- Liberty Manufactured Homes
The Power Filmmaking Kit
Make Your Professional Movie on a
Next-to-Nothing Budget
Jason J. Tomaric
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Copyright © 2008, Jason J. Tomaric. Published by Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Tomaric, Jason.
The power filmmaking kit : make your professional movie on a next-to-nothing budget / Jason
p. cm.
Includes index.
ISBN 978-0-240-81021-8 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Motion pictures—Production and
direction. 2. Low budget motion pictures. I. Title.
PN1995.9.P7T65 2008
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN: 978-0-240-81021-8
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Chapter 1: The Script
Writing Your Own Script
Developing the Idea
Setting up Your Space
Developing a Premise
Step 1: Fiction or Nonfiction
Step 2: Genre
Step 3: Format
Step 4: Plot Type
Optioning Material
Working with a Writer
Story Structure
The A Plot
Act 1
Act 2
Turning Point
Act 3
The gasp moments
Writing a script
Creating Characters
Box: Making Original Characters
Formatting Guidelines
Tips for Writing Successfully
Box: Resources for Writers
Writing on a Budget
Protecting Your Script
Optioning a script
Chapter 2: Preproduction
Setting Up an Office
Legal Consultations
Release Forms
Box: Preproduction
Chapter 3: Budgeting
Raising Money
Box: Business Formulas
Cast and Crew
The Business Plan
Forming a Company
Managing the Budget
Budget Categories
Chapter 4: Scheduling
Step 1: Lining the Script
Step 2: Scene Breakdown Sheets
Step 3: Determine the Number of Shooting Days
Step 4: Making the Daily Schedule
Step 5: Finalizing the Schedule
Step 6: During Production
Contact List
Call Sheets
Chapter 5: Insurance
Insurance Types
General Liability Insurance
Cast Insurance
Film and Video Tape Insurance
Equipment Insurance
Worker’s Compensation
Errors and Omissions Insurance
What Do You Really Need?
Certificate of Insurance
Chapter 6: Locations
Finding Locations
Location scouting tips
Box: Information and Advice for Shooting in London
Locations to avoid
Securing a Location
Community Relations
Working in a community
Filmmakers’ code of conduct
Film Commissions
During Production
Chapter 7: Auditioning Actors
Finding an Audition Space
Attracting Actors to the Audition
Box: Casting Resources
Working with Casting Agencies
How to Conduct an Audition
The first audition
The second audition
The third audition
Box: Audition Warning Signs
After the Auditions
Chapter 8: The Crew
Crew Positions
The Producers
The Production Department
The Director of Photography (DP) and
the Camera Crew
The Grip Department
The Electric Department
The Art Department
The Prop Department
The Hair and Makeup Department
The Wardrobe Department
The Audio Department
The Stunts/Special Effects Department
The Transportation Department
How to Hire the Crew
Crew Structures
The Ultrasmall Crew Structure
The Basic Crew Structure
Finding Qualified Crew Members
Paying Crew Members
Deferred Payment
Box: Contracts and Deal Memos
Crew Wages
Chapter 9: Unions and Guilds
Screen Actors Guild
Student film agreement
Short-film agreement
Ultra-low-budget agreement
Modified low-budget agreement
Low-budget agreement
Diversity casting incentives
Background actor incentive
Writers Guild of America
Writers Guild Low-Budget Contract
IATSE (International Alliance of the Theatrical Stage
Directors Guild of America
Box: Guild and Union Contact Information
Chapter 10: Equipment
Video vs Film
Shooting Film
Film Formats
Buying Film
Film Workflow
Traditional postproduction
Digital postproduction 1
Digital postproduction 2
16 mm color production lab costs
35 mm color production lab costs
Box: Benefits and Drawbacks of Shooting Film
Shooting Video
Standard Definition
720 ¥ 480
4 : 3 Aspect Ratio
29.97 Interlaced Frames
Box: Benefits and Drawbacks of Shooting Video
High Definition
Box: Television standards
Camcorder Purchasing Tips
Camera Support
Soft boxes
Light Kits
Lighting Support
What Do You Really Need?
Low-Budget Alternatives
Approaching a Rental Facility
Box: Vendor Contact Information
Chapter 11: Production Design
Building Sets
Set Dressing
Creating a Time Period
Chapter 12: Production
Box: Getting Ready for Production
A Day on Set
Sample Production Schedule
Box: Order of On-Set Commands
Organization of Shots
Chapter 13: Acting
Tips for the Director
Tips for the Actor
Box: Subtext
Acting Techniques
The Stanislavsky System
The Meisner Technique
The Chekhov Technique
Chapter 14: Directing
Directing during Preproduction
Reading the Script
Determining Coverage
Rehearsing Actors
Rehearsal 1—Understanding the Story
Rehearsal 2—Creating the Characters
After the Second Rehearsal
Rehearsal 3—Scene Specifics
Exercises during Rehearsals
Working with the Crew during Preproduction
Directing during Production
Blocking the Scene
Directing Actors
Directing the Subtext
Directing Extras
Balancing Acting with the Technical Tools
Directing the Crew
Directing the Camera
Directing Problems
Directing during Postproduction
Chapter 15: Cinematography
Working with a Director of Photography
Shooting Styles
Dogme 95
Cinema Verité
The roving camera
The Camera
Choosing the Lens
Prime Lenses
Zoom Lenses
The Five Rings of Power
Ring 1—Focus
Pulling Focus
Ring 2—Focal Length
Ring 3—The Iris: Exposure
Ring 4—Macro Focus
Ring 5—Back Focus
Lens Care
Camera Settings
Shutter Speed
White Balance
Box: Color Temperatures
Working with the Frame
Aspect Ratios
Pan and Scan
Rules of Composition
Shot Types
Working with a Production Monitor
Working with Shadows
The Qualities of Light
Lighting a Scene
Working with a Single Light Source
Guide to Building a Cheap Softbox
Getting the Film Look
Shooting the Scene
Keeping Organized
Using a Clapboard
Camera Logs
Script Supervisor
Chapter 16: Audio Recording
Analog vs Digital
Microphone Types
Prepping Audio
Role of the Sound Team on Set before Action
Recording to the Camera
Sync Sound
Boom Handling Techniques
Recording with a Shot Gun Microphone
Box: Build an Inexpensive Boom Pole
Using Lavaliers
Wireless Microphone Systems
Ambient Sound
Working with Extras
Sound Logs
Box: Tips for Recording Good On-Set Audio
Chapter 17: Hair and Makeup
Straight Makeup
Box: Makeup Terms
Building a Makeup Kit
Special Effects Makeup
Chapter 18: Craft Services and Catering
Craft Services
Throughout the Day
Tips for On Set
Chapter 19: Editing
Concepts of Editing
Relationship between Shots
Editing Systems
The Editing Process
Organizing Your Clips
The Assembly Cut
The Rough Cut
The Working Cut
The Fine Cut
Editing Techniques
Editing an Action Scene
Editing a Dialog Scene
Editing Tips
Cutting on Motion
Edit Types
Using Transitions
Color Correction
Titles and Graphics
Chapter 20: Digital Effects
Box: Definitions
Chroma Key
Three-Dimensional Animation
Chapter 21: Postproduction Audio
The Five Audio Tracks
Track 1—The Dialog Track
Track 2—The Foley Track
Moves Track
Foot Track
Track 3—The Ambience Track
Room Tone
Sounds of the Location
Track 4—The Sound Effects Track
Track 5—The Music Track
Mixing the Audio
M&E Tracks
Chapter 22: Music
Stock Music
Using Copyrighted Music
Music Loops
Writing Original Music
Finding a Composer
Working with a Composer
Spotting the Film
Sample Scores
Temp Tracks
Working with MIDI
Finishing the Score
Chapter 23: Distribution
Foreign Distribution
Domestic Distribution
Box: Some Foreign Distributors
Distribution Categories
Attracting Distributors
Box: Domestic Distributors
Film Festivals
Box: Top Film Festivals
Premiering on Your Own
Press Releases
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DVD Contents
This is a hybrid disc.
The following contents can be viewed
on a DVD player:
The Movie
Time and Again, the movie
Time and Again commentary track
The Modules
Intro to Writing
Intro to Pre-Production
Intro to Production
Intro to Editing
The Extras
The Forms
The Footage
The following contents can be accessed
on a computer:
14 clips from the stickball scene
Script Template (Word format)
Time and Again script
DVD Contents
Breakdown sheet template
Time and Again scene breakdowns
Call sheet template
Time and Again call sheets
Letters from the producer
Movie Contracts
Time and Again storyboards
Time and Again camera logs
Camera log template
Time and Again equipment inventory
This book is lovingly dedicated to my incredibly supportive family. Mom, Dad,
Aimee, and Heather, thank you for all your support over the years. I couldn’t
have done it without you.
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I would like to thank the many businesses and individuals whose helpful advice
contributed to the completion of this book.
Photo credit
Peter Graves
Derek Willis
Kate Bernier
Reb Groh
Mimi Tomaric
Special thanks to
Elinor Actipis
Houston King
Winnie Wong
Andrew Huebscher
Stephen Campanella
John Henry Richardson
Apple Computer
Micheal K. Brown
Matthews Studio Equipment
Lowel Lighting
Screen Actors Guild
Writers Guild of America
Directors Guild of America
. . . and, of course, to the cast and crew of Time and Again, for an unforgettable
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I remember the moment as if it happened yesterday. It was a scorching summer
afternoon in July 1984, and my fourth-grade friends and I stood anxiously in
our spacemen costumes in the loft of my parents’ barn. Surrounded by Christmas lights stuck through hastily painted cardboard boxes, we stared at the
crayon-drawn view screen and yelled as the make-believe enemy ships fired their
weapons at us. Throwing ourselves around the set, my Dad shook the camera
as my friends threw pieces of cardboard debris on top of us. It worked perfectly.
I stood up, called “cut,” and we officially finished the first shot of my first movie.
Looking around at the world I had created in the barn, I knew, in that moment,
that I had found my calling . . . to make movies.
In the following years, I never went to film school, but learned instead by trial
and error. I would shoot a movie, learn from my mistakes, and then move on
and produce another one, hoping it would be better than the one before. The
result was a lifelong journey of learning by doing, not by reading textbooks and
listening to lectures from professors who had never stepped on a movie set.
Since then, I’ve produced several award-winning feature films, television commercials, and music videos, making a successful living doing what I love.
I’ve been fortunate enough to teach at some of the country’s most prestigious
film schools, where they teach you how to make a $20,000,000 film. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any graduate who walks out of college with an eightfigure budget to start his first movie. Film schools don’t teach students the
critical first steps: how first to use local resources to create high-quality movies
for only a few thousand dollars and then move on to higher budget productions. As a result, this massive gap in film education has led to the failed careers
of thousands of talented, aspiring filmmakers.
This book is a collection of practical experiences, tips, and tricks I’ve learned
over the years. As I wrote this, I thought about what I wish I had known 10
years ago when I was just getting started in this industry. I needed real information from someone who had actually made a successful low-budget movie. With
the right resources, information, and guidance, it is possible to make a great
movie with little money. You just have to know where to start.
Be creative, persistent, and ambitious. Think big and live your dream.
Jason J. Tomaric
i. Begin with a strong idea, inspired by actual
events, literature, personal experiences, or
historical occurrences.
ii. Set-up a comfortable, quiet workspace.
iii. Determine the genre, format, and plot type
of the story.
Developing the Idea
iv. Secure the rights from the author of
a previous work, or from an individual
whose story inspires you.
v. Contact other writers with whom
you may want to partner.
i. Write the title of the movie, a brief character
description, the log line, and the theme of the story.
iv. Build the A-plot, then add 4
to 5 subplots.
ii. Research the subject matter of the story. What
were the people, politics, interests, social values
like during the time your story takes place? Talk
to experts, study your topic in the library, read old
publications, and perform research on the Internet.
v. Develop an outline of the story
and flush out the key A-plot and
subplot plot points.
iii. Brainstorm and write down ideas, bits of dialogue,
scene ideas, and character attributes on note cards.
vi. Further develop the story by
turning the outline into a treatment, or short story form that is
10 to 20 pages long.
Writing the Script
vii. Write the first draft of the
script, targeting 90 to 120
viii. Rewrite, then rewrite again and
then… rewrite again, tweaking
every line of dialogue, character motivation, plot point and
dramatic twist.
ix. Protect your script by
registering it with the
Writer’s Guild of America
or the US Copyright Office.
x. Sell or option the script
to a producer, or begin
pre-production to start
producing it yourself.
The Script
The script is the blueprint for the story and contains dialog, character movements, and scene descriptions. Like the old adage says, “If it ain’t on the page,
it ain’t on the stage.”
Every good movie is produced around a well-written script, and it doesn’t matter
how big the budget is, how good the actors are, how incredible the explosions
are, or how dynamic the visual effects are unless the story is moving, engaging,
and believable. Films with high production
values have been known to flop because the
script was poorly written, and rarely has a bad
script been made into a good movie. Writing a
script is a craft that takes time to learn and
requires a tremendous amount of discipline and
understanding of story structure, psychology,
human dynamics, and pacing.
Not only is writing a script is THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT of making a movie; it’s also the
cheapest. Whereas Hollywood studios spend
hundreds of millions of dollars on digital effects,
great actors, explosions, and car chases, the materials involved in writing a script could be nothing
more than a pencil and paper—materials that
cost only a few dollars.
In embarking on the journey to get the perfect
script, there are three paths you can take. You
can write the script yourself, you can option a
script that has already been written, or you
can hire a writer to write the script for you.
This chapter will look at these three options
and at which may be the best choice for
your production.
For more information on how to
write an effective screenplay, including
tips from established Hollywood writers,
check out the Writing modules at www.
Developing the idea
The foundation of a good movie is a good script. The foundation of a good
script is a good story. The foundation of a good story is inspiration, research,
and the ability to develop an idea into a commercially viable product that audiences will want to see.
Before you decide to spend years working on a project, its important to know the
purpose of the production at the very beginning. Are you going to make a movie
for art’s sake, so that the film is an exploration of your vision and style, or maybe
even to learn the process of filmmaking? Or are you looking to produce a commercially viable movie that can be sold and (it is hoped) generate a profit?
Contrary to the popular belief of many filmmakers, these two options are
almost always mutually exclusive. Most commercially produced movies tend to
rely on a time-proven, revenue-generating formula designed to appeal to the
widest possible audience. Because the marketing budget for most Hollywood
movies is significantly higher than the production budget, the industry has to
sell as many tickets as possible to cover not only the film’s production and
marketing costs, but also the costs of movies that fail to recoup their initial
investment. Unfortunately, this commercialization tends to discriminate against
artistic films that play to a smaller audience, leaving those productions to run,
at best, in local art theaters and small film festivals.
Making a movie requires a lot of time and money, so be smart in the type of story
you choose to tell. Carefully consider what you want the movie to do for you:
Do you want the movie to make money? Then develop a concept around
the industry standard formula, with marketable actors, a tight three-act
structure, and high production values. This can be the most expensive
Do you want to make a movie for the educational experience? If you
want to learn filmmaking or practice your craft, produce a short film and
know that you won’t recoup your investment.
Do you want to make art? Producing an artistic film that defies traditional
Hollywood convention is risky because distributors tend to shy away from
films they can’t easily explain to viewers. If picked up for distribution,
most art films will find homes in small art theaters and possibly on home
video, although the odds of generating a profit are slim.
I can remember the moment when the idea for Time and Again struck me. I was talking
with my colleague (and subsequent co-writer of Time and Again), Bob Noll, and he
pitched me an idea about a man who escaped from prison. In the middle of the prison
break, he suddenly and mysteriously found himself in the middle of an open, sunny field.
The Script
I don’t even remember the rest of the pitch. All I know is that sequence haunted me so
much that as I drove home, I couldn’t stop thinking about this guy in this field. So, that
night, I wrote out a story that roughly became the premise of Time and Again. Once
inspiration hit, the story nearly wrote itself.
When I called Bob the next day, he was really excited about my idea and jumped at the
chance to help me write the script, so within three days, we had our first 35-page draft.
I had never thought about making a 1950s movie before, but when inspiration hit, I knew
that Time and Again was the story I wanted to tell. I don’t know how I knew, I just did.
I’ve learned that it’s not really difficult to find inspiration; you just have to sit back, live
life, and wait for it to hit you.
When it comes to developing a story, write what you know. The best piece of
advice I ever received was to write what I’ve seen, what I have experienced, and
what I’ve lived in life. How can you faithfully write a story about the joys and
difficulties of marriage if you’ve never been married? Granted, you may have
seen how married couples interact, but it’s not the same as if you were to live
it yourself. How can a writer write a real love story that connects with the audience if he’s never been in love? Writing about love, death, betrayal, loneliness,
or happiness without experiencing it seems like a formula for an empty, soulless
story. Filmmaking is about truth, and writing scenes and moments that truthfully resonate with the audience can be a difficult task unless you are personally
familiar with the material you’re exploring.
One way of doing this is to dedicate your life to experiencing a variety of situations, cultures, and people so when it comes time to write, you have a broad
range of life experiences to draw from. Many legendary filmmakers are older
men and women who have put their life experiences on film, resulting in real,
engaging moments that ring true to the audience.
One reason most young filmmakers’ movies aren’t very interesting is because
they haven’t had enough life experiences to draw on. If you can’t experience
events yourself, then draw on ideas and inspiration around you to help develop
a strong idea.
Look at real-life moments for inspiration: childhood memories; interesting happenings at work; relationships with family, friends, and love interests. Think of family conflicts, your first job or your freshman year in high
school, moving out on your own for the first time, and college experiences. Drawing on personal experiences leads to strong material because
you’ve lived and experienced it.
Read the newspaper, listen to the radio, and watch news stories that may
captivate your imagination. The old cliché says that truth is often stranger
than fiction, and in many instances, it is!
Keep a journal of interesting things that happen every day; an engaging
conversation, a funny moment, an unusual or interesting person you may
have encountered in public. These moments can be the seeds of not only
good ideas, but also engaging characters, moments, and lines of dialog in
the movie.
Brainstorm and write down anything and everything that comes to mind.
You’d be surprised what comes out. Listen to inspirational music, turn off
the lights, let your mind roam free, and be ready to capture ideas as they
Study political history and the lives of dictators, emperors, famous people,
and serial killers. All these peoples’ lives involved extraordinary circumstances that are full of drama and conflict.
Be original and avoid copying concepts used in other forms of media,
stories from movies or television shows, or major plot lines from popular
books. Audiences want to see new, unique ideas, not rehashes of old
ideas. Create concepts inspired by real-life situations, people, and
Be careful not to infringe on copyrighted work. Copyright infringement
can be an expensive mistake if the original owner of the stolen property
chooses to sue.
Surf the Internet. The knowledge of the world is at your fingertips and can
provide outstanding ideas and motivation for a movie.
Try reading the yellow pages, magazines, and even advertisements for
Get out of your house. Traveling to a new place, whether it’s going out of
town or visiting a local coffee shop can help spur the imagination.
Take breaks and don’t force your imagination. A walk on the beach or
through the woods can help clear your thoughts and open your mind to
new ideas. I find that the less I think about my story, the more ideas pop
into my mind.
Write stories you’re passionate about. Be excited and willing to explore
the subject matter. Learn as much as you can about the world, people,
and situations you’re writing about.
Visit classic literature; listen to operas and read books. Stories of mythology,
ancient romances, and tales of adventure and heroism are the root of storytelling. If in doubt, go back to see how authors of old tackled an idea.
Research your idea by studying the time period, characters, customs, fashions, technologies, and values of the world you’re telling the story about.
Learning more about the actual events or motivation behind your story
will help develop ideas.
Learn from people who resemble, or can provide insight into, your character. If you’re writing a crime drama, contact a local police station and
ask to shadow an officer for a week. Listen to how she talks, how she acts
both casually and under pressure. Get a sense of the police environment
so when it comes time to create it in a script, you can write a realistic and
believable world.
The Script
Setting up your space
The first step to writing a screenplay is to find a comfortable, quiet
space to write. Whether it’s your office, your basement, or your
workspace after business hours, designate this space as your
“writing room,” and remove any distractions. It’s important to
have a designated space so that when you enter it, your brain
knows it’s time to start being creative.
Find a quiet space that you use only for writing. I like to
work in a particular coffee house in Burbank. For some
reason, this space, the constant rhythm of the people coming
and going, and the quiet ambience help me focus and allow
the creativity to flow.
Turn off the telephone and television. These needless distractions will only draw your attention away from the script.
Writing is a practice in the art of focus and discipline as
much as it is about storytelling.
Be prepared with a pencil, paper, and computer. Even though I use Microsoft Word and Final Draft when I write, I find that keeping a pencil and
paper nearby is handy to write down notes and thoughts I have during
the writing process.
Consider playing music from movie soundtracks or classical music that
inspires you. I find that background music, especially music without lyrics
that supports the theme and tone of the story I’m writing, gets the creative
juices flowing.
Developing a premise
Once your space is set up, the next step is to develop the story structure for the
movie. Think about whether you want the story to be fiction or nonfiction,
which genre is best, and the appropriate format for the story.
Fictional stories involve made-up characters in made-up situations. Based on
imagination more than fact, fictional stories allow the writer to evoke emotions
and thoughts outside the realm of the audience’s everyday world. Fiction provides a vehicle for the writer’s creativity to blossom and take form in a nearly
boundless format.
Nonfiction stories are true stories based on actual people and events. Nonfiction
stories include documentaries, biographies, and stories based on history, politics, travel, education, or any real-world subject matter.
Remember that if you choose to write a nonfiction story, you may need to secure
the rights to the person or the events your movie is based on.
Bob Noll, my co-writer
of Time and Again,
works from his office at
John Carroll University,
a normally quiet place
to work after hours.
A genre is a category or type of story. Genres typically have their own style and
story structure, and although there are several primary categories, movies can
be a mixture of two or three different genres.
Some common genres include:
Science Fiction
Romantic Comedy
When choosing the genre for an independent film, be aware of the costs and
difficulties of shooting certain genres like science fiction or westerns, for which
the cost of sets, costumes, and props may be prohibitive.
Take special notice of the resources available to you in your community and
through your contacts. When I wrote Time and Again, I knew that my hometown
Chardon, Ohio, could easily pass as a town from the 1950s without much set
dressing. I also knew that throughout the region, I could approach antique car
owners and costume shops and scavenge the dozens of antique shops to recreate
the time period easily and inexpensively. Doing this research in advance gave me
a really good idea as to what resources were available as I developed my story.
Stories can be told in many different formats, each designed for a different
purpose. Be mindful of your budget, the availability of resources, and time
when you choose the format for your story.
The main formats include:
Animation. Produced either by hand or using computer technologies, 2D
or 3D movies still rely on traditional story structures, although the means
of production lie strictly with the animator and rarely include live-action
elements. Animated films are very time consuming and technically
Commercials. Designed to advertise a product or service, television
commercials incorporate a wide range of styles, techniques, animation,
narrative, and hard-sell techniques into 10-, 15-, 30-, or 60-second time
lengths. Commercials are a great way for filmmakers to showcase their
style and story-telling and production capabilities and are among the most
lucrative, well-paying forms of production.
Documentaries. Documentaries are intended to study a subject, occurrence, theme, or belief in an attempt to either explore the subject or arrive
at a conclusion about the subject. Documentaries can either take on an
The Script
investigative approach, in which the filmmaker tries to answer a question or research
a subject, or follow a subject and allow the
story to unfold during the production. Documentaries can, in some instances, be inexpensive but time-consuming to produce.
Feature films. The 90-minute narrative is
the mainstay of Hollywood entertainment,
and its production is the dream of millions
of aspiring filmmakers. The riskiest style
of production, feature films are expensive
and time consuming and rarely recoup the
monies invested.
Industrial/corporate. These productions
are typically marketing or how-to pieces for
businesses. Although not very entertaining to watch or make, industrials
are an outstanding way to make money in the production industry.
Music videos. These highly stylized four-minute promotional videos for
music artists are a great way for a filmmaker to explore unbridled creativity
using any medium, any style of narrative or performance, and artistic
editing. Music videos are terrific short-format pieces that easily demonstrate a filmmaker’s abilities.
Short films. Short films are movies that are shorter than 80 minutes.
Ideally under 20 minutes, shorts are a terrific way of learning the process
of making a movie, showcasing the talents of the filmmakers, and
generating interest from investors in future projects. Despite the educational and career benefits, there is virtually no market for short films,
making it nearly impossible to see a return on the investment. Although
there are a few distributors who may release a compilation DVD of short
films, filmmakers rarely see their money back or see distribution of a short
film by itself.
If I can give one piece of advice from the years I’ve been working as a filmmaker, it is to
produce several short films before tackling a feature. The process of learning how to
make a movie is cyclical, meaning you have to go through the entire process at least
once just to begin to understand the craft. For example, much of directing stems from
understanding the editing process and the way shots work together to make a scene.
Understanding just this one aspect will have a huge impact on your choices for camera
placement and pacing when directing on set.
Don’t turn your star idea into your first film . . . you’ll regret it for your entire career. Start
small and learn the process with a short film; then with the second and third films, hone
the craft of directing, working with actors, and directing the camera. You will know when
you’re ready to take on a feature.
The crew finishes a
lighting setup for my
short film, The Overcoat.
Used as an opportunity
to hone our skills, I
knew we wouldn’t make
any money from the
movie, but the
experience we gained
was invaluable.
At the core of every great movie is a great idea, but an idea by itself is rarely
unique. Every idea you can think of has already been written, produced, told,
packaged, marketed, and reconstituted a thousand times throughout history.
From Shakespeare to Spielberg, the core story elements are the same. So what
makes a movie new and exciting to an audience? The WAY an idea is told keeps
it fresh and new.
Stories can be distilled down to a very simple premise: the main character
encounters a problem and is either successful or unsuccessful in solving it. The
setting, supporting characters, and details are the padding that transforms this
simple skeletal structure into a multilayered, interesting, and engaging story.
As you begin crafting your script, be aware of the simple plot structure that will
become the backbone of the story. Here are some of the most common:
1. Overcoming the adversary. The hero must find a way to overcome a
threat presented by another person, society, nature, him- or herself, a
supernatural force, technology, or religion. (Terminator, Alien)
2. The quest. The hero undergoes a search for something, someone, or an
idea. The perils he encounters and whether the hero meets his objective
are up to the writer! (Contact)
3. The journey and return. The hero undergoes a journey from home and
experiences a change in character along the way. (Lord of the Rings, The
Wizard of Oz)
4. Comedy. Events in the story keep the characters apart, only for a happy
reunification at the end.
5. Tragedy. Events in the story lead to the death of a character. This usually
unhappy ending is not often seen in Hollywood movies. (Gladiator)
6. Resurrection. The hero is oppressed until events in the story free her.
(The Shawshank Redemption)
7. Rags to riches. The life of a character evolves from a life of nothingness
to one of bounty, be it family, wealth, or fame. (It’s a Wonderful Life)
As a writer, you can develop a script around an existing work, such as a book,
poem, short story, or even a personal account. However, to simply adapt the
idea into a screenplay could violate copyright laws and expose you to legal
One way of legally using this material is to option the rights to use it. An option
is a short-term lease that grants a producer permission to adapt material into a
screenplay and either produce it or try to sell it to a production company.
The ability to option a book or story opens up hundreds of thousands of possibilities, so one way of finding a strong story is to go to the bookstore and start
reading. If you find a book that you like, call the publisher and get the author’s
The Script
contact information. Explain how you want to use the book and how you will
adapt it and ask if the author is willing to consider an option. The author may
want money up front, a percentage of the profits, credit, or any number of deal
points that would need to be negotiated. If the conversation gets this far, it’s best
to contact an entertainment attorney to help negotiate with the author on your
behalf and draw up the necessary paperwork.
Oftentimes, writers are either skilled in writing structure or in writing dialog
and character, so finding a writing partner who complements your skills can
lead to a much better script. Finding a competent writing partner can be as easy
as contacting local writing organizations, colleges, or university programs with
writing courses or seeking writers online or through industry contacts. When
looking for a good writing partner:
Bob Noll and I work through a scene of Time and Again. I found that collaborating with a writing partner is both inspirational and
functional. We would often bounce ideas off each other if we were stuck, support each other if our ideas needed help, and ground
each other if we felt our ideas were too good.
Ask for a writing sample. Read through the writer’s past works to see if
his style, ability to write dialog, pacing, dramatic moments, structure, and
plot twists are on par with the nature of the story. To get an idea of the
writer’s ability, read the first 20 pages of his previously written screenplays
and see if the script engages you. If so, keep reading. If not, consider
finding another partner.
Find a partner whose strengths are your weaknesses. If you are good at
writing structure, then find a partner who is good at dialog and characterization. A good partner will bring additional talents to the table and
balance your skill set.
Talk with your potential writing partner about the story and make sure
she likes the genre, story, and characters before working with her. For
example, if you are writing a romantic comedy, look for partners who
specialize or have an interest in writing romantic comedies.
Make sure your partner has the time and commitment to work on the
script, especially if it’s being written on spec (for free). It’s difficult to
complete a screenplay if your partner has to drop out in the middle of the
project or has obligations that may interfere with his ability to work on
the project. Write and sign a contract that outlines the details of your
working relationship together. Understand that when working with a
writer, you both own 50 percent of the script, so if any problems occur
during the relationship, the project may go unproduced.
Work out the credit she will receive as well as payment terms if the screenplay is sold, optioned, and/or produced.
The A plot
Before you can begin writing the script, it’s important to define the structure of
your story. Powerful stories are made up of strong characters, sharp dialog,
engaging plots, and, most importantly, a strong structure.
Stories have been told a certain way throughout history, and audiences have
grown accustomed to this “formula.” First, we set up the characters, setting, and
circumstances of the story, then we present the problem or conflict that the main
character will face. Then we sit back and enjoy the intricacies of how the character
finds his way out of the problem. This is considered the basic story structure and
can be broken up into three distinct parts, called acts.
Act 1
Act 1 is the beginning of the story, when the audience is introduced to the main
characters and their traits, personalities, likes and dislikes, problems, and challenges. The script also establishes the setting, time period, and technology of
the world in which the story takes place. In Act 1, the writers and filmmakers
have the most liberty in setting the stage for the rest of the story, even though
The Script
Set up problem/
conflict in the story.
Whereas ACT I
introduces the
setting, ACT II deals
with the problem
that has arisen.
Beginning of the film.
Set up characters and
environment. Where is
the story going to take
place and who are the
ACT I - 0-30 min
Turning point.
problem becomes
something different
from expected, the
story takes an
unexpected turn.
The situation becomes
the most difficult, the
characters are faced
with impossible odds
and everything seems to
be against them.
Events turn for
the worse for the
Rising action,
problem gets
worse, characters
struggle to solve
ACT II - 30-90 min
Falling action/resolution.
Heroes conquer problem
at great risk and drama.
The story is resolved.
ACT III - 90-120 min
The plot arc for a 120minute movie.
it may seem a little forced. The audience will accept and understand this. Act 1
is the first 30 minutes of a 120-minute film.
Act 1 is about WHO the main characters are, WHERE the story takes place,
WHEN the story takes place, WHAT is the story about, WHY the problem is
occurring; and the drama begins when the characters figure out HOW to deal
with the conflict.
Timmy is a 10-year-old boy walking home from school in the residential
suburb of Highland Heights, Montana. He is a quiet and shy kid who is
wildly imaginative, turning the most everyday items into play toys. He is
well dressed and lives in a typical middle-class neighborhood.
Act 2
Act 2 is the next movement in the story, in which the conflict is introduced.
Stories are about conflict and whether that conflict is man vs. man, man vs.
society, man vs. nature, or man vs. self, the conflict is the essence of the story.
Without conflict, there is no story.
Timmy, while walking home from school, is approached by a vicious, illtempered dog. Scared and without anywhere to run, Timmy climbs up a
tree, but the dog remains, barking and snarling at Timmy.
The dog is the conflict and now our story is about how Timmy deals with the
Be careful, however, because Act 2 is usually the most weakly written act in the
entire script. A poor second act will bring the story to a screeching halt, so as
we write, it’s important to raise the stakes and increase the jeopardy against the
main character. The more pain, agony, hardship, trial, and tribulation you can
throw at the main character, the more the audience will root for him.
