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CARPENTER TO CONSTRUCTION MANAGER by Dominic Ackland-Snow

Dominic Ackland-Snow

Dominic Ackland-Snow

How do I see the role of Construction Manager?

The Production Designer has to conceptualise the viewpoint of the script and the Director – and the CM’s job is turning that concept into reality, dealing with the technical, the financial and the scheduling sides.

I’m fortunate to have been brought up in a family with a strong design connection. I was lucky to have been able to crawl around as a youngster behind film sets while my Dad, an Art Director, was working. My first time working on a film set was when I did work experience on ‘Aliens’ with my Father and Peter Lamont in the Art Department. Although I enjoyed this, the element I was most interested in was Set Construction

I left school in 1986 and started an apprenticeship in carpentry & joinery. The company I worked for did mainly television scenery but also some exhibition and theme park work. I left the company after 5 years as a qualified carpenter/joiner and decided to ‘try my luck’ in the film industry as a freelancer, starting with ‘First Knight’ working for Construction Manager Tony Graysmark as a shop carpenter. This suited me very well because I preferred ‘setting out’ and the actual fabrication of the scenery. I worked for Tony again on ‘Goldeneye’ in 1995, then worked on a number of films after this including ‘Fifth Element’ with Ray Barret ‘The Borrowers’, ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Notting Hill’ with Michael Redding and ‘Love & War’ with Terry Apsey.

Construction on ‘Band of Brothers’ showing the back of the aircraft hangar

Construction on ‘Band of Brothers’ showing the back of the aircraft hangar

The front of the hangar with bombers, as seen by the camera

The cast of 'Band of Brothers' as seen by the television audience. It’s all an illusion!

The cast of ‘Band of Brothers’ in front of the hangar as seen by the television audience.
It’s all an illusion!

I was fortunate enough to be supervised by two great Construction Managers – Terry Apsey on ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Band of Brothers’ and Michael Reading on ‘Quills’ and ‘Tomb Raider II’. I was very lucky with both Terry and Michael, as they were very lenient on my slightly rebellious approach to what I did and how I worked.

The fabulous set of the Paris Opera House for ‘Phantom of the Opera’ - 2004. This was built as a fully-operational theatre  capable of holding a substantial audience in the auditorium, an orchestra and a full cast of artistes on stage. The construction used two adjoining stages at Pinewood Studios so that the action from  the theatre stage could follow right through the authentic  backstage area built on two floors, complete with dressing  rooms, costume department, props store etc, to the stage  door exit complete with  stables.

The fabulous set of the Paris Opera House for ‘Phantom of the Opera’ – 2004. This was built as a fully-operational theatre capable of holding a substantial audience in the auditorium, an orchestra and a full cast of artistes on stage. The construction used two adjoining stages at Pinewood Studios so that the action from the theatre stage could follow right through the authentic backstage area built on two floors, complete with dressing rooms, costume department, to the stage-door exit complete with stables.

I started on ‘Phantom of the Opera’ as a Supervisor but was cajoled by Terry Apsey to try my hand at running Carpentry as Head of Department – this is when I started to be exposed to the financial and scheduling side of construction – an area I found that I really enjoyed.

After ‘Phantom’ I ran a television show as Construction Manager, which was great for cutting my teeth. I had a few leads as CM after this but unfortunately all of them

– which, at that time, was a pretty regular occurrence. I had the horrible experience of working on a film that folded owing me wages – something that most film workers have experienced during their career. Around this time I decided to emigrate to Australia with my wife and children – but before leaving I enjoyed working on my last film with Michael Redding as his Head of Department.

When I arrived in Australia I had made my mind up not to be involved in films any more because the work was so fragmented, so I was really fortunate to land a job with a joinery company as their Operations Manager.

Then, out of the blue, I had a phone call from the production office of ‘The Pacific’ – asking if I would be interested in the role of Construction Manager. Luckily, the production had asked Terry Apsey of my whereabouts and he managed to track down my number. Although I had promised myself not to drop back into the industry, the complexity of ‘The Pacific’ appealed to me.

We filmed in the far North of Queensland, the You Yangs Regional Park near Melbourne, around the city of Melbourne itself and in Melbourne Central City Studios. In total there were 105 different sets and we were turning over 2 sets a day to the 2 main units. Some of the sets were worth $50k and a couple were worth $6m each! The overall construction budget was $24m out of an Art Department budget of $50m.

Because the job was so large it had 2 Supervising Art Directors – Dominic Hyman & Richard Hobbs. There’s quite a difference in work practice between Australia and the UK – in Australia the Construction Manager usually doesn’t have financial control but luckily ‘Pacific’ used the UK system where the CM had full financial control of the construction budget.

