Let’s talk tech scouts.
So, the tech scout is fascinating the first time you do one, and mind numbing every subsequent time. Here’s what happens:
For this particular scout, the 1st AD (they come up a lot on here, don’t they?) takes the director, the production designer, the construction coordinator, the VFX supervisor, the Special Effects key, the Best Boy Grip, the Gaffer, the Stunt Coordinator, and the episode producers (us!) along on a tour of the sets. This is NOT like the set tour we took last week. This is not a chance for the director to see sets for the first time. This is the director’s opportunity to explain to the crew what shots they want in each set, so the crew can discuss the technical requirement necessary to deliver those shots.
Let’s take each department one at a time here:
The production designer and construction coordinator are there to talk to the director about what physical set changes might be needed to accomplish the shots. Do we need to wild a wall (a wild wall is one that can come out or go back in to let cameras shoot through it)? Do we need to cut holes in things to let cameras or stunt rigging through? Does one angle need a shoot off (a short run of wall to make it appear the set continues even when it doesn’t)?
The VFX supervisor is there to talk about shots that include a blue screen, or a wire removal (for stunts) or a motion capture element. Sometimes they need to create bullet hits, or damage to the ship. Sometimes they need to HIDE damage until the proper time in a scene. Lots of bullet holes in walls are already there, and just digitally painted over until the gunshot goes off. Stuff like that.
The Special Effects department is there for anything that’s a practical effect. A squib (tiny explosive) in the wall to show bullet impacts. Or a wire to float something. Or a part of the set that really crumples or breaks or explodes. Or smoke or steam coming out of a pipe. Anything that isn’t a CGI effect is handled by those guys.
The Best Boy Grip is on hand to talk about the equipment necessary for the camera crew. Will this need a dolly, or a steadicam, or a crane? This is important because the production rents equipment on a need basis, so getting the right equipment on set on the right day is vital. If you needed a crane and don’t have a crane, everything shuts down.
The gaffer is the head electrician. His job is to make sure the sets have the correct lighting equipment in place and ready to go for the shooting days. He works closely with the director of photography to make sure each scene is lit according to the DPs overall look for the show. Rigging the lights on a set takes time, so getting the plan established early keeps the production on schedule. Nothing drives a director crazier than a crew waiting for a light to be put in.
If stunts will be needed, the stunt coordinator is there to discuss how to give the director the stunt action their shots will need, and to coordinate with both VFX and Special Effects to create them. Will we need wires? Can the VFX department easily paint those wires out? Is there a better placement for them? If stunts are firing guns, can special effects do the squibs to show bullet impacts, or will safety concerns mean they have to be digital?
And us, the writers. We’re there to answer any questions about the story elements. How does this shot convey the necessary information for the overall story? Each director concentrates on their episode, so it’s up to the producers (specifically the show runner, and sometimes the episode writers) to track the story elements through the entire season. A director might want to drop a scene or a shot, not realizing that scene gives information vital to something three episodes later.
Mostly, though, the process is a huge team effort. The director tells the crew what they want, the rest of the team works with them to figure out the best way to deliver it. And more than any other business I’ve worked in, everyone is a self starter. They volunteer suggestions, try to find creative solutions, and work together to make the best thing possible in each shot. It’s kind of amazing to behold.
At least the first time. After that, it’s several hours of walking sets and discussing camera angles at length. Yawn.
In other news, Daniel and Naren Shankar (showrunner) and I did a quick polish pass on episode 13 to include some good notes the cast gave us after their rehearsal. In a series, the actors really do start to take ownership of their characters, and develop a real sense of what in a scene feels right and what doesn’t. They aren’t always right, because sometimes you’re playing a long game they don’t see yet. But you ignore their feedback at your peril. Sometimes they have an insight into the character you missed.
We also did a production meeting with all the department heads, approved some VFX, approved some props, and visited the editing booth. Daniel has developed a real fascination for the editing process, so he goes into the booth with the editors every chance he gets. I find editing incomprehensible. It’s like art. I know what I like, and I know what I don’t like, and I have no idea how you make either of them.
In more exciting news, we get to see the first cut of episode 109 tomorrow. Won’t be able to report back on that except for generalities, but it’s kind of amazing to watch that first cut of a show, and see all that endless work turned into 42 minutes of something you can actually watch.