5 lessons from the making of "Fragments" by Joe Simon.
You have just 2 days to film 18 scenes.
How would you make it happen? What steps could you take to get everything ready? What could you do on set to make sure your crew stayed on task? With so many moving pieces, there’s a lot to consider in making sure you get everything right.
He had a clear directive: his team needed to highlight all of the great new features of the C100 Mark II (for example, its versatility, excellent autofocus and performance in lowlight settings), and Joe knew the best way to do that was in the context of a compelling story. The resulting film, “Fragments,” focuses on a timeless romance that begins with a young couple leaving their wedding, then flashes back to key moments of the couple’s relationship — how they fell in love all the way up to their proposal. The film concludes with a sweet twist, blurring the viewer’s sense of time by showing the same couple later in life.
Joe only had three weeks from accepting the assignment until final delivery, which included 2 shoot days to capture 18 different scenes that make up the short film. Without an inch of wiggle room in his filming schedule, how did he pull it off?
From his experience working with major clients like NFL, Nike and Budweiser, Joe knew that success in two days of filming meant that he needed to have a clear plan of action and a team that wasn’t afraid to juggle priorities. So, as the clock was ticking, he assembled a crew and got right to work.
Each scene of “Fragments” sizzles with romance and seeps with nostalgia. But pulling all of this off was no easy task. The lessons Joe shares from this project can help you accomplish some incredible things when time is a limited resource.
5 lessons to help you tell an amazing story on a tight timeline.
1. Pre-production, pre-production, pre-production.
The most important tip for working on a limited timeline is to make sure you don’t slack on pre-production. When you only have two days to shoot, you have to put in the work upfront and come up with a detailed plan. However tempting it may be to flip on the camera and figure things out as you go, that simply won’t work when the clock is ticking.
Joe found that the success of “Fragments” was largely due to his team’s detailed planning. “Two weeks of straight pre-production, every day with three people. That’s what it took,” Joe says, explaining how he spent weeks planning the story, rehearsing shots and selecting props.
With “Fragments,” Joe had a vision for a ‘70s aesthetic, and he dedicated hours to preparing a mood board and finding the right props (like a vintage truck, picnic baskets and so on). “Searching for mood board images is a very time consuming process,” he says. “Just like searching for music, you don’t just type it in and find what you’re looking for on the first go.” Joe has found Pinterest to be the best search tool for mood boards, much better than Google’s image search. Using keywords like “sun flare,” “sunsets,” and “couples,” he was able to hone in on the look and feel of a very specific vintage style.
“We had a super-detailed shot list,” he says. “With 18 different scenes in two days, we had to be this detailed. There was simply no time to waste.” Joe planned his shots down to the exact camera angle, and he barely deviated from this plan when he was on set. He also stayed focused on the story in preproduction, and he—yes, Joe himself—rehearsed each scene as the actor on his own to determine what would work for the talent as well as his crew.
All in all, Joe emphasizes that you have to put in the work up front: over plan, consider all contingencies and make sure you know your story inside and out. With a short runway, you can’t skimp on pre-production. That’s where the magic happens.
2. Wear many hats.
Making a film is a team sport, and when you’re working on a tight timeline, you need to know your teammates have your back. When you have just a few days on the set to get all of the filming done, roles have a tendency to blur. Success depends on how willing your team is to pick up the slack and take on additional duties.
“Just like in preproduction, people need to wear many hats in on the shoot,” Joe says. “We’re going to do whatever is necessary to get the job done.” With only two days to film “Fragments,” it was essential that his team could multitask.
“Bad attitudes do not make good films,” Joe insists. “I try to find crew that have that sort of mentality.” When you’re working on a tight timeline like Joe was, you don’t want to work with teammates who have an inflated ego or who get territorial. “You can’t work with people who will complain or get upset when you ask them to do a task that is below their level,” he says. Sometimes this means jumping in to help with lighting or simply running to grab a coffee for the client. Everyone needs to pitch in to contribute to the story’s success.
The big takeaway here is that filming is a juggling act. And in making “Fragments,” Joe credits the success on the set to his team; each player managed their duties, but they kept their eye on the story and did whatever it took to make sure it was amazing.
