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Category Archives: Production Office

All the jobs in the Production Office from Producer to Assistant or Runner

The Art of Illusion … by Wendy Laybourn

THE BOOK!

I’ve been really busy for the past couple of years helping my Art Director friend Terry Ackland-Snow to write a book about working in the film Art Department. We decided to call it The Art of Illusion: Production Design for Film & Television because illusion is what making a film or a television programme is all about – what the audience sees on the screen isn’t altogether real!

Like all good things, this project was started over a glass of wine. Maybe I should think twice next time – but I’ve really enjoyed working with Terry and helping him to pull this whole thing together.

Essentially, the book is aimed at anyone wanting to make a career in film production and it will take you through the processes involved in creating a film set step by step. Film sets have been constantly developing from the simple canvas backcloths used on theatre stages, right through to the present day where computer generated effects augment the highly sophisticated art of designing, building and dressing sets.

The Art of Illusion will be available on 11th September from all good bookshops and on-line providers with ISBN number 978 1 78500 343 1. If you want to pre-order you can take advantage a discount offered by the publisher, Crowood Press on Crowood Press

 

 

 

 

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THE PRODUCER OF ADVERTISING FOR MARKETING FILM AND TELEVISION DISTRIBUTION

 

Jan Bursey in her Los Angeles office!

In the last decade, the means by which independent films, documentaries and screenplays are financed, advertised, marketed and sold has undergone tremendous change – which has developed the need for a new approach – Jan Bursey, President of USA-based Winter Palace Films

FILM AND FILMMAKER REPRESENTATION
In the last decade, the means by which independent films, documentaries, and screenplays are financed, advertised, marketed and sold has undergone tremendous change.  With more than 20,000 films being produced annually competing for distribution deals independent filmmakers’ opportunities to have their scripts produced or films released into the marketplace are almost unrealistic and “great expectations”.

Independent films, documentaries, and screenplays usually do not have the luxury of being backed by studios, mini-majors, or large production companies with an internal infrastructure of creative, production, financing, advertising, public relations, and marketing executives and staff, and are benefitting from the delegation and compartmentalization of these necessary producing functions.  When often times, filmmakers’ films and screenwriters’ screenplays needing representation to garner success are deemed unsolicited projects hindering their production and distribution or eliminating them entirely from the film market these functions, now more than ever before, filmmakers need to reflect in their film’s production budget. 

So, what are the filmmaker’s options for representation in today’s film market?  There are the various agents who represent seasoned filmmakers, and there are agencies searching for viable projects for packaging.  There are film sales agents who usually handle multiple projects where little advertising and marketing is applied.  There are producers’ representatives who offer more consultatory services than sales agents.  There are producers of marketing and distribution (PMDs) who market filmmakers’ projects to distributors.  And there is another entity, a full service advertising and marketing representation company geared toward gaining distribution for film and television through exploitation.  This entity is referred to as a Producer of Advertising for Marketing for Film and Television Distribution, or in acronym is referred to as a PAMFTD and pronounced PAM-F-T-D, also shortened by popular demand to PAMD, PAM-D or sometimes called “The Pammy”.

One may ask, what is the difference in advertising and marketing?  Isn’t it the same thing?  The answer is they are different tasks.  Marketing is the provision of goods or services to meet customer or consumer needs while Advertising is the activity of attracting public attention to a product or business by creating materials for paid or unpaid announcements in print, broadcast, or electronic media.  So in effect, one is the offering of the product and the other is creating the desire or recognition for the need of the product.

A PAMFTD may also be considered in certain circumstances an Executive Producer for the film project by supplying a major portion of the film’s funding either before production, during completion, or after completion on films with deferred payment arrangements and investors expecting returns.

