Archive for the ‘Tricks and Cheats’ Category


The “Karma Palace” Bar Scene Technique

November 26, 2012

There are lots of little skills that I’ve picked up over the years. One of which is unlikely to be taught at any film school because it’s not the accepted professional way of doing things. But it’s something that I find myself having to resort to again and again on low budget shoots.

Assembling a film is a giant jigsaw- if there are any pieces missing, the picture isn’t complete. Having said that, there’s only one correct way to assemble a jigsaw and a movie can be built in all manner of ways from whatever bits you have so I think the analogy isn’t altogether sound… Anyway, sometimes you have to know what your pieces are in order to make the picture. Because that way it doesn’t matter how or when you actually acquire them.

Yesterday I was shooting a comedy scene for a sketch show promo. Good little script, simple setup. Two parents sat in a restaurant with their 2yr old kid, some fast paced dialogue, reactions from the kid, few hours tops. Simple enough.

Only it wasn’t because we had a few problems…

We had the restaurant for a few hours but we had to be out before it opened at 11, no longer- not a major problem, but it did mean an early start. A friend had kindly provided his littl’un for the scene, but obviously, the longer we have him the more likely he’ll play up (the tyke, not my friend!) and bearing in mind that they say you shouldn’t work with kids or animals, there was always the chance he wouldn’t play ball at all. And one of the actors was coming in by train and because it was a Sunday, he wouldn’t be with us til 9.30.

So I planned to do the kid’s “reaction” shots first- just let the camera roll and see what looks and gestures we can get. After a few minutes of a level one grizzle-fest, we started to get some usable reactions, playing with a toy car etc. He even took his dummy out and made some noises (writing his own dialogue!) so what we got was ultimately very good.

Since we still had some time before our male lead arrived, my next plan was to shoot our leading lady’s close up. We could do that without the kid or our other actor and get someone (probably me) to read the lines. This is the sort of thing a film school wouldn’t teach or even consider a likely option. In professional eyes, if there are three artists in the scene then they should all be on set at the same time. Which is fine if you can pay for everyone’s inconvenience, pay actors, crew and locations and shoot whatever group coverage is your whim. It’s probably obvious, but I can’t do most, if not all, of that. So I have to think from the edit backwards rather than from the coverage forwards.

Then we had another problem- our leading man’s train is late. A lot. Which means by the time he gets here, we’ll be out of the location and packing my car with kit. So the shoot has to be abandoned and rescheduled for next week when we won’t have jr anymore and will just be shooting the two shots, his close-up and finding a way to get an opening dolly move in there without seeing the kid yet showing that he’s present. That last one will be the challenge taxing my brain for the next few days, but none of this would be possible without an understanding of the various jigsaw pieces and the way they go together to make up the scene.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not, but Emily (my AD) and I have got pretty good at shooting things this way over the years. Not that it’s our first method of going about things, but it’s always nice to have a plan Z when plans A through Y have gone tits up like a pornstar on a trampoline. I like to call it the “Karma Palace Bar Scene” technique after the student film I directed where we had to employ such a technique in order to get a scene finished- a scene with three characters and two extras in a bar that, due to scheduling problems, had to be shot in bits over four shooting days (the wide shot is the only one where they were all present at the same time). When you watch the scene you can’t tell unless you’re really looking for such clues.

I’ve had to employ this little cheat on roughly half of the productions I’ve been involved in. Each time it’s given me and Em a minor headache and confused the hell out of the actors, but each time it cuts together well enough that an audience is unaware of the trickery involved.

And after all, isn’t that what filmmaking is? A trick?