Category Archives: Production

Testing, Testing, and more Testing.

TESTING is one of the most over-looked, but under rated tasks that is executed by a director or producer. Testing is done in pre-production and it’s exactly what it sounds like. The purpose is to gather your creative team with your talent and test how the different visual creative elements look on camera. This includes costumes, make-up, hair, production design and even rehearsal. This process is absolutely essential and beneficial for a number of reasons.

1. Gives your creative team an opportunity to make sure their vision looks the way they want it to look on camera. Often times creative problems will arise and you don’t want to be sorting out these sort of issues during production. This is fairly obvious.

2. Allows your actor(s) to interact with the artists and build a good rapport with them before production. This is extremely important as you do not unseen personality clashes to occur during production.

3. Allows your director to make sure his creative team is on the same page as him/her.

3. Be sure to take pictures of hair, make-up and costumes especially after the actor and director has approved of them. As a producer, this protects you if creative disputes arise during production. For example, if you’re on set ready to shoot, and the director is happy with an actor’s make-up but the actor is not, you can use the previously taken photo, which was approved by the unhappy actor, to help you deal with the actor.

Make sure you give yourself plenty of time – at least one month – before shooting starts in order to allow your creative team to test with the talent.

Advertisements

Microbudget Films, Contained Thrillers, Found-Footage Horrors

I recently met with Steven Schneider; the producer of “Paranormal Activity”. After 10 minutes of engaged conversation, about a dozen light bulbs went on in my head. I’m hoping after reading this post, a few light bulbs of your own will turn on.

First, a little bit of background. Steven is a huge fan of horror movies. He’s watched them all, studied them, and has even written books on them. With Paranormal, Steven did not act as a producer in a traditional manner. He had a development deal with Paramount and Oren Peli, the writer and director, had given him the film to act as a director’s reel. In other words, the film had already been made, and Steven was not involved in the development or the production of it. Steven said that it was so scary that he had difficulties sleeping at night. That was enough for him to want to attach himself to the project.  Not once did he felt critical of the production quality. To make a long story short, Steven and his colleagues sold it to Paramount and it became the most profitable movie in world grossing over $300 million worldwide. I will save the details of this story for another posting.

The point of the article is this: The ability to make high quality content has never been easier. You have access to amazing affordable cameras. You can edit digitally in your own home off your lap top. You can distribute your film online with a click of a couple buttons. This all presents the industry, especially young filmmakers, with an opportunity to make  microbudget films (films under $1 million) and present a finished product to buyers, which is much more appealing than undeveloped projects.

Currently, it has never been harder to get a movie made and distributed. The biggest, and sometimes the only hurdle in the past has always been the cost. Nowadays, this is no longer an excuse. If you have the right story, you can essentially film a movie for less than 5 figures. So the challenge now becomes finding the right story. Oren told a story that had two main characters, and two supporting characters with two scenes each – four actors total. He shot the film in his own house – one location. He shot it using essentially no camera movement. Oren also edited Paranormal Activity on his laptop in his home office. With this in mind, I challenge you to set aside your traditional feature passion project for now, and develop a contained story that has no more than 5 actors, and takes place in no more than 2 locations. You can choose whatever genre you like, however, I strongly recommend horror because the audience is easy to reach, loyal, and don’t care about A-list actors. Also, with most successful horror films, the emphasis is place first on concept (it’s ability to scare), then on story. In all the rest of the genres, story is typically paramount. But, if you can crack this formula and be successful with other genres…PLEASE be my guest. If not, stick to the contained thrillers. Try and think of a high concept. Typically, the lower the budget, the higher the concept needs to be in order to gain attention from buyers. Having restrictions on locations and talent actually forces you to be more creative. I strongly encourage it, if anything, for the sake of the exercise.

To get you in the right mind-set, let’s look at some notable contained, high concept movies. First you have your “found-footage” horrors like The Blair Witch Project, and Paranormal Activity. Both movies shot for under 6 figures, both extremely successful in the box office. Another notable film that I personally love is “The Disappearance of Alice Creed”. This critically acclaimed film told a kidnapping story with three actors in essentially one location. In, “Phone Booth”, the lead actor spends the entire time in a phone booth. I think you get the idea.

If you have a great story, or an amazing concept, people will look at it. I am a firm believer of that. Having that story already produced only decreases the barriers to these people which is exactly what happened to Oren Peli. He created a unique, outstanding film, and found the right passionate person to champion his project. So go and develop your contained story, and then MAKE IT!!!

What is a Unit Production Manager?

A unit production manager, better known as the UPM, is crucial to a smooth running film set. The role is very similar to that of a line producer, and a lot of times, the two terms can mean the same role, which is to manage the cost of production. A UPM will help the producer and director derive the budget, but once the budget has been created, it is the UPM’s job to make sure that the production stays on budget. During pre-production, the producer will usually deal with hiring the above the line talent, the direct will look after hiring the key heads that work below the line  (cinematographer, editor, production designer etc), but the UPM will usually look after hiring the other below the line crew members. The UPM will also work with the first AD in securing equipment and locations. During production, the UPM is in charge of managing below the line crew members, approving expenditures, approving call sheets, and maintaining the schedule. The UPM’s are represented by the Director’s Guild of America.

What’s the difference between Special Effects & Visual Effects?

To put it simply, special effects are carried out on set during production, and visual effects are done in post-production. That isn’t to say that the visual effects team isn’t involved in production and the special effects team isn’t involved in post, but the creative decisions made by each team generally pertains to their respective phases in the film-making process.

Special effects can be broken down into two categories: optical, and mechanical. Optical effects are done by manipulating the camera and lighting which in turn will make your scene look different than what it looks like to the naked eye. This could involve working with camera lenses, types of lighting, or camera movements that give a certain look to the shot. The special effects supervisor is in charge of making the creative decisions and works directly with the director on set to achieve what he/she wants.

Mechanical effects involving working during a live-action shot and usually pertains to making things look/seem like something they aren’t. For example manipulating weather conditions like wind and snow is a huge part of mechanical effects. Pyrotechnics and working with scale models is another aspect of mechanical effects.

Visual effects has emerged as a paramount part of modern-day film making. You will rarely ever see a film without visual effects. This could be filling in a green screen,  creating computer generated imagery (CGI), 3D rendering or animation. The visual effects supervisor (not to be confused with the visual effects producer or coordinator) makes all the creative decisions and works directly with the director off and on set to make sure  he/she gets the visual image desired. The visual effects coordinator works for the visual effects supervisor in post-production, and the visual effects producer works like a line producer and manages the cost of the visual effects which can get outrageously high (sometimes over half of a film’s budget).

What is “Production”?

Once your schedule is made, your crew recruited, your actors have been casted, and your locations are secured, it’s time start production and push record. Production, also referred to as principle photography, is where the actual film making process takes place. This is where your director really takes over and does his job. As a producer, your job is to oversee, solve problems, and offer opinions, but at the end of the day, your director is calling the shots creatively during this process. The ultimate objective is to stay on schedule, get all the shots/coverage that you need, get the best performances from your actors, maintain continuity, and stay on budget.

What is a “First Assistant Camera”?

This crew member, (AKA first AC, or focus puller) is responsible for making sure that the camera stays in focus through out the duration of the shot. Often times the depth of field changes, or the object that is being shot changes position and it is the job of the first AC to make sure the focus is adjusted properly when these changes happen.