Movie Making Manual/Introduction

Filmmaking is the process of making a film. The nature of the film determines the size and type of crew required during filmmaking. Many Hollywood adventure films employ a cast and crew of thousands and have complicated computer generated imagery (CGI), while a low-budget, independent film may be made with a skeleton crew, often paid very little. Filmmaking takes place all over the world using different technologies and techniques, and is produced in a variety of economic contexts that range from state-sponsored documentary in China to profit-oriented movie making within the American studio system.

This Module is part of the Movie Making Manual

Stages of Filmmaking edit

The filmmaking production cycle consists of five main stages:

  1. Development
  2. Pre-production
  3. Production
  4. Post-production
  5. Distribution

An entire Hollywood-style production cycle typically takes three years. The first year is taken up with development. The second year comprises pre-production and production and the third year comprises post-production and distribution.

Development edit

In development, an idea is fleshed out into a viable script. The producer of the movie will find a story, which may be from books, other films, true stories, original ideas, etc. Once the theme, or underlying message, has been identified, a synopsis will be prepared. This is followed by a step outline, which breaks the story down into one-paragraph scenes, concentrating on the dramatic structure. Next, a treatment is prepared. This is a 25 to 30 page description of the story, its mood and characters, with little dialog and stage direction, often containing drawings to help visualize the key points.

The screenplay is then written over a period of perhaps six months, and will be rewritten several times to improve the dramatization, clarity, structure, characters, dialog, and overall style. However, producers often skip the previous steps and develop submitted screenplays which are assessed through a process called script coverage. A film distributor should be contacted at an early stage to assess the likely market and hence financial success of the film. Hollywood distributors will adopt a hard-headed business approach and consider factors such as: the film genre, the target audience, the historical success of similar films, the actors who might appear in the film and the potential directors of the film. All these factors imply a certain attraction of the film to a possible audience and hence the number of "bums on seats" during the theatrical release. Films rarely make a profit from the theatrical release alone, therefore DVD sales and worldwide distribution rights need to be taken into account.

The movie pitch is then prepared and presented to potential film financiers. If the pitch is successful and the movie is given the "green light" then financial backing is offered, typically from a major film studio, film council or independent investors. A deal is negotiated and contracts are signed.

Preproduction edit

In preproduction, the movie is designed and planned. The production company is created and a production office established. The production is storyboarded and visualised with the help of illustrators and concept artists. A production budget will also be drawn up to cost the film.

The Producer will hire people to fill the following roles:

  • The director is primarily responsible for the acting in the movie and manages the creative elements.
  • The assistant director (AD) manages the shooting schedule and logistics of the production among other tasks.
  • The casting director finds actors for the parts in the script. This normally requires an audition by the actor. Lead actors are carefully chosen and are often based on the actor's reputation or "star power."
  • The location manager finds and manages the film locations. Most pictures are shot in the predictable environment of a studio sound stage but occasionally outdoor sequences will call for filming on location.
  • The production manager manages the production budget and production schedule. He or she also reports on behalf of the production office to the studio executives or financiers of the film.
  • The director of photography (DOP) or cinematographer creates the photography of the film. He or she cooperates with the director, director of audiography (DOA) and AD.
  • The art director manages the art department, which makes production sets, costumes and provides makeup & hair styling services.
  • The production designer creates the look and feel of the production sets, costumes, make up and hairstyles, working with the art director to create these elements.
  • The storyboard artist creates visual images to help the director and production designer communicate their ideas to the production team.
  • The production sound mixer manages the audio experience during the production stage of a film. He or she cooperates with the director, DOP, and AD.
  • The sound designer creates new sounds and enhances the aural feel of the film with the help of foley artists.
  • The composer creates new music for the film.
  • The choreographer creates and coordinates the movement and dance - typically for musicals. Some films also credit a fight choreographer.

Production edit

In production the movie is actually created and shot. More crew will be recruited at this stage such as the property master, script supervisor, assistant directors, stills photographer, picture editor, and sound editors. These are just the most common roles in filmmaking and the production office will be free to create any unique blend of roles to suit a particular film.

A typical day's worth of shooting begins with an assistant director following the shooting schedule for the day. The film set is constructed and the props made ready. The lighting is rigged, the camera and sound recording equipment are set up. At the same time the actors are wardrobed in their costumes and attend the hair and make-up departments.

The actors rehearse their script and blocking with the director. The picture and sound crews then rehearse with the actors. Finally, the action is shot with as many takes as the director sees fit.

Each take of a shot follows a slating procedure and is marked on a clapperboard, which helps the editor keep track of the takes in post-production. The clapperboard records the scene, take, director, director of photography, date, and name of the film written on the front, and is displayed for the camera. The clapperboard also serves the necessary function of providing a marker to sync up the film and the sound take. Sound is recorded on a separate apparatus from the film and they must be synched up in post-production.