Construction in progress on one of the 105 sets for the television series ‘Pacific’ in Australia

Construction in progress on one of the 105 sets for the television
series ‘Pacific’ in Australia

For me, one of the best things that came out of the ‘Pacific’ project was the fact that, because I needed a crew of 450 and the local crew base wasn’t large enough to facilitate this, we undertook a training scheme – specifically in fibrous work. A lot of the sets were very different to normal film construction and involved some fairly innovative approaches, mainly utilizing civil engineering and geo textiles. Also in Australia, the sculpting department is normally as big as the carpentry department because they don’t usually use fibrous plastering – they mainly sculpt in concrete, which is a very, very cost-effective method.

After ‘Pacific’ I returned to the company I started with when first arriving from the UK, where I moved up to the position of General Manager. Although scenery was not in my company’s portfolio, I very quickly added a ‘special projects’ division to the business and have been lucky to have involved the company in theme park, exhibition and film. 

The CM’s first responsibility is to the Designer – and I often see this as a protective responsibility as far as the budget goes, in dealing with the Producers – and also a responsibility to the Designer in allowing enough time for a design to be constructed properly. Because, as I mentioned, I have grown up in a ‘design’ environment, when I see the blueprints I can visualize the construction methods required and see it in a 3-dimensional image – which makes it very easy to budget and schedule the job.

When you work with a good Production Designer like Tony Pratt, it’s easy to understand what you need to produce. Peter Lamont was very much the same, an Art Director of the old school like my Dad and Jim Morahan – and I’m very lucky, having worked in television, exhibitions and theme parks, as well as films, so now I can bring all of those methods together.

From my point of view, the ‘old school’ design, the ‘pencil’ design, is the easiest to interpret because, with a pencil you can actually ‘feel’ the type of set you need to do. With CAD drawing there is no emotion involved. If I look at a drawing by Jim Morahan or Tony Pratt, or my Dad, I know exactly what I need to do – but if I look at a CAD drawing I have to start talking to people to find out exactly what the set is supposed to look like – the feel, the texture, the finishes.

There’s a guy in Australia called Mike Molloy – he’s not in films but I’ve worked with him in commercial construction work in night clubs, shops etc. I use him because he draws in pencil first. I think now that you can actually get CAD which doesn’t use a ‘straight line’ format so it begins to look like an actual drawing – but all the designers on ‘Pacific’, with one exception, were pencil Draughtsmen – and the only set we had major problems with was drawn on CAD! It was the only one that the Scenic Artists and the Plasterers couldn’t quite get the feel of what exactly the Art Director was after. 

Tony Pratt is very conceptual – very epic in his designs – and I was asked to produce two sets of 90,000sq m in 20 weeks alongside 80 other sets. I know that he worried a great deal for 3 months whilst we were conceptualizing and, in the end, I had to remind him that I was the Construction Manager, so it was my responsibility and not his so that he could stop worrying so much! It was such a pleasure working with him. 

I have to say, never have I seen crews who want to please the Designer more than the Australians – if the Designer gains their respect, they will do absolutely anything to produce the best sets possible.

The big difference between Australian and English crews is mainly in construction techniques. Just as you would find a difference working in Prague – but the results are the same, although the differences are reducing as more and more British guys are emigrating – and both crews learn a lot from each other.

I have found that the Australian approach can be very interesting, for example, Chris McMahon is one of the best sculptors I’ve ever worked with. Sculpting here is completely different, they can do very fine work – they did all the work for ‘Narnia’ & ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ but the most amazing thing is that their sculpture is in concrete – and they’ve devised a method which Disney now uses in the theme parks – they’re extremely talented guys and are more construction based than art based. 

The Scenic Department is very different to the UK. The Paint Department is run by the Scenic Artist who is quite often also the Scenic Finisher. Which sometimes doesn’t work very well! To get the best results I think that you need to specialize – Scenic Artists to do backings with the Scenic Paint Department finishing surfaces.

The most important thing is that the Designer gains the respect of the Construction Crew and therefore will get the best work. In a film every person had their own input, whether it’s a Stagehand sweeping or the Producer who raises the money, all have to work as a team to bring the project together – but I wish that, when awards and praise are handed out that the highly trained and creative Construction Crews – Carpenters, Sculptors, Painters – would get more recognition. After all, it is they who bring the Art Department and the Director’s ideas to life! 

Dominic Ackland-Snow’s film credits include: The Invisible Woman – 2013, Sanctum – 2010, The Magic Flute – 2006, Phantom of the Opera – 2004, Tomb Raider II – 2003, Quills – 2000, Sleepy Hollow – 1999, Notting Hill – 1999, Fifth Element – 1997, The Borrowers – 1997, In Love & War – 1996, Goldeneye – 1995.