WHEN DO YOU NEED A PAMFD?
Let’s say you’ve just finished your screenplay and now face the daunting task of finding financing, or arranging for production, or want to get it sold, or let’s say you’re prepping your film, or you’re shooting your film, or you’ve completed it and have investors or deferred payments to crew needing their return or payment… and, you want your film seen!  But, have you really done everything…or have you done anything needed to ensure its eventual success beyond the creative aspect?  Do you have representation, or do you have the right representation to introduce your screenplay or film to its audience?  Do you know how to market your finished masterpiece or who would buy it, or which contests, festivals, film markets, sales agents or distributors are most appropriate for it?  Do you know how to present a budget or a business plan?  Do you have all of the required distribution deliverables and documentation?  Do you have the right images for key art?  Do you know anything about funding and distribution options?  Do you know how to package your film? You may need a PAMFTD as soon as you complete your script for either sales representation, financing or packaging for production as they will guide you through the processes of advertising it in various media platforms as well as funding options, sales, budgeting, development and business plan development.

You may discover you need an embedded PAMFTD to monitor your film’s overall advertising, marketing and distribution strategy, and working as a fulltime producer during the film’s production to manage the micro aspects of the film’s distribution ‘rollout.’  This requires usually a three-month commitment to the PAMFTD from the film’s production budget, and is only in place during production with the possibility of continued contractual representation after post-production or until a distribution deal is struck.

You may decide on a more a la carte representation for your film’s advertising and marketing distribution strategy where the advertising elements are supplied to the PAMFTD who will create and release periodic media announcements both in visual media, print and on the Internet.  An a la carte representation can be month-to-month during production, and may be contracted for a longer term after film completion up until its distribution.

You may decide to hire a PAMFTD after your film is completed for the purpose of advertising and marketing to gain distribution.  This would entail creating a customized and strategic advertising plan for marketing your film to the various distribution platforms. A PAMFTD’s top priority is to develop, implement and continually refine a customized and concrete strategy, which should be based upon the following criteria:  the filmmaker’s specific goal (career launch, generating revenue, reaching the widest possible audience or social affect); available resources (size of the marketing and distribution budget); desired timetable and current stage of the filmmaking process (development, production, post-production or completed film).

The PAMFTD or PAMD is responsible for laying the groundwork and managing all “social media” and web outposts for your film project or screenplay such as its Facebook Fan Page, Twitter stream(s), and updating discussion and comment streams on any blogs, making use of auto-posting sites like Posterous or LinkedIn for a broader sweep and reaching out into the community for external link sharing and SEO optimization of your site and its content such as Google search.

They are responsible for creating DVD Bonus Features by capturing snippets of material related to the film, though not necessarily included in the film, for later addition to your film’s “behind-the-scenes” material.

The PAMFTD begins weighing different distribution options and coordinates your film’s DVD production/authoring once post-production is completed.They recommend film distribution platforms geared toward your film project by examining investing potential within distribution channels for either a classic distribution model, a DIY, or something in between known as a hybridized distribution approach.

The PAMFTD organizes all necessary paperwork and chain-of-title documents for your film’s key distributor or sales agent pitch meetings before, during, and/or after your film festival or screening premiere: is responsible for coordinating all efforts related to your project’s film market or festival run: researching which markets/festivals are best suited for your film or sometimes screenplay, submitting all needed forms, fees, DVD screeners, plus all supporting documentation to a festival selection committee in a timely manner.  They handle all media requests during the market/festival while attending to all media inquiries and phone calls on behalf of the filmmaker or producer/director.  The PAMFTD is the public face of the film during film markets and festivals.

The PAMFTD is your film project’s media representation by establishing contact with all on and offline media channels for updates and news releases starting with the production, casting, on to the completion, premier, and the film’s cast and crew interviews during the exploitation of your film.  If your film or documentary requires live events and cross-partnerships they would arrange creative representation at all live (themed) theatrical events or park screenings, screening horror films in graveyards, and whatever else may be required to market your film.  They would arrange for your booth representation at comic book conventions and other fan related events.  In short, the PAMFTD takes point on the film’s overall public relations efforts allowing you to focus exclusively on your film’s creative quality.

Along with your film’s distribution strategy, the PAMFTD may offer up Transmedia Producer services, a specialty field garnering credit for producing content in additional platforms.  This allows for the stretching of your film’s narrative reach by extending your story’s plot into other media platforms or channels.  With a film, it could be broken down into smaller pieces fitting a webisodic format.  They might consider designing a mobile or iPad app for your film.  What about the creation of a graphic novel to further distribute your film or screenplay?

