Film, like most art forms, is essentially a creative medium but it is also a commercial venture.
So, whilst we might enjoy seeing films that make us laugh, move us, scare us, completely turn
our world upside down or make us consider issues that we had never before considered, at the
end of the day, filmmakers are not providing us with a charitable entertainment. They are key
players in a fast-moving, global, commercial industry.
It is easy to assume that filmmakers, actors and directors who are well-known play the most
significant role in the life of a film. What should not be underestimated however, is the power
of financiers –whose influence extends to the far corners of the global film industry.
The film industry exists to make money through entertaining. Finance is crucial to each stage
of a film's life and will hopefully generate a profit to be reinvested in future film projects.
Production Distribution Exhibition
Production Distribution Exhibitor
Production crew Company Company
Writer often formed often part of large
just to make multinational Exhibitor
one film conglomerate Exhibitor
Fig. 1. From production to exhibition
The film that we finally see at the cinema is the result of many months, often many years, of
planning and budgeting. Hope, frustration, disappointment, and sometimes elation are some
of the emotions producer’s experience. The process from the original idea for a film to its
arrival in the cinema can involve hundreds of changes and hundreds of people, all of whom
need to be committed to the project if it is to succeed, the most important is the producer.
Who is the Producer?
The variety of different credits which appear at the beginning or end of a film defining the
production personnel can be confusing – producer, co-producer, associate producer, executive
producer etc. What the differences are and how each is involved in a film can vary from
production to production. There are many producer titles because people have different
definitions of the term. For example, 'executive producer' may be little more than a courtesy
title to someone who has invested money in a film.
In the 1940's and early 1950's life was simpler and movies were less difficult to finance. They
were usually made by big studios and the producer was really the administrative partner of the
director. Nowadays, producing almost solely consists of raising the money and overseeing
expenditure. The producer will be involved from the very beginning of the film project,
overseeing the initial planning through all stages from pre-production to post production.
Producers deal with ideas, especially raising confidence in the idea with financiers and
distributors. They commission the script, secure the finances, hire the director and are
involved in casting, finding locations and hiring the technical crew. A producer must have
legal knowledge, creative knowledge, flair and sales skills.
A producer can either work independently, developing ideas and raising the money for a film,
or can work as part of a big studio proposing projects to the studio's finance team. The
producer's continuity is crucial to the success of the production.
Throughout film history, with rare exceptions, the best creative and profitable work done by
directors has been in collaboration with strong producers: it is an effective collaborative mix
which has to do with personality and compatibility, as well as creativity. A strong producer
will be ambitious for a robust production and will also inspire distribution and marketing
people to invest in a cinema release and the promotion of a film.
The producer is generally assisted by an associate producer (AP), who directly oversees the
daily concerns of shooting. In commercial film making the producer has overall responsibility
for all aspects of production. From a distance, the film's financiers and distributors keep track
of the production of a film, and it is the producer who is responsible for communicating with
them and ensuring that the film lives up to their expectations. Any changes of story and
casting will need to be justified ensuring that all these parties maintains a confidence in the
The best producers must have a nose for a good idea and be able to keep up with public taste.
They often take financial risks and are prepared to back their hunches against the criticism of
the cautious. They need to have either great personal charisma to win over the doubters, or an
extremely good track record. Investing in film making is an uncertain venture and bankers are
never over-enthusiastic about putting their money into what seems to be a risk.
“The single most important fact, perhaps, of the entire movie industry is that
nobody knows anything... Not one person in the entire motion picture field
knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess and, if
you're lucky, an educated one.” Two time Academy Award winning screen
writer - William Goldman
Indeed, the box-office success of a film is never certain. It is always a gamble, both for
investors and the audience who are taking their own kind of risk; neither can be sure of the
precise nature of the final product – the film!
How does a film get to the screen?
In talking about the processes at work in the life of a film, it is easy to forget that the first step
in that journey is the IDEA.
The idea can either come from a writer, a director or a producer in the form of a book, a play
or an original idea for a script. Once the idea exists, then it is normally up to the producer to
a) clear the screen rights for the material and b) raise the finance to make the film by
presenting a package to various potential investors.
