A Director’s Take on Retakes
After a take, the director first checks with camera and sound for confirmation. If there was a technical problem, it must be communicated to the director at this point so that he or she can determine if a retake is needed.
Camera: If the camera lost focus, or bobbled in the middle of the shot, or if a pan didn’t follow the actor or got the edge of a light stand in the frame, then a retake might be necessary.
Sound: If the microphone drifted off-axis too much, or the actor delivered their lines so loudly that the levels clipped, or if the mike picked up extraneous noise (like a dog barking or a lawnmower starting up next door), or any other problem like this, you’ll probably require another take.
Performance, New Ideas: The director also evaluates the performances. Did the actor drop some lines? Was the performance not as good as it could be? Were the actions awkward or incorrect? Maybe everything was fine, but the director got some new ideas while watching the scene unfold. All of these things could also lead to a re-take.
Continuity: Continuity issues also must be considered. Did the actor have a cigarette in the long shot, but not in this close-up take? Was the actor wearing a coat in the long shot, but is now wearing only a shirt for the close-up? Is there a problem with matching screen direction or performance intensity from shot to shot? These issues also can require a retake. On projects that require a lot of continuity shooting, it is a good idea to have a dedicated script supervisor, whose job it is to pay attention to continuity details and to mark off shots that have been completed. Script supervisors also can do spot checks with the logs and slates to make sure that they’re corresponding properly.
If the director decides that another take is needed, then the problem with that take is noted in the camera and sound logs “comments” area and, after making the necessary corrections (technical or performance), then the whole process is repeated for “take 2.” Keep in mind, the “comments” notes are important because not all “bad takes” are a complete loss. Sometimes a technical or performance problem isn’t a problem throughout the take, and there are some good moments that can be used in the editing. These should be noted as well. If the director is happy with the take, then it is marked as a “keeper” in the logs and everyone moves on to the next scene/shot on the shot list. After all of the shots from a particular camera angle are completed, the camera and lighting move to the next angle and setup begins again. This system is repeated, take after take, setup after setup, scene after scene, day after day, until you’ve got your movie “in the can.”
Other Retake Factors
There will be times when everything on a take went relatively well, but the actor or director of photography feel that they could have done better or want to try something new, or feel that with one more take they can really do something extraordinary. In these cases they should ask the director for another take. If you can afford the time and the footage, it’s usually a good idea to listen to these requests.
Sometimes, when cast and crew nail the scene on the very first take, a bizarre superstition takes hold of everyone and they think, “It can’t have been that easy.” Or “What if something happens to that take? It’s the only one we’ve got.” In these cases the director may call for another take, “just for safety’s sake.” This is called a safety take. The funny thing is, there is often some problem with the safety take (technical or performance) and then people will inevitably want to do retakes of the safety take… Still, safety takes are a good idea, if only to give you some options in the editing room.
There will also be times when you are running out of time or film or both and simply not getting the entire shot you’re after in a single take. This situation calls for the director to be crafty. Perhaps you have everything you need, but it is distributed in good moments among several “imperfect” takes. Maybe all you need to do is shoot a cut-away, or a simple reaction shot of someone else, which will then allow you to piece together the best parts of various takes seamlessly. It’s important that a director keep in mind during the shooting process the flexibility that editing affords.
Excerpt from Voice and Vision: A Creative Approach to Narrative Film and DV Production by Mick Hurbis-Cherrier © 2007, Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.