The PAMFTD is a distributor, media and audience engagement specialist.  They position your film or screenplay in the film market and create a loyal following using the media and distribution, generating buzz for your next film project and your next thus creating a leverage as you advance your career.

So how much should the independent film producer allocate to the PAMFTD?  The allocation is inversely proportional to how inherently commercial the film is, at home and abroad, or put another way…how important is it to give your investors’ a financial return or make their money back?

THE INSPIRATION FOR THE PAMFTD
Before launching Winter Palace Films, I had over a 20 year run at being the behind-the-scenes, diehard gal who just happened to become an expert in film and television advertising for marketing and distribution along the way.  My exposure to various film and television disciplines gave me a broad perspective of the entertainment industry and an intimate understanding of independent filmmakers’ needs, inspiring and motivating me to develop a company such as Winter Palace Films.  Consequently, it allowed me a more hands-on position to mentor and support the independent film industry.  Bringing Winter Palace Films specialty services to fruition is my passion and a challenge, but then my favorite quote is, “If it were easy…we’d all be doing it!”

During my various studio advancements I landed a position at Lifetime Television, Los Angeles where under the direction of their New York headquarters I oversaw their network business.  My three years employ allowed participation in a large machine where acquisitioned movies totalled 61 films from Orion Pictures, including ‘Bull Durham’ and ‘Married to the Mob’, ‘Dances with Wolves’ and ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and ten films from Warner Bros. including ‘The Accidental Tourist’ and ‘Tequila Sunrise’.  Also acquired were the ‘China Beach’ series from Warner Bros. and the rights to the 85-episode series, ‘thirtysomething’ from MGM.

It was in what I entitled “The Glorious Goldwyn Days,” when I really developed my passion for independent filmmakers and specialty films.  During those four years, I was part of the creative team for the Samuel Goldwyn Company, producing advertising, collaborating with acquisitions, and participating in both domestic and international distribution thus positioning feature films, specialty films and television in their respective markets.  While there, over 61 films were produced and distributed for domestic and international sales including ‘Big Night’, ‘The Perez Family’, ‘Eat Drink Man Woman’ and award winners ‘The Madness of King George’ and ‘Much Ado About Nothing’; also 4 television series were developed and produced including the ‘New Adventures of Flipper’ and ‘Secrets of the Cryptkeeper’s Haunted House’.

After Goldwyn for over a decade, I held a key executive spot collaborating on the organization, development, and programming of an award winning motorsports commercial and television production company, WATV Productions, where over 1,000 episodes of vehicle enthusiast programming were produced and distributed.  Here contract deals for independent producer hires inspired the idea for an independent filmmakers’ advertised and marketed, representation package and I returned to my passion of advertising, marketing and distributing independent films.

WHY HIRE A PAMFTD FOR YOUR FILM?
We do essentially the same job as a sales agent but with more hands-on consultatory, advertising, and media campaign involvement for filmmakers and screenwriters who are too unknown or inexperienced to attract agency representation.  In addition to marketing and distribution sales tasks, we exploit a film for financial profit and filmmaker attention prior to or during and after production depending upon the needs of the film project and the arrangement with the filmmaker. We arrange and handle contract negotiations for International and Domestic Distribution across all platforms.  We arrange film financing for films in development, production and post-production, and create unique packages to make your film attractive to International and Domestic Financing outlets.
 
Our clients are directed through the packaging stages of their projects creating a presentation in a format pleasing to finance, acquisitions or development executives and distributors allowing the opportunity to make a best first impression.  This practice allows concentration aimed at an effective pitch and negotiation for closing a deal. If we see the film project is viable and can be packaged appropriately we make an offer for our services to be engaged.  We are retained upfront much like an advertising agency or an attorney and receive a percentage of the gross film sale like a sales agent. 

Winter Palace Films, as a filmmaker’s Producer of Advertising for Marketing Film and Television Distribution, is that of  a producer who joins the film prior to pre-production to craft the advertising for marketing gaining distribution, from concept until long after post-production.  We then remain behind growing a dedicated following for their film and increasing interest with distributors.  We are the missing puzzle piece filmmakers have been looking for in their film project.

