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Production Journal

The Film Strategy 5 with Cindy Cowan.

Production Tips

Your November 2016 Calendar for Film Festivals, Screenplay Contests, Fellowships, Labs and Awards.

Case Study

When To Say No To A Film Festival

Case Study

The Full Costs and Income of an Indie Film

The Production / Filmmakers Toolkit

Documents, Templates and Resources for Every Phase of Production.

9.30.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Monday Morning Mixer - 9.30.13

Film-Makers’ Co-op Press Conference, 1964
L to R: Gregory Markopoulos, P. Adams Sitney, Andy Warhol, Ron Rice, Jonas Mekas © 1964

On September 30, 1962, a group of New York filmmakers (including Jonas Mekas, Shirley Clarke, Emile de Antonio, and Jack Smith) released “The First Statement of the New American Cinema Group,” a manifesto by New York artists to herald in new age of cinema. Railing against current modes of exhibition, distribution and financing, this group proclaimed low-budget filmmaking as its own aesthetic: “The low budget is not a purely commercial consideration. It goes with our ethical and esthetic beliefs, directly connected with the things we want to say, and the way we want to say them.” Overall they called filmmakers to unite and storm the box office. In their vibrant last words, “we don't want rosy films — we want them the color of blood.” While few of the filmmakers became household names, The Film-Makers' Cooperative they started lives on, and their belief in the potential for low- and no-budget filmmaking gave rise to the American Independent film movement of the 1980s. ~~ Focus Features

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Always good to remember that the early independent film movement in the US wasn't just Sundance and John Cassavettes (important as they were) but also included an organized collective of united artists who realized they not only had to express their personal visions in new and original ways but also had to take control of the practical business of funding, making, distributing and exhibiting their films.  The flag they raised today over 50 years ago with their manifesto marked the need to marry the two poles of artistry and business as prerequisites to make their kind of cinema, free and unfettered by censorship and gloss.  The message still rings true today whether you shoot digital or film.

WRITING: How do you reveal character through dialogue?  

PRODUCING: So now that you're inspired by The New American Cinema Group you want to produce experimental movies? Or avant garde films? Or underground cinema? What's the difference?  Find the answers here then go live life and make art.  

FINANCING: How do you qualify for General Solicitation Fundraising?

DIRECTING: With Gravity set to open this Friday, what are some directorial insights Alfonso Cuaron can share with filmmakers? 

SHOOTING: What are 4 tips for shooting a long take?    

LIGHTING: How do you choose a lighting kit? 

SOUND: What can a writer-director's perspective on sound teach you?

STUNTS & FX: What can you learn from, Dave Brown, one of the top safety specialists in the industry, about using firearms in your movie? 

EDITING: What are 3 low-budget editing tips for action movies?  

MARKETING: What advice did Harvey Weinstein's give to Errol Morris that can help you too?

DISTRIBUTING: Do you agree with this manifesto for a global mult-platform release?

LEGAL: A summary of Reg. D, Rule 506(c) Final Rules.

9.26.2013

SCRIPT TO SCREEN: The Making of A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork OrangeStanley Kubrick | 1971 | UK, USA | Format: 35mm | 136 min  

A great insight into Stanley Kubrick's work process via the making of A Clockwork Orange.

Hat tip to mentorless and bonusfilm for the video.


Orange Mécanique (Stanley Kubrick) - Making Of by Bonus-de-Film

9.25.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Midweek Morning Mixer - 9.25.13


Happy birthday, Pedro Almodóvar (Sep. 25, 1951)!
 "When you glance over the early life of Pedro Almodóvar, who turns [62] today, one can start to understand the formation of his style and preoccupations as a filmmaker. Born Pedro Almodóvar Caballero on September 25, 1949 in the country town of Calzada de Calatrava, the young auteur-to-be lived a life defined by poverty and hard work. He was one of four children being raised by his parents, who were poor peasants; his near-illiterate father’s small income came from hauling wine barrels by mule. Young Pedro, however, was intellectually curious and achieved a vaunted position within the community already as a very young child as he was able to read letters and teach literacy to his fellow visitors. At age 8, he was sent to a religious boarding school in Cáceres, with the ultimate aim of becoming a priest, an experience which informed his 2004 film Bad Education. Looking for an escape from his tough, constraining life, Almodóvar discovered cinema, which “became my real education, much more than the one I received from the priest.” Idolizing such directors as Buñuel, Fassbinder, Hitchcock, Fellini and John Waters, Almodóvar would go on to create fabulous, colorful, extravagant melodramas that would provide a perfect counterpoint to his drab, difficult beginnings."~~Focus Features

