Pickups are an integral and often overlooked part of your media arsenal. Pickups are like the glue that holds together the bigger ‘chunks’ of your film. They’re not the meat of your project, but they are still hugely necessary.
A pick up is a small piece of footage that you use to supplement your main footage. Pickups are sometimes referred to as ‘B-roll’ as compared to your ‘A-roll’. Pick-ups are the editor’s best friend. They give you more option to visualize a location, cover over an awkward edit or add a fun angle to the sequence. For the documentary ‘Flow’ we shot a lot of pickups, covering various aspects of the landscape with multiple camera crews filming lizards, cracked creek beds, insects, fish, flowers and anything we could find. It’s always best to have too many pickups to chose from in the edit, than not enough.
Before you head out on location, make list of possible shots that are not essential but good to get anyway- and give it to your camera person. We often get someone to shoot pick ups, while waiting for an interview to start or during odd hours, to catch that glorious sunset etc. Planning a list if pickups before you go out can help you stay focused as opposed to wildly running around with the camera and filming everything (which will be standard procedure if you didn’t do your homework!).
Biggest tip – if you see something and have the slightest doubt if it could look good in your film, SHOOT IT! It will make your creative process so much easier.
When out recording your pick-ups, be playful and make sure to record several angles, frame sizes [wide, mid, close up, extreme close ups], so you have more options later. It sometime helps to move the camera slightly to bring more energy to your shot. Always be looking out for things that will add something interesting to your edit later. Less interesting but sometimes useful is filming the animated gesturing of interview subjects. That way, if they fumble or pause you can edit it out and cover up the cut.
For ‘When does the Light Turn On’ we had three cameras running at once, one trained on getting the interview, one shooting slow motion pickups and the other poised for regular motion pickups (as well as providing a second angle to cut between). This meant that we could be very liberal with our cutting process because we always had another interesting angle to cut to.