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Cinematographer's Preparation

Lesson 11 of 16

How to Go on Tech Scouts

Jim Denault, ASC

Cinematographer's Preparation

Jim Denault, ASC

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Lesson Info

11. How to Go on Tech Scouts


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Class Introduction Duration:06:20
2 What Are the Basics to Know? Duration:28:35
3 Prepare to Get the Job Duration:39:18
4 How to Do the Meeting Duration:14:32
8 Essential Documents Duration:12:06
10 How to Prep for the Tech Scout Duration:11:25
11 How to Go on Tech Scouts Duration:32:43
12 The Basic Gear Package Duration:23:03
13 How to Set Up the Camera Duration:11:38
14 How to Camera Test Duration:03:50
15 Audience Q & A Duration:12:23
16 Parting Words Duration:02:20

Lesson Info

How to Go on Tech Scouts

Hello and welcome back to san francisco creative lives up on the roof or its blustery here today and we're here for our location tech scout so jim I'm gonna leave it to you let's do this thank you alright so I mean the one thing that we haven't done is kind of gone through and done the preliminary creative scott for this place to you so I'm going to kind of combine both of those things in tow into one into one piece so first thing that we need you know is the script while we're in the van I made sure I reread were in the van all the way upstairs I made sure I re read this the page of the scripts I know exactly what we're dealing with here so and let's just say, you know, if all of you guys can kind of help me by being the director a little bit, you know we'll look around we'll say like what? What are the good angles here were we've just walked in and we think we have this this scene up on the roof it's two people talking to each other and somebody goes over the edge which way do we wan...