Want some advice from Pedro on directing comedies?  Then start here.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Happy birthday to the director you either love OR hate and now the following:
WRITING: A Q&A with Sterling Anderson on TV writing and more.
   

PRODUCING: What are the do's and don'ts for web series producers?
FINANCING: What are 7 start-ups every filmmaker should know?
DIRECTING: What are some tips for directing TV commercials?

SHOOTING: How to make your video look like film?

LIGHTING: How do you light for green screen?
SOUND: How can you get good sound with DSLR filming?
STUNTS & FX: How do you choreograph a fight scene?

EDITING: Learn how to use After Effects with some free training.
MARKETING: What goes into the planning of a movie marketing campaign?
DISTRIBUTING: Does digital mean distribution no longer matter?

LEGAL: What are some legal fundamentals of filmmaking?


9.23.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Monday Morning Mixer - 9.23.13

Many years ago, two great films opened today, Berlin Symphony of the City (1927) and The Silence (1963).  What makes the two films equally memorable are how the directors expanded the language of cinema by focusing on a little-considered aspect of a subject (Ruttman) or doing something different from their past work (Bergman).  These works have became a source of inspiration and style for many filmmakers ever since.

"Walther Ruttman’s unfurled Berlin: Symphony of a Great City on 23 September 1927 in the city for which it is named. Having entered film from the fields of architecture and design, Ruttmann saw form and shape where so many others perceived character and story. And while the film employed documentary strategies, it’s aim was more aesthetic than journalistic, trying to capture––as the musical title suggests––the rhythm of the city and the masses who inhabit it. Influenced by Soviet theories of montage, Ruttman divided his piece into five acts, a nod to symphonic rather than theatrical division, with each exploring a different mood and emotional tone."

"With The Silence, which opened in his native Sweden on September 23, 1963, director Ingmar Bergman completed his “religious chamber trilogy,” a bracing, austere and emotionally challenging set of films that saw the director exploring the human condition with dark hues that will be shocking to viewers who only know him from later works like Fanny and Alexander. The trilogy, which is also comprised of Through a Glass Darkly (1961) and Winter Light (1963), features pared-down casts trapped in painful, isolated circumstances, and when God is invoked, it’s mostly to question his absence."~~Focus Features
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Maybe now you'll absorb some of Ruttman's and Bergman's stylistic and thematic touches for your future productions... along with the following tips:

WRITING: What are 5 keys to making your screenwriting career a lasting one?
  PRODUCING: What can you learn by studying Roger Corman, the B-movie producer who linked the Old Hollywood to the New Hollywood?

FINANCING: Learn how Hollywood accounting works by taking a peek at the numbers for Tom Cruise's Valkyrie.

DIRECTING: What are some things to learn from Kyle Patrick Alvarez (director of Easier With Practice), about adapting a writen work (an article, short story or novel) for indie film?


SHOOTING: How do you hire a DP?


LIGHTING: Here's a good overview of video lighting techniques.

SOUND: What are 8 things top sound designers and execs can tell you about making your film great?

STUNTS & FX: Want to learn how to do DIY special FX? Of course, you do.


EDITING: What are 6 keyboard shortcuts you can use to speed up your editing on Premiere Pro?

MARKETING: What are 10 commandments for connecting with people (audiences, consumers) through stories?

DISTRIBUTING: Have you heard about the Film Collaborative?


LEGAL: Do you have to share screenwriting credit with someone who gave you a broad idea if you wrote the whole script (creating the characters, dialogue, story and scenes)?