Timmy struggles to climb higher up in the tree, but he loses his grip and
begins to slide down the trunk, cutting his arms on the sharp bark. The
dog, now inches from his feet, snarls and snaps at Timmy’s ankles. Timmy
struggles to climb onto a higher branch. He makes it and, for the moment,
is safe. It starts raining and Timmy opens his backpack and pulls out his
jacket. He loses his grip and the jacket falls to the ground. The dog rips it
to pieces.
Turning point
The most important part of the second act is called the turning point, which
occurs at the middle of the story. The turning point is the instance in which the
story and plot line take a severe turn and the characters are forced to compensate
for this twist.
As Timmy watches his jacket get torn to bits, the rain continues to
pour down. A car driving down the road hits a puddle, hydroplanes,
and hits the tree, knocking Timmy out of the tree and onto the roof of
the car.
The story has changed direction drastically from the earlier plot of Timmy and
the dog to Timmy and the car. The latter half of the second act is about our
characters dealing with the new change in circumstances.
The man driving the car has been knocked unconscious in the accident.
The dog moves toward Timmy, while Timmy struggles to call for help and
assist the injured driver. Timmy is scared, wet, and alone as he faces this
new problem.
Act 2 lasts for an hour, with the turning point occurring in the middle of the
Act 3
Act 3 is the last quarter of the story, when the conflict becomes the most difficult
for the character and she is forced to use her skill, wit, and ability to resolve or
escape from the problem with the maximum possible risk. Late in Act 3 is the
point of no return, at which the character chooses a path that will lead to her
ultimate success or failure.
Timmy struggles to pull the driver out of the car while throwing pieces of
his peanut butter sandwich to distract the dog. Timmy almost frees the
driver when he notices a gun, a mask, and a bag full of hundred dollar bills
sitting in the back seat. The man wakes up and grabs the gun and Timmy,
holding him hostage, and threatens to kill him if he escapes. All the while,
the dog remains outside snarling at the two.
The Script
The third act ends with the conclusion of the story when the character resolves
the conflict. At this moment, the main character changes, either for the better
or for the worse, through redemption, understanding the importance of love,
learning to be kind and caring, or through any number ways.
Timmy, in his most dire moment gathers up every last bit of courage and
stuffs the remaining peanut butter sandwich in the robber’s face. The dog
jumps on the robber, giving Timmy enough time to grab the gun and hold
the robber at bay. The dog then turns on Timmy, and instead of attacking,
lick’s Timmy’s face, nuzzling him for more food. After having found the
courage, Timmy waits for the police to arrive and arrest the robber.
At the end of the ordeal, Timmy walks home, side by side with his new
canine friend.
Act 3 is the last 30 minutes of a two-hour movie.
We just created the primary, or A plot of the story. Movies not only contain the
primary plot, but four or five smaller subplots that are interwoven throughout
the movie, many of which help to develop character, pace the timing of the A
plot, and give the story more depth. The subplots almost always tie into the A
plot and feature four or five scenes, with each subplot wrapping itself up midAct 3.
In our example with Timmy, the A plot follows his plight with the dog and the
robber. Some possible subplots could include:
The girl next door. When he is in the tree, Timmy discovers he can see
into a pretty girl’s room from across the street. Reluctant to get her atten-
Set-up problem/
conflict in story.
Bobby realizes
he’s back in time–
the day of the
Beginning of the film.
Bobby escapes from
prison, meets Awanda.
ACT I - 0-15 min
Turning point.
Bobby chooses
to be with Awanda
instead of pursuing
his quest.
Rising action,
problem gets
worse. Bobby
meets himself,
Bobby realizes that
Awanda has been sleeping
with his father. She is
somehow involved in the
murder plot.
Bobby and Awanda
solidify the
relationship, he tells
her the truth.
ACT II - 15-45 min
Falling action/resolution.
Bobby learns who the killer
is, knows he’s been framed,
and his younger self is doomed.
ACT III - 45-60 min
The plot arc of Time and
Again is similar to that
of a feature-length
tion for fear that she will see him in this embarrassing position, Timmy
tries hard to watch her while remaining unnoticed. At the end of the story,
when the car crashes and Timmy holds the gun on the robber, the girl
hears the commotion, calls the police, and finds Timmy to be a hero.
The report. While Timmy was scrambling up the tree, the dog bit Timmy’s
book bag and his school report fell out. During the A story, Timmy
attempts to use branches, even putting bubble gum at the end of a stick
to try to save his report from being mauled by the dog. At the end of the
story, the girl picks up the report and offers to put it in a fresh, clean
The orphaned bird. When Timmy climbs the tree, he finds a small bird
left all alone in the tree, its nest about to crumble apart. Timmy tries to
rebuild and support the nest with twigs and leaves. At the end of the story,
as Timmy is walking away with the girl, he looks back into the tree only
to see the mother bird return to her baby.
Every subplot ties in and supports the A plot, giving the writer several opportunities to write about during the story. If you develop a strong plot and subplots, you will have an engaging, well-paced story that will give you plenty of
opportunities to develop strong characters.
The gasp moments
Every good movie has four or five gasp moments in which the audience is startled or shocked by a turn in the plot. Be sure to write these gasp moments into
the story. For example:
The car crash. The biggest gasp moment in the story happens when
Timmy’s tree is struck by a car. This unexpected moment will certainly
take the audience by surprise.
Timmy tries to escape. Timmy, thinking the dog has left, tries to sneak
out of the tree. He barely makes it down when he turns to look and the
dog is inches from his face, about ready to jump. Timmy scrambles back
up into the tree.
■ The girl sees Timmy. Timmy, while trying to
build a support for the nest, pulls off his belt
so he can use it to support himself on a tree
branch. His pants, caught on a branch, start to
slip off, and he looks over to see the girl watching him. Trying to dismiss his actions and not
look foolish, Timmy tells her everything is OK
and he’s saving a bird.
In writing a script, it can be intimidating to craft
a 90- to 120-page story, but the process can be
easily broken down into a series of steps, each
designed to make sure that the script is properly
The Script
I’ve always hated writing. . . . It requires discipline, focus, and a willingness to go back
and rewrite something again and again. I know that I’m not the only person who feels
this way. Lots of my writing friends agree that writing the script is one of the most
difficult parts of making a movie; it’s not fun, social, or exciting. Writing is a tough
process that involves you, your computer, and your life experiences.
So how do you start writing? Well, the question has the answer built in . . . you JUST
START. Follow the easy steps in this chapter to help you break into the first page. After
that, it’s up to you to find the motivation to write.
When I wrote Time and Again, I was really inspired by the idea of a man escaping from
jail and appearing in the middle of an open field. I started writing down ideas I had had
about where he ends up, who he meets, where and when he goes. . . . All these
questions helped me make a list of unconnected ideas that further spawned additional
ideas. As I kept writing down ideas, the plot eventually came into being. The more ideas I
had, the more I was able to work the plot.
Once I had an idea of where the story was going, I called Bob Noll, a friend of mine at
John Carroll University. We had discussed the idea for this story and he agreed to help
me write it. We spent numerous nights at his office, brainstorming and developing the
characters, fleshing out scenes, and ultimately developing an outline that was strong
enough to begin turning it into a script.
I would think of the story in terms of how the audience would see it . . . one scene at a
time, from the beginning to the end. As I verbally developed these ideas, Bob would type
them into the computer in an outline form. Sometimes we would write dialog, sometimes
only the character’s actions. But whatever we wrote, our goal was to capture the
spontaneous thoughts and ideas we had during our session so we could later go back
and rewrite and tighten the story.
I always looked forward to these writing sessions because they helped me as the
filmmaker deeply explore the world of our characters. I found that I really enjoyed the
creative, brainstorming part of writing and Bob was really good at translating my ideas to
the page. Our partnership began to take form as I would pace in his office and, following
the outline of the plot points the story needed to hit, develop exciting scenes that would
get our character from one plot point to the next in an exciting, unpredictable manner.
We usually worked for only a few hours a night. Beyond that, our brains would turn to
clay and the creativity valve would shut off. Even if we tried to push longer, the material
we wrote looked really bad when we came at it again with fresh eyes the next day. The
lesson I learned was to listen to my mind. When it got tired, we quit for the night.
The process of writing the script from the outline was pretty simple. The more detailed
the outline, the easier the process of writing the script. Completing the first draft, no
matter how good it is, is the first crucial step in making a good story. Revising and
rewriting the story to make it tighter and better paced, to make the characters stronger
Develop the Idea
Consider marketability and
Develop the Premise
Determine the parameters of
the story, style, and structure.
Write the Title
Think of a catchy title.
and the dialog more snappy, was a lot easier once we got past the hurdle
of completing the first draft.
We went through several revisions of Time and Again before we were
happy with the script and felt like it was time to go into preproduction.
Title (1–5 words). Name the film. This doesn’t have to be the film’s
final title, but a strong working title can help maintain focus of
what the story is about.
Time and Again.
Develop the Theme
Make sure every scene
supports the moral of the story.
Write the Logline
Write a short paragraph of the
story and remember to include
the conflict.
Treatment or Outline
Either will help flesh out the
story into a fuller, robust tale.
First Draft
Turn the outine into a 90-page
rough draft.
A good story is made in the
rewrite process. Polish and
rework the story until it's
Register the script with the
Writer's Guild and the U.S.
Copyright Office.
Produce or Option
Sell the script or produce the
script yourself.
Writing flow chart.
Theme (5–15 words). What is the “moral of the story?” Beneath
the story, plot, characters, and genre, what is the message you want
to convey to the audience after they finish watching the movie?
Make sure that every scene, every moment, and every character
supports this theme. If you ever encounter writer’s block, or don’t
know where a scene should go, refer to the theme and write a
scenario that supports it.
A man’s quest to find the truth supersedes everything, even
love and death.
Logline (15–25 words). Describe the good guy, the bad guy, the
setting, and the conflict. The logline is the basic premise of what
the movie is about. Think about what a movie reviewer would write
up in the newspaper when trying to describe the premise of the
film in a clear, concise manner. After you describe the who, what,
why, when, and where, be sure to identify the conflict, or there’s
no story. A line like “. . . and problems arise when . . .” strongly sets
up the conflict in the story.
Time and Again is the story of Bobby Jones, a convicted
murderer, who has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for a
crime he doesn’t remember committing. Bent on finding the
real killer, he escapes from prison only to be thrown back in
time to July 14, 1958, the day of the murder. Problems arise
when, with six hours to work, he must reconstruct a forgotten
past to save himself. When he meets the sexy diner waitress,
Awanda, his true priorities are tested.
Treatment (2–3 pages). The treatment is a short-story form of the
movie that describes what happens from the beginning to the end
The Script
of the film. It reads like a novel and serves as an easy way for the writer to
understand the characters and events as they appear in the movie. Treatments
are valuable writing tools that allow the writer to work out the story points in
a short form before moving on to write the longer script.
When you write the treatment, you can begin incorporating script-formatting
elements that will eventually make their way into the finished screenplay. For
example, each time a new character is introduced in your treatment, type the
name of the character in capital letters followed by the character’s age and a
brief description. For example:
AWANDA, 31, a lonely blond bombshell who hustles men in the hopes of
finding true love.
The treatment can be as long or as short as the story requires. The more detail
you can write into the treatment, the easier it will be to incorporate into the
script. For example:
The fog rolls across the prison yard, streaked by moonlight. Outside,
three figures, BOBBY JONES, 32, a rugged young man whose face
reflects his hard prison time, and two other convicts jump the fence.
Landing hard between the perimeter fences, the three men take off
running inside the courtyard, as guards and their dogs rush to intercept.
Spotlights flick on and sirens pierce the night as Bobby turns a corner.
BAM! A shot from one of the guards takes out one of the prisoners, but
Bobby keeps running. Moments later, another shot rings out, taking out
the second prisoner. Now Bobby, alone, picks up his pace, despite the
guards’ orders to stop. As he turns another corner, a vortex opens and,
before he can stop, Bobby races through, landing in a golden wheat field
on a sunny day. Tripping over a branch, he crashes to the ground as he
tries to get his bearings. . . .
Continue working and reworking the treatment until the entire
story is fleshed out. Remember that every good story has four or
five major conflicts that arise for the character, plot twists, and
shocking story moments. Keep the story kinetic, with every
moment leading the audience toward the next plot point. Remember the theme and ensure that every scene reflects the theme of
the story. The treatment should read smoothly and include all
major characters and plot points and the resolution written in
short-story format.
Outline (20–30 pages). Once the treatment is written, it’s time to
begin fleshing out the details of each scene and every plot point.
Begin outlining by writing 80 to 100 scene numbers on a piece of
paper. Then break the treatment down into scenes, describing the
location where each scene takes place, the characters involved, and
what happens in the story. Add more details to the outline so that it becomes
easier to transcribe the outline into a script. Each scene in the outline will
become one scene in the script. The more detail that is written in the outline,
the easier it will be to write the script.
Start out by writing the main plot points of the A story. I usually like to write
this step by step in outline form, by writing simple sentences that loosely
describe what happens in the movie. Writing in simple plot points makes it
easy to rework, expand, and remove story points later. As you develop the A
story, outline the basic plot points from the beginning of the story to the end.
This process can be as simple as taking a sheet of paper, numbering each line,
and writing each plot point.
For example:
1. Bobby Jones escapes from prison.
2. Bobby wakes up in a field and finds a school yard.
3. Bobby encounters a teacher from whom he learns that something is
4. Bobby treks through a field until he finds a farmhouse.
5. Bobby steals clothes from the clothesline and makes his way to the
6. After trying to hitch a ride, he sees a girl riding a bike down the road. It’s
7. . . . and so on.
Once the A-story points are listed out, begin adding B-story points, or subplots.
There are usually four or five subplots in a movie that usually tie into the A
story at some point. All subplots should resolve themselves by the end of the
For example:
A subplot in Time and Again deals with the bicycle that Bobby and Awanda
crash, and Bobby needs to repair it. This subplot ties into the A story as an
integral part of the plot twist.
Continue working and editing, adding and removing plot points and scenes
until you are happy with the pacing and flow of the story. As you develop the
outline, keep these points in mind:
Every scene must push the story forward. If you can effectively tell the
story without a particular scene, that scene should be removed.
Every scene should support the theme of the movie.
Know how the movie is going to end so you can write to a conclusion,
instead of free-forming thoughts and ideas that may not go anywhere.
Script (90–120 pages). Once the outline is finished and every plot point is
described, begin fleshing out each plot point into a scene, adding dialog and
The Script
detailed descriptions. Remember that one page of a properly formatted script
roughly equates to one minute of screen time.
Complete the first draft of the script, regardless of how good or bad it is. Once
you have a complete draft of the script in front of you, you can begin the revision process. Shorten, edit, alter, tighten, and scrutinize every line of every page
until you are satisfied with the script, then register the script with the Writers
Guild of America, apply for a copyright from the U.S. Copyright Office, and
begin either the submission or the production process. For more information,
please see page 32.
Creating characters
A movie is nothing more than a slice of a character’s life, and a character’s
life experiences dictate how he may respond and react to the conflicts presented
in the story. By developing each character’s personal background, family
history, personality traits, habits, and behavioral tendencies toward friends and
neighbors, the writer will make them become realistic, multidimensional
One of the strongest techniques for creating realistic characters is to base them
on someone you know. Look to friends, family, or even yourself for inspiration
and draw on their personal experiences, quirks, and idiosyncrasies. The more
vividly you can picture each character in your mind, the easier it will be to write
his dialog and behavior in each scene. For example, if you’re basing a character
on your neighbor Frank, think “What would Frank do in this situation? How
would he act? What would he do?”
Characters fall into three primary categories, each having a specific role in
driving the story forward.
Protagonist: The protagonist is the central character or “good guy” in the story:
a person who almost always undergoes a personal transformation and whose
personality and motivations are explored more than any other character. The
story is always about the protagonist, focusing on his journey of discovery and
change. Although the protagonist is the focal
point, the story may or may not be told through
his eyes.
Antagonist: The antagonist is the literary opposite of the protagonist, who presents obstacles,
challenges, and situations the protagonist must
overcome. The antagonist has her own goals and
objectives that conflict with the protagonist’s
It is important to note that the antagonist,
although often the more fun character to write,
often falls prey to being the most shallow and
cliché character in the movie. This is evident in
cheesy action movies in which the overzealous
When designing and creating characters, I find it helpful to develop a character profile
that lists the traits of each character. Consider running each character through this list to
flesh him out to a fuller, more real person.
Describe the character’s. . . .
Interests and hobbies
Romantic successes or failures
Family life
Relationship with parents/siblings
Financial situation
Life goals
Musical tastes
Culinary tastes
Political views
Travel experience
Favorite vacation spot
Worst habit
Biggest fear
Favorite occasion
Reaction to criticism
Television viewing habits
Behavior while drunk
Another great way to create strong characters is to take a personality test as each
character to identify his or her personality temperament. The results will help you when
writing a character’s reaction to specific problems that arise in the storyline. An
outstanding book to read is Please Understand Me by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates.
Russian spy plans to blow up America unless $2,000,000 is wired to his Swiss
bank account. The audience never learns what drives him to commit this crime,
what his life is like, how his family is reacting to the situation, or what terrible
circumstances in his life led to his wanting to blow something up just for
money. This lack of depth leads to a flat, boring character that simply does bad
things. This character’s impact on the audience is minimal and fleeting.
Supporting characters: Supporting characters are written to support either the
protagonist or the antagonist, usually having similar objectives. Supporting
characters work with the main characters, but never eclipse them, although
supporting characters may have their own set of complexities.
In Time and Again, the main character is Bobby Jones, along with the supporting
characters Awanda, Sheriff Karl, young Bobby Jones, Martha Jones, and Robin
Whereas these primary characters carry the story, there are quite a few secondary
supporting characters helping to provide a realistic backdrop for the story. These
characters include the stickball players, the high school kids outside the theater,
the deputy sheriff, and the diner waitress. Although they aren’t aligned with
either the protagonist or the antagonist, they are vital in providing information
to the main characters and pushing the story forward. If the character cannot
provide this function, they must be cut from the story. For example:
The Script
Stickball players. By playing stickball, they provided the opportunity for
young Bobby Jones to be in the middle of the street so that older Bobby
Jones could see him.
Diner waitress. She helped Bobby Jones when he ran into the diner,
looking for Awanda, providing him critical information that led him to
his next course of action.
Students outside theater. When Bobby Jones approached them, they
also gave him critical information as to the whereabouts of young
Bobby Jones.
Use a video camera to document an event . . . a birthday party, a picnic, a
dinner. Then edit it into a two-minute sequence showing how the event
progresses from beginning to end. Transcribe the scene into a written script,
writing down word for word what people say in the scene. Study the way spoken
word appears on paper and the flow of how people move and act during an
Keep a journal of interesting events you experience. Write, in detail, what you
saw, how people reacted, how you felt during the event. Use this as a launching
point for future scenes and ideas. Also, write down and describe interesting
people you encounter. What did they wear? What were these peoples’ oddities
or quirks? The best characters will come from your own experiences.
Record a conversation between two people you know and transcribe the conversation word for word to paper. Study how the written word differs from
spoken word and how the spoken phrases look on paper. This is an important
skill to learn when writing realistic dialog. You’ll be surprised to find just how
short sentences and phrases look when transcribed.
Formatting guidelines
Hollywood has very stringent guidelines regarding how a script should be formatted. It is imperative to follow these guidelines, or your script will end up in
the trash without being read. Consider purchasing a professional script writing
program like Final Draft that does the formatting work for you.
The following are guidelines to formatting a feature-length screenplay.
Use 12-point Courier font (the typewriter font), which is the standard
script font. When this font is used, one page of properly formatted script
is roughly equal to one minute of screen time.
Begin each scene in capital letters and describe whether it is interior or
exterior (INT or EXT), the location where the scene takes place in the
Script page.
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Script page marked.
story, and the time of day (DAY, NIGHT, DAWN, DUSK, LATER).
For example:
Once the script is finished and each scene is numbered, add numbers to the
beginning and end of the scene header line. For example:
Awanda walks to the refrigerator and
pulls out a pitcher of water, all the
while watching Bobby from the corner
of her eye. Bobby, unaware of her
gaze, stares out the window.
When writing dialog, write the name of the character who is speaking in
capital letters and center it in the page.
Descriptions that indicate how a line must be said (for example: sarcastically, coyly, under his breath, and so on) must be placed in a margin 3½
inches from the left side of the page.
All character dialog appears under the name of the character who speaks
the line. This is to be written 4¼ inches from the left side of the page. For
Type all screen directions in the same margin as the scene header. Screen
directions should explain where and how the characters move and what
is happening in the scene. Use the screen directions to describe to the
reader/audience what they will see on screen. For example:
Awanda walks to the refrigerator and
pulls out a pitcher of water, all the
while watching Bobby from the corner
of her eye. Bobby, unaware of her
gaze, stares out the window.
I heard you needed a place to stay.
Don’t use camera directions—Camera directions indicate where the
camera needs to be placed within the scene. This is not the writer’s job,
but that of the director and the cinematographer. Write the script as a
story, focusing only on the characters and what they are doing and saying
in each scene.
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Don’t break scenes up into shots—A change in scene reflects a change in
location in the story. Shots are individual camera positions within the
scene that are designed by the director and cinematographer. Break up the
script only into scenes.
Don’t number your scenes—Scenes are to be numbered by the first
assistant director after the screenplay is finished. If you number the
scenes in advance, rewriting the script will constantly change the
scene numbers and throw off the script breakdown and any department
working off the breakdowns. Assign scene numbers once the script is
Check your spelling—Correct spelling and grammar are essential in presenting a professional screenplay for consideration by agents, managers,
studios, and production companies.
Covers and binding—Present the script with a white cover that states the
title, the writer(s), date completed, writer(s) and/or agent contact phone
numbers, WGA registration number, and copyright information. The
script should be punched with three holes and “bound” with two gold
First page—Always begin the script with “Fade in” and end with “Fade to
Scene headings—At the beginning of every scene, establish INT/EXT, the
location where the scene takes place, and the time of day. Always type
these in capital letters.
Follow these guidelines to format your script to industry-standard specifications.
All measurements are from the left edge of the paper:
Scene headings: margin starts 1.5 inches from the left edge of the paper.
Stage directions: margin starts 1.5 inches from the left edge of the paper.
Character names are centered on the page.
Dialog: left margin is at 2.5 inches and right margin is at 6.5 inches.
Character directions: left margin is at 3 inches and right margin is at 5.5 inches.
Tips for writing successfully
Writing is a process that requires a lot of discipline and focus. Here are some
tips to being an effective writer:
Set daily and weekly goals. Plan to write at least five pages a day, regardless of how good or bad they are. Remember that the real writing process
begins when you rewrite. The first step is to get a rough draft down on
Be organized. By starting out with an idea and flushing it out into an
outline, the process of writing the script becomes easier. Also keep a clean,
clutter-free work area, free of distractions so you can focus on your
Stories are about people, not explosions or car chases. When writing your
story, the dimension of your characters comes out when you show the
audience how they react in different situations. Describe their strengths
and weaknesses, attitudes and opinions, drives and ambitions, and what
they want.
Try putting ideas on 3×5 note cards before writing the script. Write clever
lines of dialog on white cards, character ideas on green, cool scene ideas
on pink, and so on. Organize these cards to help when you’re outlining
the story.
Develop a step outline, or a moment-by-moment description of what
the audience will see in the movie. This will make it easier to write the
Build your story around sequences . . . remember that shots make up a
scene, scenes make up sequences, and sequences make up a film. Sequences
are moments and ministories within the larger story.
Avoid writing cliché situations, dialog, and moments that the audience
has seen before. Writing fresh ideas can be as simple as taking a moment
in a scene and writing down ten unique and interesting variations on how
it can be played.
What is the plot arc? How is the story set up? How do you introduce the
characters? How do you introduce the conflict? Where is the turning point
in the story? How does the plot build to a climax? And finally, how does
it resolve itself?
Create setups and pay-offs . . . situations, props, information, and people
your characters encounter must lead to something or have some significance within the story. Remember that the audience is going to be looking
for meaning in the elements you show them.
Create interesting names for your characters by using a baby naming book
or searching the Internet for random name generators.
Remember that the characters, much like the plot, have arcs as well . . . characters should undergo changes from the beginning to the end of the story
and the story should be about this journey they take.
Choose three primary adjectives that describe your character and make
sure that the character’s actions, motivations, and dialog match those
three adjectives in each and every scene.
The antagonist, or bad guy, is an interesting character who simply does
bad things. Give the antagonist character inner conflicts as well as those
that drive him to do evil. Make him a real, multidimensional character.
The Script
Web sites
Creative Screenwriting
6404 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 957-1405
Daily Variety
5700 Wilshire Boulevard, #120
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 857-6600
Hollywood Reporter
5055 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 525-2000
Hollywood Scriptwriter
P.O. Box 10277
Burbank, CA 91510
(818) 845-5525
Samuel French
7623 Sunset Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90046
(323) 876-0570
Writers Store
2040 Westwood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 471-5151
Theatre Books
Toronto, ON, Canada
(416) 922-7175
Limelight Books
San Francisco, CA
(415) 864-2265
Applause Books
New York, NY
(212) 575-9265
Drama Book Shop
New York, NY
(212) 944-0595
Script Magazine
5638 Sweet Air Road
Baldwin, MD 21013
(410) 592-3466
Final Draft
11965 Venice Boulevard, #405
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(800) 231-4055
Written By
WGA, 7000 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 782-4522
150 E Olive Avenue
Burbank, CA 91502
(818) 843-6557
Book and software stores
Software suppliers
The Biz
1223 Olympic Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 399-6699
Remember that the more you write, the more you have to produce. If the
budget is limited, then limit the screenplay length to 90 pages. Ninety
pages of script means that 90 minutes of the movie needs to be
Always write in the present tense. Do not write, “We cut to Alan Blum
who is walking down the street.” Rather, write “Alan Blum casually walks
down the street.”
Writing on a budget
Bob Noll and I knew we
only had a $2,000
budget, so we wrote the
script knowing our
The secret to making a low-budget film is to write within your means. Be aware
of the resources you have available to you before you write. I know this probably sounds hypocritical because I tackled a seemingly expensive 1950s piece on
a budget of $2000, but as I wrote the script for Time and Again, I knew I would
have easy access to locations that could sell the time period. I also knew that
The Script
in Ohio, antique cars are plentiful, vintage costumes were easily obtained, and
cast and crew members would be willing to work for free. As I wrote the script,
I thought carefully about how I would realistically produce each moment of
every scene, so when it came time to go into preproduction, there were no
unexpected surprises.
If you are working on a low budget, think about the following factors before
you begin writing:
Minimize the number of locations. When you write settings into the
story, make sure the locations are accessible, available, and inexpensive
to secure.
Keep the number of characters to a minimum. Even if your actors are
willing to work for free, feeding them isn’t. Casts of thousands don’t come
cheap. Many low-budget movies keep their character count to under
Avoid shooting at night. Night shooting is very expensive, as hefty HMI
lighting is required to light large expanses of exterior locations and even
interiors. Daytime shooting allows the cinematographer to use bounce
cards to work sunlight.
Write a story that takes place in present day. Avoid the need for expensive props, wardrobe, sets, or set dressing.
Avoid extensive special effects, stunts, makeup effects, and
Keep the script to 90 pages. As tempting as it is to write a 120-page script,
remember that every page you write translates to a minute on screen. Every
minute on screen will cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars to produce.
Keep the script to the shortest possible length to stretch the budget as far
as possible.
Your first film needs to be about people, people, and people. Let the story
be about human interactions, interesting situations, and witty dialog. Save
special effects, stunts, casts of thousands, and period pieces for your next
Once the first draft of the script is complete, set it aside and read it over in a
week with fresh eyes. Then, begin the process of rewriting and reworking
the script to improve pacing, character development, dialog, and story
Often, writers will seek the advice of friends and other writers who can provide
a fresh perspective on the script. Listen to the feedback, but don’t be too hasty
to accept a friend’s opinion and make a change. Remember that not everyone
will respond the same way to a script, and it’s critical to filter the constructive
criticism from people who simply don’t like the material.
Hollywood scripts often undergo a hundred or more rewrites to ensure they
are as solid as possible, before they go into production. Adopt this approach
for your script to maximize the return on your investment of time and
Protecting your script
Once your script is complete, consider submitting it to the U.S. Copyright Office
and the Writers Guild of America for copyright protection. For a nominal fee
and a simple application form, both offices will retain a copy of the script, so
if you ever need to prove the date the script was written and its authenticity,
submission to these agencies serves as evidence in court.
United States Copyright Office
Library of Congress
Washington DC 20559
Copyright forms hotline (202) 707-9100
Screenplays: Form PA
Cost: $35 for electronic filing, $45 for paper filing
Writers Guild of America, West
WGAW Registry
7000 West Third Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 782-4500
Cost: $20 for non-WGA members, $10 for WGA members
Optioning a script
Although you can write an original screenplay, consider taking advantage of
one of the 200,000–300,000 spec scripts written each year by writers all around
the world. The best way to go about producing an existing script is to option
it. An option is a lease wherein a producer pays the writer a negotiated rate for
a predetermined amount of time to hold, produce, or attempt to produce the
script into a film. Usual Hollywood options are for around $20,000–$30,000,
but in the case of independent film producers, scripts can be optioned for as
little as $1.00.
The script option, which lasts for an average of two to three years, gives the
producer the exclusive right to promote, shop, raise funds, produce, or even
shelve the script. If the option lapses and the script has not been produced, the
rights to the screenplay will return to the writer. Optioning terms are negotiable
between the writer and the producer. Always put the details of your agreement
in writing.
Check out the companion DVD and watch the “Introduction to Writing” video to see how Jason J.
Tomaric and Bob Noll wrote the script of Time and Again.
Take the next step and listen as Hollywood writers and producers share inside information on writing a
successful screenplay.
From the Emmy-winning Executive Producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond” to the President of www.
inktip.com, Jerrol LeBaron, learn how to write from people who actually write for a living in Hollywood.
Download modules on
• Story Structure
• Developing the Idea
• Treatments and Outlines
• Creating Characters
• The First Draft
• Dialogue and Subtext
• Rewriting
• Selling the Script
• Succeed as a Writer
i. Build a strong business plan
and approach investors to
raise money for the movie.
ii. Form a company and open
a checking account.
iii. Build a budget.
i. Purchase insurance to protect
you from liability. You’ll need a
Certificate of Insurance before
renting equipment and securing
i. Break down the script
into categories.
i. Make contact with the local film commission.
ii. Determine the number
of shooting days.
ii. Scout locations and try to lock as many as
possible 6 to 8 weeks before principal
photography begins.
iii. Make the daily schedule.
iii. Contact local government officials to secure
shooting permits and coordinate with local
police and fire departments.
i. Approach casting agencies,
publicly advertise auditions
and set-up a location for
the first audition.
i. Once locations are locked
and the production schedule
is in place, begin seeking out
crew members.
ii. Set-up the second and
third auditions.
iii. Make final casting decisions
iv. The Director begins
rehearsals with the actors
ii. Hire the Director of Photography, Production Designer, and
the Unit Production Manager.
Give them the ability to hire
the rest of their department.
i. Establish a relationship with
the local labor union if you’re
hiring union crew members.
Auditioning Actors
Post Production
Production Design
i. Approach equipment rental facilities with
the Director of Photography to secure
camera, grip, and lighting equipment.
ii. Purchase tape/film stock and any last
minute purchases before production.
i. Design and begin
construction on the sets.
ii. Collect props, wardrobe,
and set dressing elements.
i. Approach editing,
visual effects, and
audio studios
to schedule postproduction services.
Once a script is finished and “greenlit,” which means it’s ready to be made, the
project moves into a phase called “preproduction.”
Preproduction is the process of breaking down the finished script and preparing
all elements of the movie for production.
The preproduction phase includes:
Breaking down the script
Determining the budget
Securing the financing
Scouting locations
Hiring the crew
Securing equipment
Scheduling the shoot dates
Preproduction is an extremely organized, methodical process similar to designing the blueprints of a house. Think about every aspect of the movie in advance
and try to be as prepared as possible before arriving on the set. Remember,
construction workers show up on a job site knowing exactly what must be done,
because all the preparation was done ahead of time when the blueprints were
being designed . . . not on the job site. The electrical contractors and plumbers
are being paid to install the wiring and plumbing, not wait around while the
architect decides how to build the house. The same is the case with a movie—
every prop, every person, and every shot must be carefully thought out and
planned so that when on set, you can make the best use of the time you have
by focusing on the performances and not on logistics.
