboarding, either in the form of charcoal sketches or in digital technology, in the planning and conceptualization of movie scenes.

Multiple-camera setup Method of film making and video production

The multiple-camera setup, multiple-camera mode of production, multi-camera or simply multicam is a method of filmmaking and video production. Several cameras - either film or professional video cameras - are employed on the set and simultaneously record or broadcast a scene. It is often contrasted with a single-camera setup, which uses one camera.

Articles related to the field of motion pictures include:

This glossary of motion picture terms is a list of definitions of terms and concepts related to motion pictures, filmmaking, cinematography, and the film industry in general.


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  3. Campbell, Bruce (2006). The Complete Guide to Low-Budget Feature Filmmaking. Rockville, MD: Wildside Press. p. 82. ISBN   9780809556908 . Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  4. 1 2 3 Kelly Crabb (2005). The Movie Business: The Definitive Guide to the Legal and Financial Secrets of Getting Your Movie Made. Simon & Schuster. pp. 276–277. ISBN   0743264924 . Retrieved 31 December 2014.