Shoot for the Cut

Lesson Details

Subject: Shooting

Title: Shoot for the Cut


This is all about getting control over your piece from the very beginning. If you can think out what it is you need to tell a story, you are going to shoot in a much more focused way. We are going to spend less time shooting and more time thinking, and that is going to make for much more powerful images and a much better final product.


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Before you start shooting any story, I need you to think about what it is you want to get in the end. I know that seems a little strange, in conventional television, we go in, we see something, we start shooting right away. We accumulate tons and tons and tons of stuff and then we come back in the edit room. We screen it all and we put it together. When I was starting in this business at CBS at the network, they used say ‘shoot a lot to give the editor choices’ Actually this makes no sense whatsoever because you are the editor. So, we’re going to learn to shoot in a very minimalist way. This is contrary to everything you’ve probably thought about in terms of filmmaking or television or video before. But I want you to shoot almost for the piece that we’re going to make and this requires some thinking and some discipline.

This is not that unusual in a creative world. If you were a writer and probably many of you have been writers or you have tried to be writers and somebody said to you ‘I need you to write 250 words on something, you wouldn’t write 10,000 words spread them all out on your table and go ‘I know it’s in here somewhere, just let me find it’. Take a sentence from here, and a sentence from here, and a sentence from here and slam them all together.

Now those of you who have worked professionally in television before, you’ll understand right away that that’s the way the industry has always worked which is actually a crazy way to work. It’s time-consuming but more than that, it’s destructive to your ability to really focus on what makes a great piece. This notion of accumulating tons and tons and tons of stuff. So instead, we are going to simply going to change the process entirely. And the first thing I’m going to teach you how to do is to understand what it is you need to shoot before we even talk about how you’re going to shoot it.

Now, how do you know what it is that you need? The funny thing is, you know it already. You just don’t know that you know it. So, when you’ve gone through this process enough times, you’re going to be able to walk into any shooting situation and look around and go ‘I need that, I need that, I don’t need that, I don’t need that, I need that, I don’t need that, I need that, I need a sound bite.’

And from those elements alone, we’re going to put together a very perfect piece. People who’ve been working with my system for a long time, People who’ve been working me for twenty years or more actually shoot almost one-to-one ratio which is almost incompressible in the business, but for us that’s a normal way of working. You can understand it if you drive your ratios down so low, it saves you time it saves you cost. And more than that, it buys you the time to think about the story that you want to do. Television and video are a minimalist business.

They’re a minimalist business because at the end of the day, you may make a minute or two minutes out of a day’s work. But that minute or two minutes is the only thing that your viewer, or your audience is going to see. Even if you’re making an hour film or an hour documentary, you may spend a year making that hour documentary. That’s thousands and thousands of hours, but at the end of the day, the only thing the viewer gets to see is that one hour, so it’s that one hour, that one minute, that two minutes that we’re going to focus on. And there’s a very specific way to do it and that’s what I’m going to show you how to do.

© Michael Rosenblum & Lisa Lambden 2015