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  • 1. Film Production 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 Exhibitor Exhibitor Producer Production Distribution Exhibitor Production crew Company Company Exhibitor Writer often formed often part of large just to make multinational Exhibitor Director one film conglomerate Exhibitor Cast Exhibitor Finance/Film 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. 46
  • 2. 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 finished film. 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 47
  • 3. 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 48
  • 4. 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 etc. 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 49
  • 5. 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 50
  • 6. 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 Production expenses 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) Television Theatrical/cinema release DVD sales 51
  • 7. 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) Budget: £2.4m 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. 52
  • 8. 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 requirements. 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- ordinator etc. 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. 53
  • 9. Budgeting 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 costs. 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. Shooting Schedule 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 54
  • 10. 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 different. 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 production. 55
  • 11. 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 Bond movies. 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 audiences? 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 56
  • 12. 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 57
  • 13. DVD revenue. 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? 58