9.18.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Midweek Morning Mixer - 9.18.13


Captain's Log.
Star Date:9.18.13

62 years ago today A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE opens

When Elia Kazan’s film A Streetcar Named Desire opened in September of 1951, those who’d read the play or seen the Broadway production, knew this was something very different. The 1947 drama, for which playwright Tennessee Williams received a Pulitzer Prize, was for the most part intact. The haughty Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) comes to live with her sister Stella (Kim Hunter), and her sister’s earthy husband Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando). But the nuances that defined William’s dramatic style were quietly erased. The Production Code Administration, led by Joseph Breen, demanded up front 68 changes (some rather major). Blanche’s dead gay husband is now simply referred to as sensitive; the rape is covered in darkness; Blanche’s sexuality is quieted down. But even this was not enough, as Warner Brothers worked out a 11th hour deal with the Catholic League (unbeknownst to either Kazan or Williams) to cut another four minutes from the film before it was released. But while film censors tried to water down the play’s fiery sexuality, the one thing they couldn’t cut was Marlon Brando himself. In one of his first film roles, the shirtless, screaming Brando helped to redefine the image of American masculinity with one word—“STELLA!” ~~ Focus Features
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After our homage to Kazan, Brando and the impact of censorship, we're gonna just get to it.  I'm a bit rushed so here are the pertinent questions of the day.

WRITING: What are 10 things Sunset Boulevard can teach you about screenwriting?

PRODUCING: What are 12 good indie producing tips?

FINANCING: What are the 7 basic film financing sources you should always aim for (besides crowdfunding)?

DIRECTING: What advice would a master like Sam Peckinpah offer?


SHOOTING: Why you must have 4k and raw and why you absolutely don't need it?


LIGHTING: How do you shoot in black and white?

SOUND: How do you put the audience in the scene?


STUNTS & FX: What are 3 tips to stuntwork?


EDITING: Want an alternative to the 3 major NLEs?


MARKETING: What is a marketing hook?


DISTRIBUTING: What are 5 tips for self-distributing your film?


LEGAL: How should you submit a spec script for an existing TV series?




9.16.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Monday Morning Mixer - 9.16.13

Captain's Log
Star Date: 9.16.13

Almost 50 years ago today, A Fistful of Dollars was released in 1964.

On September 16, 1964, a new kind of Western hero arrived on the scene… in Italy. On that day the first of Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” westerns, Fistful of Dollars, opened there, three years before it would arrive in the United States. Casting an American actor, Clint Eastwood, best known for his stint on the TV series Rawhide, Leone reinvented the American Western by not only shooting the film dubbed in Italy but also by creating an operatic style that favored wide screens and epic landscapes, emotional and unusually arranged music by Ennio Morricone, and morally ambiguous characters. At the center of Morricone’s movie was Eastwood, with his side-slung poncho, cigarette and a serenely unyielding visage. Of his star, Leone famously commented, "I like Clint Eastwood because he has only two facial expressions: one with the hat, and one without it.” In 1967, Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and Leone’s masterpiece, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly would all open in the States, making Eastwood a bona fide Hollywood star. ~~ Focus Features
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So I'm going to try something as a format structure for the mixer from now on.  And that is that, unlike before when I would just find good and useful links as I came across them in no particular order (except for the Labor Day mixer which  was pretty much all about screenwriting), I will try to include articles or videos that answer questions based on the following topics: WRITING, PRODUCING/FINANCING, DIRECTING, SHOOTING, LIGHTING, SOUND, EDITING, MARKETING, DISTRIBUTING and LEGAL. I think doing this will provide good info on the main topics filmmakers care to get good at and also direct them to the topics they might prefer or, vice versa, might have overlooked. Let me know if you like this structure.  I imagine every now and then I might not be able to find a good link for a particular topic so that topic might be empty for that day but I will try to pack it all in.  So let me know what you think and if this is more helpful than the earlier version of the mixer.

WRITING: What can you learn about screenwriting from the tales of director-writer, Billy Wilder?  Plus, his 10 rules of screenwriting/filmmaking.

PRODUCING/FINANCING: What should you consider as you package your film for financing?

DIRECTING: What advice would a master like Robert Altman offer?

