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Cinematographer's Preparation

Lesson 9 of 16

How to Complete a Preliminary Scout


Cinematographer's Preparation

Lesson 9 of 16

How to Complete a Preliminary Scout


Lesson Info

How to Complete a Preliminary Scout

The first two kinds of scouts that you end up going on your you know, the first one will be called preliminary scout and it's you know you're usually well first of all let me just talk about this there's a you can download the materials this spot we've gotta scripts um schedules some equipment list that we'll talk about later so but the first thing that happens when you show up on a shoot normally is that they put you in one of these like everything seems to revolve around the white fifteen passenger van and so, you know, by the time you're you're in that, you know, by the time they throw you in that band, you should have gone through the script, you kind of understand what's going on with the scene and you know, so then when they say, oh, there we're taking you to the family's mansion, you know what mentioned they're talking about? And you know, you've got your list of scenes that happened there even if you know, you probably will have also been handed a one line scheduled, but you'll...

you'll have digested it because you went through the process of making that list, you'll you'll understand the script in the a deeper way than you would have if you had just read something that somebody else prepared and so that's, you know, like part of the whole thing of making your breakdown sheets is is not the result of making it but it's actually going through the process so that your, you know, so that you're actively engaging in the script and so that, you know, so that you kind of physically handled the scene in a way you you, you've written it down, you've thought about it, you have interacted with it, not just passively read it, so you will have the one line schedule, you're kind of know what you know a little bit of what the issues are, how much time you're gonna have to deal with the scene and how much time you're going tohave it each location and then definitely before you get in the van, go to the bathroom, so when you get in the scout band, you want to have your script, your schedules, your shot list, you want to have your notebook and pen, or however you're going to be taking note. It's it's, good to have a tape measure, and I also have a laser measure now a compass or a compass app in your phone, I, you know, I carry both I have I have a regular compass that I used mostly because it doesn't take any time to boot up, you know, the battery never dies, you know, and it's in terms of sun position like the altitude of the sun how high it is is it's kind of useful to know and that's what's good for aps what what abs are good for but in terms of the general direction which is really what you're concerned with because our chutes happen over the course of several hours or even the entire day so often like you can say, well, the sun will shine right over this tree between these two rocks of eleven forty six but you know, the the actual reality of your being able to roll on the take that you want at that particular moment is like that's pretty slim so you know, in terms of like how precise you have to be, um it's generally a compass will kind of point you in the right direction. I you know, I now I've been using the artemus directors finder app partly because it's a little more collaborative like, you know you can hold it up and you know and show a couple people over their shoulders over your shoulder what you're looking at but for a long time and I think this is still useful, I still use it sometimes I have ah have a cannon forty d and what's interesting about that camera is that it's got a very inexpensive removable viewing screens and I had them marked with a one eight five aspect ratio in the two three five aspect ratio and a psc sensor sizes almost not quite but almost exactly the same size as the super thirty five frame that's in most digital cameras so you can basically use that camera as a director's viewfinder and the pictures you take off it like if you took it within twenty one millimeter lens on you know, on your zoom, it will pretty much correspond to a twenty one millimeter lens on regular camera on a movie camera. So that's that's a really useful scouting tool? And then when you come back, the photos that you've taken, especially if they're if they're pictures that kind of show what you think a good camera angle would be for the shot, you know, it's higher quality photos than you get from your iphone, you have exposure control, that sort of thing, you know, in my phone, I have ah, a bunch of useful aps. Like I said, I like evernote, partly because you know the notebook that I've made with my breakdown, you know, I don't have to carry my computer with me. I can either have an ipad or or my iphone, dropbox the same thing I keep all my files for the project in dropbox, so you know if I need to look at an equipment list or email somebody something from my files it's all you know I can do it from my phone it's amazing the artemus and helios abs they're both really good for our mrs do you find your app and helios tells you where the sun's going to be and those are both really useful for scouts and our mist lets you arvis lets you take photos but the limitation with it is you get to see the field of view but the lens in your iphone camera doesn't zoom so what you're what you're really doing is cropping the image and so when you get to like, say, one hundred millimeter wins, quality gets pretty low which some people find distracting so it's nice to have there's an app called pee cam, which is great for also figuring out field of view it's a amazing app for for calculating depth of field and that sort of thing not necessarily is useful on the scout as on the set, but it is good and then having a some sort of photo metric what you know area has won it's not I don't I don't feel like it's not critical that you use the exact ap for you know, for whatever letting instrument you you have but that you get a sense of like, okay, that rooftop is one hundred fifty feet away and I want to get you know, to wait here what? What size like do I need to put up there and, you know, being able to answer those kind of questions is really useful so that's, you know, that's, another app that I have ice watch is basically a swatch book with, you know, with colored gels, which is it's nice to have in your phone and then power nap is that that's probably key it lets you go to sleep, but it wakes you up after twenty minutes so that you don't get into deep sleep and you feel refreshed afterwards it's my probably my most often used abb um so when you're at the location everybody's going pile out of the van and they're all going to start wandering around and you're going toe want to know what to do? The first thing you do is find a director and stand right next to them and listen to what they have to say about about that spot and try not to like I find it hard, but you try not to wander off on dh then once you once you kind of downloaded that you go with them tow try to find your favorite angles, find the favorite backgrounds and then you know, only after you've kind of gotten that amount of information you figure out like you're sort of logistical stuff like where is the sun going to come from like is this background when you know the way the director wants to look right now it's