The quality of the production is directly proportional to the amount of
time taken on preproduction. The more organized the project, the
smoother everything will go on set.
Before starting preproduction, hire a good attorney and a good accountant
to assist in setting up the bank accounts for the company, especially if the
production is funded by outside investors.
Preproduction is not complicated, but there are a thousand little jobs
that need to be done. So although it may seem stressful, a careful and
organized approach can help the process go smoothly.
Even the best-planned shoots will encounter problems, so expect them.
When they occur, don’t get frustrated. Remember that if making a movie
was easy, everyone would be doing it. Be prepared to deal with any
problem that arises on set by thinking about possible solutions in
Producing a movie is a time-consuming process that can turn into a full-time
job. Establish a home base where production efforts can be coordinated, phone
calls can be made, packages and equipment can be dropped off, and cast and
crew can meet.
When setting up your workspace, be sure to have the following resources:
Credit cards for use by office staff
Coffee, copiers, fax machine
Computers, printers
Extra paper, ink, envelopes, file folders
Crew listings from the local film commission
Current editions of local phone books
Locations of office supply store, USPS, FedEx, copier, rental car facility,
hotels, restaurants (have delivery menus available)
Meeting area with table and chairs for meetings and rehearsals
Dry Erase board with markers
Production email accounts
Accounts with a courier service
DVD player, VCR, and a television set
Telephones (land lines and cell)—set up a phone number for the production office
Small refrigerator with beverages
Copies of deal memos, script breakdowns, location agreements, and all
pertinent production forms
Even if you’re shooting a low-budget independent movie and can’t afford an
office space, be prepared to use your home for meetings and be ready for a lot
of people to come and go throughout the shoot. You will probably be storing
props, wardrobe, art direction elements, and production equipment in your
One of the first steps in beginning a production is to hire a qualified attorney to
help with the legal paperwork, including contracts. If the budget is large enough,
an attorney can set up a corporation or LLC (limited liability company).
There are a number of organizations that offer free or discounted rates to independent filmmakers.
Beverly Hills Bar Association
300 S. Beverly Drive #201
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 553-6644
$25 fee for ½ hour legal consultation
Contact Bill Newman for information: (310) 553-4022
Independent Feature Project/West
5550 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 204
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(213) 937-4379
IFP/West Resource Bank
New membership benefit!
A panel of experts will provide ½ hour free consultation in three areas:
legal, production, distribution.
Contact David Steiner for information: (213) 937-4379
Independent Feature Project/East
132 West 21st Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10011
(212) 243-7777
Other IFP benefits: seminars, screenings, discounts on services, and more!
Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC)
P.O. Box 34279
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 558-4090
Provides members with a job referral hotline, free expert advice, and other
programs and seminars.
Los Angeles County Bar Association
617 S. Olive Street
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 627-2727
Provides an attorney referral service
$25 fee for ½ hour legal advice
(213) 622-6700
During the preproduction of Time and Again, I called a local attorney and asked
if he would donate his time to assist our low-budget production in exchange
for a credit. He gladly accepted and was an excited participant in the movie, so
much so that he was even an extra in one of the scenes.
Release forms are important contracts that protect the producer from liability
on set. All cast and crew members as well as location owners must sign a form
before being allowed on set to establish, in writing, the arrangement between
the producer and the cast and crew members.
All cast and crew members, as well as extras and interns, must sign a form
that releases the production company of any and all liability in the event
an accident were to occur on set.
Post signs when shooting in public alerting passersby that a film is in
production and that by entering the premises, they release the production
company of any liability and they may appear on film in the
Make sure all extras write contact information clearly on the release forms,
and enter the data in a database so you can contact them when the film
is finished.
The Complete Film Production Handbook by Eve Light Honthaner, 2001, Focal
Contracts for the Film and Television Industry by Mark Litwak, 1994, Silman–James
Complete the final script, copy and distribute to cast and crew.
Break down the script, create production board, and make the production
schedule (it’s easier to schedule the film after locations have been secured in
Set up production offices and bring on necessary interns and staff. Secure office
equipment such as a copier, computer, fax machine, and telephones.
Set up insurance, bank accounts, and company structure. Hire a good attorney
and accountant to help.
Begin location scouting.
Begin scheduling auditions for principal actors and extras. Contact local talent
agencies to assist.
Begin talking with crew members, focusing on main crew positions. Call the film
commission for the production manual that lists all local crew members.
Prepare agreements, deal memos, and contracts with cast and crew.
Review budget with newly hired crew members to determine feasibility.
Research and assemble props and wardrobe.
Contact local film commission and establish relationship for permits and city
Begin set construction and set decorating.
Negotiate with vendors for camera, film stock, lighting, and grip equipment.
Contact postproduction services, including editors, labs, composers, and visual
effects artists.
i. Choose a business formula
and decide whether the
movie is for profit or art.
v. Develop a business
plan that includes
the budget, script,
attached actors, and
key crew positions.
vii. Form a company
and open a bank
iii. Contact vendors and crew to
calculate an approximate cost
per day for equipment,
locations, and personnel.
iv. Shape the budget by shuffling
scenes, reducing the number of
shooting days, tightening actors
schedules, and reducing camera
ii. Work with a line producer
to develop a budget to
show investors.
viii. Carefully manage the
budget throughout the
vi. Approach investors
to raise money for
the project.
Of all the art forms, filmmaking is the most expensive, and securing financing
can be the most difficult aspect of producing a film. It’s possible to produce a
high-quality, low-budget movie by managing costs, but purchases, fees, rentals,
and unforeseen problems can drive even the most modest budget into the tens
of thousands of dollars.
Raising the funds needed to produce your movie can be both challenging and
frustrating. Like other industries, financiers will invest money into projects
whose managers have demonstrated an ability to produce a profitable product.
Unless a filmmaker has already made and sold a movie, he has no track record,
so approaching an investor for a million dollars is like a recent business school
graduate asking for a million dollars for a start-up company. Most investors
will laugh at him and tell him to build a company out of his garage and make
a profit; then, once he does, come back and ask for investment dollars. The film
industry works the same way, wherein financiers flock to filmmakers with a
proven track record, whose work has generated a profit in the past.
So how do new first-time filmmakers make a movie? Start in the garage, so to
speak, by producing a low-budget movie with local resources. If it’s a good
movie, then investors may notice and consider financing the second movie.
The formula works like this:
Make a good $2000 movie and use it to raise the money to shoot a $20,000
Make a good $20,000 movie and use it to raise the money to shoot a $200,000
Make a good $200,000 movie and use it to raise the money to shoot a $2,000,000
Before you get frustrated, remember there isn’t a single filmmaker in the history
of cinema who had a $100,000,000 budget for his first film. Not one. Every
successful director started on small projects and grew from there.
■ NEVER, NEVER, NEVER spend your own money. The odds of you seeing
your money back are slim to none. The first rule of independent filmmaking is to let someone else knowingly bear the financial risk of the
■ Although increasing your credit limit or securing another home mortgage
are options for securing money for your film, avoid these at all costs. The
likelihood of making your money back on the film is slim, leaving massive
interest-laden credit card bills or the threat of having the bank repossess
your house.
There are a number of “formulas” used in the entertainment industry to produce movies
on varying budget levels. The smaller the budget, the more creative producers need to
be to maximize the money they have available.
Formula 1
The primary business formula in Hollywood is to generate enough money to pay each
person and vendor the proper day rate. Although this can thrust the budget into the
millions, creative control remains with the producers and all employees are happily paid.
This is the ideal, but not the most practical, approach for most independent filmmakers
whose budgets prohibit them from paying each person on the production team.
Formula 2
One possible business plan for producing a low-budget movie is to pay everyone on the
cast and crew, from the director to the production assistant, and the lead actors to the
day players, $100/day. The twist is that each participant is awarded a percentage
ownership in the movie. When the movie sells, 50 percent of the gross profits will go
directly to the investor, and the other 50 percent is divided among the cast and crew
based on their percentage of ownership. This back-end deal serves as an incentive for
the cast and crew to work hard on the project and see it through to completion while
minimizing out-of-pocket costs during production.
Formula 3
Offer the cast and crew deferred payment. Deferred payment means that there will be no
up-front money, but the producer will pay everyone if the movie sells and makes money.
Although this is extremely unlikely, many cast and crew members will appreciate the
effort and will be willing to donate their time and talent to the project up front.
The first step toward securing financing for your movie is to calculate how much
money you need to make the movie. Remember that financiers respond better
to a well-thought-out, line-item budget, rather than a request for a general dollar
amount. In preparing the budget, the first step is to break down the script (see
the Scheduling chapter for a step-by-step guide on how to do this) to determine
the number of shooting days, cast and crew requirements, production design,
camera and lighting equipment needs, postproduction expenses, and so on.
Once you have an idea of the resources needed to produce the film, call vendors,
cast and crew members, and locations to calculate the cost of each aspect of the
movie. The result is a ballpark budget you can present an investor.
Part of the fun of making a low-budget movie is to see how many elements can
be found and secured for free. The more freebies, the more money-costing line
items can be removed from the budget.
Be prepared to find actors who are willing to work for free. In Time and
Again, none of the actors had ever acted before, but were willing to work
for free for the experience. If you want to use experienced, SAG (Screen
Actors Guild) actors, talk to the guild about low-budget options for
When crewing up, seek recent college graduates or aspiring filmmakers in
your community who are willing to work for the experience. Most crew
members on Time and Again were independent filmmakers or recent
broadcast school graduates who were excited to work on a movie. Beware,
however; although inexperienced crew members may be cheap, they may
end up costing the production money in the long run because of their
inefficiency on set.
■ Contact local equipment rental agencies and ask them if they can donate
the equipment needed, or at least offer a discount. All the equipment on
Time and Again was secured for free through a local rental agency that was
experiencing a slow month and trusted that we would take care of the
■ Ask location owners if you can use their location for free. We didn’t pay
for a single location in Time and Again. I even negotiated to shut down a
state prison, an entire town square, and an interstate for free, simply by
presenting a professional proposal and having an open, honest conversation with the local authorities and a willingness to work with them.
■ Be creative with art direction, wardrobe, and props. We talked to people
in town and borrowed props, wardrobe, and set dressing, mostly for free.
Many of the 1950s costumes were all rented for 75% off from a local
costume shop, although some were borrowed from people
involved with the production, like Sheriff Karl’s police
I was able to produce Time and Again for $2000
■ If you live in a large city like New York or Los
by approaching people, businesses, and the local
Angeles, leave the city and go to areas where
authorities and asking for their help. The worst answer I
would hear is “no,” and my attitude was that every “no”
film production isn’t as abundant. The people
I heard was one step closer to hearing a “yes.” This
and local officials will be more willing to help
attitude empowered me and made it possible to make a
Hollywood-quality movie without a big budget.
independent filmmakers because filmmaking
is more of a novelty than an everyday
Once the script is broken down and you have an idea of
how much each department’s needs will cost, begin typing the numbers into a
budget form or enter the data into a budgeting program. You should end up
with a final cost for the movie. If this cost exceeds the amount of money you
have available in the budget, cut costs by reducing the number of shooting days,
eliminating an effects sequence, or simplifying a scene.
Keep in mind some factors that surprise filmmakers with unexpected costs:
Look at the costs of shooting at each individual location and plan what
elements will be needed, both in front of and behind the camera. Be sure
to include location fees, permit fees, and costs of hiring city officials such
as police or fire marshals. Does the location have restrooms? If not, it will
be necessary to rent portable toilets. If you’re shooting a night interior
scene, will it be necessary to block out the windows if the location is only
available during the day? How much will it cost to buy or rent black fabric
to cover all the windows? Does the crew need a day to prelight the set?
Remember that foresight is the biggest money saver you have in your
Calculate the cost of crew members if they aren’t willing to work for free.
Most crew members will have a daily rate for short projects and a weekly
Budget form.
rate for longer projects. Several crew positions such as the director of
photography, production sound mixer, and hair and makeup artists may
have their own equipment they bring to the set. Negotiate with them to
rent their gear as it may be cheaper than renting from a third party.
If working with a union cast or crew, be aware of minimum payment
requirements as well as overtime costs if the production goes over schedule. Remember that going nonunion is always less expensive.
Talk with the director of photography about the camera, lighting, and grip
equipment needed for production and ask her for a list of the required
gear. With the list in hand, negotiate with equipment rental houses for
discounts, especially for first-time, student, or independent productions.
Consider all transportation costs including vehicle rental, airport shuttles,
and vehicles to transport set pieces or large props. Some cast and crew
members may ask for gas money if they travel long distances to the set.
Speak with postproduction facilities about discounts on editing, music
composition, digital effects, and final mastering. These costs can be high,
but begin negotiations early. Production costs may need to be reduced to
allow budget money for postproduction. ALWAYS budget postproduction
costs. I know of many filmmakers who spent their entire budget on production, expecting the film to magically edit itself. The footage sat on a
shelf for years because they couldn’t afford to finish it.
Consider the cost of production insurance, including adjustments for
stunts, pyrotechnics, water scenes, or any other potentially hazardous
activity that could raise the cost of insurance.
Be aware that it will be necessary to compromise some of the artistic vision
in a film because of budget restrictions. Be creative and think of unique
ways to maintain the artistic integrity of the film while keeping the budget
Always stick to the budget, no matter what happens on set. Cost overruns
in production will always carry through to postproduction. Running out
of money in the postproduction process means the film won’t be
Include all costs of copying, postage, telephone, and other office-related
Be sure to include not only money for on-set craft services and catering,
but also any costs of lunches and dinners you may pay for during preproduction and second meals if the production runs into overtime.
When budgeting the movie, allow an additional 10% on top of what you
think you’ll need. This “padding” will protect you if a problem occurs on
set, such as a rainy day that requires you to add an additional day to the
Here are some tips on keeping the budget manageable:
The key to keeping the budget low is to restrict the number of shooting
days. Many low-budget features are shot in as little as 12 days with 12
working hours each day. If the script has 90 pages, that means that the
crew needs to shoot 7.5 pages per day. This extremely tight shooting
schedule and very ambitious approach won’t allow for many extravagant
camera moves, locations, pyrotechnics, or stunts or large amounts of
extras. With this type of shooting schedule, plan for two or three locations
and mostly lockdown (the camera is on a tripod) shots for most setups.
Camera angles will be limited to a master shot, and in some instances,
there may be time for close-ups and an insert shot or two.
Remember that dolly, crane, steadicam, and even some handheld shots
take a long time to set up and rehearse. These shots
cost money and may require extra days if there
are a lot of specialized shots in the
For more information on how
to develop an effective budget,
Special effects makeup, animals, chilincluding valuable tips from Hollywood
dren, car shots, night scenes, weather
producers, budget templates, and
effects, and scenes in public areas,
budgeting guides, check out the
noisy areas, and hard-to-access locaBudgeting a Movie module at www.
tions always require a lot of time. Allow
extra time when factoring in these
One important factor in determining the budget of a movie is assessing the
costs of above-the-line talent versus below-the-line talent.
Above-the-line crew members include the director, producers, writers, and main
actors. These positions involve negotiable salaries because of the substantial
creative and marketing influence these artists have in selling the film. The more
experience the above-the-line person has, the higher the negotiated salary
can be.
Because most independent filmmakers wear the hats of director, writer, and
producer themselves, the only substantial above-the-line cost may be the cost
of the actors, if recognizable actors are cast. Nonunion actors may be willing to work for free, but
union actors will certainly increase the cost of
making the film due to SAG requirements. In
addition, casting a recognizable actor for a few
days of shooting can cost up to $100,000/day,
an amount that is negotiated with the actor’s
agent. Hiring a name actor, even if he or she
appears in a few scenes, can greatly increase the
chances of distributors picking up the film.
Below-the-line crew members are people whose
day rates are negotiable, locked amounts. These
positions are typically much easier to budget in
advance and are usually lower than above-the-
line costs. Independent filmmakers working with
little money can finesse the below-the-line category by soliciting free or discounted services;
offering flat fees to crew members for the entire
project instead of paying a daily rate; offering
meals, a copy of the finished film, and credit in
exchange for crew members’ involvement; or
offering deferred pay to slim down the belowthe-line costs.
We were able to keep
the budget of Time and
Again around $2000
because of a volunteer
cast and crew, donated
equipment and catering,
free locations, and the
support of numerous
businesses and
This model works well with inexperienced crew
members, but working professionals usually
expect to be paid for their services, unless they
have a personal interest in the movie. Don’t be
afraid to ask people to donate their time and
Write the screenplay yourself.
Direct the movie yourself.
Cast actors who want to build a resume and are willing to work for free.
Choose crew members who are willing to work for free or for a discounted rate.
Hire crew members who own their own equipment. Even though you may need to
pay for it, it will be cheaper than renting from a rental facility.
Shoot in real locations and avoid building sets.
Use available resources for props, costumes, and locations.
Shoot on digital video to avoid the costs of film and processing.
Be as organized as possible and plan as much as you can in preproduction.
Avoid special effects, stunts, pyrotechnics, and digital effects.
Avoid shooting with children and animals. They can be difficult to direct on set and
will take up valuable time.
Shoot during the day. Night shooting requires additional lighting and takes time to
Now that you know how much money you need to produce the film, the next
step in raising money is to create a strong business plan. The business plan
describes the project, the target audience, how much money is needed, the
results of similar projects, and all details of how the business will be structured.
Remember that filmmaking is a business and most investors, unless they’re
looking to fund the arts, are looking to generate a profit from their investment.
Investing in a film is risky, so presenting a professional, well-designed business
plan positions you as a professional business person who can be trusted with
the finances.
The business plan should include:
The story. What is the film about? Include a brief one-page synopsis
of the story and include information on the characters, setting, and
How well have other films in a similar genre done? Reference the successes of projects similar to yours and demonstrate how your project may
be able to achieve similar results. Look for projects with similar budgets,
casts, genres, and production value.
What is the experience of the cast and crew? Investors are looking for
assurance that they will see a return on their investment. Listing the
accomplishments of the key players, such as the cinematographer, producer, director, and actors, improves the perception that a professional,
marketable product will be produced. Packaging a movie with experienced
above-the-line cast and crew helps sell the marketability and viability of
the movie.
Who is the audience? Know the demographic data of the age, gender,
education level, income level, and geographic location of the film’s
intended target audience. The demographics play a key role in which
actors to cast, the cinematic and editing style of the movie, and which
distributors to market the movie to.
Try to secure distribution deals first. Contact distributors to see how well
films like yours have sold in the past and how well they are selling now.
Have they made their money back? Have they taken a loss? Is the genre
of your movie consistent in sales? How would a distributor approach the
sales of your film?
The director’s past credits. What proof can be provided of the director’s
past successes? Film festival screenings, awards, and distribution contracts
assure the investor that the director is qualified to produce a marketable
film and that the odds of seeing a profit are greater.
How much will it cost? Provide a detailed budget to show the investor
on paper how his money will be spent.
What will the investor stand to profit from the film? Discuss the investor’s percentage of ownership in the project. Be aware, however, that it is
illegal to guarantee a return. It is traditional for investors to recoup their
investments from the first monies made from the sale of the film, before
any profit sharing takes place.
Include any extra creative materials that may help sell the film. Include
storyboards, key art, photos of the actors, costume designs, set blueprints,
and/or a mock-up poster to help the investor visualize the style and
quality of the final production.
Once the business plan is complete, go to a local printer and have it professionally printed and bound using high-quality paper, or put it inside of a highquality presentation folder with your business card. First impressions are always
critical when asking for investment dollars.
With the business plan in hand, begin approaching investors by making phone
calls, researching family contacts, sending letters, and setting up meetings. This
is a long, time-consuming process, so don’t get frustrated. Believe in your project
and there’s a good chance you’ll find an investor.
Here are some tips to finding potential investors:
Approach family members, friends, co-workers, local business people, and
wealthy contacts. Try contacting professional business groups that are
frequented by those in high-income occupations like doctors, lawyers, or
business owners. Present the project with the business plan to generate
In addition to the business plan, create a web site that includes all the
story information and people involved in the production. If the cinematographer for the project has a good demo reel, put his reel on the web
site as an example of the potential quality of your movie. Also include
actor bios and their previous acting experiences and successes. Make the
business plan and script available in a secure area of the web site so investors can download and read them instantly. Consider using a password
to keep the general public from accessing sensitive information.
Instead of finding one or two investors to finance the entire film, try
approaching a number of people to invest small amounts. Ten people
willing to invest $10,000 will yield a $100,000 budget and may be
easier to find than one investor for $100,000. The terms of the potential
return on their investment are negotiable with each investor, but always
consult with an attorney to make sure these arrangements are set up
Grants are free money provided to fund the arts that do not need to be
paid back. Applying for a grant is a difficult and competitive process and
you may want to contact a professional grant writer to assist you if your
project meets the requirements for the grant.
There are many corporations that fund the arts. Begin researching corporations that have funded concerts, art exhibits, or even movies in your
Before you approach potential investors, shop the script around to distributors to see if they would be interested in buying the film when it is
finished. Having a letter of intent from a distributor will help assure investors that they may see their money back.
When working with investment dollars, demonstrating proper management of
the money will reassure investors that your production is legitimate. Consider
forming a company to manage the accounting, provide legal protection for the
producers, and keep clean tax records.
Forming a company will keep the movie’s financing, legalities, and liability
separate from your own. Even the large studios form smaller corporate entities
for each movie and television show they produce, hence the sometimes funny
production company names that seem to be around for only one project. These
companies serve as autonomous entities and protect the bigger company (the
studio) from liability.
In the United States, there are seven major types of businesses that are recognized by law, each with its own advantages.
A sole proprietorship is business conducted by an individual. None of
the protections or tax benefits of a corporation carry to the individual,
who is solely responsible for any liability, tax burden, and debt.
A general partnership is an association of two or more people (partners)
who have joint ownership in a company that is intended to generate a
profit. A general partnership must be registered in the city or town it
intends to operate in. The partners agree to share equally all the gains and
losses that occur from the operation of the general partnership.
A limited partnership is made up of two different types of partners:
limited partners who provide the financial backing of the company, but
have little say in the daily operation of the company, and the general
partner who manages the operation of the company. The limited partners
can’t lose more than what they put into the company, but benefit from
income, capital gains, and tax benefits. The general partner makes a percentage of the capital gains and income.
A corporation is a business entity that exists completely on its own, as an
individual does. Corporations protect their employees, shareholders, and
partners’ assets from lawsuit by making the corporation’s assets liable, not
the assets of the people who run the corporation. Corporations can own
property, incur debt, sue, or be sued.
A limited liability company (LLC) is a hybrid of a partnership and a
corporation that shields its owners from personal liability, and gains
and losses bypass the LLC directly to the owners without being taxed.
The LLC is taxed as a partnership while offering the protection of a
A joint venture is a partnership between two companies wanting to do
business together. The principle of a joint venture is similar to that of a
partnership, although instead of people partnering, it’s other business
entities partnering.
A nonprofit company is an organization whose intentions are for noncommercial purposes only. Nonprofit companies require a lengthy application process and can be eligible for grants and other funding sources
not normally available to for-profit entities.
Most upstart production companies choose the LLC, or limited liability
company, because it offers the needed protection and tax benefits for movie
When forming a company, consider the following:
Have a good corporate attorney draw up the
paperwork. It is possible to file application
papers yourself, but it can be a complicated
process for the uninitiated. Generally, for a
few hundred dollars, an attorney will file all
applications and ensure that the business is
properly set up.
■ Open bank accounts in the company’s name
and specify who in the company is able to
write checks.
■ Open a checking account specifically for the
film production to keep budget funds separate
from your personal accounts. Keep the account
strictly balanced.
Open an escrow account, which is a neutral, monitored bank account for
the investors’ money, ensuring that the money is properly managed and
dispersed at the correct time and place. The escrow account is managed
by an escrow holder or agent who follows the agreement signed by the
production company and the investors. An escrow account also protects
the investors by prohibiting any inappropriate access to the account.
If the project is large enough and the entire cast and crew is being paid,
consider hiring a payroll company to handle disbursements of
Approach an accountant or bookkeeper to assist with the handling of money
for the production.
At this point, you’ve broken down the script, developed a rough budget, and
secured the financing for your movie. One way of keeping the movie on budget
is to keep the money carefully organized, so every penny is accounted for.
Only the line producer or unit production manager should have the
ability to write checks. In the independent world, only the producer
should have this ability. This shifts the burden of accountability onto the
shoulders of one person.
Keep all receipts. As is the case with all businesses, receipts are necessary
to maintain a balanced budget, track the spending of the budget, and
maintain detailed records for tax purposes. Remember that you need to
be able to prove each and every purchase to deduct it from you or your
business’s income.
Purchase an accounting program to track expenses and maintain a balanced checking account. Software solutions will make printing reports and
filing taxes much easier than keeping handwritten spreadsheets.
If you’re in the United States, issue W-9 forms to every paid employee.
You are legally obligated to report any payments to individuals above
$600 to the IRS. Each cast and crew member
with a paycheck greater than $600 must fill
out a W-9 form.
Keep petty cash on hand, and keep careful
track of who has been given money by
signing out dollar amounts and putting
receipts in the petty cash bag. Make sure the
total amount balances out at the end of
each day.
Below are listed the most common line items for
a movie budget. Use this list to help you when
calculating your costs.
For help, contact a line producer to break down the script and determine the
Story and other rights
Rights and expenses
Continuity and treatment
Optioning screenplay
Outline/treatment/first draft
Xerox/photocopy script, runners
to deliver
Story editors and consultants
Other charges
Script timing
Direction and supervision
Executive producers
Associate producers
Dialog directors
Casting director
Other charges
Cast—day players—stunts
Supporting cast
Celebrity cameos
Day players
Gorgeous extras
Stunt players
Stunt gaffer/stuntmen/
Stunt adjustments
Overtime, looping, and other
Travel and living expenses
Travel and living expenses
Out-of-state flights/trips
Room/board per diem
Executive travel
Executive per diem
Production staff
Production manager
Unit manager
First assistant directors
Second assistant directors
Script supervisors
Location auditor
Payroll service organization
Technical advisors
3D consultant
Production secretary
Additional hire
Production assistants
Extra talent
Extras and stand-ins
Interviews and transportation
Atmosphere cars
Casting fees—extras
Other charges
Art direction
Production designer
Art director
Assistant art director
Set construction coordinator
Set designers
Model makers
Sketch artists
Set estimators
Set construction
Set construction—materials
Set striking
Property: operations and
Set operations
Property master
Assistant property master
Animal handlers/trainers
Ammunition and explosives
Picture vehicles—purchases
Picture vehicles—rentals
Repairs and damages
Other charges
Repair/replace damages
First aid
Other charges
Special effects foreman
Other effects men
Rigging—effects and explosives
Other department labor
Set dressing: operation and
Set decorator
Swing gang
Manufacturing labor
Costume designer
Local labor
Wardrobe manufacturing
Wardrobe purchases
Wardrobe rentals
Wardrobe cleaning
Wardrobe damages
Other charges
Makeup and hairdressing
Makeup supervisor
Hair stylists
Body makeup
Hair pieces—purchases
Hair pieces—rentals
Other charges
Electric rigging: operations
and strike
Lighting shooting company
Best boy
Lamp and arc rentals
Globes and expendables
Generator rentals
Other charges
Camera operations
Director of photography
Camera shooting crew
Other charges
Vehicle rental
Dressing room rentals
Repairs and maintenance
Transportation taxes and
Mileage allowance
Special equipment purchases
and rentals
Other charges
Transportation fares
Hotels, motels, etc.
Site rentals
Office equipment rentals
Shipping, stationary, postage
Courtesy payments
Custom fees, duties, etc.
Export taxes
Film shipment
Foreign travel permits
Flight insurance
Location scouting
Secretaries and typists
Location contact
Government censors
Policeman, watchmen, firemen
Other charges
Production film and
Picture negative
Film processing
Special laboratory work
Stills—negative and laboratory
Sound transfers dallies
Other charges
Stage facilities
Studio stage rental
Distant location stage rental
Test stage rental
Additional studio facilities
Studio personnel required
Process—rear projection
Other charges
Second unit: miniatures,
special effects
Production staff
Extra talent
Set construction
Set striking
Set operations
Set dressing
Men’s wardrobe
Women’s wardrobe
Makeup and hairdressing
Special effects
Other charges
Postproduction sound
Other charges
Fringe benefits
ADR editor
Sound effects editor
Music editor
Film coding
Projection (production
Projection location
Film messenger
Cutting rooms
Equipment rentals
Video transfers
Preview expense
Other charges
Coaches, vocal instructors
Singers, chorus
Labor, moving instruments
Synchronization license (from
Recording rights
Music reuse fees
Special instrument rental
Other charges
ADR facilities
Foley facilities
Temporary dub
Magnetic stock
Optical track negative—stock
and transfer
Other purchases
Other charges
Postproduction film and lab
Reprints—one light color
Black and white reversal work
Negative cutting
Answer print
Protective master positives
Optical effects
Develop sound track negative
Process plates
Stock footage
Video cassette
16 mm release print
Shipping charges
Sales tax
Other charges
Main and end titles
Main and end titles
Foreign textless version
Publicity firm fee
Unit publicist
Negatives, prints, supplies
Production publicity costs
Other charges
Cast insurance
Negative insurance
Errors and omissions
Faulty raw stock and camera
Worker’s compensation
Local insurance requirements
Miscellaneous equipment
Comprehensive liability
Property damage liability
Other charges
Local meals
MPAA rating fee
Dialog continuities
Office supplies
Production servicing
Other charges
Fees and charges
Accounting fee
Legal fee
Other charges
Deferment breakdown
Printing and copying
Want more tips on how to
develop an accurate budget?
Check out the budgeting
module at www.powerfilmmaking.com. Listen as Hollywood 1st Assistant Directors
Julia Lennon and Matthew
Feitshans guide you through
every step. Then, download
budget templates you can use
for your own projects!
i. Line the script by
marking every
mention of a
character, prop,
wardrobe, and
so on.
iii. Determine the number of
shooting days by factoring in
actor, location and equipment
availability, budget limitations,
and script requirements.
v. Adjust the schedule as
the script is updated,
scenes are added and
deleted, and as resource
availability changes.
vii. Generate and distribute contact lists
and call sheets.
ii. Transfer the
marked information to a scene
breakdown sheet,
using one sheet
per scene.
iv. Generate a daily schedule. Account for departmental requirements, set-up time, company
moves, special effects, and
meal requirements.
vi. Finalize and
distribute the
schedule to the
cast and crew.
viii. Update the schedule
throughout production
as the script changes
and outside factors
influence shooting
dates and times.
Believe it or not, this is the phase of the process in which most independent
movies start to fall apart. Projects usually fail because they are not properly
organized in preproduction, a problem that doesn’t become apparent until
production begins.
Even though the following steps may seem extraneous, you’ll be really happy
that you went through the effort when the production runs smoothly. DO NOT
The first step in preproduction is to analyze the script and begin making lists
of every single element you need to start gathering. This process, called “breaking down the script,” involves combing through the script and identifying every
prop, location, character; every instance of extras; and every vehicle, stunt,
animal, or any other person, place, or thing that needs to be acquired. Making
these lists is the first step toward developing the production schedule.
Let’s start at the beginning. Print out a copy of
the script, get 10–12 different-colored markers,
and comb through each page of the script and
mark each instance of the following categories:
Actors—mark in
Props—mark in
Stunts—mark in
mark in pink
Special equipment—
draw a box around
every instance
Extras—mark in
every instance
Special effects—
mark in blue
mark an asterisk
Sound effects/with
music—mark in
On big-budget Hollywood movies, the first
assistant director usually performs this task.
On independent movies, the producer usually
lines the script if there is no first assistant
The next step is to print out a stack of blank scene breakdown sheets. The scene
breakdown sheet is broken down into a grid with one square designated for
each category. Start at the beginning of the script and copy each marked item
on the script to its corresponding category on the breakdown sheet, using one
breakdown sheet per scene. If the script has 32 scenes, you will end up with 32
scene breakdown sheets.
As a way of helping keep the breakdown sheets and scenes organized, use multicolored paper to help differentiate between interior and exterior scenes and
day and night scenes.