SHOOTING: What lessons can you learn from the world's best DPs in recent years?

LIGHTING: What lessons can you learn from the short documentary, Let There Be Light?

SOUND: How to record good sync and non-sync sound?

STUNTS & FX: How did they create the dragons on Game of Thrones?

EDITING: What are 3 (technically 4) no-no's with using stock footage?

MARKETING: What are 11 innovative movie marketing campaigns?

DISTRIBUTING: What are 5 lessons the producers of Beasts of Southern Wild can teach us about grassroots distribution?

LEGAL: How can you as a writer protect yourself when writing characters possibly or actually based on real people?

9.13.2013

PRODUCTION TIPS: 7 Tips to Choosing A Top-Notch Cast... Even After Only 1 Audition

Picking your cast is one of the most important decisions you will make as a filmmaker, probably only second to the script you choose to shoot.  Not taking anything away from the beautiful shots, inspired soundtrack and rhythmic edits but it will be the cast embodying the characters and saying their lines that will be what audiences remember most about your movie.  People may say an actor was "born to play that role" and refuse to believe that anyone else could've played that role but actors don't just show up at the filmmaker's doorstep as if delivered by the stork readymade to act as the character.  A director needs to make that vital decision.  

A big budget director has the luxury of a team and a casting agency to help him with the decision.  Furthermore, he has access to some of the top actors in the biz vying to be in the film.  An indie director rarely has those advantages.  Because the low budget director does not have the money to cast with the help of a good casting director, attract the best talent or run multiple auditions, she needs to be able to choose the best person in a short amount of time.  And even if she can afford a good casting director, she should still have her own personal but objective criteria for why she prefers one actor over another.

The following is a list of things your actor will do or possess that will help you decide, even with only one audition, if the actor is the best man or woman for the role. 
  1. COME PREPARED. They arrive on-time or even early, bring their own copy of the script, provide you with their resume and headshots, show interest in the role and discuss it with you and are ready to do their monologue or act your scenes out with the right amount of energy.  Basically, they come like a professional and treat it like the job interview it is.
  2. HAVE THE LOOK.  Film is a visual medium so having "the look" is supremely important because the physical features of a person can express the essence of a character in an immediate non-verbal way.  And if you find a person with the "perfect" voice and mannerisms for your character then you know you've struck gold.  Of course, you should not ONLY cast for "the look." There are other factors to consider.  And don't forget that makeup, costumes and props will help that actor "look" like the character, too.  But be sure to take into consideration the actors who invest the time and effort to change their look for an audition to embody more closely the character in the script.
  3. LISTEN TO YOUR DIRECTIONS.  You need to know from day 1 that your cast will listen to you.   Some actors are very uptight about their training and experience especially if they are dealing with a novice director and this could lead to uncomfortable and energy-sapping friction on the set.  Avoid this by testing your actor during auditions with suggestions to play the role multiple times in multiple ways.  Even if you like the first thing they did, have them do it again, differently, if only to see whether they will listen and give you what you want or argue with you.
  4. QUESTION YOUR DIRECTIONS.  You are hiring the actor to help you mold your vision and bring a character to life.  They are not simply CGI models that you command to do this and say that.  Although you want them to listen to your directions, you also want them to contribute their opinions and ideas.  They should question some of the things you want to do with your character and the script in a thoughtful manner as options for you to consider.  During the audition, provide the actor multiple opportunities to ask you questions about the role, the script and your vision.  Ideally, a good actor will come prepared with questions.
  5. LISTEN ACTIVELY.  A good actor will always be "on" during takes even if she is not saying anything and another actor is talking.  The most compelling actors are the ones who you can't take your eyes off of, who draw you in with the way they stand or light a match or walk away.  The reason they can do this is because during takes they are in a zone, actively listening to what is going on around them as if they were an antenna.  During auditions, have your prospective actor act with another person and watch how they "listen."  Avoid actors who only listen for the end of a line to jump in and emote; that ping pong style of acting sucks (unless you are going for a sketch or parody effect... then by all mean).
  6. SHOW SIGNS OF INTELLIGENCE.  The ideal actor for a role only has to be smart enough to bring your character to life in a believable way.  And that's not an easy thing to do.  Now, of course, she doesn't have to be a physicist or a lawyer or a philosopher (although she might be) but she should show signs of an active intelligence making sense of the character, the script and life, in general.  Do they reference historical periods and events when discussing the biography of a character?  Do they surprise you with the literary or cinematic conventions they uncover in your script?  Are they great storytellers who engage you even when they are just telling you what they had for breakfast? 
  7. HAVE A FOLLOWING.  Although one might question whether an A-list actor deserves to make the money he makes, there is no doubt that the A-lister at least gets audiences interested in the movie.  That initial interest might eventually lead to eyes on the screen.  That's the gamble studios and filmmakers make when they hire A-listers and it still seems like a viable plan.  An indie filmmaker still has options of getting people interested by casting properly.  The explosion of social media networks has created an underworld of "celebrities" within them.   These celebrities have influence within their network and, as time goes on, people are starting to realize the monetary value of these celebrities who can bring something to the attention of their fanbase.  During the audition, find out if your prospect has a large following on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Vine?  Do their videos have a high number of views on YouTube and Vimeo?  How big is their network on LinkedIn?  How many views a month does their blog get?  If you choose an actor with a large following, ensure that they will promote the project in their social media network.
As you audition, prepare a page for each actor and number it from 1 to 7.  Create your very own point scale for the 7 things above (ex. 1 to 5; 1 = No Good, 5 = Very Good, etc.) to help you assess between different actors who come.  Because each project is different, weigh each of the 7 things according to your needs and let that help you assess, as well.   

