Starting Pre-Production

Making a film takes a lot more work than it seems. In fact, it is hard to tell how much work has been put onto a film just by looking at the final result, although we can definitely get a hint of it by looking at the ending credits. What do all of those people do? Are there that many things to work on?

While the first question is too vague and would take ages to reply, the answer to the latter is a resounding “yes”. There are an awful lot of things to work on, especially at the inception stage. Let’s talk about these in terms of a short film, where they are generally more condensed in comparison to a feature.

The very first step where every film begins is the script. This might sound very obvious, but checking this box can actually become a daunting task, especially when it comes to finding one based on a good idea. There are two ways you can get a script: you can buy/obtain one from someone else (in which case I would make sure to choose the right one, mainly according to your financial possibilities), or you can write it yourself. The second option will give you more freedom at the time of adjusting it when some things go wrong – believe me, they will- but the important thing is to have a draft that is as close as possible to the representation of the story sought after by the director (this might be the same person as the writer), to reduce the amount of those things that will go wrong.

So you’ve got the script, now what?

If you decide to give writing one a go, check out this very useful article about scriptwriting: The Script Board: A Guide to Screenwriting

Like in most aspects of business, the two determining factors of a film are time and money. Therefore, it makes sense to start by creating a budget and a schedule. These don’t need to be set in stone, but they should act as a reference to define the extent of what can be achieved in terms of production: locations, actors, crew, equipment, production design, props, costumes, editing, music, catering, publicity and festivals… these are some of the main parts that the budget should cover.

The schedule should work in a way that it sets deadlines to complete the different steps. Without a schedule to adhere to, the production will be all over the place and will turn into a mess. Deadlines will also prevent you from leaving things unattended. It is not difficult to fall into procrastination, which will make different tasks overlap and therefore this will lead to a waste of time and possibly money, which is far from ideal.

In order to figure out a schedule, try to work out how long it would take to complete each task. For example, in terms of location scouting, how long is it going to take to speak to the relevant people, find out what the availability for that location is, how much is it and when can you pay for it to eventually lock it. Or in terms of casting, how many days of auditions do you need to carry out, where and when can you hold the auditions, how much is the audition room, when are you going to have callbacks and when are you going to make a decision on the cast.

Budget and schedule ready, now the rest

Once you have the budget and schedule in place, there’s a valuable technique called script breakdown. It is normally carried out by the 1st AD, however in a short film this may be done by the director himself or the producer. It consists of, while going through the script, identifying key elements such as characters, locations, costumes, props and VFX shots and colour-coding them to be able to know what you will need and how long for. This is tied-in with the production design, which is the visual concept for the film. A good production design should be consistent with colours, costumes, the way sets are dressed and props, since it is an essential part towards the look of the film.

A good pre-production is crucial for the correct development of the film, especially since most elements of production and post-production are sorted out during this stage. In terms of the shooting, you will need to find a crew, the people behind the scenes. Also, the equipment that will be used will be decided from very early on (camera, lenses, grip, sound, lighting). This is important in order to be able to find and compare deals by different rental houses and be able to bargain with them. Or for example, an important on-set element that can’t be overlooked is catering. People work better with their stomachs full, so make sure you keep them well fed.

In regards to post-production, you need to determine aspects such as where are you going to edit the film, what music are you going to use (is it going to be a buy-out, copyright free, originally composed) or if you need VFX shots, which you need to plan in advance.

Last but not least, you also have to keep in mind distribution and publicity. You should think about where your film is going to be seen (streamed online, particular venues), or maybe you’d like to do a festival run, in which case you need to allocate some money for submissions. As for publicity, is the film going to be promoted through social media? Is it going to have a poster? Will there be still photographs?

And by the way, you will find that forms are very much necessary to keep everything organised and most importantly to cover your back mainly against legal issues. Completing location recces, risk assessments and making the relevant people sign release forms will definitely keep you from getting more than one headache.

The Director’s Statement: What to Write

So you’ve been asked to write a director’s statement. First off, know that director statements are very specific parts of any proposal, and must reflect the very best of your film.

But what exactly is a director’s statement?

Where a screenwriter might be asked to provide a synopsis for the script so that interested parties can gain a better understanding into the writer’s mind, a director might be asked for a written proposal of his vision for a film. It’s the director’s interpretation of the script, and the leading tool in its production.

This could include the technical aspects of a film, such as framing and focus, as well as the practical ones–i.e. the film’s budget. But it’s not as daunting as it sounds, and is actually quite fun to write.

Who reads it, and why?