t a look here? Um but right now here yeah backlighting you gotta look that way, right? Well, actually we kind of looked this way this on the sons I'm going to be shining towards us this way is south I know that from my drivin this morning but I'll look at my my compass app to but I'm also like if we look this way I kind of see that you know we've got a corrugated wallets painted a light color it kind of is a backstop for the for the location but yeah but if I look this way I've got you know there's this you know this hold great view there's the anchor brewery like there's you know there just seems to be a little bit we got a little bit more out of it you know, looking away from from this wall of the building so like what I'm going to try to do as the the dp is you know well where you when I'm here first with the director is you say stuff like oh wow this is an amazing view over here not that over here look at that and you know, like you know basically you know find my first reaction to things I like and then be prepared for the director to say oh no you know, I really like the texture on that corrugated wall over there I was hoping we could make that work and so then you say all right, well, how am I going to do that still haven't be cool and who knows? Maybe it will you know you can come up with something very graphic there's you know, there's some interesting line some curve conduit like there's you know there's a way to make that play but I feel like, you know, the director and I both agree right now that we kind of like this direction so you know and well, you know, and on our our preliminary scout let's say, you know, we're looking saying, ok, well, where where our hope and dan going to be standing on, you know, I kind of looked along here this this happened yesterday too, when we scouted it, I said, well, you know, here where jim is has come it's up against a blank wall, so I'm not sure that that's exactly the best the best angle, but if we move everything down to where sean is here, I see like there's some nice depth, like I like the patterns of that of that building. This is there's something cool here. So you're going you're digging is the location and seeing all right within the parameters of what happens in the script. Like what do you know? Where do we want to see the characters? And, you know, at the beginning, we think, like, all right, we just find them standing outside the door, but maybe we want to do a little something where they move in and you know and kind of reveal this so maybe we can start with the camera inside the door I'm just you know, I pitch ideas and do a little dolly shot where they stop forward out onto the roof to suggest that they've come from the office or maybe we can do that same shot and their due standing here we find them as though they've been kind of teleported or jumped through time so which might be the more surreal it's a real answer to the question but you like this is the time, you know, during this the preliminary thing to kind of run through all those possibilities. So now we've gotten through that with the director my imaginary director like my who I've been talking to and we're saying that that we'll have we'll have done and hope standing somewhere right around here and we've decided and the director said that this is the spot where where dan is going to go over the edge. So now we're on the tech scout and looking around and we say okay, well, you know, this set dressers like those planter's air kind of in the way so we have to move the planters, you know, and then there we'll have a discussion about well, do we like the barbecue and the ice cream carts here and if we don't like them why do we do with them can they get moved off the roof or is it you know is that impossible are we gonna have to kind of keep shifting them to keep them out of the shot you'll go through all those possibilities and whatever you're doing you know whatever you decide you kind of you keep your notes and you make sure that the assistant director and that the different departments that are involved you know get those notes so now we're you know we're talking through the shot list for the scene and we know we want to do something that looks from over here that you know displays you know that gets this great view and maybe we'll do it from even inside the doorway there and you know then we've got way reading the script that hope and down are standing here talking and dan dan is probably somewhere around here and just this is about to put his pad into his briefcase hope touches him and he goes over the edge so all right here's the question I'm opening it up how do we do that yes can you let us know about what page on the script we're going to be oh sure page five great thank you sir yeah sorry no no good question thank you yes it's page five it's scene to the script isn't number but it's the second scene which is the exterior office roof top um so yeah, so we're looking at the top of page five you know, it kind of sets it up that they're standing outside the door to the exit observing the city skyline on you know what? What were you thinking, jessica? Like, would you imagine that they start there and walk forward to somewhere? Yeah, yeah, yeah. All right, so that's good that here we go. This is so so we could you know, we could actually start with the shot. Do you think that way opened the door and they'd come out or a in my head? That would look pretty, especially with that. Yeah, okay, great. So I think that's, you know, so we know we have one shot put my pencil, so we're gonna have an angled towards the door and then we'll have a reverse angle and maybe we'll do a little I'm going to suggest a little dolly shot that kind of pushes forward. Does that seem good? All right, so just kind of write that down. You know, this is the important thing is kind of keep notes as you go because it's easy once you get to the next thing to forget what the last thing wass so especially for me, so then you know, and then we're going tio we'll walk them out to here and we'll get into their conversation there because this is I sort of feel like this where we need to be for the for the balto happen does that make sense? So yeah so we know we're going to want to move those things maybe way want to hide some of this stainless steel stuff we'll talk through that that's that's I'm mixing up the creative scouted in the text got here but like the logistical stuff about moving furniture is, you know, pretty much tech scout stuff and the creative stuff oh, the other thing what do we think about these tables here? Just what do you think? Yeah, well, some of them might be nice, but especially when you know, when we come here to shoot that a certain number of them might be in the way and we want, you know, we won't necessarily see them, but it's goingto impede our progress. So even if it's not a design consideration, you know, it might be useful to have a few of them move do you think we want? Shall we put them deeper in the shot, or do we just, you know, throw him off the roof, yeah, that one over there