Winter Palace Films is located in the USA
http://www.winterpalacefilms.com/

 

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PRODUCER SAVED FROM MUSIC BUDGET NIGHTMARE

Ivan Chandler

 

‘A CINEMATIC RELEASE?’….ALL MEDIA WORLDWIDE IN PERPETUITY?….THIS WILL BE QUITE A FEW THOUSAND!’, SAID THE MUSIC PUBLISHER , SMILING DOWN THE TELEPHONE WITH GLEE! THE MORAL OF THE STORY? GET SOMEONE WHO KNOWS ABOUT MUSIC AND COPYRIGHT!!

Once upon a time in a production office not too far away, a producer was discussing with the director the music they would like for their newfairytale drama.

However, they did not have much money left for music – only about five hundred pounds in fact – as they had spent it all on fancy camera work, costumes, make up, limousines for the ageing fading ex-Hollywood starlet as well as a some special effects that went tragically wrong and had to be re-made by an expensive computer graphics firm who managed to misinterpret what was required.

After hours and hours and hours of editing, the film was close to being finished. The producer admitted he didn’t know much about copyright and had been promising to go along to an Indie Training Fund Music Rights seminar for about three years.

Nevertheless, he knew that some music was out of copyright and always liked Cavalleria Rusticana by deceased Italian composer, Pietro Mascagni. He played some tasty extracts to the director who loved it. So they used it as most of the score of the film.

Then a little bird mentioned that, as the copyright in musical compositions lasts for 70 years after the composer’s death, should they not check that out. It turned out that Mascagni died in 1945 and therefore there was still a further three and half years or so to go before they could use it for free. ‘Oh dear’ said the producer ‘it’s still in copyright!’.

A quick email to the PRS told them to go to the publishers. ‘A cinematic release?….All media worldwide in perpetuity?… This will be quite a few thousand!’, said the publisher probably smiling down the telephone with glee. ‘Well, we could negotiate it – you’ve used a lot of the score but this is not going to be cheap you know’.

The producer said that the recording was out of copyright as it was over 50 years old and, even with the
extension of the copyright term in sound recordings to 70 years, it was an old recording as he had the vinyl to prove it. However, his recording was so scratchy that they had used a CD, a re-released of the original recording. No-one told them that re-mastered recordings with all the scratches, pops and crackles taken out constitute a new copyright recording. A call to the label resulted in a quote for fees on an MFN basis with the publishers. ‘MFN? What’s that?’, said the producer. The label told him that, whatever the publisher wanted, the label needed to charge the same.

Oh, and as the some of the music is over the closing credits, the fee is three times as much. Oh, no! This is a runaway music budget nightmare!

They asked to look at the licence to check the wording and there was a clause about gaining consents from the performers on the recording. On enquiring further, as the recording they had now decided on using (not the original) was first made in England, it turned out that the Musicians’ Union required re-use fees. How many musicians? 70!

Then, as the fees were catapulting higher and higher and whilst the producer and director simultaneously threw their arms up in the ear, a young Production Manager popped her head into their office. She said, ‘I went to one of Ivan Chandler’s Music Copyright Seminars and I know just what to do’. ‘What, what?’, they literally screamed.

You could easily use a library recording for only a few hundred pounds and, if you use lots of extracts from the same recording from the same library, they might even give you a good discount.

The library rates cover the publishing, sound recording and performers’ consents. In fact, you could also use a few special sound effects where appropriate and, in many scenes, by using no music at all, you could even save more!!

The producer, director and production manager clasped hands, jumped round the room and opened a bottle of champagne. Unfortunately, it was taken from the financier’s vintage collection and valued at, guess what, £500.00!

The moral of the story? Get someone who knows about music and copyright!!
Ivan Chandler, Founder & CEO,
Musicalities Ltd,
Music Copyright & Licensing Consultants
www.musicalities.co.uk

Ivan’s Film Credits include: Mouth to Mouth – 2005, My Kingdom – 2001, The Man Who Cried – 2000, 24 Hours in London – 2000, Waking Ned Devine – 1998, The Tango Lesson – 1997, Shooting Fish – 1997, Bring Me The Head of Mavis Davis – 1997.  Television Credits include: Raw – 2012, The Cost of Living – 2005.