Television credits: Parade’s End – 2012, Pacific – 2010, Planet Cook – 2004, Band of Brothers – 2001.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Construction Department

 

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I WANT TO BE A CINEMATOGRAPHER…..OR A DIRECTOR! by Robin Vidgeon BSC

Robin Vidgeon in 1988 with Raul Julia on  'The Penitant' in Mexico

Robin Vidgeon in 1988 with Raul Julia on ‘The Penitant’ in Mexico

To be at the sharp end of making a feature film, ie. in the camera department, or as a Director, or any of the other departments involved in bringing the film to the screen, you must start with an understanding of how the jigsaw fits together.

I started working at Pinewood Studios for two years in the camera department straight from school – cleaning boxes and learning what went into those boxes – cameras, lenses and all the equipment necessary to photograph a movie. Most importantly, I started to learn the incredible discipline that goes to make a top camera crew.

Now, many years later, I find myself working as a Cinematography Tutor with the new student film makers of all nationalities, in several top film schools and universities and I find a fierce ambition in both young men and women to work in our industry. On my first encounter with my students, it is so important to gently remind them that they must learn to walk before they can fly. They are undoubtably talented but, as a seasoned Director of Photography, I feel it is my duty to teach them the system which has stood the test of time for more than 100 years.

Film making, first and foremost, is a collaborative venture between many groups of people and departments, all striving to bring the best storytelling film to the silver screen.

Even when a student only wants to be a DoP, he or she must go to the set with an understanding of each job done by their camera crew. In film school, I help them to understand each role – Grip, 2nd AC (Assistant Camera), 1st AC (Focus Puller), Camera Operator and the HoD (Head of Department). I am adamant that, as HoD, I am responsible for my crew at all times and that I can only be as good as the crew I have around me. All departments have one goal, to support the Director and his script – and you need to be punctual, remain calm and enjoy each day’s work, with all its ups and downs.

The technology in our industry has changed drastically over the past decade – but the role of the DoP has not! When confronted with a set to light, I don’t think …’what kind of camera is on the dolly behind me?’… I’m there because the Director has asked for me and my expertise on the set. Whether the camera is film or digital, my job has changed little. The Operator’s job has hardly changed either, he is concerned with composition and camera movement and working closely with the Director. The 1st AC’s job has seen the greatest change with the arrival of the computor box with a lens on the front. With these incredible sensors, depth of focus has become a real issue. Digital cameras have a much shallower depth of focus, so great care has to be taken with each shot, whether it is with an ultra wide angle lens, or any other focal length up to 1000mm. With new digital cameras coming on stream every few months, it is a constant battle to keep up with this wonderful technology – and with the range of new studio low voltage, dual colour temperature LED soft lights, an exciting new world is opening up to Cinematographers.

So, when I meet a new group of film students who are aspiring to become Cinematographers, I look for talent that will continue to produce wonderful images for the big screen, to entertain audiences all over the world. I try to encourage them to create a story with images that will entertain, make people laugh, cry and leave the theatre feeling that they have been transported into a world of make believe.

Robin Vidgeon is a Past President of the British Society of Cinematographers, a Fellow of the BKSTS and a member of the Guild of British Camera Technicians.

Robin’s film credits include: Following Footsteps – 2010, Nine Lives – 2002, The World is Not Enough – 1999, Event Horizon – 1997, Neverending Story III – 1994, As You Like It – 1992, Under Suspicion – 1991, Memphis Belle – 1990, Hellraiser I & II – 1997 & 1998, The Penitent – 1998, The Mission – 1986, Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom – 1984, Never Say Never Again – 1983, Raiders of the Lost Ark – 1981, The Dogs of War – 1980, Close Encounters of the Third Kind – 1977, Rollerball – 1975, The Great Gatsby – 1974, The Lion in Winter – 1968.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2013 in Cinematography

 

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CREATIVITY, ORIGINALITY AND A TOUCH OF HUMOR …. LONELY ESKIMO PRODUCTIONS!

Lonely Eskimo Productions, based in New Orleans, is a student-run company that aims to show people the artistic, visually enticing and emotional side of filmmaking.

The Lonely Eskimo Team

The Lonely Eskimo Team

L.E.P was formerly known as J.M.K.M., which stood for ‘Jorge’s Machine, Kevin’s Mind’. The group was formed when Jorge and Kevin discovered their shared passion for filmmaking. The duo, with the help of some good friends, made a couple of short films – ‘Separation’, a psychological thriller and ‘Unknown’, a  horror film – which are among the highlights of the group. J.M.K.M. also worked with local artists in the New Orleans area for promotional and music videos.

                After some minor projects, Jorge and Kevin decided to expand the group and added Alejandra Menendez to the team. Alejandra, who has directed a couple of films on her own, helps with management, creative ideas, screen writing and directing. The team continued its expansion by inviting Xavier Lacayo, who was the lead actor for ‘Separation’,  to help the team with public relations and social media. Finally, Khoi Nguyen, who had helped with the making of ‘Separation’ and other short projects, was asked to join the team as a financial advisor.

