Pre-Production/Production Tips with Joe Simon

Joe Simon is a seasoned filmmaker and long-time friend of Marmoset.  Specializing in sweeping landscapes and brand storytelling with The Delivery Men, Joe has the nuances of producing a film down pat. 

How long does the pre-production process usually take you? What step do you look forward to? Why?

Joe Simon: There’s a large range depending on the project -- it can be a day or two up to a few weeks depending on the size and scope of the project. I love the discovery process as you start to line up your locations, talent and story. It’s so cool to watch it all come together. Then the final steps to see the fully formed idea ready for execution is an amazing feeling -- from nothing, you created this plan to start creating a film.

What’s the craziest set/location you’ve ever worked on?

I was in Alaska this June shooting a show for CNN called The Wonder List and we were in this park where there’s lots of grizzly bears. It was raining and I was on the beach with our crew of four. We started seeing bears off in the distance. They slowly started moving towards us until they were 10 feet away…. eight bears looking at us and we had to be as still as possible not to spook them, it was really wild! Then they just walked by as we filmed them -- we captured some epic shots!

Is there an instance where you thought something would be really difficult in pre-production that turned out to be easy? What about vice versa?

For the short film Low Tide, we had a motel scene that weaves a story throughout the film. The final part of that scene in the film is very intense and had a difficult camera move, along with a very difficult acting bit for our talent. We spent a lot of time figuring out how to make it work right in one or two takes and how to get the right performance from our actor. We definitely thought it was going to be extremely difficult. But when it came down to it, our actor nailed it every time and we got the shot in just a few takes. A lot of this came down to finding the perfect actor for this project and he absolutely killed it.

I feel this happens a lot more... You plan and think it’s going to be easy, then some variable is thrown at you -- rain, gear breaks, behind schedule etc., which makes things harder and you have to go to plan b and start making things happen. This is a big part of being a filmmaker --thinking quick on your feet and being able to problem-solve and make changes on the fly.

If you had to choose one piece of equipment to bring to a shoot, what would it be?

A back-brace and good shoes. If you’re not comfortable and hurt yourself on set, you won’t be filming the next few days. I’d take those items to make sure I feel good all day long.

Can you recall the first shoot you ever went on? If so, can you tell us what that experience was like?

It’s been so long…. I can’t remember any shoot in particular. But I do remember being super nervous at the beginning and always trying to act like I knew what I was doing, even though I had no idea what was happening. 

What’s the biggest logistical hurdle when filming?

It can be so many things. So many factors play into a shoot. Location, weather, gear, actors, etc. With all the travel I do, a lot of times it’s packing the right gear I’ll need for that shoot. What will I use and what will I really need to tell that story? I can only fit so much in my bags, and with my small crew I can only setup and use so much. So planning to bring the right gear is always a very hard part.

What has been your biggest learning lesson while in production?

You can never plan too much. Without a solid plan you always run into issues in production and these can kill a project. Be prepared, have a shot-list and a back up plan so when you run into issues you can still create the film you set up to make.

Have you ever had an “a-ha” moment while filming? 

I think I have one of these on every shoot. You learn something new each time. It usually comes when I start playing with lighting or a camera trick and I realize how to create an effect I’ve been trying to do for a long time.