The Construction Site Theater

How I Evaluate What Shots Will Work

A Case of Stage Site

The Site Is Live Theater

For me, project locations are large stages, with the action (construction process) playing out during multiple, daily scenes, using specialized and off-the-shelf props (hand tools, concrete pumps, tractors, etc.) by the actors (workers and supervisors). Add in ever changing and dramatic lighting conditions into this mix. For a location photographer like myself, (who specializes in time-lapse film production) the lighting conditions make or break great shots. I cannot stress this aspect enough.

Speaking of the light, there are three qualities of light: direction, unfiltered sun (specular) or cloudy bright (diffused) light. You could add overcast conditions where the the sun is totally obscured as a fourth category. The mixture of light quality and activities happening makes or breaks a great day of filming. The way the light falls on the stage throughout the day should be taken into consideration. There are other light qualities to consider, (nighttime lighting) but that’s for a future post…

The Responsibilities of the Director

My job as the director is knowing how and when to blend the elements of light and action together, and to be able see the end product. Experience allows me to appropriately time these recording scenarios. These timed, varied scenarios give me coverage options in the editing phase that add immensely to the quality of the film.

My Process

  1. get familiar with the activities/scenes for the time I’m on site
  2. record it when the light is great, arrive early and stay late if necessary
  3. time-lapse the majority of these activities/scenes 3-5 times each
  4. vary the timing, composition and motion control settings each time
  5. review in post-production to find the absolute best one

Quality takes time…and more time…

We’ve explored the light qualities but what about the speed at which the “actors” are working? Is there going to be enough change over the course of time cameras are recording or will it just be dramatizing a process? This is neither good nor bad but rather an evaluation of what exists, how to record it efficiently and (once it’s cut into the timeline) how does it play in the film?

An activity/scene has to depict a process that will be a good candidate for time-lapse recording. One question to answer is how will its’ time compression look when it’s processed? What are the options I can apply; Speed up more or in this case, slowing it down to a stop motion look:

Draw The Audience In With Movement

When possible draw your audience into the scene with camera movement too. And what about moving the camera while it records? Is it some combination of panning (side-to-side movement), tilting, (up and down) or sliding, (left to right, vice-versa or low to high)? It can be just a single axis movement, but in every case we want to minimize 100% static shots because of the drag they create on story flow. Time-lapse camera motion during the recording process makes blending a digital move in post much easier.  This scene is a combination of a panning sequence recorded live and a zoom out move in post-production:

Know What Your Actors Are Doing

The clip below is a good example of this. I wanted to get an isolated shot of a worker on the scaffolding and after awhile this fellow climbed up and began his assignment. I made note of the time it took him to insert a set of fasteners. A calculation was made taking in to consideration his speed and movement towards me. As the sequence progressed I zoomed my lens out and out until it had gone from a short telephoto to a wide angle point-of-view.

Take Advantage of Impressive Equipment

One of the benefits I receive from my construction time-lapse film work is getting to see cool equipment up close and personal. I get to know the operators a bit and sometimes as a result of this interaction, I can get as close as I need to for maximum aesthetic value. In this case, the crane was lifting these modular classrooms into position and I was able to roam freely to get the best angles:

So that’s the way I see things. I trust you found this interesting and helpful and please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or would like clarification.

Thanks for reading. Til next time…


Michael Stern

My work depicts, appreciates and honors the people who build. Their specialized equipment and stunning challenges are marvels I behold and get paid to interpret. Hope you enjoy this site.
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