9.11.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Midweek Morning Mixer - 9.11.13


Captain's Log.
Star date: 9.11.13

A sad day to commemorate, especially when one remembers the helplessness we felt as only a few could actually do something helpful and concrete while the rest of us could only watch.
We, artists, came in after the fact... to provide entertainment. Or solace. Or ruminations. Or fantasy. Or revelations. Or reflections. 

When confronted with the horrible reality of a tragedy like 9/11 (and let's not forget that all around the world, other people are suffering or have suffered tragedies worse than our 9/11), the artists might feel impotent to do anything compared to the rescue worker or the soldier or even the politician who can move men and mountains in response.

But our response comes later after the rescue workers or the soldier or the politicians have played their part.  And we play our part by doing what we do best... providing escapist entertainment. 
Or moments of beautiful solace. 
Or profound ruminations. 
Or scientific, historical and magical fantasies. 
Or earth-shattering revelations.  
Or reflections on what tragedy means to a people and why we haven't figured out how to stop them.

While we do what we do to express our personal visions and earn a living, it's also good to remind ourselves that what we do also serves the communitarian needs of people who desire to feel and think and dream and forget and remember.

So lets keep getting better at what we do as filmmakers, and so, without further ado, here are few links and videos to help you do just that:

  • What are 6 things to do to avoid rookie videographer mistakes?
  • And now that you switched from FCP to Premiere Pro here is a playlist with 10 videos to get you up to speed on editing with Premiere Pro. 

9.09.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Monday Morning Mixer - 9.9.13

Captain's Log.
Star Date: 9.9.13

September 9, 1980 - The Third Generation opens
"Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s terrorist comedy The Third Generation exploded when it opened in New York City in September 1980. In the New York Times, Vincent Canby raved, “There no longer can be any doubt about it: Rainer Werner Fassbinder is the most dazzling, talented, provocative, original, puzzling, prolific and exhilarating film maker of his generation. Anywhere.” Following on the heels of his international success The Marriage of Maria Braun, The Third Generation mock-heroically takes on the problem of domestic terrorism in Germany. Fassbinder explained the title’s relation to contemporary Germany politics in the following way: “The first generation was that of '68. Idealists, who wanted to change the world and imagined they could do that with words and demonstrations. The second, the Baader-Meinhof Group, went from legality to armed struggle and total illegality. The third's the generation of today, which simply acts without thinking, which has neither a policy nor an ideology and which, certainly without realizing it, lets itself by manipulated by others, like a bunch of puppets." Indeed in the film, a right-wing security company finances leftist terrorist cells in order to get the government to tighten its authority––as well as buy their security systems. Fassbinder labeled it “a comedy, because the terrorists behave like politicians. They actually work for the system in order to confirm the existing order and make it final." The German left, however, didn’t find anything funny about his at all. In Hamburg, the crowd stormed the theater and attacked the projectionist, and elsewhere radicals threw acid on the screen." ~~ Focus Features