Day interior—white paper
Day exterior—yellow paper
Night interior—blue paper
Night exterior—green paper
Note that every scene breakdown page has a space for the scene number,
whether the scene is an interior (INT) or exterior (EXT) scene, a brief description
of the scene, whether the scene takes place during the day or night, and the
length of the scene in the script (always measured in increments of 1/8 of a
page . . . for example, a scene that is a page and a half would be marked as 14/8
Lined script.
Add additional prop, wardrobe, and extra information to the breakdown sheets
even though the script may not directly mention them. For example, in a scene
that takes place in a car repair shop, even though the script may mention only
the mechanic and the wrench he is holding, describe any additional wardrobe
requirements like mechanics uniforms or set-dressing elements like tools, an
air compressor, and work lights. The purpose of a breakdown sheet is to have
as complete a list as possible of all the elements needed to film each scene in
the movie, so the crew can look at the breakdown sheet and gather everything
Once complete, the finished scene breakdown forms form the “bible,” which
should be copied and distributed to the head of each department. If the
script changes, be sure to update immediately and issue a new scene update
The third step toward building the shooting schedule is to determine how many
days it is going to take to shoot the movie. The number of shooting days and
the time frame for the production are dependent on a number of factors.
Budget. The biggest determining factor in calculating the number of
shooting days is how many days you can afford to shoot. Knowing how
many crew members are needed, their day rates, the cost of equipment
rental, the cost of hiring actors, the cost of craft services and catering, the
location costs, and a number of other factors may limit the number of
days in production. It’s not uncommon for low-budget features to be shot
in 10 or 12 days with a slimmed-down crew.
Actor availability. If you have a name actor, your production schedule
may have to accommodate the actor’s schedule. Be sure to work closely
with the actor’s agent or manager before locking in a schedule. It’s not
uncommon for productions to be placed on hold until even a few days
before shooting is scheduled to begin because the actor hasn’t
Location availability. Do the locations have restricted hours of shooting,
limited hours for production, or other schedule conflicts you may need
to schedule around?
Equipment availability. If other productions are shooting in your area,
will equipment availability be an issue? Consider scheduling your shoot
so it doesn’t coincide with other projects that may be shooting at the same
Weather. Will the production need to be scheduled during a certain
season? Would adverse weather affect the shooting schedule? How likely
is the shooting area to be affected by changing weather?
Determining the number of shooting days can be tricky and is largely based on
the experiences a first assistant director has had on set in the past. Be careful
Scene breakdown.
not to make the schedule overly ambitious, because if you begin
falling behind, it’s extremely difficult to catch up, scenes will need
to be cut, and the quality of the movie will be compromised. Some
tips to keep in mind when scheduling:
Line the Script
Using different color markers,
mark every category in every
Hollywood movies shoot one to three pages of the script per
Scene Breakdown Sheet
shooting day. Most independent movies must shoot upward
Transfer each category to a scene
of five or six pages per day because of budget restrictions.
breakdown form, adding as much
information as possible.
Avoid scheduling more than six pages per day or the production value will begin to suffer. Three to five pages per day is
a comfortable amount, allowing the director and actors time
Determine the Number of
to work and giving the director of photography and other
Shooting Days
Consider factors such as the
department heads time to do their jobs properly. The greater
budget, location, actor and
the number of pages, the faster the crew has to work, and
equipment availability.
the sloppier the work becomes.
When calculating the number of pages per day, look at the
level of complexity in shooting each scene. A three-page
Produce the Daily Schedule
Using a production board,
dialog scene between two characters in a restaurant can be
determine the most logical order
shot much faster than three pages of an FBI agent combing
to shoot scenes in each day.
through a building in search of a bomb. The various location
changes, camera setups, and lighting setups will take much
more time. Consider the number of setups and look at the
Finalize the Schedule
director’s storyboards to determine how much coverage is
Once complete, copy and
needed for each scene. Remember that simple 90-page scripts
distribute to the crew and
continue preproduction.
with limited cast and locations are easier and cheaper to
Allow six to eight weeks for the rest of preproduction before
the first day of shooting. This will allow enough time to hire
Contact List and Call Sheet
Assemble and distribute a contact
the cast and crew, rehearse with actors, assemble equipment,
list and generate a call sheet for
dress locations, gather props and wardrobe, and attend to
each shooting day.
all the other details prior to shooting.
Schedule as many consecutive days as possible. It’s easier for
Scheduling flow chart.
cast and crew members to commit to “every weekend in
July” or “the next eight days” than to scattered production dates over a
long period of time. Keeping the schedule tight maintains the pace of the
production and increases camaraderie among the cast and crew.
One of the biggest problems independent producers encounter is writing a
script that requires more resources to produce than are available. It is possible
to shoot a high-quality feature film in 12 days if you obey the following
Minimize the number of locations. Choose a script that can be shot in
one or two locations. A horror film that takes place in one house. A
romantic comedy that takes place in an apartment and a coffee shop. If
you have multiple locations, there needs to be time allotted for the
crew to relocate from one to another, time to load and unload equipment
each day, time to dress and restore each set, and time to light each
■ Minimize camera setups. Shoot each scene with a master shot, close-ups
of each actor, and an insert shot. Eliminate any complicated camera moves
and put the camera on a tripod or handheld. Dolly, crane, jib, and steadicam moves require a lot of time to set up, rehearse, and break down.
■ Work with a professional crew. Although they may work for free, film
students, actors who haven’t memorized their lines, and first-time directors usually take more time to shoot the same scene and may require
added shooting days.
■ Minimal number of characters. Choose a script with a small number of
actors and no extras, no public scenes, and minimal wardrobe changes.
■ Shoot inside. Interior locations guarantee a degree of control and protect
the production schedule from weather issues.
■ Avoid special effects. Avoid stunts, special effects,
pyrotechnics, firearms, and makeup prosthetics.
For more information on how
■ Avoid elaborate elements. Scenes that incorto schedule a movie properly, tips and
porate elements beyond the control of the
tricks from Hollywood first assistant
production team, weather, crowd scenes,
directors, and sample movie schedules
shooting in public spaces, working with
and scheduling templates, check out the
animals or children, stunts, pyrotechnics,
Scheduling modules at www.
limited location access, makeup prosthetics,
and incorporating special effects can increase
time requirements in the schedule.
After you’ve determined the number of shooting days, it’s now time to figure
out what scenes to shoot during those days. With so many variables to consider
like location availability, actor availability, and multiple scenes within the script
that take place in the same location, production boards are used to help simplify
the process.
A production board is made up of a series of ½-inch multicolored strips of
paper that each contain the information written on the scene breakdown sheets.
Each strip represents one scene and the colors represent:
Yellow strips—day exterior
White strips—day interior
Green strips—night exterior
Blue strips—night interior
Black and white strips—day dividers
Solid black strips—week dividers
Referring to the scene breakdown sheets, create a traditional production board
(or use a scheduling software program like www.filmmakersoftware.com to make
one electronically) by writing the scene number, a brief scene description, the
characters involved in each scene, the number of pages, the time of day, the loca-
tion, and a description of the scene on each strip of paper. Scenes with the same
actor, time of day, and location can be placed on the same strip.
Arrange and rearrange the strips to figure out the most logical way to shoot the
scenes within each production day. Try to schedule scenes shot in the same
location on the same day, and place scenes with the same actors together.
Remember that because movies are not shot from the beginning of the story to
the end, you can group locations together, or the days an actor is shooting
together, to maximize the efficiency of the shoot. Use a black strip to identify
the end of each day of production.
It’s easier to schedule a day if you know how many camera setups the
director wants in each scene. The director should provide this information
to the first assistant director prior to scheduling each day.
Schedule at least 12 hours between consecutive shooting days. If you’re
working with a union crew, cutting into 12 hours will result in overtime
Production board.
Sample strips from the Time and Again production schedule.
and penalty fees. If you have SAG actors, they are limited to 8 hours on
set per day. Be sure to check union requirements when scheduling.
ALWAYS allow time for the cast and crew to eat. Schedule a major meal
every six hours. If call time is 6 AM, then lunch needs to be served at noon.
Assuming an hour is scheduled for lunch, the next six-hour time block
begins at 1 PM. Dinner should be served at 7 PM.
If the crew has to perform a “company move” or change location during
the day, be sure to allow ample time for striking the set, moving personnel
and equipment to the new location, and setting the equipment up again.
Allow more time if the crew is inexperienced.
Never underestimate the amount of time it will take to shoot a scene.
Always plan for more time on set, and if there is a company move from
one location to another in the same day, make sure enough time is allotted for the move.
When filming exterior scenes, always have a backup interior scene to shoot
if it rains or the weather prohibits filming. With the entire cast and crew
present, don’t waste a day just because of bad weather—shoot another
Allow more time to shoot scenes early in the day. Production is always
slower early on and picks up pace.
If possible, shoot any establishing shots, nondescript insert shots, and
special effects shots after you complete principal photography (shooting
any shots that involve the main actors).
The preproduction process can be pretty frustrating because of the number of different
tasks you have to juggle as a producer. After I wrote Time and Again, I had about six
weeks of preproduction, so I had very little time to get everything ready. The trick I found
to work is that I started looking for locations immediately, because the entire schedule
hinges on their availability. During the same time, I would stop and visit thrift shops and
antique stores to collect props and wardrobe after work each day, storing them in boxes
at home until the shoot. I was also calling prospective crew members and organizing the
auditions, while preparing my application for production insurance and contacting the city
for shooting permits.
The secret to success is to multitask and understand that EVERYTHING WILL TAKE
LONGER THAN YOU INITIALLY THINK. Remember that preproduction isn’t difficult, it’s
keeping the hundreds of small tasks organized that is the challenge.
I always keep a Dry Erase board by my desk where I can keep track of all the small
details I need to accomplish, checking off the ones that are finished, and always adding
new ones.
Although the chapters in the Preproduction unit are in a certain order, in reality, you will
have to be working on each of these tasks at the same time. It can be a daunting task,
but by being prepared and organized now, you should have a shoot that runs smoothly
and without too many problems.
The rough shooting schedule for Time and Again.
Be aware of any city or location events that could affect your production
days, including holidays, fund-raisers, parades, or even road maintenance.
Always check your production dates to make sure they don’t conflict with
any other function.
Once you organize the production strips into the most logical order and have
a shooting schedule, it’s time to move to the next step of preproduction.
Begin scouting locations.
Begin auditioning actors.
Begin assembling props and wardrobe.
Begin seeking qualified crew members.
Approach equipment rental houses for camera, lighting, and grip
Try to secure locations before you schedule the cast and crew. With locked
production dates, you can confirm the number of days each cast and crew
member needs to dedicate to the production, making it easier for them to
commit to the project. If locations are NOT secured and you try to lock cast
and crew members for dates that keep changing, you will appear unprofessional
and stand to lose the commitment from those volunteering their time.
Even though the schedule has been created in preproduction, it will always
change and need to be updated throughout production. Two major documents
that need to created, updated, and circulated are the contact list and call
Contact list
Assemble a contact list of each vendor, actor, and crew member and distribute
to everyone on the project. Include phone numbers, email addresses, and physical addresses and keep the information updated frequently.
If working with a well-known actor, do not distribute his or her personal
contact information on the contact sheet; rather use his or her agent’s
contact information.
Circulate cast and crew phone lists as soon as possible. Make sure everyone on the production knows how to reach everyone else.
Keep the contact list updated and distribute the list not only on paper,
but also by email to everyone in the cast and crew.
Call sheets
Each actor and crew member needs to know where the location is for the next
shooting day, the address, and the time he or she needs to be on set, as well as
Front page of a call sheet.
any information pertinent to the day. This information is relayed on a form
called a call sheet.
The second assistant director (AD) compiles call sheets for the next day, with
input from department heads. Once approved by the line producer, the second
AD distributes the call sheets to each cast and crew member before he or she
leaves the set. Call sheets are updated to reflect overtime, extended turn-around
time, and any last-minute changes. The second AD also emails the call sheets
to everyone on the production.
Call sheets include:
The name of the movie
The date of production
Day x of y days (day 12 of 16 days)
Location of the shoot, including address and phone number
Parking information: where to park and where not to park, including
restrictions and time limits
Contact information for key crew positions
Suggested dress code (rain gear, cold weather, and so on)
Scenes scheduled to be shot for the day as well as a brief five- to ten-word
description of each scene
Call times denoting what times cast and crew members need to arrive
on set. The call times can be different for various departments depending
on how much work they need to do before the day begins. For
䊊 Hair/makeup—is there any special-effects makeup that needs to be
applied? Or does the hair stylist need to arrive early to create 1950s
䊊 Grip/lighting
䊊 Special effects department
䊊 Stunts
Rough schedule for the day
䊊 Call times for main crew
䊊 Makeup and wardrobe times
䊊 Scenes to be shot
䊊 Travel time if there is a company move from one location to another
䊊 Breaks, including meals
䊊 Estimated wrap time
Weather forecast for the day of production
Directions and contact information for the nearest hospital
Directions and contact information for the nearest police station
Information on equipment to be used
Contact information for the production company
Vendors (companies from which equipment/services are being rented)
When determining what time each department needs to arrive the next day,
consider the following:
When making the call sheet, determine whether actors need to arrive early
for makeup, hair, or wardrobe and schedule the makeup, hair, and wardrobe departments accordingly.
One of the biggest problems on independent film sets is that cast
and crew members are scheduled to be on set all day, even if not needed.
This only tires and frustrates the cast and crew, reducing the morale
on set. Figure out which scenes are being filmed at what point during
the day and schedule the necessary people to arrive half an hour before
they are needed, unless special requirements require them to arrive
Be sure to create a detailed map with directions to the location from the
north, south, east, and west. Drive the directions before you pass them
out to the cast and crew to eliminate the possibility of errors.
Always include the name of a contact person and phone number on the
call sheet in the event that cast or crew members get lost en route to
the set.
If traveling from a hotel or if cast and crew members live close to each
other, consider carpooling to minimize the number of cars parked at the
Include any parking permits that need to be posted on production vehicles
along with the call sheet, if available. All parking details must be handled
before the day of production.
Always bring extra copies of the script, call sheets, deal memos, and all
production paperwork on set. Cast and crew members, and even the director, will invariably forget theirs.
Knowing how to properly
schedule a production can
mean the difference between
an on-time, on-budget movie
and a disaster. Learn from
working Hollywood pros as
they walk you through the
scheduling process.
i. Determine the insurance
needs of the production.
iii. Fill out an insurance application
and wait for approval.
ii. Research and select
a qualified insurance
iv. Once insurance is secured, be
prepared with Certificates of
Insurance when approaching
locations and equipment rental
Anything can happen on a movie set: equipment can be stolen, cast or crew
members can be hurt, or locations can be damaged. What happens if a light
falls and burns the carpet or a grip trips and sprains an ankle? In each of these
instances, you, the filmmaker, are personally liable. With the high costs of
equipment replacement or repair, medical costs, and lawsuits, it is essential to
have production insurance. In most instances, the production will be required
to provide proof of insurance when you rent equipment or use a location.
There are several types of production insurance to choose from and it is best to
discuss your needs with a qualified insurance company.
General liability insurance
The most common type of insurance policy, general liability insurance protects
you and your production in the event of property damage and claims for personal injury on set. The minimum accepted liability policy would cover you up
to $1,000,000, although several factors will determine how much coverage the
policy needs. For example:
Will you be staging any stunts or other potentially hazardous activities
that increase the risk of injury to cast or crew?
Will you be shooting on or around water?
Will you be using pyrotechnics, squibs, or explosives?
Does your location add additional danger, such as shooting near a cliff
or in an airplane?
Cast insurance
Cast insurance reimburses the production company for certain expenses incurred
due to the death of, illness or accident to an insured artist or director.
Film and video tape insurance
Especially important when shooting film, this policy covers you if the film is
ruined at the lab, there is a problem with the film stock, the film is lost in transit,
and so on. The insurance will provide necessary funds to reshoot the footage.
Equipment insurance
This protects your equipment from theft and damage. Most production companies will require that you provide proof of coverage before they will rent you
equipment. Some rental houses require that you obtain your own insurance,
but others will add insurance for an additional fee. Be sure to check with the
rental company before you arrive to pick up gear.
Worker’s compensation
Worker’s compensation covers both employees and volunteers who work for
you should they be injured on the job. This insurance is calculated as a base
percentage of the payroll and is required by state law.
Errors and omissions insurance
This insurance is generally needed only when a film is picked up for distribution. Distributors do not want to be liable for any legal issues you neglected to
resolve. Errors and omissions insurance (or E&O for short) protects both you
and the distributor from copyright infringement lawsuits, extras who may not
have signed a release form and later sue, or placement of products in the film
that you did not get permission to use. Typically, the E&O company will review
all your documentation and, by awarding this insurance, confirms that your
production has all legal documents in order and assumes responsibility should
a law suit arise.
Purchase insurance policies only for the time period you need them. If
you require a short-term policy, it may be cheaper to buy coverage for a
week rather than for one day. If you plan on shooting often during the
year, it may be even cheaper to purchase a year-long policy instead of on
an as-needed basis.
Some locations and rental facilities require that they be listed as “additionally insured” on the policy, which ensures that they are recognized and
covered by the insurance agency should a problem occur.
Be prepared to present a certificate of insurance when approaching a location or rental house. Most will require that you have insurance and the
certificate is the proof. To obtain the certificate, simply call the insurance
agency and request a copy.
Be honest with the insurance agency about what you’re planning on doing
on set. If you’re using pyrotechnics, tell them. While this will raise your
premium, the insurance policy WILL cover you should an accident occur.
If, for example, you tell them that the entire film will be shot on land
and you then do a scene in a boat on the ocean and someone is injured,
then insurance company will decline to cover the
When choosing an insurance company,
make sure they provide production insurFor more information on production
ance. Homeowner’s insurance is not
insurance, including forms, applications,
enough and will not cover all incidents
and a video on what you really need to
that occur on set. In addition, homeknow, check out the Insurance module
owner’s insurance covers ONLY the
at www.powerfilmmaking.com.
owner’s home and will not protect the production outside of the home.
Insurance is an expensive and sometimes confusing aspect of moviemaking.
When confronted with the list of potential insurance packages understand that
there are four types of insurance every production needs to purchase:
General liability insurance. Purchase a $1,000,000 general liability
policy. Most locations will require at least this amount of coverage,
although use of stunts, pyrotechnics, or any other factors outside of what
the general policy covers will require an increase in coverage. A one-year,
$1,000,000 general liability policy in Los Angeles costs around $2150.
This premium may change depending on the city in which you live.
Although there are short-term policies available, the year-long is the most
Equipment insurance. Purchase the amount needed to cover the cost of
replacement of all the equipment on set. If you’re shooting with $100,000
worth of equipment, then purchase a $100,000 equipment insurance
policy. All camera and equipment rental facilities will require you to
provide proof of equipment insurance before giving you the gear.
Worker’s compensation. Any employer must, by law, have worker’s comp
insurance to cover any injuries to cast and crew on set.
Errors and omissions insurance. Usually purchased when a film is about
to be picked up by a domestic distributor, E&O insurance may be paid
for by the distributor.
Certificate of insurance.
When securing a location or renting equipment, you may need to provide proof
that the production is insured. The official form that is used is called a “certificate of insurance”. You can obtain one for free simply by calling your insurance
company and requesting a certificate of insurance. They will ask you the name,
address, and phone number of the company or individual you are providing
the certificate to and whether you want that company or person to be listed as
additionally insured. This will place their name on the policy, so in the event
of a claim, they can call it in and collect for themselves.
While insurance is not the most glamourous part of making a movie,
it is one of the most important. Production insurance specialist Winnie Wong simplifies the world of production insurance and helps you
understand what you really need.
Download insurance applications, simple guides
to insurance, and see what
types of policies are available.
Simply visit www.powerfilmmaking.com and click
on the insurance module.
i. Make a list
of locations
required by
the story.
iii. Visit each potential
location to make
sure both artistic
and technical
needs are met.
v. Make sure there
are no other public
events or activities
that may interfere
with your shooting
vii. Perform a technical walk-through
with all department
heads to work out
artistic and logistical
ii. Contact the local
film commission
or a location scout
to assist in finding
potential locations.
iv. Contact local authorities to
secure required permits. Work
with police and fire officials if
ix. Return the
location to the
same condition
as when you
found it.
vi. Provide a Certificate
of Insurance and
sign a location
agreement with the
Movies can be filmed either on a soundstage, where sets are constructed and
the environment is completely controlled, or at an existing location that meets
or can be altered to meet, the requirements of the story. Shooting on location
can add to the realism of the scene, but can also increase costs and complicate
Shooting on location presents innumerable challenges that, if unaddressed, can
significantly hinder the production process. Remember that locations were built
to be functional, not to serve as movie sets, so they often need to be altered to
fit the needs of the production. Find locations that require minimal alterations
to save money on set construction or dressing.
Scouting locations is the process of researching and looking for places that fit
the look of your movie. Convincing a location owner to allow you to shoot on
viii. Treat the
location with
respect during
his property is a lot like selling a product or
service in that you have to persuade the owner
to accept the inconvenience of having a movie
crew present for little or no money. The trick is
to sell the story and vision behind the project.
Make the owner feel like he is a valuable part of
the production process and that his contributions will help make the project successful.
We chose to shoot the
majority of the movie in
the small towns of
Chardon and Chagrin
Falls, Ohio. When we
went looking for the
porch location for when
Bobby fixes the bike, we
stumbled across a
quaint street and simply
asked a number of
homeowners if we could
shoot on their porch.
The first person we
asked said yes, and
their porch is now
In high-production cities like Los Angeles and
New York, the frequency of big-budget movie
and television show productions has raised location owners’ awareness of location fees, and it’s
not uncommon for studios to pay thousands, if
not tens of thousands, of dollars a day for the
use of a location. This is problematic when an
independent, low-budget movie producer asks to use the same location. If you
can’t write a check, then the owner will probably decline your request.
Once secret to finding cheap locations is to get out of the major cities into the
suburbs where movie production isn’t as common. The novelty of having a
movie made is still an enticing factor that may sway an owner to allow you to
When I produced Time and Again, I deliberately chose to shoot in the towns of
Chardon and Chagrin Falls in Ohio, neither of which had been often used for
film productions. We received a warm reception not only from the residents
and businesses, but also from the mayors and city councils of each city. I was
able to secure locations such as street corners, the Town Square, restaurants,
parks, and even prisons for free, which added extraordinary production value
to the movie.
Some states even offer tax incentives and rebates for productions that shoot in
their state. Contact the film commission in each state for more information.
Before you begin searching for prospective locations, list all the locations mentioned the script, whether they are interior or exterior, and whether the scene
needs to be shot during the day or at night. Once the list is complete, you can
begin the search.
As you begin your search for locations to use in the movie, consider the following tips:
Contact the local film commission and send them the list of locations
you’re looking for. Many film commissions have a file full of productionfriendly locations they can direct you to, complete with contact
Patronize businesses you’re considering shooting at. Use this as an opportunity to get to know the owner so that when you approach her with the
request to shoot, you’re not walking in cold off the street.
Working with the local theater guild not only allowed us access to the theater as a location, but also
attracted hundreds of local actors to be extras in the movie.
Locations are vital to providing a realistic backdrop for the characters, especially in
producing a period movie like Time and Again.
We used numerous locations, from diners and trailers to prisons and town streets,
locations that we never paid a penny for, but were allowed to use legally.
The secret to securing locations is to establish a relationship with the owner of the
location and show that you are serious and your production is organized and
When we needed a 1950s street for the stickball scene, I looked at several towns before
we found Chagrin Falls, Ohio . . . a quaint country town with the charm and appeal the
story needed.
I spent several hours looking at streets and houses trying to find not only the look I
wanted, but also an area that would work logistically. The area we selected was within
an eighth of a mile of a municipal parking lot, which the local residents could use to park
their cars, allowing us to populate their driveways with our 1950s period cars. Also, there
was a clean shot at either end of the street, so I couldn’t see modern buildings or
freeways from the set.
After I drew up a map of the area, I called city hall and asked to speak with the mayor.
She was very polite, listened to my request, and asked me to submit a proposal.
Because I had already done the location scout, I had all the information I needed, not
only where I wanted to shoot, but how the logistics could be worked out.
The proposal went well and we were approved for the shoot, but I was asked to pay a
$1000 location fee to shoot. Knowing that that was half the budget, I called the mayor
and explained to her that we weren’t a Hollywood production, but independent
filmmakers making a no-budget movie. All of our locations, props, and wardrobe were
donated and the cast and crew were all local volunteers. Once she understood this, she
reconsidered and waived the location fee.
We then approached the police chief with our request and began the process of working
with the local officials to coordinate the closure of four city blocks for the shoot.
When the day of the shoot arrived, everything worked like clockwork and the shoot went
without incident.
We couldn’t have done it without the help of the Chagrin Falls officials who were
exceptionally helpful and accommodating. The moral of the story is that we were able to
shut down four residential blocks with the assistance of local officials for free, just by
■ Always scout and secure the locations in
writing BEFORE scheduling cast and crew
members. Determining the shooting schedule is
largely dependent on location availability and
it’s difficult to reschedule people if a location
falls though. Location availability will often
affect the production schedule.
Location scouting tips
When scouting locations, bring a digital camera,
flashlight, tape measure, electrical outlet tester
(available from a hardware store for $5), business cards, a notebook, and a pencil.
■ Take pictures or videotape the location during
the scout so you can reference it later in preproduction meetings.
Check for parking availability: are you permitted to use parking lots? Are
there restrictions on parking on the street? What days are designated for
street cleaning? Will your parking affect the neighboring residents or businesses? Are certain streets permit-only parking past a certain time? Do you
need the police to reserved metered spaces? When issuing call sheets, be
sure to include parking restrictions.
I’m directing Brian in a
cell of the county jail,
which we procured for
free, simply by asking.
Note where and when the sun rises and sets and where on the location it
shines throughout the day. Factor in the sun’s position when scheduling
the shooting schedule.
Check to see where you can load equipment into the location. Is there a
loading dock or cargo elevators you can use? If you’re using the regular
elevators, do you need protective padding for the walls or floor?
Determine where you can stage the equipment during the shoot so that
it is close to the set yet secure.
Film London
Telephone: +44 207 613 7676
Where can you park the production vehicles? Cast and crew vehicles?
Equipment trucks? Is the area secure or do you need to hire a security
guard or assign a production assistant to watch the vehicles?
Check the breaker box to determine the number of circuits and the electrical load that can be drawn from each. If you cannot identify all the outlets
or circuits, consult the building manager or maintenance department for
assistance in finding other breaker boxes. Map out the circuits to determine power load.
Check for anything that may make noise and figure out how to disable it,
especially refrigerators and air conditioning units. When turning off a
refrigerator, put your keys inside to remind you to turn it back on at the
end of the day.
Locate the restrooms. If you are shooting in a park or an area without
restroom facilities, identify a location to place a portable toilet.
Determine where you can set up craft services and catering and determine
refrigeration, heating, and power requirements.
Measure the room, including ceiling height and door width (can the dolly
track fit in the door?). Note the number of windows and doors and what
the switches on the wall control.
Listen for outside sounds such as nearby airports; trains; freeways; sirens
from hospitals, police or fire stations, and schools that may disrupt the
audio. List the times throughout the day that are the busiest, for example,
when school lets out, or when air traffic stops for the night. Understanding
these schedules will help plan the shooting schedule to compensate for
these uncontrollable audio sources.
If shooting in a public area, make sure that precautions are taken to secure
the set. Place warning signs around the perimeter notifying the public of
the shoot. Use production assistants to control pedestrian traffic flow, and
use caution tape to close off restricted areas. Work closely with the authori-
We shot at a private
residence and took
special care of the
property by cleaning up
after ourselves, being
mindful of where we
parked our vehicles, and
involving the location
owners in our
ties or location owner when coordinating shoots
that could potentially affect the public.
■ Make sure when shooting in a location such
as a restaurant or store that the owner is able
to close the business during the shoot. On-set
production is difficult enough. Dealing with
customers and the associated liability could
seriously affect the production.
■ Be aware of any art, photographs, posters,
logos, or any other copyrighted images on the
walls or surfaces that may need to be replaced
with approved artwork. Using copyrighted
work without permission in the movie increases
your liability and exposure to a lawsuit.
■ Check to see if you need any special permits
from the city or if you are required to have a police officer or fire marshal
present during the shoot. Many cities, especially high-production towns,
require a fire marshal on set, regardless of whether the shoot occurs on
private or public property.
Be honest and open with the location owner in terms of what you want
to do at the location, the number of people involved, parking needs,
power consumption, food usage, if any stunts or pyrotechnics will be
required, and if you need to change or move anything. It’s better to work
out the details in advance than for the location owner to arrive the day
of the shoot and be surprised by elements he didn’t expect. He would be
within his rights to kick the crew off the property.
Most locations will require that you show proof of insurance. Insurance
will protect both you and the location in the event that an accident occurs
that results in damage to the location or injury. Be prepared to discuss the
type and amount of coverage of your insurance policy.
Be sure to scout the location BEFORE you go into production. During the
scout, plan the actors’ blocking, camera positions, and lighting ideas as
well as production design, props, wardrobe, and set-dressing needs.
Bring key department heads to the location scout, such as the director of
photography, production designer, set dresser, and production sound
mixer. Listen to their input and seek to address any technical concerns
with them during the location scout.
If you approve of a location, check to see if you need further approvals
from neighbors, nearby businesses, or other entities. Some cities require
an approval form from neighboring residents and businesses.
Locate local hospitals and prepare directions and emergency information
for the cast and crew in the event of a medical emergency on set.
Locate local hotels if the location is distant. Negotiate reduced rates for
extended stays.
Confirm directions to the set and double check to make sure call sheets
and maps are correct. Do not trust online mapping web sites without
driving the directions given before the shoot.
Locations to avoid
Avoid white-walled locations like apartments, classrooms, or offices,
unless the white walls are the desired look. These locations are extremely
difficult to light and shoot in because preventing the walls from overexposing takes valuable production time. If you have total control of a
location, consider repainting the walls a light gray. The walls can be lit to
appear brighter, but under normal lighting conditions will read much
better on camera than white.
Be wary of locations with low ceilings that restrict the placement of a
microphone boom over the actors or the height at which lights can be
When the script calls for a small room, consider shooting in a larger set.
It’s easy to make a large room appear small by shooting in a corner and
creatively dressing the set. It also makes it much easer for the production
team to work by allowing room for placement of lights, camera, and
production personnel.
Avoid any locations that you cannot reasonably control during the shoot.
Important factors include shooting in public where people can trespass
on set, locations that restrict alterations or moving furniture, noisy locations, and locations that are subject to the weather.
If a location serves both the artistic and the technical needs of the production
and you and the owner agree to terms of access, payment, and time and date
of usage, then you can submit a contractual package to the owner. The package
usually includes:
Location agreement. This contract confirms the use of the location, the
dates and time of use, what parts of the location the crew is allowed to
use, parking, restroom access, craft service/catering setup location, loadin/load-out location, permission to move furniture or rearrange the location, and definition of use of pyrotechnics or stunts. The location
agreement also includes the waiver of liability, which protects the owner
in the event of an accident on set, acknowledgment of insurance, and any
special permission to use the location. Always have a signed location
agreement before scheduling and locking that location.
Certificate of insurance. This document, obtained from your insurance
company, serves as proof to the location owner that you have production
insurance. The certificate also identifies the amount of coverage and can
list the owner as additionally insured, essentially placing the owner on
the policy.
Production schedule. Give the location owner a schedule for the shooting
day so he understands what will be happening at his location. This allows
the owner to prepare and know what to expect the day of the shoot.
Once a location is secured, call the local city hall or the film commission to file
for any necessary permits.
Many cities require filmmakers to secure a permit. Sometimes free, these permits
help the local authorities coordinate with filmmakers to ensure public safety,
coordinate traffic and parking, provide necessary police and fire personnel, and
schedule public events around the shoot.
Contact city hall or the chamber of commerce of the city you are shooting
in to see what the permitting and insurance requirements are. Be sure to
begin the process at least a month before the proposed shoot date.
Although there may be a fee for the permit or a cost of hiring city officials
such as police or firemen, avoid shooting guerilla-style. Permits alert the
city of your presence and will prevent any other city services from interfering with your shoot. Besides, it is difficult to manage a production when
you’re always hiding from the police.