                J.M.K.M. then changed its name to Lonely Eskimo Productions, a name suggested by a mutual friend.  Alejandra devised the logo and Jorge is currently working with a lawyer to obtain a limited liability corporation status for Lonely Eskimo Productions.

                The Lonely Eskimo Team has released a couple of short skits called ‘Brainfreeze’, which are comedic shorts designed to show the audience a more playful side of the company. They also recently released their first short film, ‘Pieces’, written and directed by Kevin Mah. The team is currently working on their next short film, which is written by Alejandra Menendez.

Website: www.lonelyeskimofilms.com Lonely Eskimo Logo

E-mail: lonelyeskimofilms@gmail.com

 
 

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Film Production Technique …. from a talk given by Alfred Hitchcock in 1948

Alfred Hitchcock 1899-1980

The filming of each picture is a problem in itself. The solution to such a problem is an individual thing, not the application of a mass solution to all problems. Film production methods of yesterday may seem out of date today and yet, tomorrow’s problem may be best solved by using yesterday’s methods. The first rule of direction must be flexibility.

Nothing should be permitted to interfere with the story. The making of a picture is nothing but the telling of a story and the story – it goes without saying – must be a good one. I do not try to put on to the screen what is called ‘a slice of life’ because people can get all the slices of life they want out of the cinema. On the other hand, total fantasy is not wanted because people desire to connect themselves with what they see on the screen.

Those are all the restrictions I would place on the story. It must be believable and yet not ordinary. It must be dramatic and yet lifelike.

Having decided upon our story, we must next develop our characters and the plot. When that is done, are we ready to go on to the floor? I maintain we are not because our picture is going to need editing and cutting – and the time for this work is before shooting. The cuts should be made in the script itself, before a camera turns and not in the film after the cameras have stopped turning.

Script Cutting

My objection to the more conventional method of cutting is twofold. First of all, it is wasteful. The tragedy of the actor whose entire part ends on the cutting-room floor is not entirely a personal one. His salary, the sets he acted in and the film on which his acting was recorded all represent expenditure.

More important, if each scene is filmed as a separate entity out of sequence, the director is forced to concentrate on each scene as a scene. There is the a danger that one such scene may be given too great a prominence in direction and acting and its relation to the remaining scenes in the picture will be out of balance, or again, that it may have been given insufficient value and, when the scene becomes part of the whole, the film will be lacking in something.

The ‘extra shots’ made after the regular schedule is completed are necessitated because, in the shooting of scenes, story points were missed. The extra expository shots are generally identified by an audience for what they are – artificial devices to cover what had been overlooked in the preparation of the film.

How can this be avoided? I think it can best be avoided if a shooting script is edited before the shooting starts. In this way, nothing extra is shot and, most important, story points will be made naturally within the action itself.

If we do not edit before we shoot, we may be faced in the cutting room with one of the most difficult of editorial problems – the unexplained lapse of time. The passage of time may be essential to the plot but it may not have been made clear in the sequences that have been shot. There was a time – long since passed – when one would simply have photographed the words ‘one week later’ in transparency and caused them to appear on the screen in mid-air during the second scene.

The lapse of time can easily be indicated by the simple method of shooting one scene as a day scene and the next as a night scene – or one scene with leaves on the trees and the next one with snow on the ground. These are obvious examples but they serve to point to the need for script editing before production commences.

Camera Movement

Ingrid Bergmann and Cary Grant in ‘Notorious’ – 1946

A director tries never to go on the floor without a complete shooting script but, for one reason or another, one often has to start with what is really an incomplete script. The most glaring omission in the conventional script, I believe, is camera movement.  The director may decide on the floor how he is going to film a sequence – but I maintain that the time for such a decision is in the preparation of the script.

Here we encounter once again the fact that the tendency today is to shoot scenes and sequences and not to shoot pictures. The angle from which a scene is to be shot ought to flow logically from the preceding shot and it ought to be so designed that it will fit smoothly into whatever follows it. Actually, if all the shooting is planned and incorporated into the script, one will never think about shooting a scene but merely about shooting a picture of which the scene in question is a part.

Shooting in Sequence

The object of these remarks is to emphasize that I favour shooting pictures in sequence. The film is seen in sequence by an audience and the nearer a director gets to an audience’s point of view, the more easily he will be able to satisfy the audience. The satisfaction of an audience has been deprecated as an aim of picture making and I think that is a very grave mistake. There has been a tendency to sneer at audiences, to regard them as a tasteless mass to whose ignorance phenomenal concessions must be made by producers and directors.

