The word heard less and less on motion-picture sets is, “Cut.” You know, “Action” and “Cut” are the commands reserved for directors. “Keep it rolling” is heard with increasing frequency, and we wonder where the producers are when it is said. “Keep it rolling” used to be reserved for those moments when an actor needed protection from the interruption of a camera stop and reset — nudity or tears were usually involved — but today, in the majority of cases, there seems to be no acting or directing emergency prompting this command.
We think producers should be alarmed, because “keep it rolling” is an expensive expediency. We recently learned of a production on which the time of recorded takes was doubled by the recorded moments of camera reset and blather that should not have been recorded. It amounted to a terabyte of data that the editor had to view in order to find and cull the “real” takes.
There are considerations apart from economic ones. The moments between takes are most useful. Actors have time to recoup their energy and focus their performances, and actually, that is true for everyone on set, including the director. Stop the camera at the end of a take, think for a moment and roll again. That is the discipline encouraged by film running through the camera instead of ones and zeros.
Of course, the commands and other lingo used on set have been bizarre from the beginning. For example, how silly is the command, “Get me 400 feet of 35-millimeter film”? Why mix two different standards of measure? And today, “filming” is usually an inaccurate word, but we can’t really substitute “image capturing.”
And what is an “Abby,” anyway? Why, it’s the second-to-last shot of the day, named after Abby Singer, the legendary first assistant director and production manager.
A student from Europe recently complained to me that he was asked on a set to “get a stinger and a Baby and put it on that Cardellini.” He had no clue what he’d been asked to do.
Language can obscure or illuminate, but surely, we do not want to bring in a new technology and at the same time throw out the solid procedures and craft we have all learned. Someone recently observed that film shoots were quieter and more focused on the work than digital shoots. The “luxury” of digital cameras and recording with cheap media is not actually cheap, however. Data must be duplicated, moved into the post pipeline, sorted, catalogued, synced and protected. And if on-set efficiency has really declined, how can that cost be quantified?
More importantly, how does it affect efficiency in the cutting room? A producer of television dramas recently told me that his editorial staff had doubled because the amount of dailies had doubled. This was due in part to the keep-it-rolling syndrome, but also to the fact that cheap media had encouraged more coverage of scenes, creating more “footage” (goodbye to that quaint word). One-hour dramas are still one-hour dramas, but they now require more than one editor to manage the volume of images.
More hands on the material do not necessarily make for improvements in storytelling. Send us your tales from the cutting room or the set and help us propose suggestions for best practices in this new world.