- Today, when a film leaves theatrical exhibition, its life is far from over. Video has created a vast array of ancillary markets, and these typically return more money than the original release. * Since 1988, U.S. home video has generated more than twice the income of domestic theatrical box office.
- A release appears first over hotel television systems and airline flights, then on pay- for-view television, then on cable television and cassette, and eventually on network broadcast and cable reruns. (Internet accessibility has completely changed this "food chain")
- A film can continue its life in other media. Star Wars spawned bestselling paperback novels; Buffy the Vampire Slayer was spun off as a comic book and TV series; Universal’s theme park offers a ride based on Back to the Future; Grease and The Lion King were adapted as Broadway shows; Die Hard became a video game; and Beetlejuice turned into a TV cartoon.
Making the Movie: Film Production
- The movie that is distributed and exhibited to us must first be produced. There are three phases of production:
1) Preparation – The idea for the film is developed and committed to paper in some form. The filmmaker(s) also begin to acquire funds to support the film
2) Shooting – Here the filmmaker creates images in the form of shots. A shot is a series of frames produced by the camera in an uninterrupted operation. The filmmaker also records sounds, consisting of dialogue, noises, or music.
3) Assembly – At this stage, which may overlap with the shooting phase, the images and sounds are combined in their final form. This involves cutting picture and sound, executing special effects, adding music or extra dialogue, and adding titles.
The Preproduction Phase
- The preparation phase is known as preproduction. Two roles are key in this phase: the producer and the screenwriter.
- The tasks of the producer are chiefly financial and organizational. The producer may be an “independent producer, unearthing film projects and trying to convince production companies or distributors to finance the film. Or the producer may work for a distribution company and generate ideas for the films. A studio may also hire a producer to put together a particular package.
- The producer nurses the project through the script process, obtains financial support, and arranges to hire the personnel who will work on the film. During shooting and assembly, the producer usually acts as the liaison between the writer or director and the company that is financing the film. After the film is completed, the producer will often have the task of arranging the distribution, promotion, and marketing of the film and of monitoring the paying back of the money invested in the production.
- In the contemporary American film industry, the producer’s work is further subdivided. The executive producer is often the person who arranged the financing for the project or obtained the literary property.
- The line producer oversees the day-to-day activities of director, cast, and crew. The line producer is assigned by an associate producer, who acts as a liaison with laboratories or technical equipment.
- The chief task of the screenwriter is to prepare the script. The writer may send a script to an agent who gives it to a production company; or an experienced screenwriter meets with a producer in a “pitch session,” where the writer can propose ideas for scripts. I.E. – the opening scene of “The Player.” - The script goes through several stages: 1) A treatment is a synopsis of the action; then 2) one or more full-length scripts; and a final version which is called the shooting script.
- The producer must prepare a budget spelling out above-the-line costs ( the costs of literary property, script writer, director, and major cast) and below-the-line costs (the expenses allotted to the crew, secondary cast, the shooting and assembly phases, insurance, and publicity). The sum of the above and below-the-line costs is called the negative cost (that is, the total cost of producing the film’s master negative). In 1999, the average Hollywood negative cost ran about $50 million.
- The producer must also prepare a daily schedule for shooting the film. The producer assumes that the separate shots will be made “out of continuity”—that is, in the most convenient order for production--- and put in proper order in the editing room. I. E. – In Jurassic Park, the main characters’ arrival on the island and their departure at the end of the film were both shot at the start of production, during the three weeks of location in Hawaii.
The Production Phase
- Hollywood filmmakers also use it to refer to the shooting phase. The director is primarily responsible for overseeing the shooting and assembly phases. The director is considered the single person most responsible for the look and sound of the finished film.
- The director orchestrates the contributions of several units.
1) During the preparation phase, the director has already begun to work with the set unit or production design unit, which is headed by a production designer. The production designer is in charge of visualizing the film’s settings. Under the production designer’s supervision, an art director supervises the construction and painting of the sets. The set decorator, often someone with experience in interior decoration, modifies the sets specific filming purposes, supervising a staff who find props and a set dresser who arranges things on the set during shooting. The costume designer is in charge of planning and executing the wardrobe for the production.
- A graphic artist may be assigned to produce a storyboard (a series of comic- strip-like sketches of the shots in each scene, including notations about costume, lighting, camera work, and other matters.
2) During the shooting, the director will rely on what is called the director’s crew which includes:
a. The script supervisor, known in the classic studio era as a “script girl” (There are some men doing this job today). The script supervisor is in charge of all details of continuity from shot to shot. The script supervisor keeps track of details of performers’ appearances (was the pin on the left lapel or the right), props, lighting, movement, camera position, and the running time of each shot.
b. The first assistant director, is a jack-of-all-trades who, with the director, plans out each day’s shooting schedule and sets up each shot for the director’s approval, while keeping track of the actors, monitoring safety conditions, and keeping the energy level high.
c. The second assistant director, who is the liaison among the first assistant director, the camera crew, and the electricians’ crew.
d. The third assistant director, who serves as messenger for director and staff
e. The dialogue coach, who feeds performers their lines and speaks the lines of offscreen characters during shots of other performers. f. The second unit director, who films stunts, location footage, action scenes, and the like, at a distance from where principal shooting is taking place.
