Show Us Your Shot: How BTS and On-Set Stills Help You as a Filmmaker, Part 1

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If you are gearing up to shoot your film, video, webisode, or pretty much any production, don’t forget to take on-set photographs and BTS video. This is something I’m sure you have heard before, but it is one of those things everyone knows, but doesn’t do. In the following two articles, I ask about the value of on-set photos and BTS video, from the perspective of a producer, and then from the perspective of film festivals. In Part 1, I interview JB Bruno, a no-nonsense kind of guy who is a long-time AD, Line Producer, and Producer in the film world.

Steven Gladstone: How do on-set photographs and behind the scenes video benefit the filmmaker, and what is their practical value?

JB Bruno: First and foremost, the following is true: If you do not get quality BTS during the shoot, you cannot get it afterwards. You do not know the value of BTS until you do—or do not—arrange for it.

SG: Why arrange for it? There must be costs involved?

JBB: As line producer, cost is only one consideration. Value is a bigger one. Yes, there are costs involved, but too many producers and directors think only about getting their film “in the can” and not about selling it. If you do not sell it, it’s unlikely there will be another one.

SG: Is it worth it for short films, or only features or webisodes?

JBB: In some ways, it’s almost more important for shorts or webisodes. Features have all sorts or distribution and marketing options. Shorts and especially webisodes live—and die—in the world of social media. Without BTS, you have nothing to share.

SG: Can’t this just be shot by a PA or anyone on set?

JBB: This may be one of my least favorite myths. The “no-budget” film gurus online tell you that everything can be done for free. My mentor, Stan Bickman, was Roger Corman’s original PM and producer. He had an expression: “the high cost of free.”

As with every other thing that comes “free” on set, little comes of it. I have had more directors than I like to admit suggest that any PA can do this. PAs have other responsibilities, and the shots they miss you will not get again.

SG: Can’t the filmmaker just rely on the cast and crew taking their own personal shots and videos and posting those on YouTube/twitter/Instagram or getting the stills and video from the cast and crew later?

JBB: Simply put—no. Do you think the distributor is going to use a selfie of your Best Boy with the lead actor? Also, in a professional environment, you are discouraging, not encouraging, crew photos on set, and many Crew Deal Memos strictly prohibit personal photography on set. See the problem?

SG: I’ve read and signed contracts that strictly control what pictures or video can be taken by cast and crew, and who has the rights to them. Can you explain why that happens? Why can’t the cast or crew just share images from the shooting day? Free publicity, no?

JBB: No. I have art department create something wonderful. It gets out on social media ahead of a release. Now, the “cat’s out of the bag.”

Understand, also, that letting the crew share “everything” can mean embarrassing photos that neither you nor cast members want shared and not only may not help the film, but can hurt it.

Case in point: In two of the films I’ve worked on in the past few years, established older “stars” had difficulties that the production definitely would not want shared, moments that were much more negative than positive. Once out on social media, there is no bringing them back.

SG: How is this material used by the filmmaker?

JBB: If the filmmaker is smart, this is part of their marketing strategy and they have a marketing person to coordinate this with.

SG: Ideally, who ends up handling the material? Is it the film editor, producer, a publicist?

JBB: This should all be in the hands of the producer. Publicists, marketing and other people advise. At the end of the day, it’s the producer who should decide how their product is represented.

SG: Does having BTS help the film get distribution?

JBB: The film will ultimately get sold on its merits. A great BTS likely won’t help sell a weak film, but lack of one can certainly drop the value of or even prevent the sale of a good film.

SG: Does it affect the distribution deal?

JBB: Again, the distributor cannot create this after the fact. It is more and more becoming a required deliverable for distributors, and lack of it definitely hurts most deals.

Thanks for reading, be sure to follow up with Part 2, where we hear from the perspective of film festivals. If you have experience with on-set photos and BTS video, please feel free to comment below. For more about the importance of BTS material, click for Part 2.

For more information on the Show Us Your Shot series, click for Guidelines and Frequently Asked Questions. You may also view related articles here.

JB Bruno's Bio

JB Bruno, Producer, brings more than thirty years of working in the entertainment industry in theater as a producer, director, and acting coach; in film as producer, line producer, first assistant director, writer, and production manager.

2 Comments

OK, I'll bite.  What is BTS?  I don't see it defined anywhere in this article.  My guess would be Behind The Scenes, but if you're going to use an acronym I think it's only considerate to define it the first time it's used.   Thanks.

Yes, BTS is "behind the scenes"....and btw... a good interview, I look forward to Part II.  I have worked as an on-set photographer for 17 feature films, and the questions and answers are all on the money....   you could also check this B&H podcast for a conversation with two very accomplished still photographers for more insight.. https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/podcasts/photography/podcast-still-photography-for-film-and-television

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