not gonna be backlit or front lit you know when the one line schedule is telling me we're going to shoot and maybe that's something that we need to talk about because maybe that's you know maybe it's not going to work or maybe it will work or you know depends like it's it's you know, every every one of those decisions all the time you know when you shoot things what you shoot it's all it's all creative decision it all you know it all feeds into what the picture looks like at the end so the other thing I do so I'll take some photographs of you know where I think the camera angles will be but I also kind of document the space I just you know, I you know if we were in here I'd go take pictures all the way around the room and take pictures of the ceiling you know, to show what what we have in terms of rigging points available that kind of stuff you know often you're on a schedule when you're on these scouts and they don't want they don't have time for you to kind of sit around and you know think about things and you know that the creative process happened it's like okay boom you've seen this let's go we got five more places to see before lunch so I, you know, I try toe, you know, take a thorough photograph of it so that later I can come back and think about it and make some lighting plans, and I also do some sort of a rough floor plan with dimensions, eventually, the production designer and the art department will do directors plans, but often those don't come out until right before the tech scout. And so if you're if it's a the kind of location where you're going to want to draw pictures to show the gaffer and the key grip on those guys where you want things put, you're going to be the one who has to make your own floor plans for that, so it doesn't have to be anything fancy it's like that is out of my notebook, and then somehow I showed that to a gaffer and a key grip, and it turned into some lighting and worked so that's, you know, that's really all all it needs to be, but the big thing that I try to do when I'm on these scouts is this is I put it in bold it's like tripe I put myself in the situation where, okay, we're here with the camera, the actors air here, like, what am I going to do right now? What, like, what would I do if if the truck was parked outside I could have anything I wanted brought in on you know, but but we just have to shoot today what would that do? And because I think it's easy when you're on these guys to say all right, well, I'll deal with that later is you no, but what I think is I think it's important that you kind of have to force yourself in the situation to like, come up with some plan it doesn't have to be the perfect planet doesn't have to be anything great it just has like you have to force for me anyway I have to force myself to engage with the space and like some sort of concrete way um and then you know, then you can also think about like, what? You know what's there that you don't really like if there's a you know, if there's a wall that's that you don't like the color of or, you know, you feel like it's too bright or through dark it's going to make it hard because you're going to end up flagging light off of it. If it's to live, you're gonna have to end up putting light on if it's too dark or you look out a window and you see something that you don't like, you know is it possible that somebody could bring some bushes to hide that you know teo teo change things so that's like you can try to think about that stuff in the preliminary scout for in advance and you know you can talk to the production designer or whatever and you know but make you note in your sheets so that you make sure that you're following up on it and you know and that it gets communicated to the people who actually can get stuff done for you um and you know at the same time you're thinking about all right wells is this on the second floor and art to shine a light through the window are going to need a lift you know, do you like are we thinking this would be an amazing spot for a crane shot rising up to reveal the valley below the farmhouse? Um do we want some smoke or hazare atmosphere a wet down blackouts like all of that kind of stuff and you know it's good to have some sort of little checklist of these sort of things to remind yourself to think about it when you're there and you know often you know sometimes the script brings it up but sometimes it's the sort of thing that's either abide or you know or you can bring in and say like look, wouldn't it be great if, uh if you know we had some atmosphere here and I could have some beams of light coming through something like that it's you know it's all every location is an opportunity to you know, do stuff that supports the supports the project supports the vision and then you have to think about what's going to happen like if you're especially if you're on the second floor and you know and it's it's supposed to be a bright, cheerful sunny room and you know but that day it's a torrential downpour so everything's gray and blue outside the window what do we do? How do we plan for that? You know, if you don't if the production doesn't have a lot of money, maybe the plan for it is well, the script gets changed to be a dark, gloomy day but if it's the sort of thing where you have the the resource is that you're able to control it, then you know, perhaps you need teo you need to flag that well, we need a lift to go outside the window we need some silks to put over the window toe, you know, bring in a soft side blight, that sort of thing, you know? You also look at the schedule and you say, well, there's a good chance that especially if we go get a little bit behind that this scene that's a day interior is going to have to be shot at night so I need to be ready for the idea that that even if it starts during the day that some part of it's going to be a knight. How do I you know, how do I deal with that? And those are all things that, like, the farther in advance, you think about it, the more graceful it's going to be at the end, the better you're gonna look better, the movie's gonna look. And then you definitely want to anticipate how the sun is is moving through the day like that's. My usual rule is I start facing east, like, if there were an annex here, you start out looking east and end up looking west so that its always back, like and shoot the close ups in the middle of the day when you can put something over people's heads especially, you know, for for actresses, for people that you want a beautify, like cutting off the top light on bringing light in from this side is, you know, definitely helps. And it's it's usually a little easier to do that during the middle of the day when the sun's high so that things air that air overhead, come down and it's. Easier to do the wider shots, either the beginning or the end of the day, because the sun's coming from a lower angle, and it looks prettier, so, like you think about all that stuff when you're on the location when you can sit there and nor stand there and look at it and you know and visualize that happening and you kind of have to you have to imagine what all those different conditions are and think about how it's you're basically looking at the schedule and looking at the location and saying like, all right, how are we going to play this? How are we going to make this so that you know, so that I get is much photography value out of it for his little boy effort as possible and, you know, and still make it work with all the