So who asks for a director’s statement? Well, it depends. If your film has not yet been made, and consists only of the writer’s script, you could be applying for funds or grants from funding bodies to cover your proposed film budget. Perhaps you’re kickstarting a campaign for the same reason. Or maybe you’re submitting your project idea to a competition.

Whatever the case you’ll probably have been asked for a director’s statement. Sometimes directors even use a statement to send to their cast, just to get them in a similar mindset. Mostly, this is to give people the information as to how, as a director, you plan to make the scriptwriter’s idea come alive.

If, on the other hand, your film has already been made, and you’re pushing it into a festival run, your statement might be needed for one of two reasons. One, so that parts of it (such as synopsis, logline or your objective as a director) might be included as part of your film’s summary, or two, it might be used as part of a press pack, so say that your film was a runner up/winner, you wouldn’t need to be as thoroughly interviewed a you would have been had reporting bodies not been sent your statement already. They could report on your film using your statement as a reliable source.

How long does it have to be?

Usually no longer than one side of A4. It needs to be brief and to the point. Remember, the statement is used as reference, and people won’t want to skim through an entire essay. So make sure not to go over the required word count, especially if specifically stated in the guidelines you’re adhering to, which are usually strict about length/word count. Here your summary skills will be called onto, as information is key.

What goes inside?

  • Story

It’s always good to set up the premise of your film.

What is the story about? Here you can give away the main synopsis in a few sentences. You can talk about your main character, his or her dilemma, and the stakes of your story.

Also, What genre does it belong to? And the time period? Is it a modern-day horror? A fantasy-adventure film set in the desert? A mystery thriller neo-noir film that makes you feel just a little bit sick to the stomach? (That’s looking at you, Oldboy)

You can also talk about the film’s genesis. To what do you owe the idea’s origins and why do you identify with it?

  • Themes

What is the main theme of your film? Every film has got one, so think carefully! Even if you’re not sure, this is a good time to read through the script again with a critical eye. Are you going to be representing loneliness? Exploring an existential dilemma? Is it a man versus nature epic? Are you weaving a tale of revenge?

There will probably be a lot more underlying themes in your film, and these make up the subtext section of your project. You don’t have to touch on them all! Just the ones you think relevant.

  • Vision

As a director, you’ll have thought about the visual style, the aesthetics your film will adopt, and the visual choices you make that will complement the scriptwriter’s theme.

This can include anything from editing choices to production design, but whatever you include, make sure it stands out. What are your colour choices? Do the colours you’re going to use represent the themes you’re trying to evoke to the audience? So cold colours (greys, blues) to evoke isolation or warm tones for an idyllic feel? Will they match actors’ costumes?

Talk about your framing and focus, how you’re going to film, what mood or special effects you want to use, really anything visually important you want to include to show your project’s unique voice. This could also be technical difficulties you expect to or have faced throughout production.

  • Purpose

If you’re writing this in application of funding, it can’t hurt for you to write what exact purpose you want the funding for. Do you already have a budget that lays out each expenditure you’ll need? You could give a quick overview as to what purpose your funding will serve. Is it for equipment, actors, festivals or specific on set locations?

Also, why as a director, do you want to do this? Is it to raise awareness on an issue? Do you want to have a social impact? How will your story affect other people?

Again, this is all up to you, it’s the director’s vision, and everyone is unique in their own way. It’s your time to shed a light on the way you want to work and how you want to achieve your passion.

The director’s vision complements the writer’s script in a way that it become the script’s progression. It’s the next step towards the production of a film, the director’s blueprint, a map of sorts that can serve as a guideline for multiple reasons.  And only the director’s statement can really let people know exactly how the script will be transferred from page to screen.

Your vision, if it’s been well thought out and thoroughly developed, will separate you from the competition and shine a spotlight on your potential. Remember, it’s the way a film is told that makes the story unique.

Upcoming Event: ‘Putting the BOOM in Special Effects’ – Hosted by Artem

Join Us for Our Monthly Lecture & Industry Networking

 

 

Tickets:

FREE for All IMIS Members (not a member? find out how to become one here)

£8.00 for Non-Members

£6.00 for Streaming Access ONLY

Event Description:

Come join us as Mike Kelt, CEO of Artem, the UK’s largest permanent physical SFX company,  will talk about the physical SFX industry.  He will:

  • Discussion of how Special FX has changed
  • Show how new technology has revolutionised the business
  • Demonstrate specific examples of recent work, particularly in pyrotechnics
  • During the talk there will be a few demonstrations, and the need for a couple of volunteers!

 

Don’t Miss the Chance to Meet with Others in Industry and Learn More about Special FX!