In many instances, shooting in public parks is free, although you still need
a permit. Be sure to contact the parks and recreation department for
Some cities may require that you hire a police officer or a fire marshal for
the duration of the shoot, especially if it involves pyrotechnics, fire, and/or
the operation of a generator. Some cities may allow you to negotiate these
rates with the individual officers.
Always carry a copy of the shooting permit with you on set at all times.
If the police visit the set, they will ask to see the permit. Have it handy to
minimize any delays to shooting. If you choose to shoot without a permit,
the police can shut down the production, issue a fine, or even arrest the
location manager or producer.
The local or state film commission may be able to assist in getting city
permits through faster or may be able to help get a discount for independent film productions. Most city governments work with filmmakers
through the film commission.
Working in a community
Many people have a rosy view of the film production industry until a production comes to their town. Trucks clogging the road, bright lights and noise at
all hours of the night, pushy production personnel, and the general inconvenience of having to work around the film crew often taint this view.
You can take steps to ensure the production experience is pleasant for both the
community and the film crew.
When approaching city council, be sure to present a professional, organized proposal of what you want to do. Include a letter of introduction,
maps and diagrams of the areas you want to shoot in, a list of the number
of people involved, insurance information, and any other materials that
would make it easier for the city to approve your request.
Letter to residents.
Letter to tenants.
If shooting exteriors, alert nearby businesses and residents in writing as
to the nature of your shoot and how it will affect them.
If you require public parking, work with the police to see if they can
reserve parking spots for your production vehicles. You may need to pay
for the revenue the parking meters could have generated for the city during
the time they were reserved for you.
Contact the local city government and find out what the process is for shooting
a movie.
Are the permits dependent on shooting on private or public property?
Do you have to pay for a city official, such as a police officer, firefighter,
or ranger, to be present?
How long does it take for the permit to be approved?
Do you have to present your case to the city council?
How much does the permit cost?
Is the permit cost dependent on activity, that is, is it more expensive to
shoot near water, use firearms, or use pyrotechnics? How about large
numbers of extras?
Shooting the windmill
Are there reduced fees for student or independent projects?
for the opening title
What are the insurance requirements to film?
How long does it take to receive the permit once the application is submitted?
Filmmakers’ code of conduct
The Los Angeles film production office has compiled the following
guidelines for all movie crews shooting on location. Abiding by
these unofficial guidelines makes it easier for productions in our
industry to shoot in communities, homes, and businesses. Consider distributing these guidelines to all crew members at the
beginning of production.
Production companies arriving on location in or near a residential neighborhood should enter the area no earlier than
the time stipulated on the permit and park one by one,
turning engines off as soon as possible. Cast and crew must
observe designated parking areas.
When production passes that identify employees are issued,
every crew member must wear the pass while at the
Moving or towing vehicles is prohibited without the express
permission of the municipal jurisdiction or the vehicle
Production vehicles may not block driveways without the express permission of the municipal jurisdiction or the driveway owner.
■ Meals must be confined to the area designated in the location agreement
or permit. Individuals must eat within the designated meal area. All trash
must be disposed of properly upon completion of the meal.
■ Removing, trimming, and or cutting of vegetation or trees is prohibited
unless approved by the owner or, in the case of parkway trees, the local
municipality and the property owner.
■ Always clean up garbage, water bottles, construction materials, food, and
paperwork at the end of the shooting day. Try to leave the location in
better condition than when you found it, and always haul your own trash
away from the location. Do not use public trash containers.
■ All signs erected or removed for filming purposes will be removed or
replaced upon completion of the use of the location, unless stipulated
otherwise by the location agreement or the permit.
■ When departing the location, all signs posted to direct the company to
the location must be removed.
■ Noise levels should be kept as low as possible. Generators should be
placed as far as practical from residential buildings. Do not let engines
run unnecessarily.
■ All members of the production company should wear clothing that conforms to good taste and common sense. Shoes and shirts must be worn
at all times.
■ Crew members must not display signs, posters, or pictures that do not
reflect common sense and good taste.
■ Cast and crew are to remain on or near the area that has been permitted.
Do not trespass onto a neighboring resident’s or merchant’s property.
■ Cast and crew must not bring guests or pets to the location, unless expressly
authorized in advance by the production company.
■ Designated smoking areas must be observed, and cigarettes must always
be extinguished in butt cans.
■ Cast and crew must refrain from using lewd or offensive
language within earshot of the general public.
■ Cast and crew vehicles parked on public streets
For more information on locations,
must adhere to all legal requirements unless
location scouting, and working with a
authorized by the film permit.
community and to see how Jason worked with
■ Parking is prohibited on both sides of public
NASA and nuclear power plants and even
streets unless specifically authorized by the
secured a free ballroom for his first feature
film, Clone, check out the Location modules
film permit.
at www.powerfilmmaking.com.
■ The company must comply with the provisions of the permit at all times.
When a production company is looking for a city to shoot in, there are several
factors the company must consider. Permits, local laws regarding film produc-
Although we didn’t work through a film commission for Time and Again, we were able to secure the support of the local
government. The police department of Chagrin Falls even gave us permission to use their 1950s police car in the film!
tion, tax incentives, and coordination between police, fire, and other city
departments will affect the budget and shooting schedule. Because the
production company may not be aware of the local regulations and procedures,
each state has set up a film commission to work with the production
In addition to state film commissions, large cities may have their own. Film
commissions serve to provide the following services to filmmakers:
Production manual. Film commissions usually produce a yearly directory
of all the film production personnel, equipment rental houses, casting
agencies, hotels, travel accommodations, and postproduction services in
the area. This directory is usually free to filmmakers and is a tremendous
resource. Get one.
Locations. Film commissions often maintain a database of thousands of
photographs of locations available in the region and can assist filmmakers
in finding and securing locations. Locations in high-production cities may
be broken up into those that are available for free or for a slight fee and
those with larger rental costs for bigger budget productions. When shooting in another state, that state’s film commission may mail location
photos to the producer to assist with finding locations.
Coordination with city services. Film commissions work with the city to
help secure permits, coordinate police and fire officials, shut down streets,
or perform any other service needed to ensure a smooth production.
Without the film commission, filmmakers would need to apply for each
of these services separately and could encounter needless delays.
Coordination with local residents and businesses. Film commissions
help the filmmaker work with local businesses and residents, especially if
production activity interferes with traffic or access to stores and businesses.
Film commissions can also help deal with local
complaints and concerns over the production.
Film commissions are responsible for increasing
film business in their state by promoting and
marketing their state’s resources to film producers. Tax breaks, free permits, and other incentives
help cities attract productions that could bring in
millions of dollars of revenue to businesses, restaurants, and hotel, not to mention the fame a
city receives from being the setting for a big Hollywood film.
Film commissions are also sensitive to independent filmmakers whose projects may not carry
Finding productionthe financial backing of a Hollywood blockfriendly locations can be
who are successful may just want to come back
a challenge, so use your
resources. Contact the
when they are Hollywood moguls, so film commissions see a low- to no-budget
film commission!
independent film as a possible investment in future business.
Contact your local film commission to arrange details for your next production.
Remember, they are a resource . . . use them.
(334) 242-4195
(907) 269-8190
(907) 269-8125
(800) 523-6695
(602) 771-1193
Film Hotline (501) 682-7676
(800) 392-2122
(860) 571-7130
(800) 441-8846
(302) 739-4271
(202) 727-6608
(800) 858-4749
(323) 860-2960
(877) 352-3456
(850) 410-4765
(303) 620-4500
(404) 962-4052
(808) 586-2570
(612) 332-6493
(800) 942-8338
(208) 334-2470
Hotline (601) 359-2112
(312) 814-3600
(317) 232-8829
(515) 242-4726
(785) 296-2178
(800) 345-6591
(502) 564-3456
(504) 736-7280
Hotline (207) 624-7851
(573) 751-9050
Hotline (406) 444-3960
(800) 228-4307
(402) 471-3746
(877) 638-3456
(702) 486-2711
(603) 271-2220
(973) 648-6279
(505) 827-9810
(212) 803-2330
Hotline (410) 767-0067
Hotline (800) 232-9227
(617) 523-8388
(800) 435-5663
(701) 328-2525
(800) 477-3456
(517) 373-0638
(614) 466-8844
(918) 584-5111
(800) 453-8824
(801) 538-8740
(503) 229-5832
(802) 828-3618
(717) 783-3456
(800) 854-6233
(804) 371-8204
(787) 758-4747 x2251
Hotline (401) 222-6666
Hotline (803) 737-3022
(800) 952-3625
(605) 773-3301
Hotline (615) 532-2770
Hotline (512) 463-7799
(206) 256-6151
(202) 727-6608
(304) 558-2200
(608) 261-8195
(800) 458-6657
(307) 777-3400
Once a location has been secured, it’s important to respect the location, owners,
neighbors, and general public while shooting. Be mindful of the behavior of
the cast and crew, keep the location clean and neat, and always make sure you
put everything back the way you found it.
Make sure set dressers take detailed photographs around the set to ensure
that if something is moved that it will be put back in it’s proper place at
the end of the shoot.
Post signs, especially in public areas, notifying passersby of your activities
and alert them that they are potentially in the shot. Consider having a
production assistant present at sidewalks to stop pedestrians temporarily
while the crew is rolling during a take and manage foot traffic safely
around the set.
If shooting in the owner’s home, place cardboard or furniture pads on the
floor to avoid dirtying or scratching the floor, especially if setting up dolly
track and heavy light stands.
Check out the Movie Contracts file on the companion disc for a printable location
agreement you can use on your own productions.
Now that you’ve read about scouting locations and choosing the proper location for
your story, follow along as Jason takes you on a location scout of the diner from Time
and Again.
Also, download letters
Jason wrote to owners of
locations he successfully
secured, location agreements, crew codes of
conduct, public notification flyers and much more.
In the Locations module,
watch how crew members
accessed a nuclear power
plant and even shot at
NASA for free for Jason’s
first feature film, Clone.
Auditioning Actors
i. Go through the script and
make a list of every character. Then write a brief 4-5
word description for each.
iii. Locate a convenient, functional
audition space
and book a date
for the auditions.
v. Conduct the first
audition. Meet with
each actor for 5
minutes and narrow
the selection down to
potential actors.
ix. Negotiate terms
and sign actor deal
memos. Deliver a
copy of the script.
vii. Use the third audition to select final
actors for the roles.
ii. Consider working
with a professional
casting director
who can assist you
in finding the best
actor for each role.
iv. Notify local actors
of the auditions
through the internet, traditional
media, or casting
vi. Conduct the second audition.
Meet with actors and narrow
down potential candidates to
2-3 actors per role.
viii. Meet with new
actors to confirm
availability, interest,
and commitment to
the project.
Auditions are the process of finding the best actor to play each role in the film.
It can sometimes be complicated, because as a director, you’re forced to select
strangers with whom you will be working for possibly months on a project.
When a movie is finished, the believability of the story hinges on the quality
of the acting, so it’s important to find actors who can convincingly play the role
while working professionally on the set.
As you begin the search for actors, avoid casting friends and family AT ALL
COSTS. It may seem like a fun idea, but you will never see true, realistic performances from your friends. Working with friends will make it difficult to focus
while you’re on set, and joking around is a great way to ruin your production.
If you want to make a Hollywood-quality movie, then look for Hollywoodquality actors. Remember that like any profession, acting is a serious craft that
requires years of training and practice, so seek
out professionals who will make your characters
real and believable.
Actor Brian Ireland,
playing the role of
Bobby Jones, was a
professional wrestler
who had never acted
before. After seeing him
in auditions, I knew he
had not only the right
look for the part, but
also an outstanding
attitude that made it
easy to work with him.
The goal of auditioning is to systematically meet
and cast your actors from a vast pool of acting
talent. Finding an audition space that is easily
accessible, is well laid out, and allows for the
organized processing of actors will not only help
the auditions run smoothly, but also let prospective actors know that the movie is being produced by professionals.
Don’t hold auditions in your house or apartment. It will scare people away
and you will appear to be an amateur. Auditioning members of the opposite sex alone in your apartment or house is also dangerous, because it
can lead to liability issues and possibly to lawsuits.
Find a large, central, easy-to-get-to location like a library, office building,
coffee shop, school gym, or classroom to hold the auditions. It will make
publicizing the audition easier and will help establish you as a professional. Most public buildings with meeting rooms will allow you to use
them for free if your project is not-for-profit.
When setting up the audition space, designate a large waiting room for
the actors to wait in and a second room for conducting the individual
auditions. Station a production assistant in the waiting area to distribute
the audition forms, collect headshots and resumes, lead the next actor
into the audition area, and manage the incoming actors.
Consider setting up a television in the waiting area to show clips from
previous films you’ve worked on to excite the actors as they wait.
For Time and Again, I contacted a local independent casting agency, North Coast Central
Casting, which used the top floor of a martial arts dojo for meetings and auditions.
Because most actors in Cleveland knew where it was, it made sense to hold the
auditions there. I spoke with the owner, Ray Szuch, and he let us use the space for free
for six hours on a Saturday afternoon. We had over 300 people show up to audition and
everything worked out without a problem.
There are two different ways to attract actors to auditions. The first is to put out
general audition notices in newspapers, acting magazines like Backstage West,
Auditioning Actors
classified ads in the newspaper, postings on web sites like www.craigslist.org,
and announcements on the local news. The benefit is that hundreds of people
will show up . . . the downfall is that the general notice will also attract a lot of
unqualified actors who will take a lot of time to sift through. Casting a wide
net will collect a lot of fish . . . both talented and untalented.
When posting audition notices on flyers or in the newspaper, listing a
brief five- or six-word description of the roles you are casting will help
narrow the actors down before the auditions. As an example, Awanda was
listed as a spunky 20- to 30-year-old 1950s diner waitress. Bobby Jones
was listed as a rugged late-20s prison convict.
Consider posting an audition notice on www.craigslist.org. This free listing
web site is extremely popular in large cities and is frequented by hundreds
of thousands of people each day.
Contact local community theaters, theater guilds, and university acting
programs to spread the word of the upcoming auditions.
PCR—Production and Casting Report
P.O. Box 11
London N1 7JZ, UK
Telephone: +44 2075668282
Fax: +44 2075668284
7 Leicester Place
London WC2H 7RJ, UK
Telephone: +44 2074377631
UK Screen
Shooting People
Casting information.
Auditioning Actors
Get a copy of the local film commission production manual and look up
the casting agencies in your area. Oftentimes, these agencies sign on talented actors with little experience, so the agency may be willing to direct
those actors to your audition.
The second option is a more precise way of attracting actors, wherein you can
search a number of acting web sites that post actor’s headshots, resumes, and
contact information. Much like a dating web site, filmmakers enter the desired
physical traits and a search engine will produce a list of actors who meet the
requirements. Contact the actors who fit the characters you’re looking to cast and
invite them to the audition. Although this is more time consuming, it provides
more control over the time you spend auditioning actors.
Casting agencies represent actors and assist filmmakers in finding the right actor
for the part, provided the actors will be paid. For a percentage of the actor’s
wages, the casting agency negotiates terms on the actor’s behalf, finds work by
soliciting production companies looking to cast, sets up auditions, and negotiates pay wages. Although casting agencies look for paying productions, independent films are a terrific opportunity for new, inexperienced actors to build
a demo reel and add credits to the resume, so don’t be afraid to contact casting
agencies and propose your project to them. The more professional the presentation, the greater the likelihood the agency will assist you with your casting
In addition to contacting casting agencies, contact individual agents who represent actors the same way as an agency. Larger agents will be unwilling to help
for free, although there are plenty of smaller agents, especially in major production cities, who may welcome the exposure for their actors.
The first audition
Auditioning is a nerve-wracking experience for
the actor, and it’s your job to make them feel as
comfortable as possible. The more comfortable
the actor, the better the performance, and the
better the performance, the more of their skill
you will see.
Organizing the space. Set up the audition
space in a room with at least an eight-foot
table off to one side that you, the producer,
the casting director, and any other crew
members who want to attend sit behind.
Then, in the center of the room, place a
chair or a stool for the actor. In the waiting
Paula Williams played
Martha Jones and,
although it was a small
role, her few moments
of screen time needed
to effectively portray a
woman capable of
area, station two production assistants who welcome arriving actors and
give them audition forms, collect headshots, and schedule audition times
if there is a large turnout.
■ Beginning the audition. When you’re ready for the first audition, have
one of the production assistants from the waiting area bring the first actor
to the audition room. When the actor enters, greet him, take his audition
form and headshot, and thank him for coming. Always be polite and
courteous; these actors are taking time out of their schedules to come to
your audition with the hopes of helping you make your movie. Be appreciative of that.
■ The monolog. After the introductions, if you require a monolog of the
actors, ask the actor to begin and watch for body language and believability. In major cities like Los Angeles and New York, experienced actors
rarely, if ever, use monologs for auditions and are accustomed to performing a dry read of the script.
■ The first read. After about 30 seconds, stop the actor, even if he’s not finished with the monolog, and give him a two-page scene from a script
other than from the movie you’re casting for. Don’t use the script from
the movie, as this may give the actor you’re auditioning a premature idea
of the character. Character development should happen between the
director and the actor in a rehearsal setting, not the audition. Instead, use
a script from another movie with a tone, characters, and dialog
similar to those of the film you’re casting. Briefly introduce the scene and explain what is happening: “You
are playing the role of Joe, who just left his job
of 30 years after having found out he’s been
Learn how to approach, cast, and work
laid off. This scene takes place in the diner
with local celebrities in the Working with
across the street from the factory between Joe
Local Celebrities module at www.
his old friend, Jean, the waitress.” After the
actor briefly reads over the script, have him
perform the scene opposite a reader you brought
to the audition who will read for the opposite part.
Watch for realism and spontaneity in the performance.
■ Give direction. After the scene is finished, ask the actor to perform
the scene again, this time changing the approach to how he plays
the scene: “Try it again, but this time, instead of being laid off, you
just received a $5000 bonus.” Watch carefully to see how well the
actor takes last-minute direction, how he changes his approach, and if
he successfully incorporates your new direction into the scene. This is
an important ability for the actor to have because there are often directorial changes on set and the actor needs to be quick to adjust his
■ Wrap up. After the second read, thank the actor and, if you feel he may
be right for the part, give him a flyer for the callback, or second audition,
the following week. Be sure to have the second auditions already scheduled so you can invite actors to it during the first audition. If you don’t
Auditioning Actors
like their performance, thank the actor for coming in and politely let him
know that you will be notifying him of the audition results. Have a production assistant draft a friendly email and send it to the actors you did
not choose. Be sure to thank them for their time, as you may work with
them in the future and don’t want to burn any bridges.
The next actor. Once the actor leaves, the production assistant from the
waiting area should bring in the next person. Each audition should last
about five minutes and is designed to sift quickly through the actors into
people who could fit a role and the people who couldn’t.
Auditions are mentally and physically draining for the director and the casting
director. Being prepared will help you make the best choice for each role after
the auditions conclude.
Bring a digital camera to photograph each auditioning actor as a reference
in case he or she doesn’t have a headshot. This will help you remember
what each person looks like after the audition. Attach the photo, headshot, and resume to the audition form. Also consider videotaping each
audition if you want to compare one actor against another at a later
If videotaping the auditions, have each actor face the camera and state his
or her name before beginning the audition. This will help you keep track
of who each actor is.
Bring several people to help you at the audition. Not only is it helpful to
have someone with you in the audition itself, but you will also need
people to sign the actors in, coordinate time sheets, answer any questions
the actors may have, and escort the actors to the audition room. Remember that the more organized the audition is, the more professional you
will appear.
If you have a large turnout for your audition, consider setting up an
appointment schedule so actors don’t have to wait for hours before their
audition. Scheduling on the hour will not
only simplify the process, but will let the
actors know that you are running a professional production.
When auditioning actors and before casting
them for a role, look for the following
attributes during the audition.
Physical traits—Do they look the part?
Vocal traits—Do they sound real and
Personality—Are they easy to work with
and friendly?
Directability—Do they respond well to
your direction or is there resistance or
no change in performance?
Bob Darby had never
acted before, but his
realistic performance in
the auditions helped him
land the role of the
Audition form.
Auditioning Actors
Awareness—Are they aware of and able to adjust their
performance based on on-set requirements and
Professionalism—Will they be on time and remain dedicated to the production? Are they reliable?
Acting ability—Can they deliver a convincing
Experience—What have they done before? How can this
experience help them play the role in your film?
Monologs are an outstanding tool in the audition room for many
reasons. First, they separate the wanna-be actors from the more
serious actors, as monologs are difficult to prepare and deliver.
Often, inexperienced actors will not respond to audition notices
that require monologs.
Second, they give the director an opportunity to see the actor
perform a piece that she is comfortable with. Watch not only the
vocal delivery of the monolog, but also the actor’s physical performance. The performance will indicate if the actor is more theatrical and “over-the-top” in her performance or if she understands
the nuances of subtle performances, which work better on
Understand that professional, working actors in high-production
cities will probably not have monologs prepared. They are used
to reading from a script in the audition because their credits and
past experience are usually sufficient in proving their acting
The second audition
The second audition is similar to the first; however, this time you
know that the attending actors meet your initial physical requirements of the characters in your film. The setup of the audition
space is the same, with actors waiting in the waiting area until it
is their time to audition. They are taken, one by one, to the audition room. This time, be sure to set up a video camera to tape the
second audition so you can review each actor’s performance later
before making your final casting decisions.
When the actors arrive, have several scripts ready in the waiting
room for them to look over while they wait for their turn. Whereas
the first audition is a cold read, this time allow the actors more
time to go over the audition scripts to build a character, understand the scene, and even memorize the lines. Avoid using scenes
Audition flow chart.
from your movie, but choose similar scripts for
the actors to read from.
Begin the audition by having the actor perform
each scene three different times, prompting him
with different emotional subtexts for each performance. Watch for the range of his performance,
believability and realism, and, most importantly,
how he responds to your direction. Be aware of
how the chemistry is shaping between you and
the actor. If he is invested in the part and is agreeable to your direction, the relationship should
feel very easygoing and kinetic.
We always had fun on
the set of Time and
Again. Casting actors
with a positive, fun
attitude can help
balance the stress of
working on set.
If you like the actor and can envision him playing
one of the roles, chat with him about why he
wants to do the movie, his availability, and what his interests are. Learn more
about his personality and what it would be like to work with him for months
on set.
Each of the second auditions lasts 10 to 15 minutes and should result in two
or three finalists for each main role.
Within a couple of days, call the actors you’d like to see a third time and invite
them to the third and final audition.
The third audition
The third audition is the last round, in which you choose the actors for the
roles. At this point, you should know the individual capabilities of each actor
but not yet the chemistry between actors.
I have a pretty unorthodox approach to the third audition, in which I put all
the actors in the same room, pair them up, and have them act out scenes
together to see how they relate, who works well with whom, and what the
chemistry is like between them.
What’s interesting about this approach is that all the actors become much more
comfortable with one another and the material so they feel more confident,
their personalities come out, and I get a sense of who they are as individuals.
I can immediately tell who will get along with whom, which actors are the scene
hogs, the introverts, the sensitive types, the pranksters, and the intellects, and I
like to take advantage of this by pairing up different people to see how the
dynamics of the scene changes with each actor. This is a great way of casting
the lead roles.
By the end of the audition, you should have a pretty good idea of which actors
you want to cast. Be sure to thank all the actors and tell them that you will
notify them of your final casting decision in a week.
Auditioning Actors
The audition process is a short period of time relative to the length of a film shoot, so
selecting the right actor for a role is critical, from both a creative and a professional
Use the casting process to find an actor who fits the role, has a good work ethic, is
excited about the project, understands the financial limitations, and acknowledges the
intense schedule and the need to sacrifice outside activities for the sake of shooting the
film. If an actor has even the slightest reservation about any of these points in the
audition, no matter how small, then chances are good that these problems will reoccur
later in production when it’s too late to recast.
Warning signs to look out for during the audition:
Actors who questions the lack of pay and expresses concern about their financial
ability to get involved.
Experienced actors who patronizes the director, especially if the director is new to
filmmaking. This is an immediate warning sign that can develop into a major problem
on set. It is difficult for the director to do his job when an actor constantly questions
his experience and skill set.
Actors who question the project’s time commitment or mention a job schedule that
may be difficult to work around may not show up on set if their boss schedules them
to work.
Actors with no prior experience may seem excited at first, but the time demands and
intensity on set may turn them away from the project later.
Actors who want rewrites of the script before learning and understanding their
characters are not interested in the director’s vision but their own.
Actors showing up late to the auditions may be indicative of future behavior.
Actors who show up to auditions without memorized monologs, headshots, or
resumes. Be especially wary of people who arrive “off the street” with only a Polaroid
or family picture. They are not professionals.
If you notice any of these warning signs, no matter how subtle, seriously consider casting
a different actor. It’s better to recast in the audition phase than halfway into production.
When auditioning actors, look for these positive traits:
Actors with prior acting experience or training who understand the demands of
producing a film.
Actors who are excited about the material and are inquisitive about their character
and the storyline.
Actors who are willing to take time off of work or at least be flexible for the production
Actors who are prepared during the audition with memorized monologs, headshots,
and resumes. Being prepared for an audition demonstrates that they care about their
craft and want to move ahead with their career.
Look in local newspaper listings for auditions in your area and go to them to
audition. Watch to see how the process works and what the director asks of
you. Take what you learned and use these tips on your own audition.
How did you feel during the audition and did you receive the information
you needed to perform the role?
What could the director have said to you to make the audition easier for
What importance did each of the audition segments serve and what would
you do differently the next time?
What local resources can you use to cast both actors and extras for your
After the third audition is complete and the final contenders have been narrowed down to one actor per role, meet with each actor and discuss the project
in greater detail. Explain the production requirements, on-set demands, possibility of shooting pick-up shots even after the film is edited, ADR (Automated
Dialogue Replacement), voice-over requirements, and all other expectations
before signing the actor deal memo. This is especially important with inexperienced actors and will reduce the likelihood of them dropping out of the project
in the middle of production.
Do not call to notify finalists that they did not receive the role until you are
100% positive that the primary choice for each role will work out. Once you
are confident, be sure to call each finalist and thank them for their time.
After you congratulate each actor on winning the role, supply a packet that
includes a letter of introduction and welcome, a production schedule, an actor
deal memo, a rehearsal schedule, a character description, and a list of contact
numbers for key crew people.
Schedule the first rehearsal and script readthrough within the first week following the final audition.
Auditioning Actors
Once I cast each character, I sent this letter to the actors along with a copy of the script, a rough shooting schedule and an
actor deal memo.
Actor deal memo page 1.
Auditioning Actors
Actor deal memo page 2.
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i. Work from the
director’s shot list
and the budget to
determine what
crew positions you
need to fill.
iii. View demo reels
and resumes. Set
up interviews with
potential candidates.
v. Grant the director of photography, production designer,
and unit production manager
the ability to hire department
vii. Department heads
will hire subordinate
crew members. Hires
must be approved by
the line producer.
ii. Solicit potential
crew members
online or through a
film commission.
iv. Hire the director, director
of photography, production
designer, and unit production manager first.
vi. Approve hires of
department heads.
viii. Once hired, crew members must sigh a crew deal
memo that outlines the
terms of their employment.
From cinematographers, boom operators, costume designers, and production
designers to property masters, hairstylists, grips, and assistant directors, there
are many creative people involved in providing the technical and creative
support a director needs to realize his vision.
Although the number of people listed in the credits of a Hollywood movie may
seem extreme, each crew position is essential in the moviemaking process.
A movie crew comprises numerous departments, with each department having
its own staff. The number of people within each department is dependent upon
the complexity of the production and the size of the budget. For example, a
period film is going to require a bigger art department than a present-day
romantic comedy.
Listed here are the main crew positions in a Hollywood movie shoot. Although
it might not seem like it, even small independent productions can benefit from
having a similar crew setup. Take a look at the crew graphs later
in this chapter for a better idea of what crew positions you really
need on your set.
The producers
The executive producer oversees the entire production, sometimes multiple productions, but is not involved in the daily
operations of the film, deferring those duties instead to the
producer. The executive producer is typically the financier of
the production, providing most, if not all, of the funding.
Often, the executive producer has distribution ties or can actually be the distributor. Executive producers are usually the
general partner of a limited partnership whose role is to raise
financing for the project. The ideal executive producer is a
businessperson who recognizes good commercial material and
has an understanding of how to package and sell it.
The producer is responsible for finding a script, attaching a director and
actors, securing financing, coordinating the hiring of cast and crew, supervising the production and postproduction processes, and assisting with
the sales and distribution of the film. The producer is in charge of all
business components of the production. In the independent film arena,
the director may actually hire the producer to manage the business duties
of the production.
The associate producer is an associate to the producer who is able to
bring some resource, be it financial or technical asset, to the film. In recent
years, however, this title has been diminished, as the “associate producer”
credit is handed to people who may not actually fulfill the duties of a
producer, being used as a bargaining tool at the negotiating table.
The line producer is responsible for the daily operations of the film production and approves any and all expenditures for locations, cast, and
crew. Whereas the producer handles the overall production, the line producer is in charge of daily tasks, working closely with the unit production
manager, first assistant director, director, art director, editor, and composer to prepare the production budget and shooting schedule. The line
producer is aware of local resources and knows the below-the-line personnel in a region and can manage these resources to ensure a cost-effective,
timely production. The line producer is the ultimate liaison between the
production team and the producers.
The cast and crew of
Time and Again was
made up of both
experienced and
inexperienced people,
all of whom volunteered
their time and talents.
The production department
The director—In independent movies, the producer/writer is, more often
than not, the director. If this is not the case, finding the right director for
a project is of key importance. The director is responsible for translating
the script to the screen by working with actors to achieve the ideal performance. The director collaborates with creative departments to build a
The Crew
convincing world in which the action takes place. The producer often
brings on the director early and, while the production manager hires the
majority of the below-the-line crew members, the director usually selects
the key creative personnel. The director is also involved in every aspect of
the filmmaking process, from casting actors and choosing locations to
working with editors, composers, and digital effects houses. Directors can
also be writers and producers on the same production.
The production manager, also known as the unit production manager
(UPM), is in charge of the daily details of planning and managing the
business side of the production. The production manager prepares the
budget, may work out the preliminary shooting schedule with the first
assistant director, negotiates with and hires the below-the-line crew, and
works with locations by organizing the scouting of, traveling to, and securing permissions from the location before giving these responsibilities over
to the location manager. The production manager is responsible for ensuring that the production runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible,
staying on schedule and on budget. The production manager also helps
manage the daily budget by managing salaries, equipment rental, and
other production costs. Even though the department heads can choose
the crew positions below them, all hires and rates must be approved by
the UPM.
The production coordinator is in charge of booking all personnel and
equipment. From cast to crew, equipment, and transportation, the production coordinator ensures that equipment and materials are at the right
place at the right time, that crew members are in place and have all the
necessary materials to perform their jobs, and that the actors have their
contracts and are on set.
The assistant director (or 1st AD) is not so much the assistant to the
director as he or she is in charge of running the set, much like a stage
manager’s duty in theatre. The 1st AD’s primary duties include creating
the shooting schedule, coordinating the crew departments on set, ensuring
the production remains on schedule, scheduling locations and actors,
scheduling the day’s shooting, serving as a buffer for the director,
and solving on-set logistical problems so the director can work with
the actors. The 1st AD is also in charge of directing extras, freeing
the director to focus on the principal actors. The director and director of
photography are the only positions that supersede the 1st AD’s authority
on set.
The second assistant director assists the 1st AD with preproduction
and production tasks, signing actors in and out as they arrive and depart
each day, completing on-set paperwork, and managing production
The script supervisor is in charge of the continuity of each scene and logs
dialog spoken, number and duration of takes, lenses and filters used,
actor’s movements, camera coverage, and positions of props and set pieces
so that scenes and shots can be perfectly reproduced.
The casting director is responsible for finding, auditioning, and ultimately, with the producer’s and director’s approval, casting the actors and
extras for a film.
The production assistants are the runners and general assistants, both in
the production office and on set. They are responsible for assisting in
whatever matters are asked of them, including making copies, running
errands, getting coffee, keeping the public away from the film set, standing
in for an actor, and transporting actors to and from set.