If the film is being made by a film studio they would already have the finance to pay for the
film's production through other successful, profitable films they had made. In turn, profits
from the film would eventually go back to the film studio to finance future films. In the case
of independent film production, no such capital is available and has to be secured. The
producer must persuade banks, investment companies and wealthy individuals to invest in a
film and try to secure a distributor's interest.
In order to do this an OUTLINE or TREATMENT (the detailed storyline with
suggestions as to casting, locations etc.) of the film will be presented to the investors. The
treatment will run from between five to twenty-five pages. (If the director or producer are
very well-known and experienced in the film industry this stage may consist of presenting an
idea without a treatment.) If the investors like the treatment they may pay for the development
of the treatment into the first draft of the script and for the PACKAGE to be put together.
Banks and other investors need some assurance that there will be a return on their investments
if they are to finance the production of the film and it is the package that fulfils this function.
Packages consist of either a treatment or draft of the script, a proposed budget, a storyboard of
some scenes, and details of the director and any stars who have been approached and shown
interest or are already secured for the film. The track record of the director of photography
(DP) and composer can also be important elements of the package.
The DEVELOPMENT stage of
a film's life is where the ideas are
clarified through research, casting is
confirmed and scripts are written. In the
process of committing ideas to paper,
problems arise and initial confidence
may be lost with many scripts ending
up not going any further.
For independent companies it is
sometimes difficult to raise money even
for development. Instead of looking to
just one investor, it may well be necessary to seek out a number of investors. Land and
Freedom (1995), a film directed by Ken Loach, was financed in the development stage by
British Screen Finance, but eventually ended up with 15 different sources of money from
Europe to make the final film.
Finally the DEAL is the agreement between the producer and the investor(s) who provides
the finance to produce the film. The terms of the deal will vary according to both the budget's
potential income or revenue and type of film. Films are rarely financed by one single investor
and it is common for films to be funded by more than one source. Most British films are
collaborations or co-financing ventures involving two or more of the following – an equity
investor, a distributor and/or a TV broadcaster (usually BBC or C4).
An equity investor puts money into a film rather like a 'loan' for a fixed period which will gain
interest and has the contractual right to reclaim their initial investment plus a share of the net
profits of the film (normally in proportion to the amount invested in the film).
Putting together a deal requires trying to get all the potential investors together at the same
time, hoping that the requirements of the different investors not clash. There is no specific
time limit for putting together a deal, sometimes it can take weeks, and sometimes years. This
is where film festivals come into the picture: providing a forum for producers with their ideas
to meet up with the people with the money in the hope that a deal may be struck. Festivals
such as Cannes are hives of activity where producers take round their film packages.
The importance of casting
The stars of a film are very important. If the audience knows and likes the star of a film, they
are more likely to want to see the film than if the star is a newcomer and unknown. The
casting of stars is dependent upon the amount of money available in the production budget.
The more famous the star(s) the larger the sum required to secure them for the project. A lot
of people are also interested in those responsible for making the film e.g. producers, directors
Investors try to reduce their risk by becoming involved in decisions concerning casting and/or
who directs the film. By insisting on a particular star or director the film is given a different
status, or a wholly different artistic feel.
Q. Choose an actress from the list above. What would they bring to a role in a film?
For the investors the most important thing is that the film is given the best possible chance –
in the hope that they will see a good financial return when the film opens in cinemas – and if
this means pushing to have a particular star then so be it. This sort of negotiation is all to do
with making a film as 'bankable' as possible.
Remember - Film production is all about profit!
When putting together a film package questions will be raised concerning potential money-
making spin-offs including merchandise that could be produced and linked-up with
promotional partners, all of which will maximise the audience awareness of the film, and, in
turn, maximise the profit the film will make.
The details within a film package do not guarantee that a film will make money, since they
are based on guess-work before the film is made, but they will give potential investors
confidence in giving money to allow the film to be produced.
Sometimes, even though a film does not make a profit at the box office, it may make an
overall profit because of pre-sales which have been negotiated with DVD and television
companies at the package stage of the production and rental deals with cinema exhibitors.
Unlike television, a film has to attract people to a cinema and/or later to a Blockbuster. People
have to be persuaded to leave the house to buy a product that they have heard about. It is the
marketing of the film that is essential in creating audience awareness.