3) The most visible group of workers is the cast. The cast may include stars, well-known players assigned to major roles and likely to attract audiences; supporting players, performers in secondary roles; minor players; and extras, those anonymous persons who pass by in the street, come together for crowd scenes.
- Stunt persons will be supervised by a stunt coordinator; professional dancers will work with a choreographer.
4) Another unit of specialized labor is the photography unit. The leader of this unit is the cinematography, who is also known as the director of photography, or “DP.” The cinematographer is an expert on photographic processes, lighting, and camera technique.
a. The camera operator, who runs the machine and who may also have assistants to load the camera, adjust and follow focus, push a dolly, and so on. b. The key grip, the person who supervises the grips. These workers carry and arrange equipment, props, and elements of the setting and lighting. c. The gaffer, the head electrician who supervises the placement and rigging of the lights. In Hollywood production, the gaffer’s assistant is called the best boy.
5) Parallel to the photography unit is the sound unit. This is headed by the production recordist (also called the sound mixer). The recordist’s principal responsibility is to record dialogue during shooting. Typically the recordist will use a portable tape recorder, several sorts of microphones, and a console to balance and combine units. The recorist’s staff includes: a. The boom operator, who manipulates the boom microphone and conceals radio microphones on the actors. b. The “third man,” who places other microphones, lays sound cables, and is in charge of controlling ambient sound.
6) A special effects unit charged with preparing and executing process shots, miniatures, matte work, computer-generated graphics, and other technical shots.
7) A miscellaneous unit includes a make-up staff, a costume staff, hairdressers, and drivers (who transport cast and crew).
8) There is also the producer’s crew. This consists of: the production manager, who will manage daily organizational business, such as arranging for meals and accommodations; a production accountant, who monitors expenditures; a production secretary who coordinates telephone communications among units and with the producer; and production assistants (“PAs”) who run errands.
- For every shot called for in the script or storyboard, the director usually makes several takes, or unique versions, of that shot.
- Because shooting usually proceeds out of continuity, the director and crew have some way of labeling each take. One of the cinematographer’s staff holds up a slate before the lens. On the slate is written the production, scene, shot, and take. A hinged arm at the top, the clapboard, makes a sharp smack which allows the recordist to synchronize the soundtrack with the footage in the assembly phase.
- A master shot, is a shot that records the entire action and dialogue of the scene. There may be several takes of the master shot. Then portions of the scene are restaged and shot in closer views or from different angles. These shots are called coverage, and each one may require many takes.
The Postproduction Phase
- Filmmakers call the assembly phase postproduction. Postproduction staff members work behind the scenes throughout the shooting.
- The editor catalogues and assembles the takes produced during the shooting.
- A 100-minute feature, which amounts to about 9,000 feet of 35mm film, may have been carved out of 500,000 feet of footage. For this reason, postproduction on major Hollywood pictures often takes five to seven months.
- Typically, the editor receives the processed footage from the laboratory as quickly as possible. This footage is known as the dailies, or the ruches. Since retaking shots is so expensive and troublesome, constant checking of the dailies is important for spotting any problems with focus, exposure, framing, or other possible problems.
- As the footage accumulates, the editor assembles it into a rough cut—the shots loosely strung in sequence, without effects or music.
- From the rough cut the editor, in consultation with the director, builds toward a fine cut or final cut. The unused shots constitute the outtakes.
- While the final cut is being prepared, a second unit may be shooting inserts, footage to fill in at certain places. These are typically long shots of cities or airports, or close- ups of objects.
- Until the mid-1980’s, editors cut and spliced the work print, which is footage printed from the camera negative and is the print used in editing.
- Now, almost all pictures are edited electronically. The editor enters notes on each take directly into a computer database. Such electronic editing systems, usually known as nonlinear systems, permit random access to the entire store of footage. The editor can call up any shot, paste it alongside any other shots, trim it, or junk it.
- Once the shots are arranged in something approaching final form, the sound editor takes charge of building up the sound track. The director, the composer, the picture editor, and the sound editor view the film and agree upon where music and effects will be placed, a process known as spotting.
- Surprisingly little of the sound recorded during filming winds up in the finished movie. Often half or more of the dialogue is rerecorded in postproduction, using a process known as automated dialogue replacement (ADR). ADR usually yields better quality than location sound. With the on-set recording serving as a guide track, the sound editor records actors in the studio speaking their lines (called dubbing or looping).
- Likewise, very few of the noises we hear in a film were recorded during filming. (I.E. – In Terminator 2, the sound of the T-1000 cyborg passing through cell bars is that of dog food sliding slowly out of a can.
