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Filming the ER

Shooting E.R.:

Directing "Blood and Sand"

Filming medical dramas for an online Clark College course was one of the most fun projects I’ve worked on. We shot several of the videos at Southwest Washington Medical Center’s Sim Labs: rooms that simulate an ER, complete with hospital beds, monitoring equipment and dummies that vomit and have realistic heart attacks. We shot them on high-definition video with a four-man crew…a small crew, by ER standards, but working together, we finished filming all eight videos in four days.

The Crew:

Brian Adjusts audioI wanted these videos have the real dramatic feel on a show like “ER” and lighting is a key component to setting that mood.  For lighting design, I turned to local DP, Ryan Walters. Ryan created some amazing looks in short set-up times, utilizing Kino lights and grip equipment from Portland rental house, Picture This. We used a jib to add some nice, fluid movement in our shots. Brian Yazzie was our location sound engineer, and used the traditional boom mic to get close to the action. All sound was send directly to the camera and backed up on disc as a precaution. We shot on P2 cards (no more tape!) and transferred footage to two hard drives (one for storage, one for back-up) on the set. Our data wrangler, Nikia Furman, also acted as a grip and set up the jib.


Laying MarksDirecting on a film set is always fun. I was in my element, despite the challenges of working with actors with little experience. I started each day by going over the storyboards and shot list with the DP (Ryan) and figuring out the most efficient order to film them in. Then, while the crew set-up, I met with the cast, and we read through the script a few times. This is the point I see the actors interacting for the first-time and the performances coming together and I give input as needed. Once some of the gear was in place, we brought the cast in and blocked out the staging.  In blocking, you figure where the actors will stand and how they will move and on what line. You want them to start and stop and move at the same point during a scene, so when you change camera angles and film the same action again, the shots all cut together properly.  I watched to see how the scene looks on the camera, as the actors got a feel for the scene on the real set. We made adjustments, got the scene looking natural, and marked the spots on the floor with tape.

The actors were then kicked off the set while the crew, especially our DP, lit the scene. I went out with the actors for a bit more rehearsal time. I got them to a point where the scene was working smoothly, and then let them take a break; I didn’t want to push the actors too far, in case the performances became wooden. As soon as the scene was lit, the cast and I came back in and ran through the scene. This was a last chance to make sure everything was working and looking good on the monitor. Lights were tweaked, marks changed if necessary and then maybe one or two more run-throughs… and the shooting began.

Director and DPShooting a scene:

Typically, we started with the master shot – a wide shot that encompasses most of the action in the scene. Then we got in and did coverage – the close-up shots of various characters from different angles. Usually, directors shoot the coverage requiring the least lighting adjustments first, such as shots of the side of a conversation that the camera already faces in the master shot. Then the camera is turned around and lighting is tweaked for the reverse or reaction shots. This is where a storyboard comes in handy. A storyboard is a critical tool for any drama…it’s a way to communicate your vision to the cast and crew, but it’s also a way to keep track of what you’re shooting and make sure you don’t miss anything. There’s nothing worse than being in the edit room and realizing that you didn’t get an important piece of coverage, or a vital reaction shot.

Filming on Kitchen SetAfter four long days of filming, we were finally done, and ready to hit the edit suite.

family ties

see more images at http://www.flickr.com/photos/simonspykerman/

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