 
 

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So, you want to work in the Production Office……?

So, you want to work in the Production Office……?

I miss being a 3rd AD. Every day is new and, because a 3rd doesn’t have to worry about the grander things on set, you can use every moment to watch, listen, learn and implement. I might, at that time, have only been good at making tea and getting the right lunch orders but one has to treat EVERY job as if it is the most important thing in one’s career.

This is from an article written by Terry Bamber in Network Nine News. If you want further information contact me through www.network-nine.com

Sadly, on recent projects, I have had to sack youngsters who have not fully understood the importance of a Production Runner’s job and the dedication and tenacity required. Indeed, everyone’s job on a film is important – right through from the cleaning staff to the Producer – producing a film from script to screen is a joint effort undertaken by every individual in the crew.

The great thing about youth is the experience of turning up each day to be amazed by a wonderfully exciting day. Visiting the set to collect the Camera Sheets from the Camera Clapper/Loader, the tentative approach to the Script Supervisor for her notes to take to the Production Secretary. To make a great cup of tea for the Production Secretary (as she was then called) and to be praised for it used to make my day!

I was working on ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ at Pinewood and was having a wonderful time as Production Office Runner when the Production Secretary gave me permission to join the 3rd Assistant Director on set to get some floor experience – this brought on a whole new set of challenges!

So, the 2nd Unit was going to shoot on Sunday to help finish the film on time. It had taken me quite a while to understand the complexities of ….‘Tea, medium brown, with a dash of milk and a level teaspoon of sugar’.… it’s almost impossible to make a medium brown cup of tea, with just a dash of milk …. but I digress!

One of the scenes we were filming this day involved Sir Christopher Lee as Scaramanga, the main baddie in the movie.  He is hiding from Bond in the final shootout. I had to cue Mr Lee when he had to step forward from this hiding place.

The first rehearsal commenced and my mind went into overdrive.

Was I supposed to cue Mr Lee as soon as I heard the 1st AD’s voice or leave it a beat and then cue Mr Lee?….    Would Mr Lee see me move my arm to indicate it was his cue for action?….   Should I look at Mr Lee straight in the eye or avert eye contact so as not to distract him?…. 

The first rehearsal started. I could feel perspiration on my forehead and my hands were getting clammy. Suddenly the rehearsal was cut short. Oh Gawd! – had I missed the cue? I stared into the dark of the set and mumbled to Mr Lee that we had stopped ‘I can hear that dear Boy!’ he said. Oops – it was then I remembered the advice my Dad had given me ….‘Keep quiet and people will only think you are an idiot, open your mouth and you remove all possible doubt’….

Communication

One of the worst jobs for 3rd Ads, especially now with so many departments having their own walkie-talkies, is ensuring that batteries are always charged and that you have a check list of which department has chargers, ear pieces and spare batteries. Obviously, you must make sure the Assistant Directors are all catered for but once again, think ahead!! If there is a scene involving action cars then work out how many radios will be required for the drivers to receive their instructions.

As the Second Assistant Director has to make a report at the end of each day noting call times, the time the principal cast were on set, ‘wrapped’ (that is finished work for the day) on set and time they left the studio or locations (this also applies to Background Artistes and Stunts) it’s a great help if the 3rd Assistant is totally thorough in noting these times. It could have a big impact on any overtime that may be incurred by all the elements of the cast.

When the unit breaks for lunch the 3rd AD should find out from the 1st who is in the first setup after lunch and ensure they get their lunch quickly so they can have their makeup/hair and costume checks on time, before coming back to the set. However, sometimes the crew will work a 10 hour straight-through day and then it takes much tighter management to ensure that the cast get enough time to eat. This is when teamwork from all the Assistant Directors is brought to bear. A 1st AD once said that on every shot there is always a perfect position for the 3rd to be to make sure that everything is covered.