 

 

About Artem:

Artem was founded in 1988, mainly working on TV physical effects and commercials.  The company grew fast, doubling its workshop space within a few years. Outgrowing their facilities, Artem moved into a purpose-built designed building of 18,000sqft on a local vacant site and opened shop in Glasgow a few years after that, to attract work to Scotland, and service the northern areas of England.

The company now work on a wide variety of projects across a range of business sectors.  From museums and exhibitions, to live events such as the current ‘Take That’ tour or the 2012 Olympic ceremonies, feature films to TV drama and commercials.

Film Credits Include:

  • Macbeth
  • In the Heart of the Sea
  • Hot Fuzz
  • X-Men: First Class
  • The Da Vinci Code
  • The Brothers Grimm
  • Batman Begins
  • Reing of Fire
  • Braveheart



 



 

 

Itinerary:

6:30pm (BST) – Pre-Event Networking

7:00pm (BST) – Presentation Begin

7:45pm (BST) – Break

8:00pm (BST) – Interview/Q&A

8:30pm (BST) – Event Wraps Up/Networking

Venue:

Regent Street Cinema

309 Regent Street

Marylebone

London

W1B 2UW

United Kingdom


Mike Kelt is currently CEO at Artem, the UK’s largest permanent physical special effects company.  He works as a supervisor, particularly on films, in Artem’s workshops in London and Glasgow.

Mike has over 38 years of experience in his field and cut his teeth at BBC TV working on such ubiquitous projects as ‘Blake’s 7’, the original ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ and various ‘Dr Who’ episodes. Working for Artem for the past 29 years, he has been involved in feature films such as ‘Hot Fuzz’, ‘Trainspotting 2’, ‘Paddington 2’ and the soon-to-be-released ‘Foreigner’ starring Jackie Chan & Pierse Brosnan.

In November 2005, Mike was awarded an Honorary PhD by the University of Hertfordshire for ‘Outstanding Achievements in Special Effects at Home and Abroad’. Dedicating himself to the improvement in standards across the industry, he is a member of BSAC (British Screen Advisory Council) as well as the Board of UK Screen Alliance.

 

The Basics of VFX

The other day I stood in front of a screen at the cinema while waiting for a friend, on which a bunch of trailers were playing. New York is getting blown up again, some ghost sailors hope to catch a quirky pirate dead or alive and humans are trying to save the world against robot juggernauts.

As people were coming out of different screenings, I couldn’t help but overhear some typical comments: “Man, those special effects were so sick!”. It seems like films are over-saturated with visual effects nowadays (there’s actually a difference between the terms “visual effects” and “special effects”, more on that later).

But hang on a second. There are old films with visual effects, so these aren’t anything new. Surely the technology back in the day wasn’t as advanced as it is today, so how did they do it? And how do they do it nowadays anyway? And where? By whom? Could I maybe do it too? What, for a living? For real?

Let’s start by explaining that difference between the terms “visual effects” (VFX) and “special effects”, commonly referred to as “practical effects”. Generally, practical effects are those which can be done while the scene is being captured. VFX are normally done in post-production and are those effects that would be impossible to achieve in the real world. Besides creating astonishing viewing experiences, this is one of the main three reasons why VFX are needed. The second sprouts when there could be a practical way of filming the scene required, but doing so might put someone at risk and the third has to do with cost effectiveness. Sometimes it is more practical to use VFX than to film a scene due to issues of scale, location or both, for example, when recreating period settings such as World War II or Victorian London.

While we are used to seeing all of those flashy, fancy VFX in action and fiction films, they are actually utilised in almost every film precisely for the reasons just mentioned above. Some argue that these are the type of VFX that are most impressive when they are integrated seamlessly and are unnoticeable by the audience. A glass breaking, a gunshot or even a car or a crowd are examples of this.

So, how are they done?

The software primarily used for VFX is called Nuke. As an outsider not knowing anything about VFX, I was one to believe that these were done in Adobe After Effects, however Nuke is the industry-standard software for films. While After Effects is also industry-standard, it is predominantly used to create motion graphics, another term not to be confused with VFX. The main difference is that After Effects is layer-based, while Nuke is node-based, which makes it quicker to work. Nuke is also a bit more complicated to use and learn, but counts with more functionality than AE.

Another big part of VFX is CGI (computer-generated imagery), rendering and 3D animation, for which software such as Maya, Renderman or Houdini is used. Fun fact: they don’t use Windows nor MacOS in the industry, computers mostly run on Linux.

Who creates the VFX then?

On a global scale, most top VFX houses have their headquarters or branches in the US, the UK (mainly London), Canada (mainly Vancouver and Montréal) and India. In London specifically, most companies are based in Soho. There are also different ramifications within VFX, with companies that specialise in film and others in TV, commercials or animation. Some of the best known companies are MPC, Double Negative, Framestore, Milk and The Mill, to name a few.

