Filming a TV series and what we have learned so far

The things we’ve picked up whilst filming a TV show.

We’re a couple of episodes in to filming our first ever TV show – The Horse Man. The show follows horse trainer Shady around as he attempts (and from what we can tell, succeeds) to fix problems with horses. We’re incredibly lucky – not only is Shady a joy to watch as he works, but we’ve got a fantastic crew and we have a lot of fun whilst we’re filming. Here’s some of the things we’ve learnt whilst shooting so far.

1. Take all the kit you have with you for the first shoot, and watch it decrease by 30% over time.

We’ve recently invested in tons of kit so that we don’t have to hire it in. It’s really comforting to know that we’ve got everything we need in house, but that also means that every conceivable piece of filming equipment will go with us when we go on shoots…just because we can. For our first filming day for The Horse Man, there was only room for the driver and one passenger in the Stada Moe-beel (hire car). Now that we’ve got a sense for it, we cut down on what we take dramatically – no need for massive LED light panels, for extra sound kit, for more than 2 tripods….and our “bag of miscellaneous stuff we might need” has become a much smaller, more manageable bag.

2. Always be generous with scheduling – it feels great to be ahead.

Before we go out anywhere, we produce a call sheet. That lets the members of the cast and crew know where they need to be, at what time, and what will be going on throughout the day. When we beat the times we’ve allocated, it feels great. That’s not to say that we rush through things, and we certainly don’t timetable ourselves great lumps of time for half an hour of shooting, but anywhere where time can be saved, it’s good to save it. It also means that if something does go wrong, we’ve got some contingency time in the bank.

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3. Check and double check the practicals, but let the content flow freely.

There is NO such thing as being over-prepared in this business. We go through our equipment thoroughly every time we leave for a shoot, even if we’ve just come back from one and we’re going on another the day after. Silly things like not having gaffer tape can trip you up, never mind forgetting a lens or putting the wrong time on the call sheets. However – due to the type of TV show that we’re filming, we can’t plan out too much of the content. It’s definitely more of a documentary feel to each day we shoot, so jotting down some rough ideas for questions to ask the horse owners and allowing them to tell their own story under gentle guidance, always results in us capturing the best moments.

4. Someone needs to be responsible for the “bag of miscellaneous stuff we might need” during filming.

Every crew functions differently. During the shoot for the TV show, we usually stick to two locations – the horse owner’s house and the place where they keep their horse. Because of this, a large majority of what we film is outdoors. As such, the car is usually parked at the other end of the field. If someone’s batteries run out or an SD card needs changing, it’s always good to make sure someone has all of that stuff on them so nobody has to go charging off and halting the shoot.

5. “We’ll fix it in post” is (occasionally) applicable.

There are certain things that can be salvaged in the editing room – If someone’s speech isn’t great and they’re not facing the camera, we can get around that by making smart cuts and dubbing over afterwards. If a conversation goes on for a little bit too long, we can choose the best bits and make them fit together. However, if wind noise is a problem when we’re filming, there’s not much we can do about that in post production. Similarly, if we’ve not used the correct settings on the camera, we might get back to find that the image is completely over exposed or extremely dark – there’s always a few tricks to try to remedy it, but it can’t ever be completely fixed. Attention to detail on the day is key.

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6. Cutaways are your very best friends (and cover all manner of sins).

We just can’t get enough of B-roll. The audience will tune out after a while if all we give them is a wide shot of a guy tapping a horse with a stick, and the whole thing would start to feel like a youtube training video. If a horse decides to defecate during an important part of A-cam’s footage that we absolutely have to use, we can insert some shots from the B-cam whilst that’s happening – making for much more enjoyable viewing.

7. Label everything on-site, and then back up your backups at the office.

When we come back from filming, the footage is backed up on our server and on hard drives. The sound comes in on different channels (a channel per lapel microphone), but also has a backup in the form of what we call a boom track (captured by the big furry thing on a pole) which we can use if someone’s personal microphone cuts out for whatever reason. If someone fills up a memory card, we stick a piece of camera tape on it immediately and get it labelled up. It saves a lot of time, and saves the editor sifting through card after card to find the right footage.

8. There’s always a heart to the story, even if nobody’s written it.

As humans, we are naturally predisposed to turn things into stories. As we interview more and more people about their horses, we find that the problems are not just skin deep – our first horse had a problem with being groomed, which meant that the owner’s three year old girl couldn’t go near her for fear of being kicked. Suddenly, it’s less about a horse acting out, and more about the anguish of a family that can’t enjoy having a horse, and the potential danger this poses to a tiny human. There’s always something deeper than what’s on the surface.

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