Why is this? One reason is that a director hears comments about his work constantly and these comments come, for the most part, from people associated with the industry. It is laudable to seek the applause and approbation of one’s co-workers but, once one begins making pictures for their satisfaction, it is only a short step to condemning lay audiences for their lack of appreciation of cinema craft.

This is a dangerous point of view. Of course, it is a fine thing to make a picture whose technique excites admiration from people who indeed understand technique – but these are not the people who pay the costs of production!

Audience Groups

A picture-maker need not try to please everyone. It is important to decide at what audience one is aiming and then to keep one’s eye on that target. It is obviously uneconomic to shoot for a small audience and a motion picture costing some hundreds of thousands of pound, which has taken the efforts of perhaps one or two hundred men, cannot direct its appeal towards people with a special knowledge of film-making or to a certain section of the community.

To approach a cinema audience with contempt invites contempt in response. The great playwrights, Barrie and Pinero for example, rendered more than lip service in their respect for their audiences. They wrote every line with a conciousness that it was designed to entertain adult human beings and every line they wrote shows it. By the reasoning of those who maintain that intelligent drama cannot obtain a mass audience, their plays should all have been artistic successes and financial failures – but we know that they were well received, that many of them were terrific hits and we should profit by that knowledge.

Filming Technique 

I turn now to the actual techniques of picture-making. I have a liking, for instance, for a roving camera because I believe, as do many other directors, that a moving picture should really move. I have definite ideas about the use of cuts and fade-outs which, improperly handled, can remind the audience of the unreality of our medium and take them away from the plot – but those are personal prejudices of mine. I do not try to bend the plot to fit technique – I adapt technique to the plot. A particular camera angle may give a cameraman, or even a director, a particularly satisfying effect but, dramatically, is it the best way of telling whatever part of the story it is trying to tell? If not, it should not be used.

The motion picture is not an arena for the display of techniques. An audience is never going to think ‘what magnificent work with the boom!’ or ‘that dolly is very nicely handled!’  The audience is mainly focussed on what the characters on the screen are doing – and it is a director’s job to keep the audience interested in that. Technique which attracts the audience’s attention is poor technique. The mark of a good technique is that it is unnoticed.

On the set of ‘Rope’ in1948 – the first colour film for Hitchcock

Maintaining Interest

Even within a single picture techniques should vary, although the overall method of handling the story, the style, must remain constant. It is, for instance, obvious that audience concentration is higher at the beginning of a picture than at the end. The act of sitting in one place must eventually induce a certain lassitude. In order that this lassitude should not be translated into boredom or impatience, it is often necessary to accelerate the progress of the story towards the end – particularly of a long picture. This means more action and less dialogue or, if dialogue is essential, speeches ought to be short, a little louder and more forceful that they would be if the same scene were played earlier in the picture.

It is sometimes necessary to encourage artistes to overact!  Of course, it takes a certain amount of tact to induce a good actor to do so and this is another argument in favour of shooting pictures more or less in sequence because, once one has edged an actor into overacting it is, sadly enough, entirely impossible to edge him back again!

Direction is, of course, a matter of decisions. The important thing is that the director should make his decisions when the need for them arises and operate with as few rules as possible.

Alfred Hitchcock was born on 13 August 1899, in Leytonstone, London – the son of greengrocers William & Emma Hitchcock. After graduating from the London County Council School of Engineering and Navigation, he became a draftsman and advertising designer with a cable company. During this period, he became intrigued by photography and started working in film production in 1921 in London as a title-card designer for the London branch of what would later become Paramount Pictures.

In 1920, he received a full-time position at the then American-owned Islington Studios and their British successor, Gainsborough Pictures, designing the titles for silent movies. His rise from title designer to film director took five years and, by the end of the 1930’s, Hitchcock had become one of the most famous film-makers in England. Alfred Hitchcock made in excess of eighty films and several television series

 

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2012 in How It All Began

 

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F.A.B! by Gerry Anderson MBE

Gerry Anderson (1929 – 2012) with Thunderbird 2

This is an article written for Network Nine News by the legendary Gerry Anderson in 2009. Gerry sadly passed away in 2012 but his story continues with the new Gerry Anderson Legacy Site www.launch.gerryanderson.co.uk

Born in 1929 in London into a poor family, education wasn’t high on the list of priorities and being evacuated during the war didn’t help at all – so, with extreme optimism I decided that I wanted to be an architect and applied to enter a training course! Luckily, the local polytechnic had other building-related courses and I found that I had an aptitude for fibrous plastering and creating decorative pieces which were used for film work. I enjoyed this work enormously for some time but developed an allergy to plaster and had to give up.