Going into further detail, there are different steps in terms of a VFX workflow: move matching, rotoscoping, compositing, matte painting, lighting and rendering or texturing are just a few of these, which are normally tied-in to a role of the same name. There are additional roles, such as VFX Producer, VFX Supervisor or Technical Director. And of course, runner. It is worth noting that in bigger companies, some of these roles normally specialise in a very particular task, for example hair and fur in beasts, animals or people or fire and smoke, to mention a couple, whereas in smaller companies artists are faced with doing more versatile work.

Now, what do I need to get my foot in the door and how?

Learning to use the software is obviously a major requirement, however it is not so obvious that the ideal core skills to possess include a good understanding of mathematics, design, computer science and physics. This is because as long as you have this core knowledge, it can be easily applied later to any piece of software, no matter how software and technology evolves or changes. For anyone passionate about VFX looking to strengthen their skills, I would recommend reading (and owning) the book “The Art and Science of Digital Compositing” by Ron Brinkmann, often referred to as “the Bible of VFX”.

Another ability to have which is as important as any technical skill is teamwork. A single VFX project can last for a year, 18 months or even two years. Therefore, it is very important to be a good teamplayer who is friendly and easy-going. Since projects can get very stressful, it is essential to be pleasant to deal with and able to produce quality work under pressure.

As for how to get your foot in the door, there are several alternatives. If you don’t have a lot of experience (you should still have a presentable showreel), you can try applying for a runner position at a company. This is one the lowest positions in film and you have to be prepared to make lots of tea and coffee for a long time. However, the bright side is that you will likely find yourself amongst talented artists and sooner or later, if you work hard and demonstrate interest and initiative, you’ll end up being given tasks actually related to your field of work.

Another alternative to consider are the training schemes that different companies run, such as MPC Academy or Envy Academy. Double Negative have their own Graduate Trainee Scheme or Framestore have several courses and training programmes, to name a few.

If you have a bit more experience and feel confident about your skills, you can try applying to junior positions which are opening up regularly, as companies are always on the lookout for new talent.

Last but not least, freelancing is another alternative, as companies often hire people for specific tasks on a project-to-project basis.

The VFX industry is a very exciting one, with lots of new potential coming its way thanks to the ever-developing advancements in VR, 360 cameras, virtual cameras and tools such as Lytro. It is also diversifying into areas outside of film, adapting previsualisations or simulations normally run in pre-production stages to apply them for design purposes, in industries as diverse as automotive, jewellery, construction or medical.

However, the industry might not be suitable for everyone. Working under stressful circumstances, long hours or mobility can be a constant, which can translate into a poor social or family life. But if you have the drive and passion to pursue a career in this industry, finding yourself working in a top-tier budget film or the next Hollywood blockbuster is a very real and stimulating possibility.

Act II: Into the Thick of It

In continuation of my article featuring the first act, we’ll now move on to Act II structure. As you already know, there is no one handier to help in story structure than Blake Snyder and his beat sheet. In act I we covered the Opening Image (page 1), the Theme Stated (page 5), the Set-Up (page 1-10), the Catalyst (Page 12), the Debate (Page 12-25) and the Break into Two (Page 25). Now this time around we’ll be facing Syd Field’s ‘confrontation’ stage head on, defined in his three-act paradigm.

Act two is the heart of your film, the nitty-gritty substance, the part where your character will encounter the very significance of the story and face the main obstacles heralding his or her way. It’s about fifty pages long (30-85), defines your arc, reveals the stakes, and explores your theme.

Sounds complicated, right? But don’t panic. Snyder’s beats will give your script the fillers it needs to avoid any structural gaps.

The B story (Page 30)

The B story is the supporting side story, the sub-plot to your main story.

Generally speaking, B stories are murky, the grey area of solid script-writing, because your B story can’t just be about your character’s sidekick. Your B story must address your story’s theme. That’s right, the one Blake Snyder told you to state in Act I.

Sometimes it runs to the rescue of your A story.

Let us visualize.

In Greg Berlanti’s Life as we Know it, the A story is Holly and Eric coming together to look after their goddaughter, but the B story is the development of their relationship, which circles back and fortifies the A story. Because of their teamwork, they achieve their goal of looking after their child.

Sometimes it adds heart.  In Jurassic Park, it’s the arrival of Hammond’s nephew and niece, adding a nice layer of emotion to the story. Because suddenly, the film isn’t just going to be about dinosaurs on a rampage, it’s going to be about protecting the children from the rampage.