all right next to the wall, just one in the shades oh, yeah, kind of fill out the empty space sure that's a great idea with the umbrella over there to take some of the light off of that wall. So that's that's a really good idea so make a note about that so we know we wanna have, you know, one of brother table by the by the wall and other uh, talking as a stepping stone to get on the ledge or this right that's another good question? Do we do we feel like we need something for dan to step up on or does he just sit on the ledge? Yeah, right, because it seems like it would be hard for him to fall over from there you casually sitting on the ledge talking and then he then she put depending how you're interpreting if you're interpreting it being like some sort of a figment of his imagination, then he could technically have already stepped up over right by himself. So yeah, that's a good that's that's a good way to think about it like is hope does hope really exist for, you know, like, is a physical person or, like fight club? Yeah, yeah, exactly. So yes, jumping really quickly, I just wantto make it clear that this conversation that we're having with students right now is the conversation and these questions you'd be having with the director, right? Exactly right so this is this is the sort of thing that you know and usually the director would have an opinion about a lot of this stuff and it would be me tryingto find out what the director is, you know is intending and then but sometimes it is you're standing there spit balling like how how would this work and you and your ideas come from everywhere? So I like the idea that we have to find some way to, you know, to raise dan up next to the next to the ledge like way definitely wanted to show him close to the wall so that we see that he's there, but I I I do believe that it's you know, and that it does go into his intentions I've had how does he how does he get over the wall? And if hope is not riel, you know, then you know, and he he actually did jump like, how do we how do we not answer that question one way or the other? I think that's, you know, this is and this is like part of the creative process like, I I can imagine the you know, that the you know him actually going over the edge happens when you're looking at hopes you don't see one way or the other, but then you somehow have to some have to show that he was there before and now he's gone or you have to show that you know in the most literal way you'd actually see him go over the edge you know there will be a crane shot that goes down maybe there's you know, the shot of ah stunt person following away to the ground but that's probably not within our means creative live people I tried but they just would not put up the money for it so we'll have to find find some way to suggest that without without hitting it right on the nose so what what do you think falling on the ground that is a great idea yeah it's like the notebook falling is actually kind of you know, it's symbolic it's a you know, a representation of him falling that's a that is a really good idea so we'll write that down before we forget so and that's that actually goes into our shot less too and you know, and so since we're here scouting it like in a s o in the concrete sense we've got down standing over there and we know we're going to need some kind of an angle of the notebook hitting the ground and I wonder if if somewhere in that you know, his feet leave the ground, maybe you know, in the background of the shot so you know, we're suggesting you know we're kind of mirroring his body falling through the air and we're you know we're seeing that he's departing the frame at the same time and that's something I think that's something we could pull off so um so I'm gonna write that down too yes so there that would like to know would you sometimes bring in a second team with stand ins for the tech scout? No, I don't think I've ever had that happened it's usually people will stand in for each other you know what one of the things that was really informative for me early on was that the extra features on seven david fincher film if you look in there there are pictures of him there are pictures that he took scouting the hallway outside of kevin spacey his apartment is the one's that's particularly sticking in my mind and you know, he just took it with this still camera and but the standards were darius kong ji the location manager it's just you you use whoever you've got around and you know but they you can look and see you know, they put the his still photographs up against still frames from the scene and how specifically he realised it on a scout like this and that you know that for me is very important so so well, you know, so we know we've got these couple of angles so I'm goingto pull out like the you know the things that things that I might do at this point you know, on the preliminary scout and the uh the uh tech scout would be teo first thing I would use his artemus which is uh it's a director's finder app and there is this annoying update warning that's there but now I can you know so I can I can frame up what the shot might be and you know we can because it's ah because it's the iphone I can actually show it teo you know other people over my fold over my shoulder and we can you know we can kind of figure out like which backgrounds we like better whether it's you know whether it's here or you know here's the here's the doorway that they come out which does have a nice day kind of graphic quality to it you know the interesting thing about this app you can I can you know put on a different lens and maybe the twenty one is a little bit better for for this kind of an angle but also if you like it's a you know for but one thing that's interesting about the wider lands is is there you know when you move with it it's a little bit of movement I've only walked about six feet but it changes the shot quite a bit but I think there's also something like you know, for the for the surreal quality of this like, I'm starting to like this corrugated thing over here although we'll get well we'll get to why I'm not going to like it later so this is a nice shop that pushes in like this and maybe brings our characters out the door and reveals the space but I do agree, you know, we're looking at this there's too many white tables there I feel like we can move them a little deep move some of them a little deeper in the background um so but then we know we also know we're going to be scouting this in them or we're gonna be shooting this in the morning so but right now it's the afternoon so we kind of have to imagine where is the sun going to be what's it going to do? And so what you know and that's you know, that's one of the important things that you do on the tech scout and the preliminary scott is kind of imagined what you know what it's going to look like at a time that you're not there because that usually, you know the scout will happen at one time but that's you will happen over the course of a day so so here way show the path of the sun and s o let's