The director will then check to see if the shot was good or not. The script supervisor, sound and camera teams mark every take as either good (G or a circle around the take's number) or not good (NG) on their respective report sheets. Every report sheet records important facts about each take.

When shooting is finished for the scene, the director declares a "wrap." The crew will "strike," or dismantle, the set for that scene. The director approves the next day's shooting schedule and a daily progress report is sent to the production office. This includes the report sheets from continuity, sound, and camera teams. Call sheets are distributed to the cast and crew to tell them when and where to turn up the next shooting day.

For productions using traditional photographic film, the unprocessed negative of the day's takes are sent to the film laboratory for processing overnight. Once processed, they return from the laboratory as dailies or rushes (film positives) and are viewed in the evening by the director, above the line crew, and sometimes, the cast. For productions using digital technologies, shots are downloaded and organized on a computer for display as dailies.

When the entire film is in the can, filmmaking lingo for the completion of the production phase, the production office normally arranges a wrap party to thank all the cast and crew for their efforts.

Post-production edit

In post-production, the film is assembled by the film editor. The modern use of video in the filmmaking process has resulted in two workflow variants: one using entirely film, the other using a mixture of film and video:

1. In the film workflow, the original camera film (negative) is developed and copied to a one-light workprint (positive) for editing with a mechanical editing machine. An edge code is recorded onto film to locate the position of picture frames. Since the development of editing software such as Final Cut Pro or Avid, the film workflow is used by very few productions.

2. In the video workflow, the original camera negative is developed and telecined to video for editing with computer editing software. A timecode is recorded onto video tape to locate the position of picture frames. Production sound is also synced up to the video picture frames during this process.

The first job of the film editor is to build a rough cut taken from sequences (or scenes) based on individual "takes" (shots). The purpose of the rough cut is to select and order the best shots. The next step is to create a fine cut by getting all the shots to flow smoothly in a seamless story. Trimming, the process of shortening scenes by a few minutes, seconds, or even frames, is done during this phase. After the fine cut has been screened and approved by the director and producer the picture is "locked," meaning no further changes are made. Next, the editor creates a negative cut list (using edge code) or an edit decision list (using timecode) either manually or automatically. These edit lists identify the source and the picture frame of each shot in the fine cut.

Once the picture is locked, the film passes out of the hands of the editor to the sound department to build-up the sound track. The voice recordings are synchronised and the final sound mix is created. The sound mix combines sound effects, background sounds, ADR, dialogue, walla, and music.

The sound track and picture are combined together, resulting in a low quality answer print of the movie. There are now two possible workflows to create the high quality release print depending on the recording medium:

  1. In the film workflow, the cut list that describes the film-based answer print is used to cut the original colour negative (OCN) and create a colour timed copy called the colour master positive or interpositive print. For all subsequent steps this effectively becomes the master copy. The next step is to create a one-light copy called the colour duplicate negative or internegative. It is from this that many copies of the final theatrical release print are made. Copying from the internegative is much simpler than copying from the interpositive directly because it is a one-light process; it also reduces wear-and-tear on the interpositive print.
  2. In the video workflow, the edit decision list that describes the video-based answer print is used to edit the original colour tape (OCT) and create a high quality colour master tape. For all subsequent steps this effectively becomes the master copy. The next step uses a film recorder to read the colour master tape and copy each video frame directly to film to create the final theatrical release print.

Finally the film is previewed, normally by the target audience, and any feedback may result in further shooting or edits to the film.

Distribution edit

In distribution, the movie is released to cinemas or, occasionally, to DVD, VCD or VHS (though VHSs are less common now that more people own DVD players). The movie is duplicated as required for theatrical distribution. Press kits, posters, and other advertising materials are published and the movie is advertised.

The movie will usually be launched with a launch party, press releases, interviews with the press, showings of the film at a press preview, and/or film festivals. It is also common to create a website to accompany the movie. The movie will play at selected cinemas and the DVD is typically released a few months later. The distribution rights for the movie and DVD are also usually sold for worldwide distribution. Any profits are divided between the distributor and the production company.

Independent filmmaking edit

Filmmaking also takes place outside of the studio system and is commonly called independent filmmaking. Since the introduction of DV technology, the means of production have become more democratized. Filmmakers can conceivably shoot and edit a movie, create and edit the sound and music, and mix the final cut on a home computer. However, while the means of production may be democratized, financing, distribution, and marketing remain difficult to accomplish outside the traditional system. Most independent filmmakers rely on film festivals to get their films noticed and sold for distribution. However, the Internet has allowed for relatively inexpensive distribution of independent films; many filmmakers post their films online for critique and recognition. Although there is little profitability in this, a filmmaker can still gain exposure via the web.

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