Production: Working with the Background

Most people don't realize it, but what happens in the background of a shot in production is just as important as the foreground. For example, let's say you're shooting a scene that takes place in an apartment. It's a very well written and dramatic scene; in fact, it may even be the best thing you've ever read. And, to top that off, you've casted some really great actors and are shooting with one of the best camcorders possible. But, there was one thing you overlooked, the art department.

Art Department

An art department is responsible for decorating the film set and making it look real. They are just as important to a great looking shot as the lighting is. If you're shooting a scene in an apartment where two people who have been living together for five years are breaking up, then the scene could fail without a great art department. That's because the look of the apartment is just as important of a sell to the audience as the actors' performances.

If your set is an empty and bare apartment, then no one is going to believe that anyone works there. But, if it is cleverly decorated, then you're creating a world for your characters that the audience will believe. A great art department adds to the characters and scenes. Not only is a great background visually appealing, but it can also tell a story in itself.

Using Extras for Background

Let's say that your scene is comprised of two people sitting together in a restaurant. Of course shooting in a real restaurant helps sell the validity of the scene's illusion to the audience. But, if that restaurant is empty, then the audience might feel as if something is off. A sparse empty background is not visually appealing, and it does not look right when trying to sell the scene to the audience. Hire extras to fill the empty seats. This will make your restaurant look busy. You can even get creative and give them tasks to complete behind the camera so that the frame looks busier and more natural.

Working with extras can sometimes be overwhelming because they take up a lot of space, have a lot of free time, and often are not professional actors. Hire an amount of people that is manageable for production, and make sure that there is a space away from set where they can wait until needed. If any of the extras (also known as background actors) are disruptive or disrespectful to anyone, do not hesitate to fire them. Also, make sure that they're having quiet, mime-like conversations in the background so they don't affect your sound.

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