A few basic things to remember on set:

ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR RADIO – NEVER, NEVER HAVE TO ASK THE 1ST AD TO REPEAT HIM/HERSELF!! THIS IS A CAPITAL OFFENCE!

THINK AHEAD. PREPARATION IS EVERYTHING.

POLITENESS TO EVERYBODY and SMILE, SMILE AND SMILE, NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS!

NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING – ASSUMPTION IS THE MOTHER OF ALL COCKUPS!

LEARN FROM EVERYONE IN ORDER TO MAKE YOURSELF A BETTER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR.

Terry Bamber’s film & television credits include: ‘World War Z’, ‘Ra.One’, ‘Katherine of Alexandria’, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, ‘Quantum of Solace’, ‘Casino Royale’, ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, ‘Phantom of the Opera’, ‘Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life’, ‘Die Another Day’, ‘Lara Croft – Tomb Raider’, ‘102 Dalmatians’, ‘The World is Not Enough’, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Luther’, ‘Poirot’, ‘Dinotopia’, ‘Cadfael’, ‘Young Indiana Jones’, ‘Jeeves & Wooster’, ‘Paradise Club’, ‘Max Headroom’.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Production Office

 

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The Script Supervisor

THE SCRIPT SUPERVISORS’ JOB … one of the best kept secrets in the business!

Emma Thomas

The job of a Script Supervisor requires a high level of concentration, stamina and an eye for detail. These skills are often required at times when you are at your lowest ebb and it’s the last hour of the day or night shoot. Even with all the courses available it isn’t a job you can learn from a manual.  Learning  ‘on the job’ is essential because each project is different and requires a number of different personal skills. You need to be a team player but stand your ground and hold your hand up if you make a mistake. Continuity isn’t life and death but it does help if you have a sense of humour when you are trying to do your job efficiently! 

 

FEATURE FILM SCRIPT SUPERVISOR

We provide an invaluable link between the Director and the Editor. We need to have essential knowledge of shot/lens sizes, shot descriptions, screen direction, slating, set ups with single and multiple cameras. In some cases we need to keep track of all sound and camera rolls especially where there are multiple units shooting (mainly for features).

We need to have essential knowledge of breaking down a script, page counts, individual scene by scene timings, story day/year breakdowns, back and cross matching the story particularly in drama productions.  We log all pertinent information for each department; detect overlooked coverage, stage direction, action and dialogue. We are responsible for overall timing of all productions which involves a daily update. This is often completed at the end of a 12 hour filming day. We must also have knowledge of post-production techniques, editing and dubbing.  In particular CGI information for feature films.

TELEVISION SCRIPT SUPERVISOR (Studio-based TV, Sitcoms, Entertainment, Factual, Drama, Documentary)

We provide organizational support for the Director in terms of studio technical requirements, rehearsal schedules, props lists, studio schedules – culminating in a master camera script from the Director’s notes.  This is then distributed to all departments including Lighting, Camera, Sound and the rest of the Production Team. We must have essential knowledge and experience of studio shot calling, bar counting to musical productions with responsibility for overall timing of the programme and absolute timing on live productions. We must have experience of Outside Broadcast shoots, transmissions and again post-production techniques, editing and dubbing.

Most dramas today are edited as the shoot progresses.  So it is even more essential that we provide accurate and concise notes for the Editor on a daily basis. We  used to draw a lot of continuity pics on our script as we went along. Today use our digital cameras instead.  We also used to stand next to the camera team a lot more but as we work on more HD dramas, there are monitors on set to check the shot size and reference details. It is still handy to know the shot/lens size in case the monitor goes down at that crucial moment – or you’re stuck in the middle of a field with very little electrical back up. I would encourage all trainees to learn the basic skills and not rely on the monitor so much.

