I’ve had a few people approach me to ask about ‘watching’ as I put the thing I’m working on together.  I forget sometimes about the appeal of ‘filmmaking’; I know firsthand how glamourous it usually isn’t.  Nevertheless, this seems to be the right place to spell out what a recent ‘day’ for me was like…

First a primer.  I’ve used this analogy before, but I would compare running a film ‘franchise’ to running a sports ‘franchise.’  The producer is similar to the Owner: he hires everyone, they usually write the checks, they’re the ‘bank.’  The screenwriter is most closely related to the General Manager: they provide the blueprint or the goal that everyone else will work toward (I know my writer friends are laughing at this analogy, I didn’t say this was perfect!)  The director is the Coach: on ‘Gameday,’  he becomes the man in charge, who everyone takes their marching orders from.  The director takes the gameplan and gets the most out of his actors to execute it.  And you know what actors/players do.  Some of them are superstars, some are role players (character actors), some are just happy to get paid to do something they’d do for free anyway.

Now on to my day…

Once I was happy with the script, one of the first things I did (as a director) was create a shot list.  Is is what it sounds like: a list of the number and the type of shots I think we’ll need to make the film.  I’ll send that shot list to my storyboard artist, who’ll use his artistic expertise to draw frames of each shot that becomes the first visual draft of what the movie will be (very similar to a comic book).  With the storyboards done, I’ll talk with the Director of Photography (DP) about the order we’ll shoot in, and in this particular case, what extra shots we could or should have so the Editor will have plenty of options down the line.

While the Production Manager (PM) is coming up with a schedule based on the script and shot list, I’ll go over a different set of issues with the Production Designer.  We’re shooting in a real location (as opposed to a soundstage), so this is where we’ll address how much we plan to adapt the location to fit our story.  Is this a bachelor’s house?  A young couple?  Does this take place in Kansas City?  Los Angeles?  ‘Anytown USA?’  Things of that nature.  We also talk about wardrobe.  Are the characters materialistic?  If the man wears a watch for example, is it a Swatch?  Timex?  TAG Heuer?  This leads directly into…

Auditioning and dealing more directly into character.  I’m doing another relationship piece, so casting becomes a three-tiered process:

  • As a producer, know your audience.  Playing the exact same scene the exact same way against Kerry Washington, Jessica Alba, Zooey Deschanel, or Leon will create a) a buppie movie, b) a ‘Hollywood’  movie, c) an indie movie or d) Cover II: I Know You Want to Leave Me, But I Refuse to Let You Go!  (that was a joke for a friend, but the point is casting effects how your movie will be seen.)
  • As a director, on a story level, relationship movies succeed or fail based on the believability, chemistry, and trust between the two leads.  As they do in real life?
  • As an actor, building the backstory becomes essential.  Two people who’ve known each other professionally for a few weeks at best have to create a ‘relationship’ that’s much more intimate and has a much deeper history.  How did these two characters meet?  What attracted him to her and vice versa?  What was their first date like?  The more fleshed out the backstory is, the more the actors have to draw from and the more ‘real’ the relationship seems (and by extension, the easier it is for the audience to suspend their disbelief and become immersed in the story). 

(To quote the Rock in his wrestling days, I ‘ab-so-lute-ly SUCKED’ as an actor on this particular day.  But the producer and director learned alot about how the scene will play out in terms of rhythm and pace.  The actor has time to get it together.)

When we get to the physical location, the Sound Designer joins the party.  The shoot will be close enough to a major intersection that he’s concerned about traffic in the background, so the choice of microphone becomes a factor.  We also need to be aware that in a residential area, kids might be hanging around, dogs might be out in somebody’s backyard, someone might decide to mow their lawn that day.  All potential problems for recording on set sound.  Right now, just things to be prepared for.  While we’re here, the Production Designer starts taking pictures of what the set normally looks like so we can put everything back in its proper place when we leave.  The DP is taking measurements so we’ll know exactly how much space we’ll have for camera, lights, etc.  The PM is talking with the owners of the location to figure out what other parts of the house we may have access to, and where we’re restricted.  The Producer is considering what kind of thank yous he can offer to the people offering to help him out.

So this is a sample of some of the things I have to consider, or in some cases decisions I have to make in the part of the process best known as ‘preproduction.’  I’m not trying to be cute here by not talking in detail about the story, but hopefully this entry illustrated a few things:

  1. When you start talking about business, the details of the story can easily take a backseat.
  2. I’m wearing a lot of hats as usual, but filmmaking is still, and always has been, an extremely collaborative artform.
  3. I’m not making a three hour epic here.  Imagine how many people, decisions, money it takes for one of those.
  4. That said, the basic process is the same regardless of budget.  But it helps tremendously when there’s one dominant agenda.
  5. And the people following that agenda all know what they’re doing.
  6. One last thing, all this work goes down, and we’re still a long way from anyone picking up a camera or setting up a light.

So that’s a quick rundown on part of what I’m working on right now.  Hopefully for those of you who were interested in what goes into setting a project up, you learned a little something.