I had developed a passion for film work by then and so spent the next few months tramping round the film studios looking for a job.  Eventually, I was taken on by the Colonial Film Unit which was run by the Ministry of Information. Filming was on 35mm and they had a 6-weekly rotation programme so that the trainees got comfortable with all the disciplines – camera, picture editing, sound, direction, projection- and under the guidance of the legendary George Pearson I found that I had a great affinity for editing. George gave me a piece of advice which I’ve always remembered … ‘when you are filming don’t forget to shoot a few feet of a bowl of tulips for cutaways!’ ….

Growing in confidence I applied for and got a job with Gainsborough Studios in Shepherds Bush as 2nd Assistant Editor then worked my way up to 1st Assistant on ‘The Wicked Lady’ in 1945, ‘Caravan’ in 1946 and many more – all for the princely sum of £10 per week! 

Then, as did everyone in those days, in 1947 I was ‘called up’ for National Service with the RAF, where I spent my time as a Radio Telephone Operator.  It was a requirement that, after National Service, everyone was re-instated into their previous job but Gainsborough had closed and I was re-located to Pinewood Studios – then moved to Shepperton as a Sound Editor working on films such as ‘They Who Dare’ in 1954 for the acclaimed Director, Lewis Milestone (‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, ‘Pork Chop Hill’, ‘Ocean’s Eleven’, ‘Mutiny on the Bounty‘) who terrified everyone on set – although I got on with him very well. 

‘Thunderbirds’ character Alan Tracy with Chief Puppeteer Christine Glanville

In 1956 I formed a production company with Arthur Provis – I think that we were one of the first (if not the only) small production company working at that time, calling ourselves AP Films and renting space in an Edwardian mansion in Maidenhead. We had a filing cabinet, a telephone and headed paper, so we were ready for anything!  However, six months went by without any offers and we all had to do extra work to keep ourselves afloat – then the phone rang!!  It was a lady called Roberta Leigh who had 52 scripts for a children’s series called ‘The Adventures of Twizzle’.  We were over the moon, our big chance to show what we were made of – then she dropped the bombshell that it was a puppet show – but, we were hungry for work and even the modest budget and the tight schedule didn’t put us off.

I hated what I had already seen on television as puppet shows and so we decided to add a few ‘film’ techniques to make the sets more realistic with cut-outs in mid and foreground to add depth – also, whenever the puppets were meant to look at each other they always seemed to miss the eyeline as the puppeteers, who by now we had moved up to a high gantry to give more set space, had a very restricted view, so we painted arrows on the puppets heads to make it easier! 

Every episode we made we got a little better. Christine Glanville was the chief puppeteer and made the heads herself from cork dust, glue and methylated spirits – which was infinitely better than the original papier maché as they could be sanded down to a smoother finish. Eventually all the puppets would be made of fibreglass. We noticed that, as the puppets eyes were made of wood, the grain was very noticable when they moved – so we called in William Shakespeare!  No, not the bard but a nice man who made glass eyes – and he produced the first pair of plastic puppet’s eyes for us. As he said, he had never ever been asked for a pair of false eyes before!

Around 250 set-ups were needed for a half-hour episode and the 1/3 life size sets were built on moveable stages to be wheeled in and out very quickly.

‘Thunderbirds are Go!’ – Lady Penelope and Parker on an undercover mission in France!

So successful were we with ‘Twizzle’ and before the series was finished, Roberta Leigh came to us with another new series, ‘Torchy the Battery Boy’.  The budget was increased to nearly double and the team wanted to see how far they could go to improve the look and ‘workability’ of the puppets – finer wires, a spring in the jaw to snap the mouth shut to simulate speaking without the head bouncing up and down as the puppeteers jerked the wires. Eventually mouth movement was controlled by an electro-magnet device – another first – this was when we came up with the name ‘Supermarionation’

We were working on 35mm film with a Mitchell camera and I wanted to see what the TV audience would be viewing as we were working. I bought a lightweight video camera and fixed it to the Mitchell camera we were using so it looked directly down the lens, linking to a monitor and giving us a constant picture.  This ‘Video Assist’ technique was soon adopted by the film industry worldwide.

The next series,  ‘Four Feather Falls’ finished in 1960, and ‘Supercar’ came along in 1962 with the support of Lew Grade and the ITV network. Eventually ‘Supercar’ was broadcast coast-to-coast in the USA and became the top rated children’s programme.

‘Fireball XL5’ followed closely behind in 1963 with ‘Stingray’ in 1965 made in our new home in a large warehouse in the Slough trading estate.  I think that ‘Stingray’was possibly the first puppet series to entertain an adult audience, was shot in colour and had an enormous budget at that time of £20,000 per episode.

Gerry leaning on FAB 1 – a full-size working model of Lady Penelope’s car in ‘Thunderbirds are Go!’