Emma Thomas’ Film Credits include: ‘The Boat That Rocked’ (AKA Pirate Radio), ‘Captivity’, ‘The Mark of Cain’, ‘Jack & the Beanstalk’, ‘War Bride’, ‘Some Voices’, ‘Elephant Juice’, ‘Among Giants’.  Television Credits include: ‘Luther’, ‘Spooks’, ‘Horne & Corden’, ‘The Bill’, ‘Miss Austen Regrets’, ‘All in the Game’, ‘Last Rights’, ‘Whose Baby’, ‘Canterbury Tales’, ‘Teachers’, ‘Birds of a Feather’, ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Production Office

 

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STORYBOARD MAN!……or how to tell the story in pictures

The following is from an article by Martin Asbury in Network Nine News.  www.network-nine.com

Martin Asbury

A good storyboard artist has to know, understand and love film. He has to think like a camera and draw pictures as stills of movement. He has to tell you all you need to know about what you will see on screen but leave that little bit out for the imagination and invention.

Cutting my speed to 150 m.p.h. I fly low in a sweeping curve, banking with my crimson cloak streaming out behind me. I swoop in a wide graceful curve over the Film Studios dropping down and landing lithely in the car park on the balls of my feet – like a cat.

The security guard outside the Production Office instantly recognises me. “Thank God you’re here!” he exclaims.

As I stride into the office the Co-ordinator screams with delight. “Thank God you’re here!” she squeals. “The Director – he’s in his office” she smiles wanly. “Go on through.”

Brief, firm knock on the door and I enter. The man at the desk is slumped, his head in his hands. He raises his head, grey faced rheumy blood shot eyes staring at me.

“Storyboardman! Thank God you’re here!” he says. “No problem sir.” I reply. “I’m here to help.”

Quickly I undo my compact drawing tools, sitting opposite him and fixing him with a reassuring yet piercing gaze. I open my sketch book.

“Now what’s the first sequence in the script?”

In the past the making of a film was governed by the script. It was honed and nurtured and worked upon, re-written and re-written. When completed to everyone’s satisfaction it was almost set in concrete. It became the Bible – but these days there appears to be more impediments and pitfalls than ever to this process. Constant writing and re-writing of the script through the prep period can only increase the budget and cause wasted effort. I tell stories in pictures – I have told stories in pictures for all my life. So, if I were asked to direct a film, I would for sure write or draw down what I wanted to do before shooting any sequence – a shot list or stick figures.  It is common sense. Nobody in their right mind would walk onto set with no preparation and no plan.

All those people waiting – all the actors, the producers, the first second third fourth fifth sixth and seventh assistant directors, the lighting cameraman the gaffers, the stage hands, the assistants, the stand-bys – well, you know how it is.. and you are there with nothing in your head..  everyone looking..  it doesn’t bear thinking about!  So, the need for storyboarding becomes obvious.

Over the years they have been used extensively, from ‘Gone with the Wind’ and virtually every film since. On the basis that one picture tells a thousand words, a finished board shows everyone what the director has planned, what they have to do, where they have to be and what they are going to try and achieve.

The Director leans forward conspiratorially. “I need something really dramatic for the opening sequence.”

I tap my pencil. “How about an extreme top shot craning down to a quick track then pan followed by a jib up, jib down low angle Steadicam handheld Skycam sort of locked off shot which favours the star?” I say.

He gasps. “Is that possible?  Can we do that?”  

“We can do anything.” I reply.

Storyboards are not gospel. They serve as a starting point. They can be, and often are, discarded when events or maybe better options present themselves on the day. They can show what to do but, more importantly, what not to do. A whole 360º set might not be necessary to build. A scene can possibly be cut without detrimental effect to the story or can be revealed as being too costly. They can show whether set or location, when explosions and other special effects might occur or how, for example, to shoot the double of the star in one location whilst at the same time the star himself is shooting on another set elsewhere. They can show how to heighten drama with oh-such-cunning angles and camera moves and, of course, are almost indispensable to the ubiquitous car chase. They save time. They save money.

A side door opens and a large-framed man is framed in the frame. I frame a clever remark but the Director leaps to his feet.

“Problem solved!” He bellows. “Thank God for Storyboardman! What we’re going to do is: an extreme top shot craning down to a quick track then…”  

“Stop!”  The Producer steps forward, face grim. “Slow down! We may not have the money for it.” 

“But..but.. “ The Director gulps. “What about my dream?.. my vision?”