It may sound like a particularly complicated Rubik’s cube, but the B story is essentially how the main character deals with all the obstacles thrown at him by the A story.

It’s the emotional plotline of your story, the part with the sentimental and solid depth, whereas your A story is the action-packed objective of your story.

Fun and Games (Page 30-55)

I reckon the Fun and Games segment pretty much speaks for itself, but in any case, it’s usually the most enjoyable part of watching any film. Before any drama kicks in, the Fun and Games section makes life look pretty good for your protagonist. They’re a respite from the drama and problems to come, they’re entertaining and engaging. In Pretty Women, we see a sequence featuring down-on-her-luck Vivian enjoying the glamour of high society. She shops. She enjoys the hotel’s luxuries and nice meals. Why? Duh, it’s fun to watch. In Bruce Almighty, Bruce plays around with his powers; in the Hunger Games, Katniss is preened and primped and fed and glamorized for the games. It’s fun to write, fun to read, and fun to watch.

 The Midpoint (Page 55)

The Midpoint is different from the Catalyst of Act I. Whereas the Catalyst delivered the main character into a brand new world, the midpoint delivers the character into a new adventure (the whole point of the film). It comes halfway through the second act and propels the protagonist into a new direction. In The Philosopher’s Stone, the trio find out Fluffy is guarding the Philosopher’s stone. In Jurassic Park, it’s the moment when the electricity goes out, the dinosaurs are on the loose and the park’s no longer a safe, happy haven. You just know it’s going to be a bloodbath. Boom, the stakes are raised. In Jaws, the shark strikes again, and this time it’s going for Brody’s son in the estuary. Is he going to survive? This leads us to…

Bad Guys Close in (Page 55-75)

This is the official section of your screenplay, the part where the stakes are raised against the character. The protagonist’s situation of the midpoint (whether good or bad) starts to disintegrate further. Your antagonists are out to get your character now, and whether they’re physical (another human being), or emotional (fear, jealousy), they begin to overtake the storyline. For example, in 500 Days of Summer, the bad guys close in when Tom, out of jealousy, punches a guy hitting on Summer. There is no more fun and games now, it’s downhill from there.

In Lost in Translation, the bad guy is time, as Bob and Charlotte aren’t going to be in Japan for much longer and their friendship/relationship will inevitably come to an end.

All is Lost (Page 75)

It’s the ultimate crisis point. Here the character will either lose everything they’ve ever wanted and gotten, or they will realize that if they achieved it, it wasn’t what they were looking for anyway. It’s a false friend. It’s the moment where your character hits rock bottom and he or she is so far away from their goal, it seems impossible they’ll ever get there. In 500 Days of Summer, it’s Summer and Tom’s break-up. In the Philosopher’s Stone, it’s finding out that Snape is going to steal the stone and the only person who can protect it (Dumbledore) is gone. It’s when Han Solo is frozen in carbonite, when Harry dies in the Kingsman and when Indy’s father is shot in the chest in Indiana Jones.

Dark Night of the Soul (Page 75-85)

It’s the grievance period, the part where the protagonist tries to deal (or not) with the all is lost moment. It’s the wallowing in the utter failure before they pick themselves back up again. In 500 Days of Summer, the dark night of the soul is the part where Summer resigns her job, Tom becomes depressed and starts lashing out at everybody. In Jurassic Park, Hammond realizes the park is a failure: it’s not worth the lives lost, it’s got to be shut down.

The character must understand the reason why they’ve been beaten, so that they can overcome it in full. In Babadook, Amelia realizes that because she can’t let go of her husband, she can’t defeat the Babadook and so she’s exposing her son to danger. Essentially, the answer must lie in something learned from the B story, which touches on the theme stated in act one.

And with that you can relax, because you’ll have reached the end of act two. Now all you have left is your Breaking into the Finale, otherwise known to Blake Snyder as the resolution segment.

The good news is that if you’ve got a solid second act, then from here on out it’s all plain sailing to the end. The second act is all about testing your character’s strengths and weaknesses, dangling their goal in front of them and whipping it out of reach again when they least expect it. It’s complicated but not impossible, and if you think in terms of a full circle, one that incorporates your theme into your B story and then your B story into the realization of your theme, well, you’re flying high.

Exciting New Member Discounts

Hey guys,

We’re pretty happy to announce that being a member of IMIS now comes with a series of discounts to popular products and services.

If you are a member, head over to the Members Section and then Discounts.

Wait, you’re not a member yet? Better get on that. Become a Member Today

Check below to see the ones we have lined up.  We’re working hard to partner with other groups to provide more discounts.  Stay tuned.