From the outset, the producer must have an idea as to who the AUDIENCE of the film
will be so that it might stand a chance of recouping all production costs and going into profit.
The financial success or failure of a film depends on the audience. It is the audience who will
decide whether the film is successful by paying for their cinema ticket at the box office.
Interest in a film will escalate or wane depending on the audience's opinion. They will spread
the word about a film and ultimately affect box-office success or failure. This is known as
word of mouth and is the most important aspect of marketing a film.
Q. Think about the films you have seen recently at the cinema. Which ones were
recommended by word of mouth? Why did you go and see those particular films?
It is generally assumed that to
go into profit a film has to make two and a
half times its total cost at the box office. If a film costs $60 million to make,
then it will need to make $150 million at the box office and on other pre-sales (e.g. television
and DVD) before it goes into profit. Profit is the money made through box-office takings and
merchandising spin-offs after production, marketing and distribution costs have been met.
It does not necessarily correlate that the more expensive a film is to make the more profit it
will make at the box office. The film industry has many examples of so-called 'blockbuster'
films which cost millions to make and on paper look like they could not fail to make money
but which do not attract audiences. They can be marketed but they will not 'play' at the
cinema. Audiences will not want to go and see them.
Twenty years ago Who Framed
Roger Rabbit? (1988) cost $50
million to make and yet resulted in
a $20 million loss. Similarly, a
small budget film can make money:
Four Weddings and a Funeral
(1994) cost $5 million to produce
and made $250 million dollars
worldwide; Trainspotting (1996)
which cost $3 million to produce
made $100 million worldwide.
It is also important to mention that some films are never released in cinemas due to lack of
confidence in the film gaining a profit at the box office. An expensive marketing campaign
will further drain the film's finances and a decision will be made to put the film straight to
DVD, without a theatrical release at the cinema.
Musical film Mamma Mia! has become the highest grossing movie cinema release in the UK,
beating 1997 film Titanic. Mamma Mia! has now taken just over £69m at the box office,
narrowly passing Titantic's record. (BBC News Jan 2009)
Why are films so expensive to make?
Read the credits at the end of any film, listing everyone from actors to technicians, imagine
the cost of so many people working on a film? There are overhead costs such as transport,
accommodation, catering and set hire, then there’s the cost of insurance if anything goes
wrong. After the film’s been shot there is the cost of editing equipment, sound editing and
finally producing a master of the film.
A film's 'negative cost' is all the money that has to be paid out in advance relating to
production. This includes all the expenses listed above along with interest on loans, payments
to talent (actors and directors) and the overhead cost of studios etc. When the 'negative cost'
has been paid, any money the film makes above this is known as the net profit.
Fig 2. Typical components of negative costs
So how can you make a profit on a film?
The investors and often distributors come into a film project at the 'pre-sales' stage. They will
make decisions based on the strength of the package. The decision to invest in a film will be
based on the film's potential income or revenue, that is, the total profit the film can possibly
make at the box office. The film is sold to distributors' retail outlets such as DVD retail and
rental, and terrestrial (BBC, ITV etc) and satellite (Sky) television. Deals are made with these
companies at the pre-sales stage which provides further income for the making of a film.
Fig 3. Where does the money come from? (1996)
release DVD sales
Case Studies - How have four ‘British’ films been funded?
Four Weddings and a Funeral (Mike Newell, 1994)
Budget: £2.9 million (Polygram: £2.03 million/Channel Four: £870,000)
Distribution: distributed in Britain by Polygram
Four Weddings and a Funeral was the most successful British film ever shown in the States
taking $50 million at the box office. It subsequently took $40 million in Britain. Total
worldwide distribution gross: $350 million. The film's success was helped by its release in the
US which built up publicity for Britain (British audiences are more likely to see a film if it has
been successful in the US) and publicity centred on Hugh Grant's girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley.
It is worth noting that despite the profits made by Four Weddings - Polygram's film division
still failed to make an overall profit.
Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996)
Production companies: Figment Films/Channel Four/Polygram
Distributor: Film Four Distributors Ltd
Budget: £1.7 million
Channel Four fully financed the £1.7 million budget of Trainspotting although pre-sales
brought in £2 million. The film benefited from a clever marketing strategy including film
trailers featuring scenes specially made by the cast and a powerful poster campaign.
The Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo, 1997)
Production companies: Twentieth Century Fox/Channel Four
Budget: £2.2 million
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
The Full Monty took £120 million at the box office worldwide and was more successful than
Jurassic Park in the UK. Fox spent a large amount promoting the UK release (initially
£850,000) and to ensure good 'word of mouth' invited over 100,000 people to preview
screenings before its official release date. Channel Four were initially involved in the
development of The Full Monty but did not continue their financial support for the film and
therefore did not reap the rewards from its success.
East is East (Damien O'Donnell, 1999)
Production companies: Assassin Films/FilmFour/BBC (fully financed by FilmFour with the
support of the MEDIA programme)
Distribution: Film Four Distributors
Box office gross (UK): £7.25m. The response to this film surpassed expectations and the
number of prints in circulation increased from 79 to 246 in the first few weeks. It took over £1
million in its first weekend and by the middle of 2000 had taken £10m in British and foreign
markets. FilmFour eventually funded the film and their gain was the BBC's loss. Audience
enjoyment was supplemented by critical approval represented by the award for best film at the
27th Evening Standard British Film Awards although disappointment was expressed at East is
East's failure to win any BAFTAs.
What happens next?
Once the deal has been done the making of the film begins. The film production process is
divided into three stages:
1) Pre-production - planning, budgeting, scheduling, casting
2) Production - filming
3) Post Production - film editing, sound editing, soundtrack
1. Pre-Production (Research & Planning)
Pre-production in film making is office based involving a team which includes the producer,
director, assistants and administrative staff. This is the first stage in a film's life and can take
anything from six months to two years and involves planning and scheduling the shooting of a
film. Shooting a film is extremely expensive involving actors, technicians and equipment. It is
at the pre-production stage that decisions are made, and potential problems are solved to
ensure that the shooting schedule is adhered to and runs as smoothly as possible.
What happens to the script?
During pre-production the script is broken down into scenes and storyboarded and a shooting
schedule prepared. For the sake of economy all scenes on one set or location will be filmed at
the same time, out of sequence. If a film begins and ends in New York, but the bulk of the
story is in London, then the New York scenes will be shot at the same time. A continuity
person or script supervisor will keep detailed notes about the actors' hairstyles, costumes and
props etc. checking that they look the same in scenes that are supposed to be close together,
and yet are shot weeks apart. For actors and actresses this means having to keep 'in character'
and maintain the appropriate emotional attitude in scenes which are shot out of sequence.
The producer works with the director to bring the screenplay to life. Working relationships
vary depending on personalities but broadly speaking the producer is responsible for the costs
of the production and aspects of planning, and the director is responsible for making artistic
decisions. The artistic decisions and the cost of the production are inseparable. This means
that the producer and director work closely together making combined decisions about the
employment of staff, casting, design, lighting and locations.
The script is the essential element for decisions being made as it dictates casting of characters,
locations to be used plus design issues, such as lighting, camerawork, costume and set
The film is interpreted in drawings on the storyboard which will then be used during the
production of the film. The producer and director will brief the location manager, director of
photography, casting director, set and costume designer, and any other personnel that the film
requires such as the musical director, the special effects unit, choreographer and stunt co-
Everyone in production receives a copy of the final version of the script. There can be any
number of revisions and rewrites to the script, firstly by the scriptwriter(s), by the director,
lead actors and sometimes the producer. These alterations can be continual throughout the
production stage. The production manager ensures everyone has the corrected, current script
to work from, sometimes updated on a daily basis.
The cost of production will have been estimated at the deal stage of raising finance; however,
the true cost of a production becomes apparent as filming progresses and the budget
breakdown becomes more precise.
The budget of a film production is divided into above-the-line and below-the-line
Above-the-line costs include:
fees for the producer, director and stars/actors, and technician costs known before
the shooting begins. Above-the-line costs are fixed and will not change during
the production process.
Below-the-line costs include:
any other expenditure, including film stock, equipment hire, hotel costs, food,
scenery, costumes, properties etc. Below-the-line costs are changeable.
