How to Recce – things to look out for

Throughout my last few years in TV, I’ve set out several times to recce filming locations – usually in order to film interviews with experts there. Over time, I’ve learned about the things to look out for when you’re checking a new venue – and for any of you about to embark on your first recce, I’ve listed them here.

  1. Space. Is the room big enough for you to sit your contributor down, have some space behind them, set up lights, put all the DoP’s kit in a corner, AND have space for you and the director(s) to sit? You’ll always need more space than you think!
  2. Set-ups. If you are planning to interview more than one person in the space, how many different set-ups can you do? How will the background look different for each contributor?
  3. Light. Can the curtains be drawn? Are there blinds? Especially in British weather, with our unreliable bouts of sunshine, it is often easier for the DoP to block out the natural light and light it him/herself. That way the interview achieves consistency, particularly if different parts of the interview are going to be cut together.
  4. Noise. Is it next to a main road? Can you hear trains? Is it on a flight path? Are the windows double glazed? Is it near a building site? Is there anything else happening in the venue on that day that might disrupt your interview because of noise? You either need complete silence or a dull consistent rumble of background traffic – but sudden noises will severely disrupt your interview and waste everyone’s time.
  5. Period features/background. If your documentary is about a certain period of history, you might want a background that fits your aesthetic. So for example, for my last two projects I’ve been looking for Victorian era houses/clubs/hotels – or at least places that are decorated with that comfortable, period aesthetic. But for other productions, I’ve been looking for locations with a classical background – clean lines, columns, statues etc.

Good luck with your next recce! If you think about all those things next time you visit a venue and there aren’t any problems, then you’re on to a winner – and you should probably make a note of the venue. It’ll most likely come in useful again!

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How to Recce – things to look out for

Radio Etiquette

One of the other things I learned on the drama shoot was appropriate radio etiquette. Yes, that is a thing. And there are rules. And if you break the rules, people get cross with you. Here are a few rules I learnt the hard way:

  1. When you’re asking to speak to someone, say your name, then “to/for”, then their name. So for example, “Zenia for Tom”.
  2. If someone asks for you and you hear them, respond by saying “Go for [your name]”. For example, “Go for Zenia”
  3. Over-communicate. If someone asks you to do something over the radio, acknowledge them (by saying “copy that”), do the thing, then tell them when the thing is done.
  4. Any conversations that are longer than simple commands or questions should happen on a different channel. To do that, ask for the person you need, say the channel number you want to switch to, then switch to that channel and wait for them to come in. Don’t forget to go back to Channel 1 when you’re done.
  5. Code for the loo is ten-one. Technically, ten-two means…well…a number two, but no one ever says that. Too much detail.
  6. If you hear someone asking for you over the radio, but you’re busy when they ask for you, just wait till you’re finished and then say “Go again for [your name]”.
  7. If you don’t hear anything over the radio for a while, there’s probably something wrong with it. Check that your earpiece is in correctly, and that you’re on the right channel.
  8. To start up your radio in the morning and let everyone know you’re on comms, pick up the radio, fix on your earpiece, and say “radio check”. Repeat this whenever you make a change to your radio. The response to “radio check” is “good check”.
  9. If you can, go for the over-ear D ring connection, rather than the in-ear ‘covert’ connection. That way, you won’t feel half-deaf, and your ear won’t get really itchy.
  10. Radios, funnily enough, emit radiation, so try not to put them near your kidneys or your ovaries. This sound piece of advice was given to me early one morning by the 2nd AD. Try to wear the radio, therefore on your hip, and make sure you wear something that will support it (basically, wear jeans – slotting a heavy radio on to thin leggings can get awkward, as I found out. Also pockets are just generally very useful on shoots).
Radio Etiquette

Being a 3rd AD

Let’s start with the obvious: 3rd AD means third assistant director. So on a drama set, the hierarchy goes: Director, 1st AD, 2nd AD, 3rd AD, Floor Runner. The Director decides what he or she wants from the scene and from each shot. The 1st AD gives out instructions to make happen what the director wants.

The 2nd AD coordinates anything that needs to be done in order for this to run smoothly, e.g. making sure that any kit, props, special effects or additional features, such as horses and carriages and jibs and cranes and things, arrive on time. In fact, the 2nd AD will spend quite a lot of time in the office, doing call sheets and schedules and making phone calls and generally organising things.

The 3rd AD is on set most of the time helping the 1st, but also has the responsibility of coordinating the background artists (the politically correct way of saying ‘extras’) and making sure the principle cast get through costume and make up when they’re supposed to. Sometimes that means they’ll have to be off set sorting out costume changes – but that’s what the floor runner is for, to help the 1st when the 3rd is not there.

Makes sense?

I loved having the responsibility of looking after the background artists. I ended up feeling very motherly towards them; it really mattered to me that they were having a good time and weren’t left waiting around or outside in the cold too much. And often, when the 1st AD told me to ‘reset the background’, I would turn around to find they had done it themselves! I met some really interesting people with some fascinating back stories, and they always had a cheery ‘hello’ for me when I brought them up to the costume department at the crack of dawn each day.

However, coordinating the transition between costume, make-up and then back on set, with the hectic schedule that we had on the shoot, often meant that I was caught in the crossfire between stressed make-up artists brandishing hot tongs, frantic costumiers with mouths full of pins, actors trying to learn their lines, and the impatient foot-tapping of the 1st AD who had just finished rigging and wanted all artists to set, PRONTO. But of course, I wasn’t allowed to rush the make-up or the costume, or talk back to the 1st AD, or anything like that. Instead, I reported back on every tiny movement of the artists until everyone could be reassured that they were just two metres away from set. And now they’ve just stopped to tie their shoelace. And now they’ve gone to the toilet. And now they’re taking a selfie. Perhaps this was getting a little ridiculous?

Well, I certainly thought so by the end of the shoot. Although the smiles and kind praise from background artists made my day, every day, and although by the end there was great banter and plenty of laughs, I couldn’t help feeling that this was all rather silly. The stress, the long hours, the lack of sleep, and the blame chain: the unspoken rule that the people at the top are fully entitled to take out their failings on whichever underclass of AD was nearest to hand. It’s not something I want to subscribe to for the long term.

So, ciao bella, 3rd AD, it was nice meeting you, thanks for the CV credit and all, but I’ll head home to my AP role and a nice, thought-provoking documentary thanks.

Being a 3rd AD