A Day at the MPC

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Last week in our Directing II class, we had two hours to film a “master shot” on the sound stage of the Media Production Center (MPC) at Columbia College Chicago. I’ve been dying to be able to do my own work there, so I thought I’d walk you through the basics of the shoot.

I had two hours (10:00 to 12:00) to complete my project with two actors and a full crew. My shoot was an original scene based on a script given to us in class. In coming up with a story, I decided to stretch my directorial wing and go broad comedy.

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Think, Bridesmaids or School of Rock. In order for the shoot to work, you’ve got to be organized…or try to be. Here’s the schedule I was working with:

09:30 call

09:45 start build/rehearsal

10:00 wall up, blocking, rehearsals

10:15 start lighting/set decoration

11:00 actors on set/Final rehearsal

11:15 shoot

12:00 wrap

Most shoots last 8 hours or more. Call times, or the time you show up on set, can range from 6:00 AM (to shoot all day) to 9:00 PM (for an overnight shoot.) No matter the time, it always seems early. Speaking of early, that’s when you want to show up, so you can be ready to go and get going. Don’t be the one that holds up production because you just had to stop at Dunkin Donuts to get coffee and a bear claw. Ideally, when you shoot, you only have to be at one location. That’s why shooting at the MPC is great. It’s a controlled location with sweet amenities. I’m talking about a green room, dressing room, and even a prop room.

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Once everyone arrived, it was time to get to work. My crew was set up into teams that had different responsibilities in putting together the set. Everyone teamed together to set up the walls. The process involves taking “flats” (4X9 foot pieces of painted wood sections) and fastening them together to make walls of whatever room I plan to set my scene in. While this was happening, the production design team took props from the prop room and decorated the set to look like a classroom. This allowed me to rehearse with my actors and prep them for camera. After the lights were up and tested, I was able to shoot.

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I was pleased with the process. The atmosphere on set was upbeat and focused. My actors did a terrific job adapting to carrying out the scene on camera. They picked up everything quickly and responded well to directions I gave them.

Once twelve o’clock rolled around, we wrapped (or ended the shoot.) Everyday I’m learning and gaining more experience. Getting the chance to work at the Media Production Center was one of the best lessons I’ve had at Columbia College Chicago.