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On Set in Suburbia

Film-making in your neighborhood. It's not all glitz and glamour!

Ever see a film crew working down the street from where you live?

If you live in Atlanta, like I do, it’s a fairly common occurrence. So many movies and TV shows are shooting here!

There’s also a lot of filming going on that will never be shown in theaters, on streaming services, or on TV. I’m talking about projects like corporate training videos that are intended only for a company’s employees or customers.

I had the pleasure of working on an industrial training film recently. Right smack dab in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. Complete with elderly couples strolling about, kids playing and racing bikes down the street, barking dogs, and leaf blowers galore. In other words, “real life” working conditions.

Flexibility and humor will get you through most anything.

A large camera with extensions sits on a tripod, ready to shoot a professional film or video. It's set up outdoors, with blue skies and white clouds visible in the background, against a taupe, barren landscape. A young man in jeans and black leather jacket waits to perform in front of the camera lens. A second bearded man wearing sunglasses is to his right and is checking the equipment.
Extra challenges when filming in public spaces

It’s not the easiest shooting outside in a public space.

For starters, you don’t have control of the environment. Natural lighting is constantly shifting (sun, clouds, changing angles, etc.). The noise is what it is. Cue the kids shouting to each other, dogs barking at every passerby, and homeowners tidying up their lawns any way they please. And of course, there’s always a plane or traffic helicopter somewhere up in the sky, passing directly overhead just when you’re in the middle of the shoot.

So you work around it! What else can you do? Sometimes the background noises fit in nicely with the storyline. Most often, though, they don’t. So you start, stop, reset, wait for the right opportunity, adjust for the changing light, and go again.

This shoot, for a regional power company, was especially fun because of the small, experienced, and very friendly crew. They knew each other well, were prepared for just about everything, and did a terrific job making the on-screen talent (me, in this case) feel welcome and comfortable. You can’t get better than that!

Yes, we dealt with the noise. We waited for it to pass. The crew dealt with the quickly changing light conditions. Portable lights and reflectors were brought in to adjust for the fading bits of light as we were racing the late winter sun.

My scenes were scheduled for the end of the day, so on top of the noise and fading natural light, the crew was battling fatigue. They had already spent many hours earlier in multiple locations filming other scenes with other actors, lugging around their equipment as they went.

That they were so easy-going despite being visibly tired was impressive. It was clear that they knew their stuff and my scenes were filmed fairly quickly and efficiently.

I’ve been on other sets where the crew was inexperienced and their jobs were poorly coordinated, when each scene seemed to take forever to shoot. Not here. And this crew knew had to handle problems

Murphy is alive and kicking. Of course he is! Why should a film set be any different?

If you’ve ever worked on a shoot, you’ll know that something, somewhere will go wrong. A piece of equipment will fail, there’ll be a problem with the environment, a crew member will be pulled away to attend another issue and they’ll be short-staffed, or there’ll be a (heaven forbid!) a problem with the talent. Not knowing lines, stumbling over tongue-twisting phrases, being difficult to work with. I’m pleased to say that didn’t happen here! Especially with the talent – I take great pains to be on-time and very well prepared!

Here were three challenges that popped up that day. They will be very familiar to anyone who has ever worked on a film set!

  1. Lighting - especially working around natural and ever-changing light.

  2. Script Changes - there's almost always some adjustments.

  3. Equipment Failures - it comes with the territory.

If you’ve ever worked on a shoot, you’ll know that something, somewhere will go wrong.

There's a solution to everything. McGyver's shown us the way.

As problems go, these were pretty minor and easily handled. But the real trick is knowing how to handle them. And a positive attitude makes it easier on everyone until they're resolved.

Here's what our film crew encountered and how they handled them:

Problem 1: Fading sun and noisy neighborhood background.

Solution: The crew worked around with extra lights, reflectors, and waited for the kids, dog, and occasional overhead aircraft to just go their merry way.

Problem 2: Last minute script changes.

Solution: This happens frequently when the words on the page don’t sound quite right when they’re spoken aloud by a real person. No disrespect to the copywriter, but sometimes the written word doesn’t translate as totally conversational when voiced. Or, as in this case, the director wanted the name of the company inserted earlier in the speech than as written.

That’s the job of the actor, to make adjustments on the fly. Fortunately, these wonderful people also had decided to work with a teleprompter, which truly made my job that much easier. Yes, I had memorized all my lines, but it was sure nice to have everything – changes, included! – right in front of my eyes. Easy peasy.

Problem 3: Technical snafu - a doorbell failed to cooperate.

Solution: In this brief scene, my role as an employee of the power company was to ring the doorbell and warmly introduce myself to the homeowner. Well, said doorbell was on its coffee break. A minor inconvenience. As they say, “we’ll fix it in post.” (That’s post-production.) I pressed the doorbell while (off-camera) a crew member knocked on a window to alert the person waiting inside to open the door. He opened the door, I gave my spiel and it was a wrap!

Laura's Quick Tips

  1. Go with the flow. Something is bound to go wrong at some point. Don’t get worked up about minor inconveniences. Trust that the pros know their jobs and are doing them well.

  2. Focus on doing YOUR job well. It’s about the only thing you can control anyways. And no doubt you want to be seen as the consummate professional you are: prepared, relaxed, and flexible.

  3. Humor is a great companion! As is a positive outlook. When you’re easy to work with, people want to work with you. Again and again. And if the crew isn’t terribly capable, bite your tongue. Smile. Be patient. They don’t need a critic while trying to fix a problem.

All told, my three scenes, from beginning to end, were completed in about 90 minutes. All very pleasant. The nice thing about working with a small, tight-knit crew in an informal setting was that it fostered very comfortable, casual relationships between everyone. We got to know one another and talked between shots about home remodeling, landscaping options, and our own families. So they totally understood when I declined their offer for a beer afterwards, explaining that I had to run off to my “side gig” – my real-life role as a busy mom making dinner for my family.

So what do you do after a job? Heartfelt good-byes in this case, followed by a thank you note and the expressed hope that we’ll have the opportunity to work together again. And another thank you and small gift to the kind person who had referred me for the job. A happy experience all around! They should all go this smoothly….

Find this interesting and want to read more about life on a film set? Check out some of the stories below.

Laura Doman smiling

I'm Laura Doman, a former tech industry sales executive, hands-on mom, voice & TV/film actress, and improv performer. I create memorable characters that tell my client's stories, from the friendly CEO touting new upgrades to your sassy best gal pal dispensing some necessary, real-world advice...Let's Talk!


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