Fassbinder's film, The Third Generation, is more proof that life continually evolves in cycles.  How relevant and poignant could this movie be for us today dealing with our own "terrorism problem" and the sociopolitical costs (in liberty, sanity and money) it is extracting from us.  And with your interest piqued to watch The Third Generation, here are a few other things to read, watch or do that have nothing to do with Fassbinder's film:

9.05.2013

PRODUCTION TIPS: A Director Prepares... A must-do 15 point checklist

For me, there is nothing like directing; the rush of arriving on the set at the crack of dawn, the anticipation to get that first shot in as the crew sets up, the anxiety that creeps in when a scene takes longer to shoot then you expected and the AD looks at her watch for the third time, the high you get when a camera moves gracefully and your actors convince you the world they inhabit in the scene actually exists and the numb exhaustion at the end of a very long intense, decision-filled day.  Directors can relate to this regardless if what they are making is a shlock horror flick, an art-house drama, a hard-hitting documentary expose, a funny commercial, a psychedelic music video or a corporate industrial.  In fact, directors love the work so much they would do it for free (ok, for deferred payment) in the hopes that they can actually make a living, day in and day out, directing.  And the only way to get there is by directing more and more stuff and getting better and better.

Through trial and error, reading and listening, thinking and doing, I've learned to streamline the process of directing in a way that allows me to immerse myself in the art and craft of directing while managing the workload in a systematic way.  It truly helps to take a complex and overwhelming process like directing and break it down into smaller manageable chores.  By creating a checklist of vital measures and points to address during pre-production and production, I give myself tangible tasks to fulfill with enough flexibility to adapt to the unexpected and enough room for artistry to avoid stifling my creativity.  Most directors do these steps intuitively. What's good about this list is that it's also in order, so you simply start at the top of the list and work your way through the tasks until you're done shooting. (Feel free to refer to the Filmmakers Toolkit for templates you can use throughout development, pre-production and production)