- The film’s camera negative, which was used to make the dailies and the work print, is normally too precious to serve as the source for final prints. Instead, from the negative footage the laboratory draws an interpositive, which in turn furnishes an internegative. This internegative is assembled in accordance with the final cut, and it will be the primary source for future prints.
- The first positive print, complete with picture and sound, is called the answer point. Once the answer print is okayed, release prints are made for distribution.
- The work of production does not end when the final theatrical version has been assembled. In consultation with the producer and director, the postproduction staffs prepare airline and broadcast television versions. In some cases, different versions may be prepared for different countries. (I.E. – European prints of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut featured more nudity than the American ones, in which some naked couples were blocked by digital figures added to the foreground.
- Films about the film process: Brian De Palma’s Blow Out occurs while a low-budget thriller is in sound editing. Singin’ in the Rain follows a single film through the entire process, with a gigantic publicity billboard filling up the final shot.
Modes of Production
Large Scale Production
- We have been discussing studio filmmaking thus far in this chapter. A Studio is a company in the business of manufacturing films. The most famous studios flourished in Hollywood between the 1920’s and the 1960’s—Paramount, Warner Bros., Columbia, and so on. These companies owned expensive equipment and extensive physical plants, and they retained most of their workers on long-term contracts. Each studio’s central management planned all projects, then delegated authority to individual supervisors, who in turn assembled casts and crews from the studio’s pool of workers. This “factory system” was as efficient as any assembly line.
- The centralized factory production system has virtually disappeared. The giants of Hollywood’s golden age have become distribution companies. The old studios had stars and staff under long-term contracts, so the same group of people might work together on film after film. Now each film is planned as a unique package, with director, actors, staff, and technicians brought together for this project alone.
- Some actors even got upset with the factory type system and formed their own distribution company. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charles Chaplin formed United Artist in 1919.
- No division of labor can prevent all problems. Every large-scale production is plagued by compromises, accidents, and foul-ups.
- Every film released, good or bad, is remarkable to the extent that it got finished!
Exploitation and Independent Production
- Not all films using the studio mode of production are big-budget projects financed by major companies. There are also low-budget exploitation products tailored to a particular market. These use to be made for fringe theaters and drive-ins; now, video- cassette rentals. In low budget films, people double up on jobs. I.E. – Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi, where he was the producer, scriptwriter, cinematographer, camera operator, still photographer, and sound recordist and mixer.
- Sometimes the independent filmmaker is a well-known director who prefers to work with budgets significantly below the industry norm. the lower scale of investment allows the filmmaker more freedom in choosing stories and performers.
- Although the disadvantages are numerous, many filmmakers believe the advantages of independence outweigh the drawbacks. Independent production can treat subjects that large-scale studio production ignores. No film studios would have supported Kevin Smith’s Clerks. Because the independent film does not need as large an audience to repay its costs, it can be more personal and controversial.
- It is also possible for one person to do everything: plan the film, finance it, perform in it, run the camera, record the sound, and put it all together. Such films are seldom seen in commercial theaters, but they are central to experimental and documentary traditions.
Making Movies in the Digital Era
- All phases of film have been changed by computer technology. There is software to help draft screenplays, prepare budgets and schedules, draw storyboards, prepare set designs, test make-up, and diagram camera placement.
- Computer-generated imagery (CGI) – By transferring photographed film to digital form and then back to film, it is now easy to delete distracting background elements, to clone a character, or to build crowds out of only a few spectators (like in Forest Gump).
- The natural home for CGI is fantasy and science fiction. For The Matrix, still photographs were digitalized to create virtual sets seen in smoothly changing three-dimensional perspectives, as if filmed by a moving camera. Software added lens distortions, color shifts, light flare, and even film grain. The mid-air fight scenes were achieved through surrounding the wire-suspended actors with 120 still cameras and feeding the separate images to a high-speed computer’s motion-capture system.
Film and Video: Where Did the Picture Go?
- Films are deliberately altered for video exhibition. Versions of for airline video projection and for broadcast television trim sex and violence, and the sound tracks eliminate potentially offensive dialogue. Sometimes TV versions are created during production. The broadcast version of The Silence of the Lambs contains different footage than the theatrical release.
- Broadcasters also use “time compression,” a device that speeds up the film slightly so more commercials can be squeezed in.
- Songs are often replaced in video release, largely because the rights could not be negotiated.
- Some video rental chains force distribution companies to prepare softer versions of R-rated films. And, as in broadcast and cable exhibition, video rental copies alter the image to fit the TV screen.
- The most apparent difference between a rental video and the original film involves the shape of the screen. Virtually all films have been designed to be shown on wide screen theater screens, not squarish TV monitors. On rare occasions the video version is letterboxed, presenting black masking across the top and bottom in order to preserve the original picture ratio. Most videocassettes, however, are not letterboxed, largely because many home viewers find letterboxing distracting.
- The “modifications” involve cropping out portions of the original image, sometimes as much as 50%.