Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Foolproof Filmmaking by Andrew Stevens

Andrew Stevens. Foolproof Filmmaking: Making a Movie That Makes a Profit. Westport, Ct.: Prospecta Press, 2014.

The author, while producing and directing in 1968, “the Terror Within II”, used rubber monster suits. The sun damaged the suits so badly the t-shirts could be seen through the. The Director of Photography (DP) shot so the deterioration could not be seen. The DP also shot a fully nude dance with backlight, crosslight, and diffusion such that no body parts could b seen. The author notes this brilliant DP, Janusz Kaminski, went on to twin two Oscars for “Schiendler’s List” and for “Saving Private Ryan”.

About 65% of independent film revenues are from sales to countries countries outside the U.S. and Canada. The author helped form Sunset Films which made a profit on their first film selling global rights before it was released. The author sold his shares of Sunset Films International and started a new venture, Royal Oaks Entertainment.

The business model changed. The studios moved into independent film distribution. Also, the demand for novelty videos fell.

The author’s Royal Oaks company pre-sold and released an average of 20 films annually. They fell into three genres of action, thrillers, and family films.

Realizing the market was changing, the author and his partner formed Franchise Pictures and Phoenician Entertainment. Royal Oaks ceased. Franchise Pictures worked with Warner Brothers, which handling printing and advertising expenditures as well as loaning money. A film often cost $25 million in production and $35 million in printing and advertising. Franchise Classic Pictures made non-commercial arts films for festivals with star actors who appeared for much less pay than they normally received.

Phoenician Entertainment made direct to DVD videos. Several movies would be sod as a group in a foreign market. Most of these did not require loans to make and were profitable relatively quickly.

Franchise Pictures made about 75 pictures with budgets from $100,000 to $70 million. Almost 20 had theatrical releases, including “The Whole Nine Yards”, “The Pledge”, and City by the Sea”.

The author left Franchise Pictures and in 2033 began financing and producing over 35 films. He closed his foreign sales division in 2004 and was producing mostly for studio home entertainment divisions.

Producers find financing for movies. They get distributors for their films. Producers hire the director and oversee casting actors Producers usually decide what the final cut of a movie will look like, unless they have yielded that right to the director.

Producers often can decide, or they may choose to suggest, script changes. The producer should have good communications skills and knowledge of the entire filmmaking process of creating a film including budgeting, post production, special effects music, etc. Producer  often  must know how to handle crises.

Producers should understand about the various forms of insurance, and their various rates, required in filmmaking.

A true producer confidently leads, provides useful insights, solves creative issues, and understands the entire movie making process. This often require multitasking, making and sticking to knowledgable decisions, handing crises, knowing finances and budgeting constraints, knowing how to negotiate, knowing the crew and talent, and knowing contract requirements.

A good producer has an editorial idea through editing to the final cut what the movie should become. The producer knows the editorial techniques, music, special effects, etc. required to achieve that vision. This requires understanding current special effects and computer generated imagery (CGI) abilities.

One must be “at the Right place, at the Right tie, and Ready.”

An Employee Producer, hired by a studio, risks the studio’s money and not the money of the producer’s company’s money. The financing and creative control rests with the studio, production company, networks, etc. that hired the Employee Producer.

The Executive Producer traditionally is the person in charge of financing and / or distribution. Now it is often a title awarded to line producers, actors, and others. Co-producers are often titles with no clear distinction.

Line Producers have physical production expertise and duties.

There was once a Federal requirement that some portion of movies broadcast on TV be from independent programming That mandate no longer exists.

There are (circa 2014) five conglomerates: Viacom, CBS Corporation, Walt Disney Corporation, 21st Century Fox / News Corporation, Sony, and Time Warner. These companies are moving to control programming to the broadcast networks under their control. Independent filmmaking is endangered.

All independent straight to video distributors and retail stores have closed.

Many independent movies are sold at trade shows, a.k.a. film markets. Buyers from various territories purchase all or some rights.

There are about 170 buying and selling companies participating in film markets, which are held globally.

To sell a movie at a film market, the author recommend a good poster as a sales technique. The author recommends creating posters that resemble a studio poster.

Flyers are recommended. They should contain artwork. Buyers prefer not to have to create their own artwork. In general, comedies traditionally have white backgrounds. Buyers tend to dislike artwork hat is too dark. Having something that might appeal to foreign viewers, such as military planes or ships or wild, fierce animals can help.