hair and makeup and costume changes and everything else that has to happen during the course of the day and it's a bit of a puzzle, so the production designer is usually the one that's behind this, you know, why you're at this location and if it's a very preliminary scout, you're probably being choked shown a choice of two or three places that people are still deciding on for you, you know, for what the final location is going to be, so you definitely want to engage with the production designer asking why they like it like even if you walk in and you say this is terrible, this is impossible I'm never going to be able to shoot this like figure out it may just be the case that you are going to have to shoot it, you know? And so you have to kind of figure out how do I know how did I come to grips with this? Um you know and then you definitely want to talk to them about what you were thinking because often they can help you with you know, I want to put some lights up in the ceiling that say, okay, great we'll give you a column with some drapes tto hide the cables that have to come down, you know, all of that kind of stuff window treatments are all often a big discussion, you know, and shears sheer curtains are you know, they're kind of ah, almost a cliche and movies, but it's, like it really helps to have those their toe hide it's a high problems outside the window basically to hide your lights and you know, if the son sets to make it so that you can do some sort of a graceful transition from, you know, actual day teo, your own manufacture day however you're doing that, um and then you need to talk also on the scott you need to talk to the location manager and tell them what you're thinking tell them what your what your plans are, because a lot of times that will like there will be problems with limitations from the owner's limitations from the neighbors that kind of stuff so that you may have this amazing plan and you may have to figure out what plan b is after the locations already been decided on but you can if you can talk through what your ideas are you khun you know at least make some preliminary idea on the spot talk it through you can see oh well you know the way you want to do this this location will never work and maybe some other location will become plant a um so you're like your issues I can help you know can help influence how how it goes that way and sometimes you just have to deal with whatever the location is but sometimes you're able to influence and influence it to a place that gives you more for free basically gives you gives you closer to what you were thinking of photographically without having to go through a lot of trouble and that's that decision is usually that usually makes it better for the production um you know, so you you think about the logistical problems you know are they are we able to get on the roof? Are we able to shine lights through windows that are on the second floor? Can we turn off the lights like in office spaces in particular that you know that can become an issue and can we go through and changed all the light bulbs? The florescent lights that we like better that's, you know, all of those things are, you know, are things that you want to bring up. And then where the trucks park, I think that, you know, one of the basically the way you go, the truck's pontus day is close to the sad as possible just because it makes it easier, but they also want to be you want to put them in front of the thing that you hope you never have to photograph that's my that's, my theory, like, if there's some something really ugly in the three hundred sixty degrees of my view, I'll try to suggest that they park the trucks in front of their because that discourages anybody from every thinking that we're goingto shoot that and, you know, and it keeps the keeps the equipment close so that things move faster. Um, so, um, yes, telling people they can't have what they want is not a marketable skill. So, like, your job is to base, like whatever, whatever location they throw at you, you need to be able to figure out howto say yes to that, because often, you know, your first choice is not the one that happened so you have to you have to be able to like this is it's a key part of the job you can say I you know I won't have things my way but that doesn't that doesn't usually get anybody very far so uh you know, it's it's like it's being able to be flexible enough to look at things from you how can I solve this problem rather than this? I don't want to solve this problem and one of my favorite techniques is to not answer the question right away is to not feel like I'm forced teo to make a decision right then like um because usually I will like even if I'm resistant to something a person I think this is like me looking down a deep inside myself and figuring out what you know what I'm thinking but you know I'll find myself resistant to something at first but then you know a day later you know, after I've taken a nap whatever you know all of a sudden I was like yeah, you know, I could make this work and it's hard at the moment to you know, not just say no forget it, but sometimes I realized like I have to have to let myself think about it for a little while and, um you know, so just saying yeah, I don't know I don't know what the answer is right now um is, you know, that's the best way out of it lets people know that you're maybe not quite sure but you know at the same time you're not closing the door on it and then basically reactions on the goals of the director so but yeah, it's like it's presenting, you know is presenting yourself as like part of a conversation rather than is dictating fax and definitely like, you know, you'll get suggestions from all sorts of people and you know, they almost like they're almost always useful like I you know, I try not to discount stuff teo teo too quickly so now we're going to get ready for the tech scout. One of the things that helps is to get the floor plans from the art department so that you can draw lighting diagrams on them basically show the the you know and how you decide where those lights go it's so individual to each project you start from, you know you're standing in the space you look around, you see all right this you know, when we're looking this way this is our favorite background would be nice to have a back light that comes from over there and be, you know, we want to like the actors space from over here and here's here's what the lighting would look like for a wide shot and you know, you make those decisions based on the painting research that you've done the photo research that you've done and you're trying to, you know, whether you're trying to make it look like caravaggio did it or, you know, or walker evans or, you know, whoever you're you're referencing, you know, you think you look at your photograph, you say, where is the light and coming from? How do I apply that to this location? And then you write that down. You make a little lighting diagram, and you can tell the the gaffer or the you know, and the key grip, like here's, where we want stuff. When we walk into this space the day that we shoot and, you know, having the floor plans helps you with that. Talking to this set decorators about about what you're going to want for each location in advance, you know, helps in terms of, you know, hiding cables, window treatments, that kind of stuff and then having your breakdown list ready and having copies of it so that you can give it to all the crew members.