A successful storyboard will reflect the director’s vision, the concept that he has nursed for many months and translate it into usable workable drawings which the whole of the production team will understand. Everyone hopefully singing from the same hymn sheet. To achieve this the artist should try and get inside the director’s head – not to second guess him but to realise his dream for the first time in a visual way.

That sounds grandiose but nevertheless is essentially true. The storyboard is the very first time the script is translated into pictures.

Every director is different and every director wants something different. Some will be most specific about the way they see a sequence down to precise angles, framing and composition. Others will talk you through the scene detailing particular shots they are anxious to include -; a pan here, a track there, low or top shots, the lens to be used, the composition needed -and the storyboard artist will then make the smooth transition and join up the dots.  Others will allow complete carte blanche and the artist can make his own individual pass at the scene, presenting his own take to the director for perusal and criticism. Rarely in such a case does the director accept the offer-up completely and he might not like it at all – but usually much more discussion follows until he is satisfied. He may accept some of it, alter and revise bits or just cherry pick what he wants. All the time though, he is the sole arbiter of what is finally presented to the film’s producers and the rest of the unit.

The Director, leaning against his desk. “We cannot proceed unless we have a plan.”

Storyboardman  “… and I have that plan.”  Quickly I stand up. The Producer’s eyes widen as he takes in my perfectly formed body. 

I am resolute.  “Let me explain.” I say. I outline my extraordinary idea and with every second see him slowly relax, taking it all on board. I finish talking. I am satisfied.

He lowers his gaze. “You really are the one.” He mutters. “Truly  you are wonderful!  I never would have thought of that.”

The storyboard artist is to the director what the concept artist is to the designer. He is a utensil, pure and simple. If he is worth his salt he will support and aid the director in all his endeavours. If successful, his boards can save a huge amount of money and prevent an equal amount of heartache. If nothing else they can offer up a back stop – a safety net if you will – and be the building blocks to gain the most out of any given sequence. They can kick off discussion or decision.

Nowadays with the advent and growth of the use of Previs, the line between the two approaches has become somewhat blurred. Previs are fantastic. They can be totally accurate in that they can demonstrate what any scene will look like from any given camera position, any lens, any lighting source. Clearly a wonderful tool for any director. At the moment they are expensive and take quite a while to produce but I am sure all that, in time, will change. When that day happens maybe storyboards per se will cease to exist – but I hope not. I still feel that the immediacy of drawing to the director on the spot cannot be substituted. A sudden change to shooting requirements can necessitate an instant storyboard. The good artist can block out a whole sequence in a couple of days and provide a cost-effective kick start for the whole creative process.

I quickly draw 1000 frames a day and complete the whole film in two weeks. Needless to say the whole of the production team is overcome and in awe of my dexterity and expertise.

As I present the final sequence to the gathered company the Producer rises to his feet his eyes watery and sad.

“Hey you guys – the Production Company has decided that they are against the whole idea. They are pulling out. We’re not going to make the film after all. See you on the next. Sorry about that….”

A good storyboard artist has to know, understand and love film. He has to think like a camera and draw pictures as stills of movement. He has to tell you all you need to know about what you will see on screen but leave that little bit out for the imagination and invention. An accomplished storyboard is good for what it tells you. If it is drawn well with excitement feeling and vigour then all to the good but it is all about information and communication. For that is why we are all involved in this business. We inform, we communicate, we tell stories and all in pictures.

Martin Asbury’s credit list as a Storyboard Artist includes such films as: ‘Malificent’, ’47 Ronin’, ‘Skyfall’. ‘Snow White & the Huntsman’, ‘The Cold Light of Day’, ‘Captain America’, the ‘Harry Potter’ series, ‘Quantum of Solace’, ‘Wanted’, ‘Casino Royale’, ‘The Da Vinci Code’, ‘Batman Begins’, ‘Die Another Day’, ‘Resident Evil’, ‘Chicken Run’, ‘Entrapment’, ‘Tomb Raider’, ‘Alexander’, ‘Troy’, ‘Michael Collins’, ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Legend’.

He also took over as the artist for ‘Garth’, the cartoon strip in the Daily Mirror, from 1971 until its final episode in 1997. www.martinasbury.com

 
 

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