Germany and Japan are territories that traditionally pay the most money for long term contracts, which are often for 15 to 25 years. United Kingdom, France, Spain and Italy often have contracts of 10 to 15 years, Eastern Europe, Latin American, Southeast Asia, Turkey, and Greece often have seven year contracts. When the contract expires, the rights revert to the owner who may resell the rights.

Movie profits are affected by marketplace fluctuations.

Independent pictures in North America often get theatrical releases by paying theaters to show the movie plus providing the advertisement, Many do not earn a profit from theatrical showings.

Studio divisions often offer less for movies than what the studio offers.

To enter the film marketplace, once must know current trends, conduct analysis of the global market and create a profitable plan.

There have been certain past trends in movie international markets Japanese markets liked movies with military and technological hardware. The German market liked action films without much violence, as violence would be censored Nudity is allowed in German prime time TV not blood is not. The South Korean market liked hand to hand martial arts films.

A Sales Agent sells films to foreign distributors. The Sales Agent receives a commission of 25% to 30% The author recommends giving a Sales Agent a 15% sales agency fee plus $25,000 for market expenses.

The author recommends selecting a Sales Agent by speaking with others who have hired them.

A sales agency contract should consider accounting requirements. Some sales agents have gone out of business before accounting for their expenses.  The contract should include a collection account where funds go to the account rather than to the sales agent.

Allocation sales, where a sales agent sells a movie as part of a group of movies, should be avoided,  the author suggest, as sales agent could allocate a film a lesser portion of that deal. Also, packaging a film with another could create problems which could lower a price.

Term deals of 10 to 25 years should be avoided for foreign distribution deals, the author advises. The author advises three to seven year contracts or ten years paid in advance. The contract should have a “key man” clause designating a sales person. The contract should have designated how residual payments are paid, often to a collection account. The author recommends insisting a film remain without a cross collaboration as packaged with other movies and that film royalties are sacrosanct. The buyer should be responsible for subtitles and / or foreign language dubbing.

Piracy, especially in Southeast Asia, is widespread. Some distributors have refused to buy films if they have been pirated in their region.

An alternative to hiring a sales agent is selling the film directly. The author notes sales agents usually have contacts and that selling directly can be costly.

Another alternative to a sales agent is to hire a producer’s representative. They often receive a double commission.

When attending the American Film Market, the author advisors researching and targeting 30 to 50 companies.

The Sundance, Toronto, Cannes, Berlin, and Venice Film Festivals are film markets. Most other film festivals are vanity screenings.

The author advises “Don’t be naive enough to think your film is going to be the one movie that proves everyone wrong and makes the entire world think differently. This is not going to happen.”

The author advises agreeing to pre-sells. This usually generates ore money overall.

Agents’s assistants have a strong network. Knowing them can be useful.

The author recommends “The system is full of B.S. Find any way you can to navigate through it. Think outside the box and beat the system at its own game, as long as it is legal.”

When hiring a screenwriter, read some of the writer’s past works. Note that soe writers are appropriate for specific genres.

Writers can be hired. Writers can have a step deal. A non-union writer can be removed from a project at any specified step.

A speaking actor (circa 2014) receives union scale. In addition, there is a 18.77 percent payroll tax and 16.8% pension, health, and welfare cost paid o the Screen Actors Guild.

The author often uses one title, such as “Inheritance of Valor” to attract actors to a movie that will have a cheesy title for foreign market sales.

An Equity Investor invests money into a project. The equity investor is paid from revenues first before others.

A Limited Partnership has multiple partners. It has liability only for debts created by the registered investment.

There are numerous foreign and U.S. sate film subsidies. The rules for qualifying for subsidies and the degree of subsidization varies. There may be requirements of headquartering, local hires, unionization, etc.

Financing can be obtained from bank loans (which require collateral), pre-sales (foreign and / or domestic)m a combination of sources, and crowd-funding (where numerous people contribute in return for incentives).

Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman began shooting. Oliver asked Hoffman “What on earth are you doing?” Hoffman responded “I’m doing a sense memory, Larry, preparing for the scene.: Olivier watched this for awhile and then asked “Why don’t you just try acting, my boy?”

Lee Marvin advised “The two most important moments for an actor in any picture are your entrance and your exit, When you enter, make it count...and when you leave, make it count even more.”

Attorneys should be paid hourly rates instead of fees, often 5%, advises the author.

Business managers pay bills. Many actors can take care of their own financial matters, the author believes.

A manager cannot gain employment for an actor client, yet can negotiate and arrange auditions and have an attorney to negotiate deals.