Directing is a matter of addressing, knowing or doing the following 15 points and tasks:
  • THE END RESULT 
    • It's all about the end result; you need to know where you're going before you get there.  I'm always surprised by how many filmmakers still don't think about where they want their film/video to be seen and in what format.  At best, they have vague notions like "top film festivals" or "the internet."  Then what ends up happening is that the unprepared director ends up bending to the whims of her final piece; "I originally wanted it to go to Sundance but I shot it too late to submit, oh well... I'll just send it to the next available one, whatever that is."  How much happier would this director be if she planned to shoot sooner to actually make her deadline?  Or after planning, realizing that she can't make the deadline and would be better off targeting another festival?
    • Besides thinking about where you want to end up, think about how you most want your film/video to be seen; whether it's on television, online, on a phone, projected in a theater etc.  Although eventually all works get seen on all media, thinking about the main one (for ex. theater screen) will inform and influence the technical, logistical and creative choices you make throughout your production. 
  • THE SCRIPT / CONCEPT / PROPOSAL
    • Depending on the type of production, you will either need a script (narrative short or feature, commercial, etc.), a concept (a live event, some music videos, a Vine project, etc.) or a proposal with a working hypothesis, a set of questions and collected research (documentary, journalistic piece, etc.).
    • After visualizing the end result, your script, concept or proposal is the blueprint that will interest people to work with you and help you make it. You need it.  The only types of film/video that I can think of that don't require a script or even a concept are unexpected news events captured by bystanders, like the Zapruder film.
  • THE GENRE
    • What genre does your script / concept / proposal fall in? Choosing the genre for your script will help you make some additional creative choices, particularly on whether you will uphold or defy conventions and how.
  • THE TONE
    • After choosing your genre, what will be the tone of your film?  It will be some degree of serious/dramatic, funny, sad, tragic, epic, weird, ironic, elegaic, etc. Knowing the tone of your film will limit what you can do but also focus what you can do with your project, giving it a style. For example you can choose to make your action genre film funny (Indiana Jones) or serious/dramatic (Die Hard) or epic (300).  Although it's usually not recommended to mix too many tones in your film, there is no hard and fast rule and some directors make their name mixing genres and tones... so hey, maybe you wanna give it a try.
  • THE LOCATION
    • Filmmakers who don't secure their locations early on in the process usually suffer lots of headaches.  Locations are a big deal and it's hard to prepare the look of your film without knowing the space it will be contained in.  Know early on where you're shooting so you can start visualizing ASAP and making the necessary production design changes to your script that will give you the end result you seek.
  • THE BREAKDOWN
    • With your locations in place, you can now go through your script and break down every important element of your production.  Don't be lazy and skip this step, even if the project is a simple music video.  Remember as a director, you should be immersing yourself in the project not finding reasons to be lazy.  There are a number of ways to breakdown a script and it's fine if you don't do it the industry standard way, as long as you do it in a commonsense way that lets you list and organize the breakdown from scene to scene.
  • THE  BUDGET
    • As you wrote the script, you probably already had a ballpark figure for an overall budget of what you can or are willing to spend.  After doing the breakdown, now you know exactly what you're going to spend that money on and how much you really need.  After creating the budget, you will either modify the script or breakdown to meet your low budget, figure out ways to work with the budget you have or get more money.
  • THE INFLUENCES
    • Although there is no start- or end-point to the things that influence us in our lives, I like to actively seek out influences for the current production once I've finished the budget.  At this stage, the limitations of script, location, breakdown and budget are set, so I like to return to the things that inspired me to make the project in the first place or discover new things that can enhance it.  This usually means taking notes as I watch movies, listen to music, view art and photography, talk with people, etc. and something always comes up during this step that eventually makes it to the final piece.
  • THE STORYBOARD / THE VISUAL STYLE
    • I like considering any visual or audio-musical influences before getting into the storyboard, precisely so that all those influences can co-mingle with the ideas I've already decided I want to implement in the storyboard. Remember, the storyboard is not a bible, it's only a visual aid meant to trigger your shot flow ideas and help you with the shot list.  It can even be a rough sketch.  You don't have to rely on it for every step of the shoot since you do want to remain open to on-the-set inspiration but it's nice to have one when you are stuck in a rut so you can at least get the shot you originally visualized. I also like storyboarding at this stage so that I can have a better grasp of my shot list and schedule.
    • For those that don't like storyboarding or have run out of time to make one, at the least, decide on the visual style you're going for.  Create an image board or a binder with art works, photographs or film stills that best represents that visual style and share it with your DP, editor, producer and cast.  "A picture is worth a thousand words" is a quote that has never been truer than for a director on the set trying to communicate what shot she wants. 
  • THE SHOT LIST
    • You might not want to carry around the storyboard everywhere you go or share it with the key people in your crew but your shot list is a different story. The shot list is your to-do list for the day. You need a shot list and the key people must have it.  With it you will track your forward progress or alter it to adjust to mishaps while you shoot.
  • THE SCHEDULE