Things can happen on a film which might require more money to be spent on
that particular area of the budget, for instance, part of the script re-written to
accommodate a role being enlarged. This money will then have to be found from
another part of the budget or re-negotiations begin with the investors or new
money found elsewhere.
Once a film has been budgeted and the producer has contracted the stars and some of the
technical personnel, the film will have to be 'scheduled'. A schedule is basically a timetable
for the shooting of a film.
A film is rarely shot in the order that we, the cinema goers, finally see it. Restrictions on when
people and locations are available mean that the film's shooting has to be carried out around
particular availabilities. Only so many scenes can be shot in one day. On a good day's shoot,
possibly five minutes of usable film will be shot. With only one film unit, a full-length feature
film could take anything up to six or seven weeks to shoot.
2. Production (Filming)
Production is the actual shooting of the film where everyone is involved; the stars, producer,
director, an army of technicians, other cast, production personnel, make-up and wardrobe
people, set designers and electricians – not to mention the caterers. The numerous credits at
the end of each film gives you a good example of who works on a film and their importance.
The most expensive part of film making is the production which is labour intensive, with
equipment and travel being part of the budget costs. Meticulous planning in pre-production
will help to ensure that potential problems will have been addressed, making sure the often
tight filming schedule runs smoothly.
To make sure the production stays within the planned schedule, daily 'call/ schedule sheets'
are produced and distributed to all members of the cast and crew. These detail the shooting
schedule for the following day including scenes to be shot, the actors required, start times and
contact numbers etc.
What actually happens on a shoot and how many takes are needed is impossible to define in
any individual film: there are so many variables that depend on individual temperament,
styles of working, planning and organisational skills that each film production is very
The shooting schedule of each individual film varies according to the film's length,
availability of stars, and if the film is being shot simultaneously in more than one country.
Filming is the most exacting part of this creative and energetic industry. Everyone on the set
wants the filming to go well, from the stars down to the caterers hope for the 'right' weather
condition on location shoots to complete the filming schedule on time.
Post–Production (Sound & Film Editing)
The process of editing includes the selection and shaping of shots, the arrangement of shots,
scenes and sequences and special effects, the mixing of all soundtracks and the matching of
the soundtrack to the images.
Once the day's film rushes have been approved they are transported to the post production
facility house where they are viewed and logged by an assistant editor. The process of
logging, which involves writing a brief description of each shot, is fundamental for the
systematic editing process. The editor then assembles the footage from the shooting script,
joining the best takes into a 'rough assembly' which the director and producer view and
comment on. This is tightened up into a 'rough cut' and then into a 'finished edit' or 'fine cut'
where gradually the film starts to take shape. During the shooting of most films, editing
begins during production, with the editor and the director conferring about the rushes and
tentatively putting together a rough assembly.
Recent developments in digital technology are having a profound effect on the skills of the
editor and the process of editing. Computerised editing allows for greater flexibility, speed
and accuracy, and gives the editor the chance to try out a variety of sequences and be creative
by 'mixing' shots whilst doing away with the need for the traditional 'cut' of a film print.
Since the mid 1990s
Computer technology has
been capable of creating
stunts which would either
have be too expensive or too
dangerous to be attempted
previously. For example,
Pierce Brosnan in Dante's
Peak (1997) runs in front of
a mass of lava from an
erupting volcano. The
burning mass of lava was
computer generated and
added at a later stage of
The sound editor puts the sound onto the film and assembles different soundtracks, sound
effects and music. During the shooting of the film the sound is recorded separately. The film
and sound tape have lip-synchronisation. If there are alterations needed to the timbre or
recording levels of the dialogue, the actors are recalled at the editing stage to re-record or
‘dub’ their lines. This happens in a small studio while they are watching the corresponding
piece of finished film.
The sound effects on a film are carried out by sound effects specialists. These skilled artists
work in small studios, and whilst watching the film will create appropriate sound effects for
the film. Their skills lie in using weird and wonderful methods of simulating particular
sounds, for example, breaking ice cold celery in water which sounds like a leg breaking! More
common sound effects can be obtained from a sound effects library.
Why is the composition of a sound track so important?