3. Find a flexible location
When you’ve only got a couple of days on set, you’ll need to spend most of that time filming. There’s no time to waste on traveling, so you need to carefully choose the location you’ll be using.
With “Fragments,” Joe and his team clearly defined their 18 scenes, and they knew they needed a location that was going to have multiple buildings on site. Canon wanted the story to be based in a country setting, so Joe also had to find a location that had the necessary look and feel. With a bit of searching on vacation rental site VRBO, he found the perfect spot — a farm house with a barn and lots of property.
The location itself proved invaluable for "Fragments". It meant very little lost time from shot to shot, and allowed Joe and his team to put 100% of their effort into capturing their story—with no interruptions. And even more, the house also doubled as a place for the entire crew to sleep.
“Our crew and talent stayed on location,” Joe says. “We only had two 12-hour days,” he continues, explaining the logistics. “There was no way our whole crew was going to drive an hour and a half there and back each day.” This saved on time as well as money since they didn’t have to splurge on hotel rooms. “It was like we were at camp,” Joe laughs.
As any realtor will tell you, location trumps everything. Make sure you know what type of location you need to tell your story, and then do a bit of exploring and get creative—using online tools like VRBO, Vacasa or Airbnb—to find the right spot that has everything your story demands as well as the facilities your crew requires.
4. Use the right tools.
When you’re working with a tight timeline, you need to use gear you can rely on. Since you don’t have a lot of time to waste, you also have to use a rig that’s flexible and has most of the features you know you’ll need.
For “Fragments,” Joe used the new Canon C100 Mark II. “The camera can do a lot of things, and we wanted to show that off in the context of the story,” he says. One of the big features was the Dual Pixel CMOS AF, an incredibly smooth and consistent autofocus that makes focus transitions natural with subjects remaining tracked as they move. Additionally, the camera performed exceptionally well in lowlight situations. In one scene, the young couple sits in the back of a pickup truck. The night is pitch back, and the scene is lit with only a flashlight. “We were filming at 20,000 ISO,” Joe says, “and it’s pretty remarkable you can see all those stars.”
“We knew the story needed an authentic look, with a lot of handheld camera movement,” he adds. This meant using a camera shoulder rig. Joe and his team used the Zacuto Recoil Rig. “This way, they were able to use the camera to get an authentic, first person perspective without constantly stopping to move tripods or sliders." Additionally, the use of the new Zacuto Gratical EVF allowed Joe to see what he was shooting at all times—regardless of the conditions—but also wirelessly send a signal to an external monitor setup for the client.
When time is short, the gear you're working with is of utmost importance. Focus on gear with the features that will help you tell the story, and ignore anything else.
5. Don't skimp on post-production.
With “Fragments,” Joe and his team only had a few days for post-production. It was probably tempting to rush it to deliver everything to the client, but he knew that sound and color grading were major components in bringing "Fragments" to life.
“Sound design is an art itself,” Joe says. As a educator in the Academy of Storytellers who teaches about sound design, he knows the emotional role it plays in telling the story. That’s why he found time in his limited post-production schedule to focus on sound design.
"Sound design was important for the emotional impact of so many scenes. For example, the first sizzle of a sparkler sounds loud, but then slowly fades into the background, behind the narration." Also, since music is such an emotional medium, Joe spent hours selecting the right soundtrack. He searched on Marmoset to find a track that would match the emotional arc of the story, something that built to a crescendo but didn’t have an abrupt cutoff.
Along with the sound design, color grading was another aspect of post-production that contributed to the emotional mood of the film. In the opening scene, Joe uses full color so that it feels like the scene is happening in the present. For the flashbacks, the sequences are color graded in a way that draws on a ‘70s color palette. This gives viewers a period-specific context while also feeling timeless. While subtle, the impact of color moves the story smoothly from scene to scene and through each flashback.
You can’t fix a broken story in postproduction. But post-production is where you can make a good story truly shine. Don’t skimp on editing, sound design and color grading—these are the details that can make your film incredible.
The Bottom Line: It’s All About Priorities
When you’re working on a tight timeline like Joe and his team were with “Fragments,” you have to focus on what matters most. It might feel impossible at first, but with a collaborative team, plenty of time spent in preproduction and staying true to the story throughout, you might be surprised what amazing things you can accomplish with just two days and 18 carefully-planned scenes.