Class Description

Cinematographers need to do more than simply, “show up and shoot.” Preparing to film is a complex, considered, and artistic task and Cinematographer's Preparation with Jim Denault, ASC will teach you how to strategize and achieve the most creative, productive shoot possible.

Most filmmakers are in the dark about what cinematographic preparation truly entails. This class will give you with a step-by-step guide to preparing to shoot a whole range of narrative material – from the simplest moments to the most complex series of scenes. Jim will show how to break-down and analyze a script from an aesthetic, technical, and practical point-of-view. 

You’ll learn how to:

  • Analyze a script aesthetically and technically
  • Evaluate and provide for the practical needs of a scene
  • Achieve maximum subjective effect within your shooting "strategy"
  • You’ll learn precise, effective, artistic, and technical approaches to shooting, which can be applied across all forms of filmmaking and length of material.

Working cinematographers, camera operators, and filmmakers will develop new skills for efficiently and beautifully conveying the artistic essence of their material.  


Zuhair Lokhandwala

Great class! Highly recommend to those starting out who are unclear about the process of getting the first job, meeting the director and keeping things organized so you feel more in control and have good clarity when you're at the shoot finally Thank you Jim!


This class is perfect for anyone who does not have years of experience as cinematographer ; it teaches everything a DP should do in pre-production, and is often not taught in film schools ! I'm freshly graduated and thus I don't have that much experience of pre-prod as DP, but this gave me everything I needed to know. It's also one of the few class of the genre online, and it's a fantastic one, thank you so much !

Christopher Lamb

There is nothing more valuable than learning from people that continue to work in their field. This course is priceless. To get into the processes and thoughts of a successful working Cinematographer -- there aren't words. Everyday I'm on set I think about the necessity of mentorship and this is the closest thing to that. Thank You Jim for agreeing to share your processes and techniques and to Mentor us in this digital age. Thank you CreativeLive for hosting this class and making it available.