While ‘Stingray’ was still in production I was writing a new series which eventually would be called ‘Thunderbirds’. Public response when the series was aired was phenomenal! Apparantly the astronaut Alan Shepherd was a fan!  The very futuristic ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’ came out in 1968 followed by ‘Joe 90’ in 1969.

Shortly after this Lew Grade came apologetically to me and said that, as all the programmes we had produced were being repeated so much on television, we were drowning in our own product so unfortunately, I would have to switch to live action!  What joy – all I’d ever wanted to do was live action!  So ‘UFO’, ‘ Space 1999’ and ‘Space Precinct’ followed

Major developments and change have always been an essential part of the industry. Puppet work has been superceded by CGI and we dipped our toe in the water with ‘Lavender Castle’ and re-made ‘Captain Scarlet’ in 2005 using the latest software – except that I still worked with film people for storyboards and set design to make sure that it had that ‘3-dimensional’ film feel.

The 2005 CGI version of ‘Captain Scarlet’

I always remember something that Lewis Milestone said to me way back in 1947 when I was working with him.  He said ‘Do you want to be famous?’ … I was slightly taken aback by the question but obviously answered ..‘Yes’‘Never second-guess your audience’ he said ‘make what you want – if they like it you’ll become famous, if they don’t you might as well open a greengrocer’s shop!’  I have lived up to this advice throughout my career!

I really enjoy what I do and can’t imagine retiring – the technology and techniques during my career have changed so much and continue to evolve, so it makes each fresh project an exciting and rewarding challenge.

Ed: Gerry brought much joy and entertainment to several generations of of fans. Hopefully, through re-runs and perhaps through unfinished projects which may be completed in the future, his legacy will continue.

Gerry Anderson’s film & television credits include: New Captain Scarlet – 2005; Lavender Castle – 1999; Space Precinct – 1994; Dick Spanner – 1987; Terrahawks – 1983; Space 1999 – 1975; The Protectors – 1972; UFO – 1970; Doppelganger – 1969; Joe 90 – 1968; Thunderbird Six – 1968; Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons – 1967; Thunderbirds are Go – 1966; Thunderbirds – 1965; Stingray – 1964; Fireball XL5 – 1963; Supercar – 1960; Four Feather Falls – 1959; Torchy the Battery Boy – 1958; The Adventures of Twizzle – 1957

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2012 in Animation

 

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A JOURNEY FROM PRODUCING SHORT FILMS TO A MICRO-BUDGET FEATURE by Christine Hartland

I fell into the film industry thanks to my downstairs neighbours asking me if I wanted to produce a short which a friend, Amelia Hann, had written and wanted to direct. At the time I was (and still am) working as a corporate event and video freelance producer so didn’t really think it would be a big jump – how wrong was I?!   (from an article written by Christine Hartland in Network Nine News)

I met Amelia early 2001 and came on board her S16mm short film ‘Big Girl Little Girl’. I knew nothing about working on film itself as I had only ever worked on video, so things like shooting on 24fps or 25fps or what a focus puller did, was a total mystery. Luckily, another producer came on board and her knowledge was invaluable and we made it all happen. In 2004 ‘Big Girl Little Girl’ won a few awards and can now be seen on the BBC film network thanks to Dazzle (the short film distributor).

I learned an awful lot on that project and caught the bug: I wanted to carry on producing short films with the view of one day maybe producing a feature. The film industry became more accessible and doors were starting to open, especially after the festival run.

The next short film I produced was the 35mm ‘Sick’ by Mike Rymer, which tackled the subject of depression.  Not an easy sell but the support of the Samaritans right from the beginning was invaluable. In 2004, we submitted the project to the Wandsworth Film London scheme and were awarded some production money. A year later in August 2005 with £10,000 in the bank, we shot ‘Sick’ on 35mm. Like Mike, I was keen to shoot it on film as opposed to video. Film does look incredible and, thanks to the support from Kodak, Panavision and Deluxe, we were able to do that. It suited the content of the film and we knew that we wanted to show it eventually in cinemas, which has just happened as the film was shown recently at the Odeon Cinema as part of Epsom Mental Health week. 

Just like on ‘Big Girl Little Girl’ it took us a year or so before we had a fine cut during which time we managed to raise additional fund to cover post-production costs (to include neg cutting, grading, Dolby 5.1 sound mixing at Goldcrest) thanks to the South London and Maudsley NHS Fund which remit matched ours: to raise awareness of depression.

In 2007 the film was finally sent to festivals. Mike managed the whole festival strategy over the course of two years (the ‘A’ list festivals in the first year and subsequent festivals in the second year).  A lot of hard work but so necessary in order to get the film out there to be noticed. Once again we managed to get financial support, this time from Screen South.