say, you know, ten o'clock tomorrow morning or some other morning when we're shooting this the sun's gonna be up over here and it's going to be lighting this wall right here, which is not going to look like what what we see now where this ball's in shadow looks great but in the morning when we shoot the morning of our suits were we're not gonna have that we're going to have it in full sun so maybe, you know, maybe that's not what we want to do maybe like either we schedule it so that this happens in the afternoon or you know, are we have to figure out another way to do it where way where we can deal with the fact that this this light colored while is going to be in full sun um I'm not sure what the answer to that is yet yes, how do you what's the best way to know where the sun is when you're goingto well, here you've got this, you've got the app helios and without getting into too much of ah, just a demonstration of it there a couple different you're going to this live right now I'm guessing okay, great, yeah so they're a couple different choices the virtual son one is that is the most interesting for me just because you can set it up either using the actual son or a compass and then you hold it up and look through the sky and it shows you where the sun is trying not to look the sun yourself but it's pretty accurate. What time is it now about according to this it's it's about to twenty to thirty one forty nine okay, that's a little off, so I'll try to re calibrate use the actual son helios is separate. Just let the folks at home know is separate from the artemus app was the app that he was using for framing up yes, exactly there both made by the same guys but you know their and they're both kind of their standard these air, like standard dp toolbox kind of things like, you know, you go teo almost any cameraman and they've got these two things in their phone because it's just it's like it's gotten to be that useful, you know, artemus up, especially his butt. Like all all the directors I work with have them and you'll see two people standing around with their iphones next to each other, you know, with different lenses set on artemus, like comparing who shots better it's what's great about it is unlike the old kind of director's finder it's you know, you people can look over each other's shoulders, they're very collaborative, so so I look up like, in this case, I look up and see well you know I'll talk to the first day d and I say well, you know, a ten o'clock in the morning the sun is going to be over there it's going to be shining on this building and I I don't want to do that so can we schedule this shots that happen in the afternoon can we you have to you have to be able to talk through how you how you want to do it to take the best advantage of of of the things that you can't control like where the sun is um so yeah so that's so so kind of what we've determined on our creative scout is that our our widest angles here we're gonna have a tighter angle the door and then we're gonna have some cross coverage here and we know we have wait no we haven't angle like a special shot where the notebook falls and you know his feet leave the frame so we're gonna have to find a way tio tio have him boost himself up but safely so that he doesn't go actually go over the edge of the of the wall and I'm I'm wondering like I feel like there's a uh a place to talk about the last shot of the movie here too what do you think the ending frame is? She signs her name death so is that like we need to have ah close up on you know the note path of her signing death, but that doesn't seem like it seems to me like that close up on the no pad is not the last shot of the movie. Does that make sense? I feel like there's something else, and I'm you know, and one like the thing that I had thought was, if she if she's, if we're here looking at this at at the wall and on her back and dan's gone and she picks up the note pad and then she turns and walks towards us and, you know, she signs her name, that there we've got to close up and then we come back to the shot, she turns and walks away, and then we can just kind of do a little dolly move in on just the wall where that dan went over does that seem, you know, so it's like there's, a little something mysterious about the end of the so that's me pitching to the director? What do you think? All right, cool. So so we add that to the shot list, so we know, you know, in terms of special equipment that that's going to be up here, we know we're going to need a dolly we know we're going to need some way, tio. That dan pull his speed off the ground at the end of the shot so whether we get a couple of ladders or a couple chairs or something so that you know, when we're though he khun khun raise himself up or maybe we just we set something up near the wall so that he's safe but we have to, so we're gonna have to work through that one that's a problem to be solved and yeah, and then we know we're gonna want some lighting control it so the sun is so strong from here, there is some nice backlight, but we're gonna want a little bit of film, so maybe we don't have the resource is for to bring h m ise to bring big lights up here, but we should definitely have some bounces, but the other thing I'm noticing is that it's very windy up here, and it probably would be very windy tomorrow, so we had big selves and big bounce, is it? You know, you could get hard to control and dangerous, especially kind of under scale of production that we have, so we'll probably I'll probably ask the gaffer for some four by four bounce cards that's probably as big as what we can manage, so, um, that's that seems to be about the text god, I'm trying to think of what have I missed so, yeah, I would love to go to the our in studio audience to see if they have any questions about tech scout while they're thinking I'm going to throw out this one, which is, how do you deal with the director not making a direct decision like he's? Not sure on the tech scout that is really that's an excellent question that I missed, you kind of have a plan for what you plan for, what possibly could happen? And, you know, in other words, if you if you can't eliminate something from as a possibility, you have to you have to act as though that sort of thinking happened, so it leads to a little bit of over planning, but, you know, it's, like, depending on when it's a small shoot like this, there are so few moving parts it's actually easier to reconfigure, like, when your choices are limited, they're so, you know, you have so many fewer things that you can possibly do that it actually it makes a decision a lot easier, the bigger the shoot, and, you know, so and so and so the more possibilities there expected from you, the harder it gets, like, if the director can't say, well, I don't know whether we need the crane to look over the edge of the wall or not you better get the crane because if you don't get it you know that they're going to ask for it and you know so you have to plan for whatever contingencies you think might come up you know if you if you