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Production Tips for Filming Large Groups of People

Jourdan Aldredge

Check out these valuable tips and tricks for working with large groups of extras on set.

Cover image via Warner Bros Entertainment.

Whether it’s on a student film or a big budget feature, working with lots of extras (or just people in general) can be a huge headache to pull off. Not only are there issues with scheduling and direction, you also have to think about issues like food, bathrooms, and communication.

If you find yourself in a role wherein you’ll need to corral, wrangle, and direct a large group, here are seven pieces of advice to help you get the most out of your crowd.


Planning

Production Tips for Filming Large Groups of People — Planning
Image via Shutterstock.

First and foremost, your best bet for ensuring a successful crowd scene is to plan it meticulously. A tight script needs translation into a tighter shooting schedule that takes into account all aspects of setup, taking breaks, and problem-solving stopgaps. Working from a solid storyboard will also help. If you plan accordingly, you can ensure that your crowd shots take as little time as possible with optimal results.

Assistant Directors

Production Tips for Filming Large Groups of People — Assistant Directors
Image via Shutterstock.

The bigger the crowd, the more people you’re going to need to control them. On many shoots, the role of organizing PAs, extras, and the crew falls to the assistant director (or directors). The ADs need to handle all the elements of crowd management, they keep the schedule, and they and put out any (figurative) fires — which will free up the actual director and crew to work on setting the shots and working with the talent.

Wranglers/PAs

Production Tips for Filming Large Groups of People — PAs
Image via FTHMB.

An army of ADs will often (hopefully) lead an army of PAs. You’ll need PAs or wranglers to stay with the extras and control the crowd. This includes preparing them with costumes and make up and shepherding them into formations as directed by the ADs and director — not to mention getting them food and water and seeing to any medical or physical problems that may arise.

Walkie-talkies/Headsets

Production Tips for Filming Large Groups of People — Walkie Talkies
Image via Imgur ().

One of the most important tools on bigger, more complex shoots is a solid walkie-talkie communication system. Handling a large crowd would be almost impossible without being able to instantly communicate with ADs and PAs. Be sure to have back-up sets, batteries, and charging stations to ensure you’re never at a loss for communication.

Bullhorns/Megaphones

Production Tips for Filming Large Groups of People — Bullhorns
Image via Shutterstock.

On a similar note, since large crowds can often be loud, spread out, and hard to communicate with, a system of horn blasts or megaphone announcements may be your only option to get a group moving. This is also helpful when crowds need to react to certain cues or make synchronized movements. A short blast or “REACT NOW” may be your only option to get them to work in unison.

Zoom Lenses

Production Tips for Filming Large Groups of People — Zoom Lenses
Image via Shutterstock.

If you have the means to pull hundreds of extras for a crowd shot, more power to you. Shoot as wide as you’d like to show off your casting resources. However, if you’re working with a smaller group of extras that need to appear to be much, much greater in numbers, consider shooting scenes tightly with controlled, long zoom lenses to control your frame. This can also create a shallow depth of field to blur out extras so you can use them multiple times.

Food/Water/Restrooms

Production Tips for Filming Large Groups of People — Craft Services
Image via City Palate Catering.

Craft services, when done right, can be the most valuable part of any production. When you have large crowds and lots of extras, you can absolutely count on people getting tired, hungry, and thirsty — and they’ll need to use the restroom. If you don’t have the capabilities to meet those basic human needs, everyone is going to have a bad time.


Do you have any tips for filming large crowd scenes? Let us know in the comments.

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