The location manager is responsible for coordinating the use of a location
with its owners; coordinating logistics between all departments to ensure
the location meets all production needs; working with local officials to
secure permits and approvals; securing parking, changing rooms, restroom
facilities, and other support services; and making sure the location is in
clean, working condition before the film crew leaves.
The location scout is responsible for finding locations that meet the
director’s vision and production requirements. The director and his creative team assemble lists of possible locations, and the scout will travel to
these locations and photograph and videotape each one, bringing the
photos back to the director for consideration.
Craft services provides noncatered food and beverage services on set.
Craft services usually maintains a table with snacks and beverages during
each day of production.
A stand-in is a person who bears a resemblance to the actor in height,
skin, and hair color and who replaces the actor while the director and
director of photography light and set up the shot, so as not to fatigue the
actual actor. Once the technical setup has been completed, the real actor
is brought on set for final lighting tweaks.
The still photographer takes behind-the-scenes photos of the production,
cast, and crew for use in press kits, marketing materials, and DVD
The storyboard artist works closely with the director and production
designer to map their ideas into rough drawings called storyboards that
help the creative team previsualize the film, either on paper or using storyboarding software.
Talent agents represent actors, voice artists, and models in an effort to
generate work for them on film, television, radio, or print projects.
The director of photography (DP) and the camera crew
The DP is responsible for the photographic look of the movie image through
use of light and the lens. In charge of the camera and lighting departments, the
director of photography works closely with the director to achieve a cinematic
feel that supports the director’s vision. The director of photography is also
known as a cinematographer. The director of photography gives the gaffer lighting instructions and the key grip rigging instructions and tells the camera crew
where to set up the camera equipment.
The Crew
In choosing a DP for a project, avoid hiring a film
school graduate, but rather an experienced DP
who has worked his way up through the ranks.
In the Hollywood system, many film school
graduates begin their careers by working in a
camera rental facility sweeping floors, driving
trucks, and trying to make connections with cinematographers as they come in to rent cameras
for real productions. If they are successful in
making a good contact, they may get a job as a
second assistant camera (2nd AC) on a feature.
The 2nd AC is in charge of loading the film,
maintaining camera logs, and marking each shot
with the clapboard. After working on a few dozen
features as a 2nd AC, he will be able to move his
way up to a 1st AC. Responsible for pulling focus and setting up, maintaining,
and moving the camera, the 1st AC will work in this capacity for several dozen
films until she graduates to the camera operator position. The camera operator
operates the camera and will work in this capacity for several movies until he
is asked to DP a film. This is the standard path most people take toward working
as a director of photography.
Film school graduates lack this practical experience, especially when shooting
35mm film. With film being the largest expense on a shoot, few producers are
willing to risk bringing an inexperienced DP on set, especially with a first-time
The DP is the single most important asset to the director, especially an inexperienced director. By assisting the director with choices of camera placement and
even blocking, an experienced DP will help shoot footage that will edit together
well and shoot enough coverage for the editor to have choices in the editing
If shooting a three-week feature film, the DP should be paid between $2000
and $3000 a week, with several days allotted for preproduction to allow for
location scouting and prep work.
The director of photography’s salary can be based upon a weekly rate that she
charges the production, or the production may pay her a set rate that may be
lower. Another factor that influences the DP’s rate is whether she brings her
own equipment to the set. Camera and lighting gear may be part of the DP’s
package, which will increase her rate. It is common for the DP to be part of the
creative team, at which point he may receive deferred payment or a reduced pay
scale. However, the DP is often the highest-paid crew member on the set.
If you are shooting an independent film, ask the DP to hire the rest of the
camera crew and give him a budget to do so. Usually a DP will have crew
members he enjoys working with and trusts and will appreciate the opportunity
to bring his colleagues onboard. The DP should hire:
The crew of Time and
Again waits for the next
take outside Awanda’s
Camera operator
First assistant camera
Second assistant camera
Gaffer (the gaffer can suggest electricians and the generator operator)
Key grip (the key grip can suggest grips and the dolly grip)
Even though the DP can select the camera crew, the unit production manager
must approve all hires.
The director of photography coordinates the photographic operations of the
movie with three department heads, the camera operator, who heads the camera
department; the gaffer, who heads the lighting/electric department; and the key
grip, who heads the grip department. Each of these department heads manages
the crew in their department and relays orders from the DP to these crew
The members of the camera department include the following:
Second Assistant
Cameraman, Ron
Francesangelo, marks
the shot from the set of
Time and Again.
The camera operator runs the camera during shooting. In many instances,
especially on low-budget films, the director of photography operates the
camera. The camera operator is the highest position in the camera department and is responsible for relaying orders from the DP to the rest of the
camera crew. Always present with the DP when the director is blocking a
scene and giving direction, the camera operator will coordinate the camera
placement with the 1st AC.
The assistant camera is responsible for setting up, maintaining, cleaning,
and repackaging the camera and camera accessories, including lenses,
magazines, eyepieces, filters, and other camera parts. In addition, the 1st
AC will set and pull focus for each shot.
The 2nd AC is responsible for loading the unexposed film stock in the
magazines, threading film through the camera, marking each shot with
the clapboard, and maintaining camera logs. The director of photography
will typically hire the 1st and 2nd ACs.
The video assist sets up and operates a video feed from the camera that is recorded and can be played back per the director’s
The grip department
The key grip is the department head and is in charge of all
grips. The key grip supervises the setup, moving, adjustment,
and teardown of chromakey screens, lighting and camera
support equipment (C-stands, flags, nets, silks, reflectors, and
so on), creature comforts (dressing rooms, craft services tables,
tents, and so on), operating dollies and cranes, and pulling
cables on set. The key grip answers to the director of photography and issues orders to the best boy grip.
The Crew
The best boy grip is the main assistant to the key grip and usually remains
on the grip truck to prepare and issue equipment to the other grips.
The dolly grip is responsible for setting up the camera dolly and dolly
track as well as operating the dolly during a take. In larger productions,
the dolly grip answers to the camera crew, although she may play double
duty between the camera and the grip departments.
Grips are responsible for moving, setting up, and
tearing down camera support and light equipment. They are the movers on the set and do
much of the carrying, lifting, and rigging.
The electric department
The gaffer is the chief electrician on the
set and is responsible for rigging the lighting per the director of photography’s
request. The gaffer supervises the electrical
Visit the Crew module at www.
powerfilmmaking.com and learn specific
duties of each position from Hollywood
crew members.
The dolly grip tests the track on the set of Time and Again.
crew and answers to the director of photography. The gaffer is an expert at
lighting and sometimes plays a more creative role, if permitted by the
director of photography.
The best boy electric is the primary assistant to the gaffer and works on
the grip truck, preparing, maintaining, and repairing equipment.
The electrician is responsible for rigging, wiring, and plugging in electrical
cables and answers to the best boy and the gaffer.
The generator operator is responsible for the transportation, maintenance, and operation of the generator on set.
The art department
The production designer is responsible for designing the overall look of the
world in which the story takes place, including the look of the sets, props, and
costumes. The production designer works closely with the director and is
involved early on in the preproduction process, developing drawings, plans,
and models around the director’s storyboards. Often working with a large
budget, production designers have many responsibilities to the producer and
work closely with the director of photography and costume designer to ensure
that all departments create a compatible look for the film.
When shooting an independent movie, look for a production designer with
experience on a number of features. Experienced production designers also have
numerous contacts in the industry and will be able to help identify and locate
art elements at a discount or for free.
Ask the production designer to hire the following crew positions:
■ Art director—The art director works under the production designer and
supervises the art department crew, coordinating the implementation of
the production design.
■ Set designer—This is the lead architect who drafts tangible blueprints and
designs of the sets based on the direction and guidance of the production
■ Assistant art director—There can be several assistants to the art director
based on the complexity and work involved. Assistant art directors are
responsible for daily duties, including measuring set spaces, assisting in
set design, and serving any of the art director’s needs.
■ The set decorator works under the production designer or art director and
is responsible for coordinating the furnishings on set that are not touched
by the actors. The set decorator researches, acquires, places, and then
strikes any artistic element that helps improve the look and design of the
■ The buyer—Working directly under the set decorator, the buyer is responsible for finding, buying, and renting set-dressing elements.
■ The lead man is the foreman of the set decorating crew.
■ The set dresser works on set and physically dresses, alters, updates, maintains, and removes the set dressing. Set dressers are responsible for any
creative elements on a set, from doorknobs and windowpanes to furniture
The Crew
and drapery. Although most of the set dressing work is done
prior to shooting, an on-set dresser remains on set should
any changes be required.
Key scenic—This person is responsible for all set surfaces,
from wood and marble to stone. The key scenic works closely
with the production designer and oversees a team of painters
to create the exact look of each set.
The construction coordinator oversees the construction of
set pieces, orders materials, schedules tradesmen, and
manages the construction crew.
The head carpenter is the foreman in charge of the
The greensman is responsible for setting and dressing any
plants, trees, and foliage, both real and fake. The greensman
usually works for the set decorator except in productions in which greens
are an integral aspect of the set, in which case he reports directly to the
production designer.
Hairstylist Deb Lilly
begins transforming
Jennie Allen into
The prop department
The property master is in charge of identifying, acquiring, and maintaining all props used in the film. Props are handled by the actors and fall
under the control of the property master. Elements not handled by the
actors are considered set dressing and fall under the responsibility of the
set decorator.
The props builder designs and builds original props for the movie.
The armorer works exclusively with firearms and weaponry and has the
necessary licenses to do so.
The hair and makeup department
The hairstylist creates and maintains the actors’ hairstyle on set. From
working with the actors’ natural hair to employing wigs, the hairstylist
will style the actors’ hair at the beginning of the day and be on set to touch
it up between takes. There may be several hairstylists on set depending
upon the number of actors and the complexity of the hairstyles in the
The makeup artist is responsible for maintaining the cosmetic look of the
actors. With duties ranging from applying the initial makeup at the beginning of the day to touching up the makeup between takes, makeup artists
can create everything from realistic, natural looks to special effects makeup
such as blood or wounds or prosthetics using foam latex, rubber, or bald
The wardrobe department
The costume designer designs and oversees the creation of the costumes,
working closely with the director to create a look that matches his vision
of the story.
The wardrobe supervisor is responsible for maintaining the costumes and
accessories for the actors and extras. Working closely with the costume
designer, the wardrobe supervisor ensures that wardrobe is ready, prepped,
and cleaned for the actors each day and that continuity is maintained from
scene to scene by taking Polaroid photos of the actors.
The costume standby—Always present on set, the costume standby is
responsible for helping dress the actors if necessary and maintaining the
continuous look of the actors’ costumes from take to take by tweaking
and adjusting as necessary.
The art finisher—When wardrobe needs to be worn, torn, or altered, the
art finisher comes in to distress new garments.
The buyer locates and purchases fabric and material for costumes.
The audio department
The production sound mixer is responsible for setting, monitoring, and
recording the audio on set. She is responsible for choosing and placing
the proper microphones, monitoring the sound levels during a take, and
coordinating with the camera and lighting crews to ensure the microphone is out of the frame and not casting shadows. She will notify the
director of any problems with the audio during a take, such as background
noise or poor audio levels.
The boom operator places the microphone in the optimal position over
the actors without breaching the camera frame or casting a shadow on the
actors or set.
The stunts/special effects department
Special effects is responsible for all mechanical and/or physical effects
that occur on set, such as glass breaking, furniture breaking, weather
effects, and gags.
Stunt coordinators create, rig, and execute the stunts for a scene, ensuring
maximum safety while creating spectacular stunts.
The stunt people replace actors for any shots that require potentially
dangerous physical actions. Stunts include everything from freefalls, fights,
running, and trips to car stunts, including any activity that could potentially cause injury.
The pyrotechnician—Licensed and experienced in explosives, Pyrotechnicians are responsible for building, rigging, detonating, and securing explosions, gunshots, sparks, and any chemical-based reaction that causes an
explosive effect. Pyrotechnicians need to be state and federally licensed.
The transportation department
The transportation captain is responsible for getting the cast and crew to
the location as well as vehicle movement and parking. All drivers report
to the transportation captain.
Drivers transport talent and key crew members to and from the set.
The Crew
The composer will write the score for the
film, using a live orchestra or a MIDI computer setup. Working closely with the director, the composer is usually the last person
to work on the film and has a strong understanding of music styles, instrumentation,
and composition.
The editor is responsible for taking the
rough footage shot on set and assembling
it into a linear, sensible story. Editors, while
not on set, can provide an objective viewpoint for the director, ensuring that the
film is well paced and makes sense.
The sound designer is responsible for editing the soundtrack for a movie.
In the independent world the sound designer can also record ADR and
Foley and mix the final soundtrack of the movie.
The Foley artist is a sound effects artist who is responsible for recreating
and recording the normal, everyday sounds in a scene, such as footsteps,
clothing movement, doors opening and closing, items being picked up or
handled, and any sounds an actor would make when interacting with the
The animator/compositor is a digital effects artist who can either create
or supplement existing footage with 2D or 3D animation or composites
to accentuate the look of the movie. Often working on shots immediately
after they are shot, animators are involved in the creative process from the
beginning, helping to ensure that footage to be altered is properly shot.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the long list of crew members that need to be
hired for a production. Instead of worrying about each position, hire the department heads, give them a budget and the freedom to hire the rest of their crew.
As the producer, the four positions that are necessary to hire are:
Director of photography
Production designer
Unit production manager
Crew structures
If you’ve ever watched the closing credits of a Hollywood movie, the seemingly
endless list of people who worked on the film may seem like overkill, but in
reality, the logistics and demands of a large production require each one of the
artists, technicians, and coordinators.
To get an idea of the complexity of a Hollywood production, here’s a simplified
structure of an average-sized Hollywood crew.
Sound Designer Mike
Farona mixes the audio
at the Neon Cactus
In charge of all administrative, business, and financial
aspects of the film production from beginning to end
Assistant Director
Coordinates crew, runs set
Beauty or special
Master storyteller, responsible
for translating script to screen
and all creative elements
Casting Director
Selects actors and extras
Production Designer
Designs the environment in
which the story takes place
Property Master
Locates, stores, and
builds props
Production Manager
Schedules and organizes
daily production needs
Production Assistants
Hair Stylists
Design and maintain
hair styles
Designs, creates and
maintains costumes
Script Supervisor
Maintains continuity
from shot to shot
Set Dressing
Decorates set
Director of Photography
Responsible for look of the film, lighting,
and camera angles
Set Construction
Builds sets
Camera Operator
Chief Electrician
1st Assistant Camera
Sets up, moves, maintains
camera, pulls focus
Best Boy
Assistant Electrician
Traditional Hollywood crew structure.
Writes film score
Still Photographer
Sound Designer
Creates sound effects
Key Grip
In charge of all grips
2nd Assistant Camera
Marks shot, assists 1st AC,
maintains logs
Assembles rough
Dialog Editor
Best Boy Grip
Main assistant to Key Grip
Carry, move, and rig
camera support gear
and lighting
ADR Engineer
re-records dialog in
the studio
Dolly/ Crane
Carry, move, and
rig camera dolly
and crane
Production Sound Mixer
Records audio on set
Boom Operator
Positions microphone over
actors with a pole
Foley Artist
Creates and records real
sounds eliminated by
Responsible for writing
the movie script
Executive Producer
The head producer who supervises all other
producers and their productions
The Crew
In an independent film, elaborate Hollywood crews are not only unnecessary,
but unaffordable. As an indie filmmaker, who do you really need to have on
set? If you could compile a wish list for your productions as they grow in size
and complexity, what positions do you need and which ones can you do
The ultrasmall crew structure
This crew structure is the most basic and is ideal for small scenes involving one
or two actors in a location that doesn’t require significant lighting and needs
virtually no major props, wardrobe, hairstyling, or makeup. This ultrasmall crew
can be very fast and mobile, but when taking on larger scenes, can become
quickly overwhelmed.
The cost of hiring an ultrasmall crew is around $675/day, provided you’re hiring
crew members new to film, out-of-work professionals, or crew members looking
to work in another position. These rates are based on a low-budget, nonunion
production. The cost of hiring professionals may be significantly higher, so
remember that productions this small may be better served with aspiring filmmakers and film students to keep costs low.
Producer, writer, director—$0. This person is probably you.
Director of photography—$300/day.
Grips (two)—$125 × 2 = $250/day.
Boom operator—$125/day.
Producer, Writer, Director
Often the most common situation on an
independent film set, the director who also
produces causes the biggest problem in that the
director has to handle both the logistic AND
the creative requirements of the production.
Although potentially problematic, this may work
for ultra small productions with limited locations
and a very small number of actors.
Director of Photography
The DP can set up the camera, rig lights, and
operate the camera. This is a huge task for
one person and, while keeping crew numbers
down, may slow down the production because
of the lack of help and will reduce the quality of
the overall look of the movie. This can work if
there are no lighting needs such as if shooting
outdoors or only with ambient lighting.
(2) Grips
Bring along two people who can help
unload, set up, move, and pack up
equipment. Grips can help the DP
set up the camera and can hold
reflectors and pull cables. The more
grips on set, the better. You can
never have enough hands on set.
The Ultra Small Crew Structure.
Boom Operator
The boom operator is
needed to hold the
microphone over the actors’
heads during a shot. This
can easily be a one-person
job, especially if the
microphone is plugged
directly into the camera.
The Producer is an invaluable asset for the film, coordinating the logistics of the
production thereby freeing the Director to focus on the creative aspects of the
movie. The Producer can be finalizing the next day of shooting while the Director is
on set today, troubleshoot problems, organize schedules, cast, crew, and so on
Writer & Director
The Director is free from the logistical burden and is now free to focus on the
creativity of the story, work with the actors, and not worry about handling any
problems that arise on set.
1st Assistant Director
Director of Photography
Critical to running a smooth set,
the AD will buffer the Director
from any on-set issues and help
the production run on schedule.
The DP can develop the camera
angles and lighting of each scene
and has a crew to work with.
Script Supervisor
1st Assistant Camera
The 1st AC will set up, maintain,
move and pack the camera,
maintain logs, and help pull focus.
Extremely important to the DP, the
1st AC makes sure the camera is
ready for every shot.
The Gaffer will set
lights, taking the
physical work off of
the DP's shoulders.
The Gaffer can also
work with the grips
when rigging
lighting equipment.
(5–6) Grips
Bring along 5–6 people
who can help unload,
set up, move, and pack
up equipment. Grips
can help the DP set up
the camera and can hold
reflectors and pull
cables. The more grips
on set, the better. You
can never have enough
hands on set.
Production Designer
The Production Designer can be
in charge of all props, set
dressing, and wardrobe for the
entire production. If the film
requires extensive art elements,
you can bring on additional
people to assist as needed.
Boom Operator
The Boom Operator is
needed to hold the
microphone over the
actors’ heads during a
shot. This can easily be
a one-person job,
especially if the
microphone is plugged
directly into the camera.
Hairstylist/Makeup Artist
Craft Services/Catering
Have one person in charge of picking up,
monitoring, refilling, and cleaning up the food.
This is THE MOST important role on the set...
don't believe me? Ask any crew member.
The Basic Crew Structure.
Even on the small film set,
the Script Supervisor's
critical eye is important in
maintaining continuity
during the shooting.
Bring on as many Hairstylists and Makeup
Artists as required. Most small
productions with a handful of actors can
easily be managed by one person.
The Crew
The basic crew structure
The basic crew has the basic crew departments, often run by only one person,
but is structured so that each major component of the production is addressed.
Although it seems like a lot of people, this 15-person crew is an ideal size for
small- to medium-sized productions. The number of bodies on set is low, but
no one department is overwhelmed. Most independent films with a modest
budget should try to build this type of crew.
The average cost of the basic crew is approximately $2100 per day.
Producer—variable, negotiate this price.
Director—$0. This person is probably you.
First assistant director—$200/day.
Director of photography—$300/day.
First assistant camera—$150/day.
Script supervisor—$175/day.
Grips (four)—$125 × 4 = $500/day.
Production designer—$175/day.
Boom operator—$125/day.
Hairstylist/makeup artist—$150/day.
Craft services—$125/day.
When beginning a new movie, having a strong crew is critical to a smoothrunning production. Avoid the temptation of doing everything yourself. You’ll
get burned out and won’t turn out quality work. Instead, surround yourself with
people who know their individual responsibilities, are professional, have experience, and have a strong work ethic. Finding crew members is as easy as looking
at your local resources:
Film school graduates. Use the phone book to find local film schools or
colleges that have a communications program. They may be willing to let
you speak with a class, contact local graduates, or otherwise solicit students to work on your crew. The benefit to using film school students or
graduates is their hunger to learn and willingness to work for free and
shoot for long hours. The drawback is their lack of experience. Film students are a terrific asset as production assistants or grips (only if they know
how to use professional production equipment), but should never be
employed in key positions. Also beware the “Film School Attitude,” which
is the tendency to think that they know better than anyone else on set.
Internet. Posting crew calls on web sites like www.craigslist.org, www.
mandy.com, and www.productionhub.com is a great way of reaching
potential crew members, especially in large cities. Craft a professional
posting that describes the production, the dates, and approximate rates.
A good online post will read:
A feature film being shot in Chicago in July is hiring the following crew
Production will span 14 days and 3 nights, will be fully catered, and will
be paying. If interested, please email your resume, link to an online demo
reel, and your contact information. Our production office will be in
contact with you within the week. Thank you for your interest.
Film commission. Contact the local film commission and ask for a copy
of their production directory. This directory includes the names, credits,
and contact information for most below-the-line crew members, equipment vendors, stages, postproduction facilities, and rental facilities
in the state. The people in the directory range from recent film school
graduates to experienced production personnel. Don’t be afraid to call
them and ask if they are interested in working on the movie. Even if they
aren’t available, they may be able to refer you to someone else in the
Film festivals. Attending local film festivals is a great way of networking
with other independent filmmakers. Be sure to bring plenty of business
cards. After screening a movie seek out any crew members in attendance.
Many of these people are willing to work for low or deferred payment just
for the experience.
When hiring creative positions, ask to see a demo reel of past projects the person
worked on, as well as a resume that lists all past projects, awards, film festival
credits, and educational experience.
Demo reel: When looking at this collective sample of a candidate’s work,
look only at what his or her contributions were, not at elements out of his
or her control. For example, if you’re looking to hire a cinematographer,
look at the quality of the camera work and the lighting, but don’t let bad
sound or bad acting affect your decision. When looking at the quality of work
on the reel, think about whether you’d be happy with that quality on your
References: Ask for references from past producers and directors with whom
this person has worked. Ask about his or her work ethic, attitude, and involvement in the film.
Interview: Finally, meet with the candidate and talk about the film and what
you’re willing to offer in exchange for his or her services, and generally get a
feeling about his or her personality. Remember that, much like auditioning
actors, you have only a few short meetings to determine if you want to spend
hours working in a stressed environment with this person.
The Crew
Above all, remember that the candidate is also
interviewing you, trying to determine the type of
working relationship he or she will experience,
how organized you are, how passionate you are
about the project, and your attitude. Good teamwork and successful productions are a result of
solid relationships with a strong team of people.
Build a good one.
It’s a good idea to have the production
schedule in place BEFORE you start contacting crew members. It will be easier for them to commit to the project
if they know specifically when you need them. You will also appear professional and organized, which may help attract more experienced people
to your production.
Be aware that working with inexperienced crew members like volunteers
or film students may require more time on set for them to learn how to
use the equipment. It’s a good idea to have an orientation before the shoot
to show the crew how to use the equipment and your set policies and
procedures. The equipment rental company may be willing to host this
When scheduling students or crew members new to production, it’s a
good idea to schedule more people than you need because not everyone
will show up. Consider a crew member reliable if he has proven, through
action, his reliability. Don’t go on someone’s verbal commitment alone.
It’s better to have too much help than not enough.
When selecting crew members, be aware of people who appear even the
least bit hesitant about the time requirements or who aren’t enthusiastic
about the project. They not only will be difficult to work with on set, but
may not be reliable, often coming up with excuses to leave early or miss
shoots entirely.
Crew members, especially those who are working for free, are giving two
very important elements: their talents and, more importantly, their time.
Be appreciative and supportive of their efforts, and always be sure to thank
them profusely for their dedication to the production.
Schedule a meeting with the crew before the first day of shooting to go
over the script, storyline, schedule, and what is expected of them. You
want the crew to be as prepared as possible when they arrive on the set
the first day.
If necessary, schedule an equipment review with the crew, possibly at the
equipment rental facility, to make sure that everyone knows how to set
up, use, and pack up the gear.
Avoid scheduling the crew too far in advance. Experienced crew
personnel may be hesitant to book a job too far in the future. A good rule of
thumb is to begin booking crew members within about three weeks of
Compensating crew members can be an expensive process, but consider that
many new, aspiring filmmakers would be willing to work for other types of
Paying crew members is the best form of compensation, although in most cases
your budget may prohibit you from paying the crew. Typical crew wages are
based on a daily basis for short projects and discounted weekly rates for longterm projects. Crew wages are dependent on the length of the project, if travel
is required, how experienced the crew member is, and how many potentially
qualified people are available for the job. Talk with each potential crew member
and work out a deal for his day rate and offer to rent his equipment or kits as
an incentive for him to accept a lower daily rate.
If you are paying the crew, it is customary to issue a check either at the end of
the production, if it is a short project, or every two weeks if the production is
a feature.
Discuss the rate in advance and include the rate in a crew deal memo. The crew
deal memo is a contract between the production company and the crew member
that states the terms of employment. Other factors to include are:
Overtime: When crew members work on a full-paying or union job, their
daily rate usually covers a 12-hour day. It is customary to pay two times
the hourly rate for any time over 12 hours. However, this can get costly,
especially on a low-budget independent film, so negotiate a standard day
rate regardless of the number of hours worked.
Per diem: If the production spans distant locations, cast and crew members
are given a per diem, or additional daily money to cover food purchases.
Per diems are always negotiated before the production begins and range
from $30 to $75 a day. Each crew member is given the per diem amount
in cash at the beginning of the day.
Expenses: If the budget allows, offering to pay for travel expenses such as
gas may attract higher-caliber crew members. Even on low-budget movies
on which crew members may be working for free, offering gas money is
a powerful and inexpensive incentive that will help bring and keep people
Time of payment: Most cast and crew members expect to be paid by the
last day of production. Write checks for the full amount and have them
ready for the crew on their last day of work. Paying crew members late
will tarnish your reputation in a community and make it difficult to crew
up your next production.
Payroll: Most independent movies will pay the cast and crew as subcontractors, meaning the production is not responsible for taking out taxes.
In projects that involve a large number of cast and crew members, or ones
that span a long period of time, consider hiring a payroll service to cut
The Crew
checks and take out taxes, making the cast and crew members employees
of the production. Be sure to consult your accountant.
There are several factors that determine the rate of pay for crew members:
How experienced is the crew member? In most instances, the more experienced crew member will request a higher daily rate, unless she is excited
about the project. Try to sell each person and get them excited and you
may be able to negotiate a lower rate.
How many qualified crew members are there in the production area? In
major cities where the crew pool is large, it’s easier to negotiate lower rates
because of increased competition.
Are there any other productions that are hiring crew members at the same
time? In cities where there isn’t a large crew pool, competent crew members
will go to the production with the higher rate, making it difficult to staff
your movie. Consult with the local film commission before making the
shoot schedule so as not to conflict with another production.
Is there a nearby film school that can provide students or recent graduates
willing to work for free? If so, then professionals may be willing to lower
their rates to compete with the free labor.
Are the crew members union or nonunion? Nonunion crews are often
willing to work for more reasonable rates, longer hours, and fewer creature
comforts than experienced union crews.
Deferred payment
Another method of paying crew members is to pay them from the money a film
makes after it is sold. Deferred payment is risky for the crew because they will
get paid only if the movie makes money, which is not a guarantee. Most seasoned crew members consider this arrangement “working for free” and will
accept the job because they like the project, not because of the promise of backend money.
Some productions will pay crew members a percentage of their usual rate upfront and defer the
If you can’t afford to pay crew members upfront,
or do not foresee your film making a profit, offer
what you can . . . credit. Credit is the listing of
the crew member’s name and job title in either
the opening credits or the film’s closing credits.
Oftentimes, first-time film crews are excited at
the prospect of gaining the experience of working
on a film and seeing their names in the credits,
which may lead to future jobs.
Andrew Zehnder, who
plays young Bobby
Jones, waits as the
crew finishes the
Crew deal memo page 1.
The Crew
Crew deal memo page 2.
Deal memos are contracts between the production company and the crew members,
which identify the crew member’s job, working dates, daily/weekly rate, overtime pay, per
diem, credit, travel allotment, and any additional factors that you negotiate with the crew
The crew deal memo is signed before production begins. A copy is given to the crew
member, whereas the master is kept on file in the production office. Once signed, the
arrangements of the contract are sealed, alleviating any possible future conflicts over the
terms of the agreement.
If paying the crew in the United States, have each crew member fill out a W-9 form for
tax and accounting purposes before the production begins.
It is often difficult to determine appropriate crew wages for a film production
because rates are dependent upon where in the country the film is being shot,
the number of qualified crew members available, the number of shooting days,
and the format on which the movie is being filmed. The following is a list of
average crew rates for a $1 million, nonunion film production shot in a major
metropolitan area in 20 days. Understand that there is no standard rate chart
for nonunion productions, so the following scale is a starting point for negotiating crew wages on your production. These rates have been calculated for a sixday week, 12 hours/day, with 12-hour turnaround shooting schedule.
Production manager
$300–400 per day
First assistant director
$300–400 per day
Second assistant director
$200–300 per day
Production assistant
$0–150 per day
Most production assistants are interns willing to work for free for the
Production designer
$1500–1700 per week
Art director
$1200–1500 per week
Assistant art director
$1000–1200 per week
Art department positions are usually hired on a per-week basis.
Script supervisor
$200–250 per day or $800–900 per week
Director of photography
$500–800 per day or $2000–3000 per week
First assistant camera
$200–250 per day
The Crew
Second assistant camera
$175–225 per day or $1000–1100 per week
Camera operator
$175–225 per day
Film loader
$150–175 per day or $850–950 per week
Film loader rates are dependent on film vs video. If shooting film, this position
requires a much more experienced person, which can increase the rate.
Key grip
$200–250 per day or $1000–1200 per week
Best boy—grip
$175–225 per day
$125–175 per day or $800–900 per week
Dolly grip
$175–225 per day
The dolly grip rate is usually the same as that for the best boy position.
$250–300 per day or $1000–1200 per week
Best boy—electric
$175–225 per day or $900–1000 per week
$150–200 per day
Usually, the first assistant cameraman, key grip, and gaffer make the same scale.
The second assistants/best boys in those categories make the same, and the third
tier/film loader make the same scale. Grips and electricians make slightly less.
Production sound mixer
$275–350 per day or $1200–1400 per week
The production sound mixer usually has his own equipment, which can raise
the rate.
Boom operator
$125–175 per day or $500–600 per week
$225–275 per day or $1000–1100 per week
Assistant makeup
$200–250 per day or $900–1000 per week
Prop master
$200–250 per day or $900–1100 per week
Assistant prop master
$175–215 per day or $800–900 per week
Body makeup
$150–200 per day or $750–850 per week
Makeup artists may also charge a kit fee, which includes all the makeup materials necessary for the film shoot. When negotiating rates, some makeup artists
will be willing to work for free but may charge the kit fee to cover the costs of
Key hairstylist
$200–250 per day or $900–950 per week
$175–215 per day or $800–850 per week
Hairstylists may also charge a kit fee to cover materials and equipment.
$200–250 per day or $900–950 per week
Costume designer
$400–500 per day or $1900–2200 per week
Key costume
$175–225 per day or $800–850 per week
Stunt coordinator
$900–1100 per day or $3800–4100 per week
Stunt person
$600–700 per day or $2400–2600 per week
Hollywood stunt people are also paid for each time they perform a stunt,
making complicated stunts with multiple takes very expensive. This is in addition to the base daily or weekly pay.
Construction foreman
$190–220 per day or $800–900 per week
Craft services
$175–225 per day
$50–55 per hour
Assistant editor
$28–32 per hour
Music editor
$40–45 per hour
Sound editor
$40–45 per hour
In many instances, postproduction positions may charge for the project or on
an hourly basis. Some studios will sell “blocks” of time at a discounted rate.