know you're going to be using big lights the electrician's will have it so that there's power coming from from that end of the set as well as this end of the set so that when you're looking this way the power could come from you can power the lights from behind the camera but if on the text got you can say oh no we're definitely not looking this direction or that direction because you've gotten to know what the shots are you can make it simpler if you don't know you have to just you have to plan a cz though anything could happen and you know or you have to plan for a cz much as you possibly can happen and then you'll find out the day you shoot it what it really is or it may very well be that you end up seeing everywhere and that you you needed to be ready for everything it's each director has a different process that way you know it's like and it's not so there's a wrong way itt's whatever works for that person and you know as the crew we have to figure out how to adapt to that all right, fantastic students, any questions before we head on down to the studio way? Start drawing storyboards right away or I'm going to be a homework up here to call the pictures it's a combination like you I draw them, I will have drawn them a lot of times, you know, will the director and I will be scouting and having a meeting at their office and so if I see something here, I'll make some kind of a little sketch for myself and you to remember and then when I go to the office, you know I'll work with, you know, work with the director and draw something a little more elaborate and storyboards that I do like they you know, they're our storyboard artist who are, you know, gifted cartoonists and who you can really illustrate things much better than I can. My storyboards are basically just small, small little sketches, teo kind of suggest the masses of how people are in the frame, you know, I try to draw it with a fat pencil so that I'm not tempted to do a lot of detail. So it's just, you know, here's a circle that somebody's head with their little bit of their nose, you know, just to suggest which way they're looking, but I don't try to draw recognizable pictures where is a real storyboard artist with do something that was a real presentation, you know, minor just like to remember what the moments are of the scene and, you know, and then you notice I we'll scout with my ipad, you know, I have a notebook with me, but usually what happens is I'll take little notes on the script or whatever I can, and then once we get back in the van, I use that time to type things into my into my breakdown page, because it's, you know, it's hard, like on the text. God, I'll have the breakdown page, I'll keep it open, but for whatever reason, typing in tow apse is, you know, it looks too much like this. It looks like you're texting or whatever, but, you know, keeping your keeping like notes that you then transcribe this it's, just like when you're in school, where you take notes in class, and then you rewrite them over again, it's, you know, it helps reinforce it, but also keeps you more present in the moment keeps you from being tied down from, you know, with some piece of technology question yeah, since we have the same problem, obviously, are you going to take charge of that because probably going to be some screens or something, you know, and or do you care about the sound at all during this code I care about the sound often that you know there will be a sound person you know, sometimes they come on text got sometimes they don't you know this the screen said that I've got right now are their frames with bleach muslim stretched over them that's what that's what I'd like to use for bounces and then on you know and then frames with black fabric with juventino over them for you know, for negative phil on both of those air silent they're you know, they there's no rattling sound like there would be with diffusion friend so that's it but that is a problem there's you know, there like plastic fusions would rattle in this kind of situation and you don't it's you know, it doesn't help anybody tio have, you know, have distracting sound issues, especially you like, just, you know, it's it's uh, you know, it's bad for the movie overall and you want to make a good film, you care about the shadow so the mic I do but the boom person has toe has to help with that, you know, here like, especially in this wind, we're not going going to be able to put up any kind of overhead tio tio block the shadows so the boom person they're usually very good at knowing where the you know where the light sources and where they have to put their microphone so that they can get the sound not put a shadow in the frame it's you know this is all that that's all like usually there's a there's an easy solution to that it's and when there isn't it's because somebody is kind of is locked into there's only one answer when you know when really we all need to be open tio not like there's only one answer and I you know, this is wrong but you know, like how do we make this all work? The whole goal of the whole process is a z each person has to figure out like not how do I stop this from happening? But how do I make it work? Uh one last question before we go out. Yeah, yeah it's wondering just why that angle of the of the roof aside from the backdrop but like there's a lot of other roofs up here as well. Okay, what were you thinking, this's? I we came out here beforehand but there's a steep angles here too, but like maybe one of these other roofs kind of works better in terms of actually having having him follow him follow sure that's a good point, it seemed like I don't know nobody ever we never went up there and look at it is what it really comes down to because somehow we had imagined that they were standing on the flat roof but you're right like reimagining it toe put it up there we'll be good and we come up with you present its own like set of production issues but it would also be, you know and probably liability insurance issues but you know it also it's a whole other creative thing because you hear it it looks like the roof where people are meant to go it's like a deck and up there it's like they're on the the peak of the roof where you're not meant to be and how did they get there and that's actually that's kind of cool like you know you could take that you could definitely take it in that direction should we go scout that or is that like when I get thrown off the roof myself? Yeah, but it's like that you know that's what's that's what's really cool for me like that's what's exciting about the whole process that is you walk in and some you know the director says that and you saying oh wow that's not what I pictured at all but that's pretty cool and you know if you get too stuck in your own ideas, you're not open teo you know the other stuff that comes up well, that's, great. I think we're good. Ok, sorry, we're not going to go scout. They shut down. Yeah, we got it. Still got a lot to cover, you know, thank you for this, jim.

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.