Over that time I also helped on two other shorts ‘Wooden Soul’ by Rehana Rose Khan (distributed by Shorts International – 2006) and ‘4 Conversations About Love’ by Jessica Townsend and producer Maria Goyal (distributed by New World Films – 2006). Both were shot on HD, which was the new format at the time, so that was quite exciting. I was also starting to read feature film scripts.

In August 2008, an editor friend suggested that I get in touch with David Holroyd who was looking for a producer to make his micro-budget film, a political thriller called ‘WMD’, which had been short listed (but not selected) in the Film London Microwave Scheme. I really liked the script and the concept. David was keen to shoot on CCTV and surveillance cameras, which was quite exciting, different and innovative – but at the same time very risky.

Very quickly I approached some investors I had met at the Cannes Film Festival a couple of years before. We signed the contract in November and the filming started on 21st January 2008 for about 30 days spread until early March. The filming included shoots in Berlin, Rome and Washington. Post-production started as we were shooting with editor Celia Haining at Clear Cut Pictures, which were extremely supportive. My aim was to finish the film by May 2008 so I could take it to the Cannes Film Festival market with a view of finding a sales agent. Risky strategy as sales agents do not go to markets to acquire more films but sell the ones they already have – but I felt as a first time producer that it was my only shot.

In May 2008 we showed the film at the market and had a few sales agents interested. Success – the strategy worked! Back in London, Independent Film Company (‘Adulthood’, ‘Mr Nice’ amongst many) took the film on.

We wanted to get the film out very quickly and decided to follow a reverse distribution strategy, which in itself was very risky as no one had done it before: we launched it at the Brighton Film Festival and on the digital platform Dailymotion for 48 hours in December 2008. Very quickly we had so many hits, three times more than their most watched film, that Dailymotion asked to expand the screening to many other territories over those 48 hours so we knew there was solid interest in the film.

In 2009 we sent the film to a few festivals including East End Film Festival in London, where it was nominated as Best Debut UK Feature. We also sent it to people such as  the Vanity Fair Editor, Graydon Carter, Clare Short (then an MP) and John Pilger for an endorsement. They all liked it! In October 2009, we had a simultaneous UK theatrical & iTunes release which lead to 3 star reviews from both the Guardian and Channel 4, describing the film as ‘gripping’. In 2010 ‘WMD’ is still going and we are continuing to look at opportunities to get it out there – it never stops it seems! The latest screening to date is on Scandinavian Television on the 1st December 2010. 

The speed at which ‘WMD’ happened was incredible especially compared to the short films I had previously worked on. In less than one year we had a feature length film in our hands and a sales agent on board. It seems that when you have no money, projects can either take a very long time, as people work in their down time alongside their paid work, or go very fast as people block book some time off for the project and all has to fit within that time. The latter is how we managed to make ‘WMD’ – there was no other way possible at the time.

However, one of my biggest learning curves was the phase once the film was completed: it was the beginning of a very long process and journey.  The work, especially for a small independent production, can be slow and painful as usually there is not much industry support and/or barely any budget for advertising and PR, which is key to get your film out there to the world. Whether it is a short or a feature it takes a lot of time, energy and perseverance to get the film out there as well as a little bit of money despite the fact that nowadays a lot of things can be done for free eg. social networks etc.

In October 2010, ‘Sick’ was launched at the BFI – that is five years after we shot it – and in 2011 there may well be some more news about it so does it ever stop? It does not seem to and that is a short film! Therefore as a producer, a good relationship with the film director is key as embarking on a film is not a short but a rather long and adventurous journey.

Unfortunately nowadays, producing a debut feature often means that it will be on a micro-budget level (ie under £100,000 and often even under £50,000). What is key is a good script, a good director and cast, and, a very dedicated crew with a lot of support from family, friends, colleagues. A bit of luck and good timing are also very important but harder to factor in!

Personally, apart from still pushing ‘WMD’, my next step is raising money for the next features I am working on using whatever support I can get. For example, for the feature project ‘Nitrate’ by Guy Ducker and Gavin Boyter, we have had a bit of interest after the Trailermade Competition in which it was one of three winners. To be able to show a pre-feature trailer has been very beneficial and, as an independent producer, the main aim is to make sure the project is out there and get noticed. With what I have already learned, I am able to help other debut feature directors and producers with their first micro-budget features. Currently filming is ‘Life Just Is’ by Alex Barrett which is being promoted on YouTube,  both during and post shoot so feel free to check  it out. Again the aim is to raise as much awareness of the project both in terms of building an audience as well as being noticed by the film industry. Let’s see how it goes!

My final thought I would like to share with you: I believe that thinking outside the box and using any means possible such as script (or any other) competitions, seminars, networking events, new technologies, partnerships, charity support, festivals, film markets, endorsements etc can only help get your project noticed by both its audience (very important to know who the film audience is) and the film industry (key for future projects). Good luck!

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Feature Film Production

 

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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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