How do I know if I’ve shot enough footage? I hate to waste money and time, but I’m nervous I won’t get what I need for the edit.
PS: Absolutely love your book! I’ve read it cover-to-cover twice now and starting my third time through.
Directors always shoot more than they think they need. Which means some of it will always be wasted.
In the business, there’s a name for this waste. It’s called the “shooting ratio” and it varies greatly by what kind of project you’re shooting. It simply means the ratio between how much footage you use, and how much you throw away. You almost always throw away more than you use.
For example, if you shoot a webcam video for Youtube, you might do 5 takes of your rant and cut the best parts together. That’s a 5:1 shooting ratio– 5 in the trash for every 1 on the screen. On the other end of the spectrum is a massive effects-driven superhero movie. That might come in at as high as a rumored 400:1 shooting ratio– meaning it would take you 60 days of watching 24 hours a day to see all of the footage produced for Avengers: Endgame. (No one person does this, of course. Instead editorial and animation teams sort the wheat from the chaff to bring it down to something more manageable. Nonetheless, you can see why costs are much higher for Avengers than a webcam rant.)
In between is everything else. We might shoot 2 hours of footage to get 30 finished seconds of commercial– a shooting ratio of 240:1. “Normal” big-budget feature films shoot at close to that. A low-budget indie film will get as close to 1:1 as they can (but probably 6 or 10:1). A big reality show lets the cameras run long and there are usually 2-4 of them, so the ratio goes up. There are no rules.
Clint Eastwood notoriously shoots 1 or 2 takes of everything, which keeps his ratio very low. And some directors shoot waaaaay more than the norms. As you develop your own style, you’ll shoot more or less footage based on how you like to work. Even though there are no rules, here are my ballpark approxi-guesses for much of what you typically will see:
But the main point is this: No matter what you shoot, you will trash MOST- over 80%- of what you shoot. The process requires overshooting. If you are not grossly overshooting, you’re doing it wrong.
Go a little over budget and get brilliant shots, and clients or networks will still love you (most of the time). But come in under budget and don’t get what you needed? You won’t be asked back.
To be both great and respectful of the budget, know your material. Create a shot list. If you’re shooting something complicated, storyboard scenes first. Whatever you need to do your homework and get everything done.
Then. once you’ve got the coverage down, push your day for playtime. Improvise with your actors. Let the DP do that macro shot she’s been dying to set up. Wait for the light. Try ideas that come to you. If most of it doesn’t work, you’re doing it exactly right. And you’ve seriously upgraded your finished piece with the stuff that does.