Film budgets have above the line (ATL) costs, which are the create and administration costs. They also have below the line (BTL) costs which are crews, goods, services, production, and financial costs.

A completion bond fee is often 3%, charged if using bank financing.

The SAG Modified Low Budget Agreement (circa 2014) is for films with budgets under $625,000 and for under $937,000 if casting ethnicity requirements are met.

A payroll company will be needed to maintain time sheets plus deduct and pay taxes and deductions.

A risk manager maintains worker’s compensation files.

A film will require production insurance, cast insurance a.k.a. producer’s indemnity insurance, errors and omissions insurance, and essential element insurance.

Production insurance covers general liability, commercial vehicles, back-up workers‘ compensation, and delay ad reshooting costs due to weather, location damage, and equipment failure.

Cast insurance covers costs due to a death, injury, or illness of a key cast members thus being unable to finish filming.

Essential element insurance covers a key element such as a director or star actor. The element must pass a rigorous physical examination,

Negative insurance covers physical damages or loss of film, hard drives, memory cards, videotapes, or anything that could cause a reshoot. Additional insurance would cover lab damages plus costs from faulty equipment and materials that damages film.

Errors and Omissions Insurance protects against trademark or copyright errors, libel, slander, privacy issues, name use errors, incorrect crediting, plagurism, unfair competition, piracy and copyright infringement.

Some Teamster locals will negotiate with independent film producers with budgets under $1 million. They will likely insist on an 8 hour day minimum and refuse a 12 hour day minimum.

Films save money by reducing the number of speaking roles, filming fewer exterior scenes, reducing location moves, minimize equipment rental periods, lower the number of shooting days, reconsider expensive scenes, educe vehicle and transportation costs. reduce software expenses, etc.
Paid overtime occurs at 8 hours for SAG actors, 10 hours for weekly contract players, and 12 hours for over-scale actors.

Pre-production planning is important. A producer should establish a production entity to protect against personal liability The producer should hire multi-taskers who are motivated. A payroll company should be hired. A production office should be opened.  The Studio Zone should be known, as this affects mileage calculations. Local rules and overtime laws should be known. It should be determined what props can be rented or borrowed. Hair and make-up artists who understand continuity should be hired. Good grip and electrical equipments should be found. Many films have generators. Loss and damage insurance is needed.

Many low budget films use one track for both grip and electrical equipment.

Costs for fuel, security, and meals should be kept in mind.

Correct meal information must be given to a caterer. Some cast and crew may prefer that food use a local restaurant’s food over a caterer. A craft service person is sometimes hired to prepared and serve food.

An editor assembles the day’s footage into linear fashion. This film needs to be fine tuned. The Director need not be part of this unless the Director has creative rights or belongs to the Directors Guild of America signatory.

The author has had to recut movies so make them what studios and distributors want. He has had to overturn what directors wanted.

SAG requires that low budget movies have the first 30 extras each day be from SAG membership These extras require time and a half overtime after eight hours. If more than 30 extras are needed, non-union people may be hired.

When using two cameras when filming, a camera may shoot from one side directly across he other camera but not across that line. This is known as the “line”, “axis of action”, “continuity line” or “`180 degree line”.

Sometimes, with two cameras, one camera is for a master show and the second for a close-up shot.

There is a SAG penalty if actors are paid more than one week after principle filming is done.

SAG’s Global Rule requires a SAG member living in the U.S. must work under a SAG contract anywhere on Earth. This has reduced the number of American authors hired in foreign films.

Independent producers must calculate residuals on a SAG formula. A theatrical movie would assign 3.6% for pay television, 4.5% for the first million of gross receipts and 5.4% above that first million, and 3.6% for free and basic cable TV. This formula does not consider actual distribution data.

It is hard for many independent film companies to process residuals. Thus, most actors are paid scale only.

The author prepays over-scale actors. This reduces the total for SAG salaries and reduced the financial assurance bond. It often takes six months after a film is completed to get the bond funds returned.

SAG is notorious for losing things and claiming they never received them.

SAG may require a residual bond to guarantee prepayments. The author notes SAG requires this bond in a capricious manner.

A Financial Core member, of Fi-Core, may claim only limited or Guild rights. They have union rights, may work non-union and union jobs, and they may not vote for or hold union office. A decision to become Fi-Core can not be reversed.

The Buyer’s or Distributor’s Assumption Agreement makes the signer responsible for paying residuals to the Guilds. A person with a film that does not pay residuals will be stigmatized in future dealing with SAG.

