The Filmmaker's Mental Checklist: 9 Things to Nail Down Before You Hit Record

Ready to shoot? Not so fast! Have you checked these 9 things first?

Whether you're a professional or a total noob, there are going to be a lot of things you don't know how to do when you arrive on a film set, but making sure your camera is set up properly shouldn't be one of them. In this video, Darious Britt of D4Darious provides you with a great 9-step mental checklist that will help you correctly adjust your camera settings so you'll be ready and raring to go before you start recording.

  • Level: Use the bubble level or leveling tool in your camera to level your shot. (Eyeball it if you don't have those things.) What if you're shooting a Dutch angle? Well, start from level and go Dutch, bruh. Leveling your camera is just a good habit to get into.
  • Memory card: Is your memory card formatted? If not, check to make sure you don't have important data stored on it before you format it. 
  • Resolution and frame rate: Make sure your resolution and frame rate are set correctly. There's nothing worse than shooting a shot intended for slow-mo and then realizing later it was shot at 24fps.
  • Picture Style: A set of presets...that's what Picture Style is. This is a setting you'll see in Canon cameras, but other manufacturers have something similar. If you don't want a preset, just set it to neutral and color grade later. It's probably best to go that route.
  • White balance: You should check for white balance often while shooting. If you're shooting in a studio with controlled light, white balancing once before you shoot is fine. If you're shooting outdoors where the light is constantly changing, white balance once before every shot or camera setup.
  • Shutter speed: Your ideal shutter speed is the inverse of double your frame rate (or whatever number is closest). So, if you're shooting at 24fps, your shutter speed would be 1/48 or 1/50. If you're shooting at 30fps, it would be 1/60, and so on.
  • ISO: Keep an eye on your ISO. Depending on which camera you have, setting it too high will result in a lot of noise.
  • Focus: It's okay to be a crazy person about focus because it's crazy important. You can use your camera's digital zoom to focus or you can manually zoom in with your lens, too.
  • Framing: Once you've got this nailed down, you're good to go.

Now, of course there are a bajillion other things to nail down before hitting record, including lighting, exposure, sound, etc.; this list is just about getting your camera prepped with its settings and framing. One thing that was kind of glossed over and left off of the list in the video was exposure, but once you have everything set you can adjust your aperture to correctly expose your image. Depending on your camera and lens, you may have to adjust your ISO and/or shutter speed. If that messes up the look you're going for, try adding/subtracting some light to your shot.

Can you think of anything else that should be on the list? Let us know down in the comments.     

Your Comment


They forgot check audio... even scratch audio has screwed me....

October 7, 2017 at 12:09PM

Host With The Most

''You can use your camera's digital zoom to focus or you can manually zoom in with your lens, too.''

Manually zooming in works only with parfocal zoom lenses - ones that don't change focus while zooming. There are a lot of lenses, where this is would lead to a failure, because if you set focus when zoomed at 50mm and zoom out to wider angle, the focus would definitely be off.

October 13, 2017 at 3:27AM

Cameraguy, editor

I would add a few extras to this list:-

1) I teach my students to check their FEW - Frame-rate, Exposure, White-balance
2) Battery level - make sure your batteries are good for the next take.
3) Lenses - are they clean? (A quick check/dust-off at every lens change)
4) In addition to framing, take a spiral sweep around your frame to make sure there's nothing there that shouldn't be there. Get in the habit of starting top left, and then scan the frame to check all the edges and the background - I've been caught out once or twice by having some gear or a light-stand leg in the corner of the frame!

Another handy tip - be sure to sync the clocks in your camera and audio recorder before you start shooting. It just makes matching up your audio and video files much easier (especially if you're not keeping a Take List).

October 13, 2017 at 4:42PM, Edited October 13, 4:42PM

Ian Nicholson
Head Tutor at Sydney Short Film School

Just ignore most of the above. I've followed all of these rules in the past and over the years found most of it to be bollox. Yea Ok don't go erasing stuff you shouldn't common sense. The 24fps yea I shoot 24fps mostly out of habit, but who would know really if I shot at 25fps or even 30fps, nobody is the truth. Get the camera level, why? Set the camera up for the shot is all, and that's not necessarily level. Shutter speed, this is another one that should be twice the fps but to be honest you'll be surprised what shutter speed you can get away with in certain situations, and then there's those situations when you change the shutter speed for effect. White balance again can be used for effect, night for day, for example. ISO has different native settings from manufacturer to manufacturer and so doesn't necessarily cause horrible artifacts. An example of this if you're a GH4 user as I am and you'll know that 200 ISO is actually noisier than 400 ISO. Zooming in to focus. What a twat this person is for telling people to do that. It's only possible with a ParFocal lens. The average lense will have a different focus zoomed all the way in to when it's zoomed all the way out. In other words you zoom in get focus then zoom back out and guess what, you are now out of focus. Hilarious.

November 12, 2017 at 12:59PM

John Stockton
Filmmaker, Editor.