Anyone who has ever worked on a film production has probably heard the term “pickup shot” thrown around. Sometimes it is said with an underlying dread and sometimes it is said with urgency. What is a pickup shot and what are some of the primary reasons they are used and so where should they be taken into consideration in a production schedule? Let’s find out.
What is a Pick Up Shot in Film?
First, let’s define pickup shot
Before we dive into the reasons pickup shots might be needed, let’s take a look at a quick definition.
PICKUP SHOT DEFINITION
What is a pickup shot?
Pickup shots are shots filmed after principal photography has ended. Pickup shots, also called pickups or reshoots, are shot for a variety of reasons both logistical and creative. The extent of this additional shooting can range from a couple of days to multiple weeks.
Why are pick up shots used?
- To fix continuity errors
- Reshoot corrupted or lost footage
- Elevate a film’s story
When to Use a Pick Up Shot
First and foremost, pick up shots are used for logistical reasons to remedy various situations.
1. Continuity errors
It’s the job of the script supervisor to monitor the continuity of a scene shot to shot. This helps continuity editing in post-production tremendously. But like any position, mistakes can be made and continuity can be violated.
If the continuity error is so distracting, such as an actor wearing a completely different outfit or the natural lighting has shifted an immense amount, a director might choose to reshoot the scene as a pickup shot to fix the error.
However, continuity errors are not always a justifiable reason to shoot pick up shots if they are minor. Take a look at this video to get an understanding of what type of continuity errors can go by unnoticed.
Movie Mistakes: When does Film Continuity REALLY Matter?
2. Corrupted cards or lost footage
This next reason is undoubtedly the most heartbreaking reason to shoot pickup shots. The nightmare of corrupting a hard drive, memory card, or simply losing footage can be all too real for some filmmakers. The shots taken in principal photography may have been perfect, but if they are lost or corrupted, they will have to be made up in pick up shots
3. Unusable footage
Sometimes all of the footage is perfectly found on the card or hard drive, but is still deemed unusable. Why? A number of reasons. A cinematographer, camera operator, or 1st AC could have missed focus on a crucial shot. Shots that have soft focus which can be incredibly distracting or unusable.
The audio of a shot or scene can also be peaking or poorly recorded to the point where it is also unusable. These are only a few mistakes that can be made that can deem shots unusable and create a need for a pick up shot.
Reasons to Use a Pick Up Shot
Besides logistical reasons such as continuity errors, corrupted footage, or unusable footage, directors may have creative reasons for shooting a pick ups.
The narrative pacing of a scene can definitely depend on the use of pickup shots. This can especially be the case if a scene feels too fast and there are no more shots that can be used.
2. Character development and characterization
Sometimes an entire scene is created in a pick up shot to further flesh out a character and/or their development. If a director understands a character, but feels as though the audience may not understand them due to a lack of detail communicated in the film, a scene that fleshes out the character can be shot in pickups. Characterization can be achieved through extra narrative details shot in pick ups.
3. Plot details
There is a fine line to walk by spoon feeding an audience information and not giving them enough information to understand the plot. The latter can lead to a need for pickup shots. Just like a character may be unclear to an audience, the plot may also be poorly communicated.
This is where a pick up shot can come into play.
Ideally, all of these story details and character details should be ironed out in pre-production and principal photography. But filmmaking is an ever changing process and realizations can come at any time. This is where pickups can really elevate a story and film. If they are needed, when should they be shot?
WHEN TO USE A PICK UP SHOT
When to shoot pickup shots
Pickups can be shot right after principal photography has concluded, but there is an argument for conducting pick up shots after an assembly cut.
Seeing an assembly cut or rough cut can also spark new ideas creatively that may inform or inspire your pickup shots. After seeing an assembly cut you will gain a new perspective on your film and story by seeing it somewhat pieced together.
This will also help you connect the dots of where pickup shots will fit in to help elevate the story. Take a look at this behind-the-scenes video of filmmakers taking on a pickup day and how their perspective on the story prior to principal photography has informed their pickup shots.
Short film pick up shot day
2. Creative energy
Giving yourself a break after principal photography can give you a much-needed breather after production to gather your energy and creative juices yet again. Production is a marathon not a sprint, and a much-needed break can actually help you think more clearly and creatively rather than just trying to rush and get everything done.
What Does an Assistant Director Do?
A role that is integral in executing pickup shots as they are scheduled is the assistant director. Learn more about the role of the assistant director and what they are responsible for in our next article.
Up Next: What Does an AD Do? →
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