    • Now that you have your breakdown, budget, storyboard and your shot list, you can make an accurate schedule. Work backwards from any pending deadlines / due dates or cast / crew / location availability dates.  Factor in the weather for exterior shots, shooting at odd hours, make-up, costume, art design and lighting/camera set-up times and travel time to multiple locations so that you can pack a day with work efficiently and cost-effectively.  Even if you have an AD, a line producer and a production manager taking care of this, you should have a hand in making it.
  • THE REHEARSALS / DIRECTING STYLE
    • Depending on the project or the cast you might have to do extensive rehearsals. Even if you don't plan on rehearsing the actors, you will rehearse the stunt crew. Rehearsing is highly recommended for dangerous stunts, no matter how experienced the choreographer and stunt person are.  I love rehearsing with actors and I think it helps me find additional visuals to consider or reconsider in the storyboard.  However, some actors don't respond well to rehearsals (which is something you should have figured out during auditions) so you won't do it with them.  However, even if you did lots of rehearsals with your cast, it doesn't guarantee that you still won't come across an acting problem on the set.  The only way out of those dilemmas, besides rehearsing with your actors, is to have a distinct directing style that works for you. The directing style is your method of helping an actor (trained or untrained) become believable in their role.
    • The directing style has to gel with the actor's training and understanding of the world; do they respond to vivid and descriptive imagery and direction in playing their roles or do they prefer that you to tell them EXACTLY how to do it with mimicry or should they "just be themselves"?  If you did your job right during audition, you chose actors that you can understand and communicate with, will complement your directing style and lessen friction on the set.
    • For live events and documentary, your directing style is more about capturing engaging material, emotionally evocative moments and surprising scenes. So it will require you to be alert to your subject's mood, the aesthetics of your surroundings and the ebb and flow of a crowd (if any) to get in the zone while directing live on the spot.
  • THE TEST SHOOT
    • Ideally, you want to test as close to actual conditions as possible. To do so, you will perform the test shoot with the actual equipment you are using at the actual location at the actual time of day you expect to use it during your production.  During this time, you will be able to test out all the major shots you envisioned in your storyboard including ideas sparked by your influences. That is the ideal scenario.
    • More than likely, you won't have the luxury of time or the camera, DP and location available to test how you want.  In that case, you should at least try out complex shots with a cheaper camera (maybe even your phone) and use toys and action figures as actor stand-ins.  Don't overlook this step because it can let you know if a shot you were influenced by or set down on your storyboard can actually be done or help your overall script and end-result.
  • THE THEME
    • When you wrote your script, developed your concept or fleshed out your proposal, you should've already unwrapped the underlying theme of your production. Now is time to take that theme and turn it into one or two keywords that you will place all around your directing paraphernalia; your script, shot list, storyboards, camera (or monitor).  The point of doing this is to create constant reminders of what your production is ultimately about.  Whenever you get stumped by a difficult creative decision, ask yourself which of the available options will most highlight or support the theme of your entire production.  
At this point you should be walking into the first day of the set excited and even a little nervous about the shoot but confident that you are ready to tackle the challenges and secure in yourself that you can get the job done.  But there is one more thing to consider as you prepare and it looms in the shadows where you hope it will forever remain...
  • THE CONTINGENCY
    • aka "The Big Maybe."  Hopefully you never have to do this step when you direct but you should steel yourself for the possibility that you might have to reschedule in the midst of production or reshoot after wrapping.  So it's best to be proactive, accept that it could happen to you and have some plans in the backburner for that eventuality.  Preparing for this eventuality also means that you factored it into your budget and schedule, too.
Direct like this enough times and the work flow becomes an expression and reflection of your style and personality.  By then you will have internalized the process in a way that works for you and earned a reputation for being a good working director. But it all comes down to being prepared before shooting because those that make a living as directors know that "behind every great production is a great plan."

9.04.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Midweek Morning Mixer - 9.4.13


Captain's Log.
Star Date: 9.4.13

Sep. 4, 1934 - Jan Švankmajer born

In Jan Švankmajer’s film 2000 Little Otik, the titular character is a stump of wood who comes to life when treated like a baby; Švankmajer himself, though, arrived into the world in the traditional manner on September 4, 1934, in the Czechoslovakian capital, Prague. In the history of animation, few people have been more influential than Švankmajer, as his strikingly original perspective and painstaking eye for detail have led the way for figures such as Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton and the Quay Brothers. While mainstream animation tends to focus on happy, colorful antics, Švankmajer has presented a view of the world that is more sinister and macabre, filtered through a tradition of dark Eastern European fairy tales. Most famous for his stop motion work (which often has a slight jerkiness that adds to the viewers unease), Švankmajer came to prominence first in the 1960s with a series of short films, but more recently has made features, such as Alice (1988), Faust (1994) and the aforementioned Little Otik, which have mixed live action with stop motion. You can read more about Švankmajer in FilmInFocus’ article on the history of stop motion. ~~ Focus Features
A sampling of Jan Švankmajer's works...