Many movies use 35 mm, super 35 mm, and Steadicam cameras. These films run 24 frames per second, known as Cinespeed.

Super 35 mm cameras can create digital prints. These can be viewed and fixed before making film prints.

16 mm cameras use two and half less film. This can reduce film processing costs. Using one requires selecting lenses.

16 mm cameras are less expensive than 35 mm cameras.

35 mm cameras use a circular parabola lens called a “flat”. Images are filmed without disstortion. It can also use an elliptical lens called an “anamorphic” This is used for wide angle filming. The result looks disproportioned. The proportions can be electronically corrected by repositioning and stretching 2.35 times wider than tall. A projector lens can achieve this.

A prime lens can range from 6 mm to 400 mm. Most low budet films use 16 mm, 18 mm wide angle, 25 mm, 35 mm, 50 mm, and sometimes a 75 mm, 85 mm, or 100 mm lenses. A 10:1 zoom provides ore options.

The First Assistant Camera Person, or 1st AC, is responsible for the film being in focus. The correct lens at different lens is important. It is important actors hit their marks when this has been calculated.

A Second Camera Assistance, or 2nd AC, carries and puts the camera as directed by the 1st AC.

A Film Loader keeps track of how much film has been bought and how much has been exposed. This person also leads the film into magazines in a dark room. This person fills out reports for film labs..

Motion pictures use a 1:85 aspect ratio Pre-wide screen TVs use a 1:33 aspect ratio. TV broadcasts use 4:3 format. Many new TV sets, using the standard HD aspect ratio, are 1:78 which is also known as 16:9.

Digital camera are often poor at capturing sounds. They capture much ambient noise.

An off-line editing format is required, such as Avid or Final Cut Pro. An edit decision list, or EDL, is used to create the film.

A broadcast scope provides information on luminance and chroma so it is known what film is acceptable and which is distorted and which is fine for broadcast technical standards.

A color grading quality monitor checks for color consistency.

A one light video work print telecine-transfers processed film.

The negative cutter uses key numbers from cut points in the EDL. The negative then undergoes the answer print process. Color adjustments are made while viewing prints on a Hazeltine. The film is screened. More color changes are often decided upon.

Color changes involves removing a primary color or red, green, or blue.

Beach bypass or silver retention processes make a film appear grainy or more desaturated.

The audio is checked as being in sync with the optics.

The first print is a check print. It is produced from an internegative. Changes or tweaks are made on a “light tape”. An internegative is created with the changes.

Note that making too many prints from a camera negative may cause it to break in the printer and thus damage and lose that film section.

The answer print is the lost print from the original negative. Inter-positives and internegatives are made into polyester film Up to 2,000 prints can be made from a polyester film.

After an inter-positive is made, it can be telecrine mastered to HD for a colorist, usually supervised by a cinematographer and / or the director, color corrects the film. A Direct Removal System, or DRSm corrects for dirt on the film. When this is done, the resulting lay back silent video is then synced to sound. There are at least four channels of sound with channels 1 and 3 for Stereo Left and channels 2 and 4 for Stereo Right.

Feature films often use Quicktime Pro Res for creating a mezzanine master digital file.

Music is often added using Quick-times. Source music, which is pre-existing music, is sometimes used, Sometimes music is scored for the movie.

Dialogue tracks from original dailies undergo “cleaning up” or “smoothing out” or building ramps” and fixed.

Foley sounds, which are background noises, are often added. Foley sounds make a film appear more realistic.

Automatic dialogue replacement, or ADR, adds or changes dialogue.

Sound effects are often added.

Sound design uses synthesizers, samplex, and audio plug-ins to enhance or distort sounds to achieve “sonic alchemy”.

A pre-dub, consisting of ADR, Foley, and sound effects, are edited using sound mixers. Pre-dubs are often 70% balanced acceptable.

Dolby reduces over-modulation.

Music and effects tracks (M and E) are added to a print master. Sound effects are provided on sound drives for non-theatrical print masters

Studios campaign for viewers to see their movies. Posters and key art are created for advertising. Confusing artwork can dissuade people from seeing a movie.

Production still photographs can be used for advertising and for guiding key art.

A catchy log line can attract an audience.

Trailers show film highlights to attract an audience. They often target specific demographics.

The Motion Picture Association of America ratings system often allows big studios more latitude in the degree of violence or graphic content than is allowed to independent films.

A title search checks there are no competing films with the same title.

An Electronics Press Kit, or EIPC, shows behinds the scenes information such as interviews. It is often added to a DVD.

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