The composer is responsible
for writing the music for the
film – the soundtrack –and
will become fully involved in
the post production stage. The
music adds mood and
atmosphere to a film, and the
composer, after talks with the
director and producer, will
watch the completed film and
synchronise the music with
the editing. Although music is
often thought of as incidental
to the action, it plays an
important part in helping to
create the overall 'feel' of the
film. For instance, the 'Bond'
theme written by Monty Norman, which is instantly recognisable, runs through all the James
A good soundtrack often becomes famous in its own right. Indeed, there are some films for
which the driving force is the music, not the plot. Those responsible for marketing films at the
distribution stage have been quick to catch on to the selling power of a good soundtrack, and
most films now have an accompanying CD and download. The involvement of a well-known
band will help in getting air time on radio stations and, therefore, additional publicity.
Examples of particularly successful soundtracks include: The Piano (1993), composed by
Michael Nyman, Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) with the soundtrack featuring Love Is
All Around sung by Wet Wet Wet; the soundtrack compilation album for Baz Luhrmann's
Moulin Rouge (2001) and the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s films.
Q. Can you think of any more recent film soundtracks that have proved popular with
What happens at the end of the production process?
The film is finally finished off, colour graded and copies made in a laboratory; it is these film
prints that will be shown in cinemas. The producer hands the film over to the distributor to
target an audience. In raising the money for the film the producer will have estimated the
potential income that the film could make through various pre-sales outlets and box-office
takings. The distributor's marketing campaign will heighten awareness of the film and,
ultimately, it will be the cinema-going audience who will decide whether the film is
successful or not.
Production Case Study – Lionsgate Entertainment
By the 2005, having swallowed up Artisan
Entertainment, the producers of The Blair
Witch Project, Lionsgate Entertainment
was the last big independent production
studio in Hollywood to remain free of any
ownership links to the major studios.
Lionsgate’s film release strategy had much
in common with a previous company, New
Line cinema, before it was bought up by a
major studio in 1996.
Lionsgate found great success releasing a line of horror films that became popular sequel
franchises and solid sources of revenue on DVD when sold to their core 16-25 cinema,
predominantly male audience. Examples included Saw I-VII (starting in 2004) and Hostel
(2005 & 2007).
Underlying the central activities of Lionsgate was a more diversified operation that sought to
create some of the security achieved by the Hollywood majors. They also combined this
horror success with other releases including more sophisticated indie/art house offerings such
as Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) and the Best-Film-Oscar-winning Crash (2004).
Founded in Vancouver in 1997, Lionsgate was the product of a former investment broker,
who aimed to create a smaller-scale Canadian answer to Hollywood. It was born through the
convergence of a number of existing companies, very much as it was to continue to develop
up to and including the purchase of Artisan. The main initial components were Cinepix,
Canada's second-largest domestic film distributor, North Shore Studios, the country's largest
studio facility, and Mandalay Television.
Its status as a company with major independent ambition was confirmed in 2000 with its $50
million takeover of Los Angeles-based producer/distributor Trimark Pictures. One of the main
attractions was Trimark's library of 650 (mainly horror) films which were a useful source of
Resources of this kind were also at the heart of Lionsgate subsequent purchase of Artisan for
$160 million. Artisan had a more substantial library, some 6700 features, including films
ranging from Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Basic Instinct (1992) to Reservoir
Dogs (1991) and It's a Wonderful Life (1947).
Artisan’s back catalogue was a valuable asset, a
reliable source of revenue against which production
or distribution finance could be gained, precisely the
kind of resource that helps to give stability to the
operations of the major Hollywood studios. Artisan
also provided Lionsgate with its Family Home
Division, another lucrative catalogue that included
rights to well known children's DVD franchises such
as Barbie, Hot Wheels, Clifford the Big Red Dog
and the Care Bears.
Lionsgate’s takeover activities also gave it an important stake in the development of new
forms of distribution to the home market via the Internet. Its acquisition of Trimark made it
majority owner of Cinemallow, one of the pioneers of online video-on-demand, to which the
major studios signed up in 2006 for new services such as permanent legal downloading and
the burning of films to DVD.
Q. How has Lionsgate attempted to survive in the cut-throat world of film production?