The rates charged are dependent on the size and experience of the studio, the
studio’s current workload, or how involved your project is.
Unions and Guilds
Unions and guilds are long-standing organizations that protect the rights of,
monitor the working conditions of, provide benefits for, and guarantee
minimum levels of payment for their members. The primary unions and guilds
in the American motion picture industry are the Screen Actors Guild, Directors
Guild of America (DGA), Writers Guild of America, and International Alliance
of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).
Producing a film with union cast and/or crew members can add to the
cost of production, as minimum wages must be paid, payment to pension
and health care plans must be made, and on-set work practices and restrictions must be enforced.
Actors and crew members must demonstrate proficiency and experience
in their crafts in order to be eligible for union membership. Although
membership to a union or guild means the member met admission
requirements, it by no means ensures their talents, work ethics, or
There are dozens of unions and guilds for various crafts within the entertainment industry, such as the Motion
Picture Editors Guild and the Writers Guild
of America. Contact these guilds for lists of
qualified artists for your production.
Some locations may have contracts with a
union or guild specifying that union
members must be hired if a film crew is
shooting on that location, regardless of
whether it’s a union film or not. Always be
sure to ask before locking a location.
Artists who join a union or guild are entitled to health benefits, guaranteed wages,
controlled work hours, union representation in the event of a dispute with an
employer, and many other benefits in
None of the cast or
crew members working
on Time and Again were
members of a union or
guild. This allowed me
to keep my costs at a
minimum, although we
still adhered to proper
set guidelines,
mealtimes, turnaround,
and scheduling.
exchange for dues, which are paid as a first-year entry fee and as annual
fees. As a producer hiring union crew members, you may need to pay into
their health and pension funds in addition to paying their daily rate. There
may also be residual payment requirements depending on the nature of
the project. Contact your local union representative for more details.
Using union actors in a nonunion film production violates the regulations
of the union, but the U.S. Supreme Court established a principal called
“Financial core” that protects union members from being punished by
their union for taking nonunion jobs. Financial core applies not only to
actors, but also to unions for all industries in the United States.
Actors and crew members have daily rates; however, working on a longterm production can be expensive, so the union offers weekly rates. Essentially, in guaranteeing the union member work for a certain length of time,
the filmmaker can benefit from a slightly reduced rate.
As an independent filmmaker, the only union you may need to consider involvement with is the Screen Actors Guild, especially if you’re working with SAG
actors. The other unions are not as influential in the production of your movie
and although they can boycott your production, they may not have the power
or ability to shut it down. If you choose to go nonunion, union members
working on your movie may feel compelled to leave because of pressure and
obligations to the union.
Don’t be afraid to work with your local union or guild, but be sure to take the
time to understand your obligations and requirements as a producer. Be aware
that you do not need to enter into a long-term agreement as a signatory, but
you can negotiate terms on a project-by-project basis. As is the case with any
legal document, always read and understand any contracts you may be asked
to sign. Most unions are happy to answer your questions.
When I produced Time and Again, I worked exclusively with a nonunion cast and crew
for a number of reasons. First off, my budget didn’t allow me access to professional
union workers, and second, I wanted to make a film using local resources, in much the
same way you would. I’ve worked on dozens of films as a director and cinematographer,
and even on projects with budgets up to a million dollars, the only union members that
we employed were the actors.
Hiring a union crew member is a very important decision because you will be required to
pay union minimum wages and pay into each crew member’s health care and pension
plan. These costs are significantly more expensive than working with a nonunion crew.
Be advised that even if working nonunion, it’s still a good idea to honor the basic on-set
work practices set forth by the unions.
Unions and Guilds
Keep shooting days under 12 hours unless you’re able to pay overtime.
Always schedule a turnaround time of 12 hours from the time the crew wraps to the
call time the next day.
Always feed the crew a meal every 6 hours.
Always provide a safe working environment.
These practices will not only keep morale and dedication to your project up, but will also
promote a safe, healthy, and productive work environment.
The Stickball Players from Time and Again were all non-SAG actors.
The Screen Actors Guild is designed to protect the rights of actors and ensure
that filming conditions, payment rates, and overall production conditions are
professional. The Guild also ensures that actors meet strict eligibility requirements upon entering, both professionally and artistically.
As an independent filmmaker, the union you are most likely work with is the
Screen Actors Guild. SAG provides a number of options for low-budget productions, allowing union actors to work on smaller independent and student
SAG actors have all met the guild’s requirements for work experience and have
paid the necessary dues to enter the union. Although there are many talented
actors in SAG, SAG membership is not an endorsement of an actor’s capabilities
and talents.
Part of the SAG regulations specify minimum (or scale) payment requirements
for SAG actors depending on the budget of the film. Unfortunately, these
requirements made it nearly impossible for independent filmmakers to use the
high-quality, experienced actors in SAG until the guild created a multitiered
low-budget structure specifically designed for student and low-budget filmmakers. The following are the various options available to independent
Student film agreement
For students enrolled in film school. Performers may defer 100 percent of their
Short-film agreement
Total budget of less than $50,000.
35 minutes or less.
Salaries are deferred.
No consecutive employment (except on overnight location).
No premiums.
Allows the use of both professional and nonprofessional performers.
Background performers not covered.
Ultra-low-budget agreement
Total budget of less than $200,000.
Day rate of $100.
No step-up fees.
No consecutive employment (except on overnight location).
No premiums.
Allows the use of both professional and nonprofessional performers.
Background performers not covered.
Modified low-budget agreement
Total budget of less than $625,000.
Day rate of $268.
Weekly rate of $933.
No consecutive employment (except on overnight location).
Unions and Guilds
Six-day work week with no premium.
Reduced overtime rate.
Low-budget agreement
Total budget of less than $2,500,000.
Day rate of $504.
Weekly rate of $1752.
No consecutive employment (except on overnight location).
Six-day work week with no premium.
Reduced overtime rate.
Reduced number of background performers covered.
Diversity casting incentives
The Diversity in Casting Incentive applies to the Modified Low-Budget Agreement and the Low-Budget Agreement only. If the producer has demonstrated
diversity in casting, the total production cost maximum may be increased to
the following amounts:
Modified Low-Budget Agreement: from $625,000 to $937,500
Low-Budget Agreement: from $2,500,000 to $3,750,000.
The producer demonstrates diversity in casting by meeting the following
A minimum of 50 percent of the total speaking roles and 50 percent of
the total days of employment are cast with performers who are members
of the following four protected groups: (1) women, (2) senior performers
(60 years or older), (3) performers with disabilities, or (4) people of color
(Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American
Indian) AND
A minimum of 20 percent of the total days of employment are cast with
performers who are people of color.
Background actor incentive
The Background Actor Incentive applies to the Modified Low-Budget Agreement
The total production cost maximum may be increased by an additional $100,000
if the producer employs a minimum average of three SAG-covered background
actors for each day of principal photography, provided that the producer notifies SAG in writing of intent to utilize this incentive prior to the start of
Be sure to read the restrictions and requirements for working with SAG actors,
including working within the eight-hour limit per day of production. These
factors are important when you schedule and budget your movie, so contact
SAG so that you understand your obligations.
For additional information about SAG and the SAG independent filmmaker
agreements, check out www.sagindie.com. Special thanks to the Screen Actors
Guild for providing this information.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is a labor union composed of the thousands of writers who write the television shows, movies, news programs, documentaries, animation, CD-ROMs, and content for new-media technologies that
keep audiences constantly entertained and informed.
Their duty is to represent WGA members in negotiations with film and television producers to ensure the rights of screen, television, and new-media writers.
Once a contract is in place, the WGA will enforce it. Because of the WGA’s longterm efforts, writers receive pension and health coverage, and their financial and
creative rights are protected.
In addition, the WGA is responsible for determining writing credits for feature
films and television programs—a responsibility with far-reaching impact, financial and artistic. Writers’ livelihoods often depend on the careful and objective
determination of credits.
The WGA monitors, collects, and distributes millions of dollars in residuals
(payments for the reuse of movies and television programs) for writers each
The Writers Guild also sponsors seminars, panel discussions, and special events
for its members as well as the public at large.
For more information, check out www.wga.org. Special thanks to the Writers
Guild for providing this information.
Writers guild low-budget contract
The Writers Guild of America has set up several guidelines for independent
filmmakers to deal with option agreements with writers.
The Low-Budget Agreement is offered to WGA members and nonmembers for purchases of existing screenplays and one rewrite. It is not for
The agreement applies to films budgeted at $1,200,000 and below.
The agreement must be requested by the writer. With the writer’s consent,
the agreement allows a company to defer payment of all or part of the
compensation for the screenplay purchase and/or all or part of the compensation for the first rewrite in an amount negotiated between the writer
and the company, provided the total amount does not fall below applicable Guild minimums. However, upon commencement of principal pho-
Unions and Guilds
tography (if the budget of the film is between $500,000 and $1,200,000),
the company must pay $10,000 to the writer and apply this against any
deferred monies owing on the screenplay purchase price. The company
may defer the remaining portion of money due until receipt of first revenue
after (1) recoupment or (2) commercial distribution, whichever is earlier.
■ The company must pay a script publication fee of $5000, which is due 30
days after final determination of the writing credits on the picture. For
films budgeted at $500,000 and below, however, upon the writer’s request,
the fee may be deferred along with the screenplay purchase and/or first
rewrite compensation. The fee gives the company the right to publish the
screenplay on videodiscs/videocassettes.
■ Original screenplays may not be rewritten without the permission of the
writer. Writers of an adapted screenplay shall be offered the opportunity
to perform the first rewrite.
■ Writers may also negotiate for increased back-end minimums or back-end
residuals, a percentage of gross profit participation, and/or additional
creative rights.
■ The company must be or become a signatory to the WGA Theatrical and
Television Basic Agreement and sign all required documents. If applicable,
the Low-Budget Agreement will also be signed and apply to the particular
film project.
■ Except as modified by the Low-Budget Agreement, all other provisions in
the Guild contract apply, including but not limited to residuals, credits,
pension, health benefits, and separated rights.
■ If the budget of the film exceeds $1,200,000, WGA Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement low-budget (between $1,200,000 and $5,000,000)
or high-budget (above $5,000,000) minimums are immediately due and
■ If the film is not made within 18 months, the writer is entitled to reacquire
the literary material.
Most independent moviemakers who choose to work with a union writer are
able to do so without the express permission of, or signing a contract with, the
WGA. The WGA does not police the activities of its members and cannot force
minimum payments if you are not a signatory company.
For more information about the WGA Low-Budget Agreement, call the Writers
Guild of America, West, at (323) 782–4731 or Writers Guild of America, East,
at (212) 767–7800. Information is available online at www.wga.org.
IATSE is a union that services many of the behind-the-scenes crafts, including:
Animation/computer-generated imagery
Front of house
Makeup and hair
Motion picture and television production
Projection and audiovisual
Scenic artists
Television broadcast
Trade shows/exhibitions
Treasurers and ticket sellers
IATSE has local chapters around the world, so go to their web site at www.
iatse-intl.org for more information.
Working with IATSE crews can be very expensive and is generally an option
only for productions with budgets over a million dollars. Once a production
“goes union,” a significantly higher portion of the budget must be apportioned
to the union crews to cover higher rates and overtime and penalty pay.
Most low-budget filmmakers cannot afford to go union, but many IATSE chapters are interested in working with you to provide at least a few quality crew
members, provided you can pay union wages.
In much the same way that SAG represents actors, the DGA represents directors.
The DGA guarantees various creative and legal rights to its members as well as
pension and health plans. Membership to the guild is possible when a director
is hired to direct a film by a signatory company.
DGA rates.
Unions and Guilds
Membership to the DGA requires an initiation fee as well as yearly dues that
are based on yearly earnings. For more information, visit www.dga.org.
If you’re dreaming about directing the big projects, check out the payment rates
for DGA directors for motion picture production. There are several pay scales
for other types of productions such as television and made-for-television movies.
Visit the DGA web site for more information.
U.S. guilds and unions (above
the line)
U.S. guilds and unions (below the
Directors Guild of America (DGA)
7920 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(310) 289–2000
110 West 57th Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10019
(212) 581–0370
Screen Actors Guild (SAG)
5757 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 954–1600
1515 Broadway, 44th Floor
New York, NY 10036
(212) 944–1030
Writers Guild America/West
7000 W. Third Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 951–4000
555 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 767–7800
International Alliance of Theatrical Stage
Employees (IATSE)
10045 Riverside Drive, 2nd Floor
Toluca Lake, CA 91602
(818) 980–3499
1430 Broadway
New York, NY 10018
(212) 730–1770
American Federation of Musicians (AFM)
7080 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90028
(323) 461–3441
American Society of Cinematographers
1782 N. Orange Drive
Hollywood, CA 90028
(323) 969–4333
Art Directors Guild
11969 Ventura Boulevard
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 762–9995
Costume Designer’s Guild
4730 Woodman Avenue, #430
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
(818) 905–1557
U.S. guilds and unions (below the
Makeup Artists & Hair Stylists Guild
828 N. Hollywood Way
Burbank, CA 91505
(818) 295–3933
Motion Picture Editors Guild
7715 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 200
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 876–4770
U.S. Associations
Academy Motion Pictures Arts &
Science (AMPAS)
8949 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(310) 247–3000
Academy Television Arts & Sciences
5220 Lankershim Boulevard
North Hollywood, CA 91601
(818) 754–2800
Casting Society of America (CSA)
606 N. Larchmont Boulevard, #4B
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(323) 463–1925
Producers Guild of America (PGA)
8530 Wilshire Boulevard, #450
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(310) 358–9020
Director’s Guild of Great Britain
4 Windmill Street
London W1T 2HZ, UK
Telephone: +44 2075809131
Fax: +44 2075809132
DPRS—Directors’ & Producers Rights
20–22 Bedford Row
London WC1R 4EB, UK
Telephone: +44 20 7269 0677
Fax: +44 20 7269 0676
UK Film Council
10 Little Portland Street
London W1W 7JG, UK
Telephone: + 44 20 7861 7861
Fax: +44 20 7861 7862
The Production Guild
N&P Complex
Pinewood Studios
Iver Heath
Buckinghamshire SL0 0NH, UK
Telephone: +44 1753651767
Fax: +44 1753652803
Equity (actors union)
Guild House
Upper St Martins Lane
London WC2H 9EG, UK
Telephone: +44 2073796000
Fax: +44 2073797001
iii. Contact local vendors and negotiate
the best rental price.
i. Determine
v. Maintain lists to help
keep track of rental
equipment on set.
ii. Use the director’s shot
list to determine the
equipment needed to
shoot each scene.
iv. Provide vendors
with a Certificate
of Insurance.
vi. Upon return of rented
equipment, be prepared to pay for lost
and damaged gear.
Getting the right equipment is essential to producing a high-quality movie.
Because purchasing the camera, lights, and other production equipment is an
expensive proposition, there are a number of rental facilities that may be willing
to rent gear to filmmakers for a discount or even for free.
One common misperception filmmakers have is that they can use existing light,
handheld cameras, and onboard microphones to
achieve a “natural” look. This disastrous approach
results in an unwatchable film; the audience
can’t hear the actors; the image is dark, grainy,
and shaky; and the focus shifts constantly during
a shot.
Both film and digital media react to light in a
way much different from that of the human eye,
so often, large quantities of light are required to
light a scene, even if you’re striving for a natural
look. In addition, camera support equipment
gives filmmakers the flexibility to move the
camera in artistic and creative ways, without distracting the audience with shaky camera moves.
I’m shooting Bobby
Jones as he approaches
his parents’ home using
camcorder and a
Doorway dolly with 32
feet of track.
Investing in the proper equipment is the first step in crafting controlled, creative
shots that will not only increase the production value of the movie, but also
help engage the audience deeper into the story.
The first part of tackling the equipment issue involves determining what kind
of gear is needed for the shoot. The most important piece of equipment is the
Choosing a camera and a format to shoot on is one of the most important
decisions you’ll make when selecting gear for your production. There are many
different options among video and film formats. If you choose to shoot film,
you could use the inexpensive Super8 format, but the image quality will be
poor; or you could choose high-quality 35 mm film and pay tens of thousands
of dollars on the camera rental, film, and processing. Video offers the same array
of choices, from inexpensive miniDV to professional-quality high-definition
video, each with an equal array of benefits and drawbacks. Consider all the
factors of cost, quality, and even distribution requirements when choosing a
Filmmaking has always been an elitist medium that costs a massive amount of
money, and unless you have a rich uncle or a spare quarter-million dollars, it
is next to impossible to produce a professional-looking 35 mm or even 16 mm
feature film at the independent level. This financial requirement
has kept many people from realizing their dreams . . . until the digital revolution. In the late 1990s, a digital
format called DV (digital video) was developed,
which revolutionized moviemaking. By proListen to Hollywood experts discuss the
ducing broadcast-quality imagery, the average
pros and cons of shooting video and film
person can easily afford technology that in
in the Video vs Film module at www.
years would have cost ten times the
amount. Digital video opened the doors and
empowered the masses to explore, produce, and
tell stories through the visual medium.
But the debate as to whether film or video is superior still
rages. Both media have their pros and cons. Film is much more expensive to
shoot when one considers the cost of film stock, processing, and equipment
rental. However, the look of film, to many, is vastly superior to the look of
video by providing greater contrast range, depth of field, and image resolution.
A movie shot on film is also easier to sell to foreign distributors than a movie
shot on video, as video has a reputation of looking cheap and amateurish. Film
can be easily adapted and transferred to one of many broadcast and exhibition
formats around the world.
When you begin your filmmaking career, consider shooting your first few projects on digital video so that you can focus on the process of making a movie
(directing, working with actors, and working with the crew) instead of the
technical challenges of shooting film. Once you feel comfortable with the
process and have a few short films under your belt, then consider shooting a
project on film. Too many people invest thousands of dollars into film stock
and processing on their first movie and because they are inexperienced in the
process, the movie ends up being shelved due to bad acting, poor script, loose
directing, sloppy editing, and so on—and the money spent on film is wasted.
Focus on the process, then shoot on film.
Film is a strip of plastic that has several chemical layers, the most important
being a layer of light-sensitive silver–halide crystals, made up of silver nitrate
and halide salts. These crystals come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and composition and can be modified in the manufacturing process to produce different
speeds of film. Once film is exposed to light, it then needs to be processed for
the image to be visible.
During the developing process, the image appears as a negative of the original
image, with blacks and whites inverted, and in the case of color film, the colors
inverted. The lab then produces a positive from the negative, which displays
the scene as it is supposed to appear.
Film formats
Film comes in a variety of sizes. Each film stock is measured diagonally, corner
to corner, in millimeters. The larger the frame, the more “resolution” and detail
Film formats.
the film is able to capture.
8 mm: Primarily used for home moviemaking, 8 mm and Super8 formats were the
predominant formats before video cameras
became standard in the home. You can
purchase the film and process it for around
$10.00 per minute. Although this is the
cheapest film stock, it is also the poorest
䊊 The film is eight millimeters wide and
has perforations on only one side.
䊊 The aspect ratio is 1.33 : 1, the same as
NTSC television.
䊊 Super8 includes an oxide stripe, which
allows sound to be recorded onto the
Table 10.1
Film vs Video
Costs $55 to buy and process 1 min of
35 mm film
Costs $4.50 for 1 hour of DV tape stock; DV
doesn’t need to be developed
Minimal number of takes, dependent on
budget allotted for film stock
Unlimited number of takes, tape stock is cheap
Cameras are heavier and bulkier
Cameras can be smaller and easier to handle
Requires more time to light and set up each
Can set up shots quickly
Cannot see footage until the film is
Can see the image immediately and on
Very high resolution, images are crisp and
Lower-quality formats have limited resolution
and won’t hold up well on the big screen, but
higher-quality formats rival 35 mm film quality
Requires a separate sound recording device,
because you cannot record audio onto film
Can record audio directly to the tape; audio
remains in sync with the video image
Film needs to be processed and transferred
to tape before editing
Footage can go immediately into an editing
Distributors are much more likely to pick up
a movie shot on film, especially in the foreign
Distributors are much less likely to pick up a
movie shot on video, especially in the foreign
Has significantly shallower depth of field
Has significantly deeper depth of field
Has a greater contrast ratio (6–10 f-stops,
depending on the film stock) and handles
overexposure much better
Has a narrower contrast range in lower-quality
formats and does not handle overexposure as
well; high-quality formats have contrast ranges
that equal that of film
Is much more complicated in postproduction,
especially if the final result is to go back to
A much simpler postproduction process,
although costs of printing video to film are high
Film generally has a more aesthetically
pleasing look
Video generally has a harsher look
Film is able to capture an infinite range of
colors, making images vivid and deeply
Video must compress color information, so
saturation and the chroma range are limited
If film is underexposed and pushed in
processing, film is subject to granularity and
If underexposed and gain is used, the video
image is subject to noise
Film is very expensive to duplicate and loses
quality with each generation
Video is inexpensive to duplicate at a high
All 8 mm and Super8 cameras run at 18
frames per second, and many cameras
can run at 24 frames per second.
䊊 Super8 is sold in 50-foot lengths and is
rolled in a plastic cartridge that is inserted
into the camera. The camera automatically loads the film. This amounts to
3 : 20 of shooting time if you roll at 18
frames per second, or 2 : 47 if rolling at
24 frames per second.
䊊 Due to environmental legislation regarding manufacturing, Kodak no longer
makes film stock with sound recording
䊊 Super8 film costs around $25 per roll to
purchase and about $15 per roll to develop.
16 mm: This film stock is ideal for student and experimental filmmakers.
Able to provide excellent quality, especially when viewed on television,
16 mm film is used for low-budget applications and documentaries.
Beware, 16 mm film may look good on the small screen, but not necessarily on the silver screen. A common film format is Super16, which
eliminates the perforations on one side of the film, allowing a greater area
to be exposed. Super16 film features a wider aspect ratio and is a format
of choice for filmmakers who are looking for a lower-cost option to
35 mm film.
䊊 Measuring 16 millimeters from corner to corner, 16 mm film is perforated either on one side (single perf ) or on both sides (double perf ),
although single perf, one sprocket hole per frame, is becoming the
䊊 The aspect ratio of 16 mm film is 1.33 : 1.
䊊 Super16 film has an aspect ratio of 1.66 : 1 and is always single
35 mm: The primary format of choice in professional filmmaking, 35 mm
film is able to capture enough detail in the image to hold up well on the
silver screen. The only drawback is its $55.00 per minute cost for film
stock and processing.
䊊 The film measures 35 millimeters across.
䊊 The 35 mm aspect ratio is 1.78 : 1.
䊊 There are a number of variations of the 35 mm format, including
Super35 and 35 anamorphic, so talk with your film supplier about
which format is the best choice for your project.
䊊 This film can hold SDDS, Dolby Digital, analog optical, and DTS timecode tracks.
䊊 This film runs at 16 frames per foot, 24 frames per second, 90 feet per
70 mm: This is the primary format for IMAX presentations for which the
frame must contain enough visual information to hold up on the big
screen. This film format is generally not used for traditional moviemaking.
The aspect ratio for 70 mm film is 2.20 : 1.
Table 10.2
Length of film
Running Time of Film Rolling at 24 Frames Per Second
16 mm (36 ft/min)
35 mm (90 ft/min)
100 ft
2.77 min
1.11 min
200 ft
5.55 min
2.22 min
400 ft
11.11 min
4.44 min
800 ft
22.22 min
1000 ft
27.70 min
11.11 min
1200 ft
33.30 min
Buying film
Approach the purchase of film as you would buying a car—be prepared to
NEGOTIATE. First, when preparing a budget for a movie, you need to know
how much film you will need to shoot the movie.
Assume you are shooting a 90-minute movie. If 35 mm film at 24 frames
per second at 90 feet per minute is pulled through the camera, you can
calculate that a 90-minute movie has about 8100 feet of film.
Next, calculate the ratio between footage shot and the amount of footage
used in the final movie. This is called the shooting ratio and shouldn’t be
more than 6 : 1. This means that for every setup, the director will shoot
six takes with the intention of using one take. So 8100 feet × 6 = 48,600
feet. For the sake of discussion, round the number up to 50,000 feet. You
will need to buy 50,000 feet of film to produce a 90-minute feature with
a 6 : 1 shooting ratio.
35 mm film comes in two lengths: 400-foot rolls that are used for handheld
and steadicam shots and 1000-foot rolls for everything else. Go through
the script and determine how many pages are to be shot handheld or steadicam. The number of pages you count equals the number of minutes of
the movie that will be shot handheld. Multiply by 6 for your shooting ratio,
and you have the number of minutes you need to buy in 400-foot rolls.
For example, if your script has eight pages of handheld setups, one page in
the script equals one minute in the movie. Eight minutes of movie time
times 6 (the shooting ratio) equals 48 minutes of footage. Forty-eight
minutes of footage equals 4320 feet, which, if purchased in 400-foot rolls,
comes to 11 400-foot rolls of film. The remaining 45,680 feet will be purchased in 46 1000-foot rolls. Next, calculate which scenes will be lit with
daylight or tungsten lighting and calculate how many feet of daylight film
and how many feet of tungsten-balanced film you’ll need.
The retail cost of 35 mm film is around $0.65 per foot. Negotiate the cost
down to around $0.40–$0.50 per foot by talking with both Kodak and
Instead of buying new film from the manufacturer, you can save money
by purchasing:
䊊 Buybacks—If a production purchases film but doesn’t use it, they sell
the unused, factory-sealed film to resellers like Dr. RawStock, Short
Ends, The Tape Store, and The Film Center. Purchase buybacks for
approximately $0.35–$0.40 per foot.
䊊 Recans—When a production company purchases film, loads it into
magazines, and doesn’t use it, they repackage it, tape it up, and sell it
to film resellers. Recans sell for around $0.25 per foot.
䊊 Ends—When a 400- or 1000-foot roll is loaded in a magazine and the
filmmakers expose only part of the roll, the remaining film is cut,
unloaded, and recanned. Purchase ends of more than 700 feet (long
ends) for $0.18–$0.20 per foot and short ends of less than 400 feet for
Panavision 35mm film
$0.10–$0.12 per foot.
In addition to the film size, you can also
purchase film with varying sensitivity to
light. Film’s sensitivity is measured by how
fast or slow the film is. Faster film has a
higher ASA number and is more sensitive
to light. While this may seem like a good
thing, faster film stocks are often grainier
because the silver–halide crystals in the
film are much larger. Larger crystals are
more light sensitive, but because they are
larger, there are also fewer of them in one
film frame, lessening the image resolution.
Talk with the director of photography to
determine the amount of lighting of each
scene and the optimal required film speed
before purchasing film stock.
Better suited to outdoors
or brightly-lit sets. Produces sharp detail and a
crisp picture
Better suited to low
light situations, film stock
is more sensitive, but
image is grainier.
ASA 500
ASA 100
ASA 1000
Another factor in shooting film is the cost of camera and support equipment,
purchasing the film stock, processing, and postproduction. The options and
choices of format, amount of footage, and camera gear are dependent on many
factors including:
What the final exhibition format of the movie will be. Do you want to
print the movie back to 35 mm film for a theatrical screening or is the
final movie going to be exhibited on video or DVD? The cost of creating
a 35 mm film print is extremely expensive and can cost thousands of
dollars depending on film format and length of the movie.
How bright the locations will be. Cleaner images require a slower film,
which requires more lighting and production equipment for proper exposure. Will the budget support the additional lighting equipment and the
crew to rig it?
Increased crew requirements. Will you have qualified crew members who
know how to load and operate a film camera?
Whether there will be any digital effects. If you’re shooting on film and
there are a lot of digital effects, the cost of printing these effects will add
to the postproduction costs.
Availability of labs and rental facilities. Not all labs can handle all types
of film, nor are all rental facilities able to support all formats. Renting or
processing in another city or out of state can be costly.
Film is ultimately a higher quality format than video and increases the prospects
for distribution, especially if 35 mm film is used. However, film is much more
expensive and difficult to work with and may not be the best choice for your
early projects.
Film workflow
Traditional postproduction
1. Once the film is shot on location, the exposed film stock is taken to a
film processing lab to be developed, making a workprint. Also called
dailies or a rush print, the workprint is the footage the filmmaker uses to
edit and assemble the movie.
2. Once the edit is complete on a lower budget film, the editor will then
physically cut the original film negative so that the edits match the edit
performed on the workprint. On higher budget films, a copy of the negative is edited to preserve the integrity of the original negative and create
different cuts of the film. This process is called conforming or negative
3. This newly cut negative is the actual film that was exposed in the camera
and the only master of your movie, so if something happens to it, the
film could be irreparably damaged. That’s why filmmakers make a copy
of the negative to make an interpositive, also called a master positive. It’s
at this stage that titles, transitions, and special effects are spliced into the
4. Once the master positive is complete, the movie can be transferred to
video using a telecine process. Or the lab can duplicate the interpositive
to make an internegative (or “dupe negative”). Prints for theatrical screenings are made from the internegative.
Digital postproduction 1
1. Film is exposed on set and then delivered to a lab for processing (developing). The cost of processing varies depending on the format you’re
shooting on.
2. If you want to edit the footage digitally using a nonlinear editor like Avid
or Final Cut Pro, you need to telecine your film footage, which is the
process of cleaning the film and running it through a high-resolution
scanner to convert it into a digital format. Once scanned in, the lab will
sync your production audio to the digitized film.
3. The scanned footage is then recorded to one of the following formats:
HD, Digital Betacam, Betacam, DVCPRO, DVCAM, DV, or miniDV.
4. Once you have the footage digitized into your editing system, begin to
edit the footage.
5. Color correct; add digital effects, titles, and music; mix your sound; and
build the final movie in your editing system.
6. Render and output to a format of your choice. You can hire a film lab to
transfer your movie from its current digital format back to film using
high-resolution printers that essentially print each frame, one at a time.
Although the price has dropped significantly, you can still expect to pay
upward of $30,000 for a 90-minute feature.
Digital postproduction 2
1. Film is exposed on set and then delivered to a lab for processing.
2. The film is run through a telecine process and delivered on a video format
of your choice.
3. The video version will be digitized into a nonlinear editor and an editor
will edit an offline version of the movie.
4. Once the edit is complete, the editor will provide an EDL, or edit
decision list, to a negative cutter who will physically cut the negative so
it conforms to the offline edit. Digital effects, titles, and transitions can
be performed optically, or digitally generated, and then printed back to
Film processing labs can brighten or darken the exposed film if the film wasn’t
properly exposed, there was too much or too little light used on set, or a special
look is desired. When the lab brightens the film by lengthening the time of
development, this is called pushing, or forcing, the film. Pushing by a stop won’t
adversely affect the image quality, but pushing more than a stop will begin to
degrade the image by increasing grain and washing out shadows. Conversely,
pulling is the process of darkening overexposed film.
16 mm color production lab costs
Per foot
Camera negative
Force develop one stop (min $25.00)
Sound track
Telecine prep
Dolly prints
Answer print
From A&B roll negative
For each additional roll, add
Simple corrections
One-Lite from balanced dupe negative
Timed reversal check print A&B roll
Intermediates/after answer print
Interpositive(contact) from A&B roll negative
Internegative (contact) from interpositive
Internegative (contact)
From reversal or color print
Release prints
Single print
By quote
Low contrast (from telecine transfer)
A 3% threading charge (10-foot minimum)
will be added to all pinning rolls.
Prices subject to change without notice.
$49.00 per item
35 mm color production lab costs
Per foot
Camera negative
Force develop one stop (min $25.00)
Sound track
Telecine prep
Dolly prints
Answer print
From A roll negative
From A&B roll negative
Simple corrections
One-Lite from balanced dupe negative
Intermediate/after answer print
From A roll negative
Internegative (for interpositive)
From A&B roll negative
Release prints
Single print
By quote
Low contrast (from telecine transfer)
A 3% threading charge (10-foot minimum)
will be added to all pinning rolls.
Prices subject to change without notice.
$49.00 per item
Benefits of shooting film
Film’s rich, organic look is due, in part, to the random mosaic of silver halide particles
that makes each frame unique. Unlike video, which captures light and converts it
using a grid of light-sensitive sensors, film’s chemical process mimics the way the
human eye operates. Its high resolution is similar to an eight-megapixel still image,
compared to HD’s two-megapixel image quality. Be aware that after film has been
processed and undergone copying, generation losses degrade the film you see in
theaters to the same resolution quality as HD.
