10 Things We Notice Because We Work in Production

Posted on: Apr 14, 2023

Sound engineer noticing a production error outside during a video shoot with a model in the background waiting.Photo Credit: Kzenon / Shutterstock.com

By Staff Me Up

Nothing can pull you out of the magic of your favorite TV show or movie faster than noticing a production error. And because we eat, live, and breathe all things production, we have a well-trained eye to spot some other director’s, editor’s or department’s blatant faux pas that the average person would likely never notice.

With the long hours and caffeine-fueled nights that crews spend on productions, it’s impossible to get everything during shoots or even in post. We’ve all been guilty of at least one of these blunders in the past, so there’s no judgment here. That said, let’s relish in some of the fine imperfections of our craft while presenting ways to help you avoid them.

1. Continuity errors

If the actor’s hair is up then suddenly down, or if a cigarette goes from being a dwindling stub to freshly lit, you’re going to notice it. It happens to the best of us, but because this error is so obvious to everyone regardless of the industry you work in, try your hardest to ensure this doesn’t happen to you by having an extra set of eyes on the prize. If you’ve got a tiny budget and there’s no way to go back and re-shoot the scene, just know that you tried and keep that in mind for your next project.

2. A boom mic dropping like it’s hot

Nothing takes you out of the scene quite like seeing the boom mic descend into the frame like a menacing UFO on a mission to destroy your suspension of disbelief. It’s one thing if the production is about a documentary crew and it was meant to be done on purpose, but otherwise, try your best to keep the boom out of the shot and make a note to double-check for this when reviewing.

3. The dog is staring at the animal trainer

Everybody loves dogs, but sometimes you can’t help but notice that they’re not fully cooperating with the actors in the scene or are looking for guidance. The animal trainer tries their best to keep the critters going, but at the end of the day, you have to be ready for the unpredictable and be prepared to embrace it—even when it makes the final cut.

4. Reflection of production lights in eyeglasses

When a character is supposedly alone in a dark sewer, but the reflection in their glasses implies they’re about to make first contact with every alien ship from a planet specializing in light bulb manufacturing, it can take you out of the production. It’s tricky shooting moments like these, but with a few simple lighting techniques, and possibly finding ways to get glasses out of the shot or script for the particular scene, you’ll sail smoothly through the caves and catacombs.

5. Actors that aren’t really driving cars

When an actor is paying about as much attention to the road as a half-asleep baby in a stroller does, it’s pretty clear there’s not a lot of real driving going on. If you’re filming a driving scene, make a note of how believable the actor’s driving looks, and if you’re not in a position to speak to the director about it, find out who you can speak with so that they can help them keep an eye on this.

6. Bad wigs

Unless it’s intentional for the scene or character, bad wigs are one of those things that can take you out of a scene pretty quickly. Wig quality can sometimes come down to budget, and rough weather conditions can mess with wigs as well. If you’re working with wigs, have your hair and makeup department do their best to make them look as realistic as possible via trimming or other means.

7. Crafty left on-set

Like continuity errors, we all can see items left on-set and will remember this. If there is a crafty item in the shot or a plane that flies through a movie set in the 1700s, find a way to resolve the issue while your project is still in production. This should never happen, but sometimes it just does. Make sure to check the set or location that will be in front of the camera prior to filming each scene. And if that’s not your department, let someone from that department know to be mindful to check.

8. Crew members in the shot

We’ve all wandered into a shot at some point. The best you can do is fight the urge to make the PA-caught-in-the-headlights look and keep an eye out for your surprise cameo on the DVD. (Don’t hold your breath for any royalties, though.) Whether this has happened to you or not, be mindful of your surroundings, and if you have to fix something on-set quickly, make sure the cameras aren’t on at the time.

9. Painfully obvious ADR (Automated Dialog Replacement)

Two actors are in a room exchanging dialog, when suddenly the camera cuts to the back of an actor’s head and they sound like the host of a morning talk radio show. Unless you’re the sound engineer or audio editor, there’s not much you can do about wacky ADR. But if you happen to be in the sound department, ask your peers to help you review any ADR while you’re in the driver’s seat and you’ll be good as gold.

10. That puffy shirt hiding a lavalier

We’ve all seen the bump on an actor’s chest that’s clearly hiding a mic, or the bulge in the back where you know the transmitter is. No amount of moleskin is going to be enough to battle 100% cotton and its mocking flexibility, but you can always research the best techniques to hide a mic while filming, and apply them on-set to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

Although you won’t catch these or other production errors every time, by being present and looking out for them, you’ll get better at detecting these issues in the future, making you well-equipped to tackle any situation at work.

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