Film offers a greater contrast range, color saturation, and resolution than digital
video. Film is more sensitive to light and is able to capture low-light scenes and
high-contrast scenes much better than most video sources. Film is also more
forgiving in over- and underexposed areas of the image.
Film cameras are able to offer a wide range of shooting speeds of 400+ frames per
Film is the most universally accepted distribution format. Any country will accept a
film-based movie, in part because of the ease of transferring it to other mediums.
Film offers a shallower depth of field than digital acquisition systems.
Film lasts longer than video formats.
Drawbacks of shooting film
The cameras are heavy and may require additional camera personnel to operate
Film is expensive to purchase and process.
You cannot see what you’ve shot until the footage is processed at the lab.
Audio needs to be recorded separately and then synced in postproduction, which
is an expensive, time-consuming process.
Film is susceptible to dust, scratches, and debris that may damage the coating.
Video has been an evolving format over the years, coming close to, and in some
times equaling, the quality of film. Recently, high-definition and uncompressed
formats have begun leveling the playing field between video and film. Today,
the high quality and low cost of shooting digitally allows filmmakers to tell
their stories like never before.
There is a significant difference in the image quality, resolution, contrast range,
and color space between the old analog formats such as VHS, Hi8, 8 mm, and
VHS-C and the new digital video formats of miniDV, DV, DVCPRO, and
DVCAM. If you are serious about producing a commercially viable movie, consider investing in or renting a high-quality HD camcorder. Consider a system
that allows you to capture uncompressed video footage.
When making the decision whether to shoot standard definition or high-definition video,
high-definition formats should warrant careful and serious consideration. The recent
proliferation of HD content has made consumers more willing to invest in HD television
sets, prompting media providers to create more HD content.
Any filmmaker willing to invest money in a movie should be using a format that meets
current and near-future broadcast and distribution specifications. Most distributors will no
longer accept standard definition product because of the limited resolution, the poor
aesthetic quality, and the inability to sell it to HD-savvy audiences.
Fortunately, HD has been a working format long enough that rental and purchase prices
of HD cameras and postproduction solutions have dropped significantly, making them
more affordable than ever.
Standard definition
The NTSC (National Standards Television Committee) color television signal hasn’t changed
since its inception in the late 1940s. Termed
“standard definition,” today’s televisions, DVD
players, tape players, and broadcasters all utilize
the same signal specifications:
720 ¥ 480
This refers to the number of horizontal pixels to
the number of vertical pixels in the television
image. Sometimes referred to as the lines of
resolution, the NTSC signal contains 525 lines of resolution with several
lines reserved for closed captioning, timecode, and other data hidden in the
signal. Nonlinear editing systems digitize NTSC video at resolution of 720 ×
480. Not all televisions display all lines of data, so although televisions have
improved in picture quality over the past half-century, the signal itself hasn’t
4 : 3 aspect ratio
The aspect ratio refers to the ratio of the width of the frame to the height. All
NTSC television signals are 4 : 3, which equates to four blocks wide by three
blocks high. The NTSC aspect ratio is sometimes described as 1.33 : 1.
29.97 interlaced frames
The NTSC signal operates at 29.97 frames every
second. Color televisions use cathode-ray tubes
(three to be exact, one for each primary color),
or CRT, which operate like a gun that shoots a
stream of electrons at a photosensitive screen,
causing it to glow. Electromagnets surrounding
the CRT pull the electron stream across the screen
systematically scanning each and every of the
525 lines of the frame. The engineers who created
this system discovered that they could fit more
lines of resolution into the frame if the electron
beam were to scan every EVEN line first and then
jump back to the top of the frame and scan every
I’ve shot several movies
on HD that have been
ODD line. Each of these passes is called a field, so we have the even field and
distributed. Provided
the odd field. These two fields together make one frame. This is why NTSC
each shot is carefully lit,
television is called interlaced. So the NTSC television standard consists of 29.97
framed, and exposed,
frames per second and 60 fields per second. Elsewhere in the world, the Euroyou can take full
pean television standard, phase alternating line (PAL), has 25 interlaced frames
advantage of the
benefits of the digital
per second consisting of 50 fields.
Let’s say that you’re watching an action movie on VHS and pause the tape to
get popcorn out of the microwave. When you come back, you notice that in the
frame you paused at, the action hero, who is running in front of a bus, is
jumping back and forth. Even though you paused the frame, you’re seeing the
interplay between the odd and even fields.
Benefits of shooting video
Video is much cheaper than film, doesn’t need to be processed, and can be viewed
instantly for playback on set or in the editing room.
The postproduction workflow is much easier when shooting video. It’s even possible
to transfer the footage to a laptop on set and assemble a rough cut before finishing
a day of shooting.
What you see is what you get. There is no need to wait for the developed film to
come back from the lab to determine if there were any mistakes made in exposure,
framing, or coloring. The image you see on the monitor is the image that has been
The cameras tend to be smaller and lighter, making it easier to set up the camera
for a new setup.
It’s possible to schedule more setups in a day, shortening the number of days
needed to shoot a film and keeping the budget lower because it’s easier to set up
the camera.
The audio can be recorded directly to tape, eliminating the need to sync the sound
in postproduction.
Compare the size and
aspect ratios of common
standard definition and
high definition formats.
Drawbacks of shooting video
Video is an electronic process that forces the image into a grid of pixels that can
result in aliasing.
Shooting a movie on video may hurt its chances for distribution, as most distributors
still prefer movies shot on 35 mm film.
Shooting video has a limited contrast range and much less sensitivity to light than
Filmmakers tend to get lazy when working with video, spending less time crafting
each frame, the lighting, and the camera settings.
Video cameras are limited in their ability to overcrank and undercrank. Certain HD
cameras can shoot only up to 60 frames per second.
Compression, especially in consumer formats like DV and HDV, eliminates a lot of
color detail, causing artifacts, blockiness, and flat colors in favor of smaller file
High-definition video is the long-awaited replacement to standard definition
and offers huge improvements in resolution, variable frame rates, detail, and
color. Designed as the new worldwide standard, there are two primary highdefinition formats that are used.
The smaller of the two HD formats has a resolution of 1280 × 720. Used
for television broadcast where the larger HD format is too big for current
broadcast carrier waves, the 720 format boasts an impressive array of
The 720 format has a 16 × 9 aspect ratio. Like its 1080 HD brother, it has a
frame shape similar to 35 mm film. Much wider than standard definition, HD
offers a much more aesthetically pleasing shape and image.
The 720 format supports a variety of frame rates as well as progressive and
interlaced frames.
Television standards
Television standards are like languages. Each is unique and incompatible, but can be
translated to another format. Below are listed the major television formats of the world:
Used in most of North and South America
Screen aspect ratio is 4 × 3
525 lines of horizontal resolution
29.97 frames per second
Each frame is made of two fields
Roughly 30 MB per second uncompressed
Used in western Europe and Australia
Screen aspect ratio is 4 × 3
625 lines of horizontal resolution
25 frames per second
Each frame is made of two fields
Used in France and various parts of the Middle East and Africa
Screen aspect ratio is 4 × 3
819 lines of horizontal resolution
25 frames per second
Each frame is made of two fields
Screen aspect ratio is 16 × 9
Resolution is either 1280 × 720 or 1920 × 1080
The frame rate is 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, and 60 frames per second
HD can be recorded in either interlaced or progressive modes
Roughly 300 MB per second uncompressed
The larger of the two high-definition formats, 1080 boasts a resolution of 1920
× 1080 pixels in either interlaced or progressive mode. With a 16 × 9 aspect
ratio, the 1080 format provides the highest resolution and image quality of the
two formats.
Camcorder purchasing tips
The first step to shooting on video is buying a high-quality camera that will give
you the control you need over the image. Buying a camcorder can be an intimidating and frustrating experience, but here are some guidelines for buying a
camera that will serve your motion picture shooting needs:
Optics. Buying a consumer camcorder will be cheaper, but it does not
offer the same quality in optics, image quality, or control that a prosumer
or professional camcorder offers.
Make sure the camcorder has three CCDs. A CCD is the imaging
chip that converts light into an electrical signal that is later processed
by the camera and recorded to tape. Bigger CCDs have more sensors
that make for a sharper image. Higher-end camcorders split the light
that enters the lens with a prism and use three separate CCDs to capture
the red, green, and blue colors. The results are sharper and ultraclean
images with vibrant colors that don’t bleed. In addition, the larger the
CCD, the shallower the depth of field, resulting in a more film-like
Ensure the camcorder has manual controls. YOU want to control the
image, NOT your camcorder. Therefore, manual focus, exposure, shutter
speed, white balance, and audio level controls are extremely important.
Look at the quality of the lens. The better
the lens, the sharper the image. Most consumer camcorders have plastic lenses,
whereas professional camcorders have glass
lenses. Although glass is vastly superior in
quality to plastic, it is also very expensive,
so manufacturers have begun using lenses
made of fluorite—a composite plastic
material that is still inexpensive, but offers
a high picture quality and low-light sensitivity. Also consider purchasing a camcorder that has removable lenses, like the
Canon XL-2 or the JVC GY-DV5000.
Removable lenses give you the option of
Cameras like the
Panasonic HVX-200 can
achieve professional
results for a very
reasonable price. This
camera is outfitted with
a matte box, follow
focus unit, and HD
upgrading or even renting a lens appropriate to the project. And finally,
always purchase a camcorder with a better optical zoom, which actually
zooms in on the subject, as opposed to a digital zoom, which simply
blows up the pixels, resulting in a pixilated, low-resolution image.
Select miniDV or HDV formats. The days of analog video such as Hi8,
8 mm, SVSHS, or VHSC are over. The high-quality digital formats today
rival professional broadcast quality formats and work in conjunction with
nonlinear editing systems like Apple’s iMovie or Final Cut Pro. MiniDV
is a standard definition format and HDV is the prosumer version of highdefinition format. Consider buying the DVCPROHD format, which is
superior to HDV in many ways at a similar price point.
Capture 24 fps. If your movie is intended for the small screen, consider a
camcorder capable of filming in 24p mode, which emulates the look of
film. Although not perfect, 24p technology is the closest to achieving the
film look without postproduction processing.
Shooting video is a cost-effective way to make a movie, especially for independent moviemakers on a budget. It can be challenging to make video look good,
but with strong lighting techniques and solid preplanning, it’s entirely possible
for video to resemble the look of film closely. As an example, we shot Time and
Again on the miniDV format using a JVC GY-DV500 camcorder. As a result,
the movie bears a remarkably professional look given the $2000 we had to
In addition, cheap tape stock will give you the flexibility to shoot
as many takes as you want and really focus on the process of
making the movie. All in all, digital video is the smartest choice
for low-budget movies.
Camera support equipment helps stabilize the shot by moving the
camera in a smooth, controlled manner. There are a variety of
different types of support tools, including tripods, dollies, and
cranes, that you can use to improve the production value of your
Tripod: The biggest problem with independent movies is that the
camera is handheld too often, drawing the audience’s attention to
the shaky camera and away from the story. Although the handheld
technique has its place in action sequences and point-of-view
shots, nothing can beat a steady camera, carefully panning and
tilting on a tripod through each shot. A tripod is made of two
different parts: the legs, which are the three supports, and the
head, which is the pan/tilt mechanism the camera sits atop. There
are several types of tripod heads:
Friction head ($50–$100): These tripods
are the least expensive and are designed for
still cameras and lightweight camcorders.
The tension controls on the head increase
and decrease pressure on two metal plates.
Although ideal for lock-down shots in
which the camera doesn’t need to move,
panning and tilting actions are not smooth
because of the two plates grinding against
one another. These tripods are also very
lightweight, so even the steadiest camera
operator will have a difficult time getting
a stable shot, especially if the camera is
zoomed in on the subject.
Fluid head ($250–$1,500): Fluid-head
tripods rely on a thick oil to increase
and decrease tension in the head, resulting in a smooth panning
and tilting movement. The cost of fluid-head tripods is dependent on
their size. Bigger cameras need bigger heads. Because fluid-head
tripods are used mostly in professional applications, they can be configured in many different ways to suit the needs of the production. Legs
and heads can be purchased separately so you can build your own
Gear head ($10,000–$20,000): Used to support large 35 mm cameras, the
gear head is used to precisely control the camera, whose weight may make
it difficult to handle on a conventional fluid head. The gear head has two
wheels, one on the side that controls tilt and one on the back that controls
the panning movement. These wheels have gear settings that control the
responsiveness of the wheels so the operator can, by moving the wheels
Doorway dolly.
the same speed, pan and tilt quickly or very
slowly, depending on the requirements of
the shot. Rarely used in video, gear heads
are usually seen on shoots utilizing larger
film cameras.
Dolly (free–$500/day to rent): A dolly is a platform with wheels that moves the camera in a
smooth, controlled manner. Always pushed by
an operator, the dolly can be used with oversized
tires if the ground is smooth, or it can operate
on a track, which gives the dolly grip precise
control over the camera’s movements. Dollies
can be cheaply constructed by mounting skateboard wheels parallel to each other on an angled
piece of steel and then attaching them to the
bottom of a piece of plywood. Track can be made
out of PVC pipe, cut to whatever length you
need. Professional dollies, like the Matthews
Doorway Dolly, can be rented for $50–$70 a day
with eight-foot pieces of track renting at around
$15–$25 a day. Using professional equipment
will be much easier in setting up controlled
shots. Large, pneumatically controlled dollies
like the Super PeeWee or the Chapman are heavy,
sophisticated dollies that can raise and lower the
camera and are designed for heavy motion
picture cameras. They can be rented for $300–
$500 a day.
Crane ($400–$1000/day to rent): Cranes are
camera support devices with long arms that can
raise and lower the camera or arm the camera
over a crowd or set. Some cranes are able to
support only the camera, whereas others can
support the camera and two people. Always
counterbalanced with weights, a crane grip will
raise, lower, and arc the crane around for the
shot. Cranes usually come with an operator who
will set up, operate, and tear down because of
the unit’s complexity and risk.
Steadicam ($400–$1000/day to rent): Steadicams are counterbalanced devices,
either handheld for small cameras or worn on a vest for heavier cameras, that
absorb the shock of the operator’s movements, allowing the operator to walk
and run. The result is a smooth shot much like that from a dolly, but it frees
the operator to walk up and down stairs, run on rocky terrain, or secure a
smooth shot impossible to get with a dolly or crane. Smaller steadicams can be
purchased for around $1000 for small cameras, whereas the bigger rigs cost
around $15,000–20,000.
Lighting equipment hire
Direct Lighting
200–203 Hercules Road
London SE1 7LD, UK
Telephone: +44 870 204 6000
Fax: +44 870 204 6001
HD camera equipment hire
On Sight
14/15 Berners Street,
London W1T 3LJ, UK
Telephone: +44 20 7637 0888
Fax: +44 20 7637 0444
In order to meet the exposure requirements of the medium you’re shooting and
the artistic requirements of the story, be sure to have access to a wide range of
lighting instruments. From inexpensive lights available from the hardware store,
to practical lights seen in the shot, to professional high-wattage fixtures, professional tools are the key to creating a Hollywood-quality movie.
There are a variety of light fixtures, including halogen metal iodide (HMI), fluorescent, and tungsten lighting, that can be configured into harsh, soft, direct,
and diffused sources of different color temperatures to provide filmmakers with
varying degrees of control.
Two basic categories of lights are open face and fresnels.
Open-face lights feature an exposed lamp placed in front of a focusing
reflector. Using nothing more than a wire scrim in front of the lamp and Tungsten light.
a lever to focus or spot the light, the basic functionality of
the fixture makes them inexpensive and versatile.
Fresnels are lights with a built-in lens that focuses the light.
Generally sturdier and more easily controlled, fresnels
provide greater, more focused light output and more flexibility for the user than open-face fixtures.
Although inexpensive solutions may provide the light output
needed to light a scene, the lack of control over the light will ultimately create a problem. Some features to look for in a light fixture
Barn doors: These four metal flaps help shape the light
roughly. Completely configurable, barn doors are the first
line of flagging, shaping, and reducing the spill of the light.
Gels and diffusion can be clipped to barn doors.
Flood and spot: A dial or lever on the side of
the light will move the lamp closer to and
farther from the reflector, focusing the light
beam into a narrow beam or spreading the
light across a greater area.
Lamps: Professional lights accept industry
standard bulbs. Although expensive, these
bulbs are designed to generate light at a specific color temperature and wattage.
Lenses: Some fresnels, such as HMI Pars, come
with interchangeable lenses that give the user
greater flexibility in shaping the pattern of
light emanating from the fixture.
Remember that the secret to good lighting is
about controlling the attributes of the light, a
capability delivered only by professional-grade
motion picture lights.
Using the same element found in most household light bulbs, tungsten light fixtures produce
a warm orange light (3200K). These fixtures are
among the least expensive and provide a wide
range of flexibility and control.
Light kit.
At the cheap end, you can purchase construction
work lights from a hardware store or use the
clamp on pie-tin utility lights that use standard light bulbs. Whereas these lights
are inexpensive, they lack the control that you have with professional fixtures.
Professional lights produced by companies like Lowel (www.lowel.com) or Arri
(www.arri.com) are much more expensive, costing anywhere between $100 and
$2000 per light fixture, depending on the wattage and output of the light. These
fixtures offer a much greater degree of control over the light by allowing the
user to flood or spot the light, use barn doors to shape the light, and add scrims
to reduce the light. Professional lighting equipment can also be rented from a
local rental company.
Tungsten light fixtures require a lot of electricity and generate a lot of heat,
making them ineffective in small, tight quarters, so filmmakers often use fluorescent lights instead. Ideal for creating a soft wraparound, these fixtures are
cool and energy efficient, although a single fluorescent lamp does not produce
as much light as a tungsten lamp. Light kits of two or three fixtures cost around
$3000 and can be purchased from Kino-Flo (www.kinoflo.com)
or Videssence (www.videssence.com).
The lamps can be easily switched in fluorescent fixtures between
daylight (5600K) or tungsten (3200K) lamps so the color temperature matches the ambient light.
Professional fluorescent lights differ from consumer fluorescents
in a number of ways:
Flicker: Professional fixtures utilize a special, flicker-free
ballast. Unlike consumer fluorescents, which flicker when
recorded on a 24 frame per second camera, professional
lights will not flicker on screen.
Dimmability: Professional fluorescents can be dimmed
from the ballast to reduce the light output.
Color temperature: Professional fluorescent fixtures can be
outfitted with special bulbs that match the color of either
tungsten or daylight, allowing them to be used in either
lighting condition.
Kino-Flo four foot, four
Durability: Professional fluorescents are designed and built
to withstand the rigors of film production and provide a number of con- bank fixture.
trols, from barn doors to egg crates, to craft and focus the light.
Halogen metal iodide lights are fixtures that use a gas globe instead of a tungsten
bulb and produce roughly five times the amount of light as a tungsten lamp at
the same wattage. HMIs produce a blue light that matches the color temperature
of sunlight and cost around $8000 for one light. A 1200-watt HMI, which is
the largest HMI that can run off a household circuit, can be rented for around
$120/day from most rental companies.
High light output: HMIs generate five times the light of a similarly watted
tungsten light and run much cooler in temperature.
Cost: HMIs are expensive to purchase and maintain. A 1200-watt globe
costs about $450 to replace. HMIs can also be very finicky and fail to strike
if power conditions aren’t perfect. Repairs and maintenance of HMIs can
also be costly.
Work outdoors: The primary light fixture of choice when shooting during
daylight, the color temperature of an HMI matches the color of sunlight,
eliminating the need to add gels.
Dimmable and timed: HMIs have both dimming controls and the ability
to work in flicker-free mode, making them ideal when working with
Soft boxes
Softboxes are tungsten or HMI lights with a black fabric housing mounted
on the light fixture with a soft white diffusing material that softens the light.
Ideal for filming people, the softbox smoothes the light, making
much softer shadows. Softbox lights can be purchased or rented
as an all-in-one unit that also includes the light fixture, or
you can obtain a Chimera (www.chimeralighting.com), which
is a separate softbox that can be added to virtually any light
One outstanding softbox is the Lowel Rifa-Lite. This all-in-oneunit contains a hardwired lamp mounted inside a collapsible
umbrella, leaving a very small storage footprint.
Light kits
Lights can be purchased or rented individually or in a kit. Kits
generally include two to four light fixtures, light stands, barn
doors, and accessories in one case. This is, in most instances, the
best option for filmmakers. A light kit with a 1000-watt light, a
500-watt light, and a 250-watt light should be sufficient for most
small-sized indoor scenes.
Anyone can set up a light and turn it on, but the real craft of lighting a scene
is in controlling the light. Lighting control tools, called grip equipment, include
flags, nets, silks, and C-stands, which are used to shape, craft, reduce, and diffuse
Nets are netted fabric material stretched across a metal frame that, when placed
in front of a light source, reduce the amount of light. A single net will cut the
light by one-third of an f-stop. A double net will reduce the light by two-thirds
of an f-stop and a triple by a full f-stop. Nets come in a variety of sizes and are
often held in front of the light source with a C-stand.
Nets, flags, and silks.
Silks are similar to nets, but instead of a netted material that reduces the light, a silk
has a solid white material that softens the light.
Silks are used to reduce the harshness of a light
source and, like nets, come in a variety of sizes.
Flags are frames with a solid black material that
completely blocks the light. Used to cast shadows,
flags are a good tool to help shape the light so
that it falls only where you want it.
C-stands are multipurpose stands with a grip
head and an extendable gobo arm that can hold
flags, nets, silks, and even lights.
There are hundreds of different stands, clamps,
and rigs that you can use to mount lights and
lighting control instruments.
In addition to controlling the quality of light, it is also important
to control the color of light using thin films called gels, by placing
them in front of the lights. Gels are multicolored pieces of film
that will tint your light a certain color, sometimes for aesthetic
reasons and other times to balance the color of the light to match
the color of other lights within the scene.
The two most common types of gels are CTO (color temperature
orange), which is designed to convert the color of sunlight to
match the color of tungsten light, and CTB (color temperature
blue), which converts tungsten light to match sunlight. To learn
more about color temperature, refer to the Cinematography
You can get a free sample book that includes a variety of gels by
contacting Lee Filters or Rosco Filters. Gels can be purchased from
a local rental company for around $6.00 per 2 × 2-foot sheet.
Whereas gels will tint the color of the light, diffusion will soften
the light. There are several types of diffusion, each with varying
intensities. A gel sample book will also include samples of
Both gels and diffusion can be cut with scissors and attached to a light’s barn
doors using C-47s (the fancy technical term for clothespins).
Good audio is critical to a movie, so it is important to have a high-quality
shotgun microphone, a boom pole to suspend the mike over the actors, a shock
mount to suspend the mike at the end of the boom pole to minimize extraneous sounds, several XLR audio cables, and a good pair of headphones.
Do not use the built-in camera microphone because the distance from the
microphone to the subject will vary from shot to shot, introducing too much
ambient sound. Instead, by placing a microphone at a constant distance over
the actors, regardless of the camera position, the dialog will be strong and
Audio-Technica makes high-quality on-set microphones. See the Audio Recording chapter for more information on microphones and on how to make an
inexpensive boom pole.
The list of equipment necessary to shoot a scene can be really complicated and
intimidating, so here are some guidelines for the basic must-haves on every film
The camera
A tripod
A portable television monitor
Shotgun microphone with a boom pole, XLR cable, and headphones
Basic lighting kit (one 1000-watt light, one 500-watt light, one 250-watt
White foam core reflector
Extension cords
In addition, every filmmaker should have a production bag with the following
Screwdrivers, both flat head and Phillips
A small crescent wrench
Pliers and needle-nose pliers
Tape measure
Small level (used to level pictures and posters hung on set)
Light meter
Volt meter
Pens, pencils, Dry Erase, and permanent markers
First-aid kit
Lens cleaners, camel hair brush
Can of compressed air
Small and large flashlights
Gaffer’s tape, two-inch black and one-inch white
Video cables and adapters
C-47s (springed clothespins)
Book of sample gels
Swiss Army Knife
Utility knife
Camera filters
Spare fuses
Leather work gloves
Bug spray
Dulling spray (reduces glares on reflective surfaces)
For cash-strapped filmmakers, here are some low-budget options for building
an inexpensive equipment package. Understand that by using cheaper tools,
you’re reducing the amount of control you would normally have by using professional fixtures.
Work lights: When I started shooting my movies, I purchased several
construction work lights from the hardware store. Costing $25 each, these
lights are switchable between 500 and 1000 watts and included a light
stand and power cable. Although they put out a lot of light, the color of
the lights is really warm, much more so than tungsten. Consider buying
some one-half CTB, or color temperature blue, gels to correct the light to
a standard tungsten light. Also be careful about putting gels or diffusion
too close to the lamp. The heat will burn the gels and cause a fire hazard.
One major drawback of construction work lights is that the light they
generate is very broad and extremely difficult to control.
Clamp light: Available for around $8 each from your local hardware store,
these clamp-on lights accept standard tungsten light bulbs and feature a
screw-on pie-tin shape reflector. These lights are extremely versatile and
the lip of the reflector is perfect for attaching diffusion or gels using
China lanterns: China lanterns feature a standard light socket with an
expandable two-foot paper globe that dramatically softens the light. Used
on major movie sets, China lanterns are a great way of creating a soft
ambient source. You can purchase these for under $10 at discount home
furnishing stores.
Microphone boom pole: Boom poles are used to suspend a microphone
over the actors on set. Real boom poles cost nearly a thousand dollars.
For a hundred dollars, you can make an effective boom pole yourself.
Purchase a paint roller extension handle and a nice paint roller from the
Be prepared for every potential problem by having any tools, equipment, and materials on hand the day of the shoot.
local hardware store. Make sure the paint roller handle will screw onto
the end of the extension pole. Next, buy a $50 microphone shock mount
from a music or instrument store. Remove the wire and roller from the
paint roller handle and screw the shock mount in its place. The result is
a retractable boom pole with a removable shock mount that even has a
Diffusion: A frosted shower curtain or a bed sheet, placed a safe distance
from a light source, can create a really great diffused light. Also try using
tracing paper as diffusion on low-wattage, 100 watts and below, clamp
lights to soften the light. Always maintain a safe distance between the
diffusion and the light source to avoid a fire.
Reflectors: Professional shiny boards used to reflect sunlight can cost
hundreds of dollars to purchase. For an inexpensive alternative, visit the
hardware store and purchase a sheet of Tyvek insulated foam. This inchthick foam has shiny paper on either side and serves as a rugged reflector.
Also try white foam core for a softer reflector and foam core wrapped in
aluminum foil for a harsher reflector.
Go to the phone book and look up “video production,” “stage and lighting
rental,” or “equipment rental,” or contact the state film commission for a list
of rental houses in the area. Most major cities will have some type of rental
company that rents lights and grip gear, although much of their equipment may
be for theatrical productions. There’s a big difference between movie production
equipment and theater equipment, so be sure to ask which they stock. Renting
cameras may require contacting a rental facility in a larger city, especially if it’s
specialized equipment like a 35 mm or high-definition camera.
Once you find an equipment rental house near you, call them up and ask them
about their services and get to know the rental agent. Talk about your project
and be excited, but don’t talk about prices or discounts yet. Use this as an
opportunity to build a relationship.
Grip equipment
(877) 865-SONY
(800) 405–0652
(800) 252–5722
Matthews Studio Equipment
(800) CE-STAND
(800) 334–3426
(323) 650–3967
Rosco Filters
(800) 767–2669
Lee Filters
(800) 576–5055
Audio Technica
(330) 686–2600
Equipment distributors
B&H Photo/Video
(800) 606–6969
Film stock/video tape
(800) 621–3456
(888) 424–3854
Dr. RawStock
(800) 323–4647
(888) 729–7865
Tape Company
(800) 851–3113
Enterprise Stationers
Contracts and forms
(323) 876–3530
Earl Hays Press
Production boards
(818) 765–0700
Studio Depot
(323) 851–0111
Schedule a time to visit and bring the script, storyboards, and production schedule. This will show that you are serious about your project. Remember that
rental companies have dozens of filmmakers walking in off the streets asking
for free stuff. They say no, because the filmmakers are never organized and don’t
have a plan. Show them you’re organized and know what you’re doing. Talk to
them about the dates of production and ask them for advice on what equipment
you may need.
Once you assemble an equipment list, talk to them about your budget and ask
if they would be willing to cut you a deal on the rental costs of the gear. Always
show your excitement and conviction for the project. This is your best sales
Many rental houses will have a daily rental rate or a three- or four-day rental
week. This means that if you rent the gear for a week, you will only pay for
three or four days. This is an incentive for companies to rent gear for a week at
a time. Negotiate this rate down to two-day weeks or even one day a week.
A lot of rental houses will let you use the equipment for free, but if a paying
client comes in and wants the same gear, you will have to give it up. This can
cause major problems, especially if you have an entire shoot scheduled, cast
and crew arriving, and locations secured. You don’t want to find out the day
before that your gear is suddenly unavailable. Paying a little money may be a
solution to avoid this problem.
Look in the phone book or local film production manual (available from
the local film commission) for equipment rental facilities and schedule a
tour and demonstration of the types and variety of lighting and grip equipment they carry.
A rental facility can help you select the proper equipment for your production and can even show you how to use the gear if you’re not familiar
with it. Many of the people who work at rental facilities crew on movies,
so they know the ins and outs of how the gear works. In addition, rental
companies are very uncomfortable renting their equipment to people who
don’t know how to use it. Such rentals could result in costly repair or
replacement bills. Having educated renters is in the equipment rental
house’s best interest.
When shooting a film, approach a rental company with a plan. Show them
how serious you are about your production and prove to them why they
should let you have their equipment at a discounted rate or for free.
Most rental facilities give student discounts if you can prove your project
is school-related. Get a letter from the school on school letterhead as
proof. Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount or for free equipment.
Always check the equipment at the rental facility to make sure it works
properly. If you don’t check the gear until you’re on set, problems with
equipment can cause costly delays.
Make sure you have the proper insurance to cover the rental of the equipment. Many rental agencies will require a certificate of insurance before
letting you leave with the gear.
Make sure you have a list of every piece of equipment you’re renting so
you can check off each item when returning it to the rental facility.
If you’re not sure how to use a piece of equipment, ask. The rental agents
will be happy to help you.
Think about how you’re going to transport the equipment from the rental
house to the set. Will you need to rent a van or truck?
Bring along a friend to help load and unload gear. The more hands, the
easier the work.
NEVER leave equipment in an unattended parked car, especially cameras
and lenses. If any items are stolen, you are personally liable and will be
responsible for the cost of replacement.
It’s possible to rent a complete grip and lighting truck, such as the Mobile Movie Studio. Outfit with complete grip and lighting
gear, a production office, editing suites, tables, chairs, walkie-talkies and generators, trucks like these often cost less than renting
from dozens of different vendors.
Production Design
iv. Draw detailed
sketches of each
set to assist the
set dressing
i. Refer to the scene
breakdown sheets
to generate a list
of required props,
wardrobe, and set
dressing elements.
viii. Clean and repair
wardrobe after
every shooting day.
v. Work with the director to
photography to coordinate
colors and patterns.
ii. Production
designer and art
director visit each
location or set
to determine set
dressing requirements.
vi. The set is dressed and
prepared prior to shooting.
iii. Research for accuracy and begin
collecting props and
vii. Use tags to identify each
prop and article of clothing with a scene number
and the actor who will be
using it.
ix. Maintain accurate
logs of rented props
and wardrobe to
facilitate returns.
Production design involves designing and constructing sets, props, and costumes. The production design team includes the production designer, art director, assistant art director, set designer, and set decorator, as well as prop and
costume departments. Production design departments are responsible for the
look of the visual elements of the production short of the lighting and shooting
of the scene. Production design includes set design, construction, dressing,
props, and wardrobe.
When figuring out what production design elements are required for the movie,
look at the script breakdown sheets for lists of what you need. Because you
already broke down the script into categories, it should be pretty easy to start
collecting the props and wardrobe on the list.
Although we shot the exterior scenes in the town of Chardon, Ohio, we still needed the cooperation of the store owners. With their
assistance, we dressed each store in a 1950s style with borrowed elements from antique shops, friends, and custom-made set
Production design will make the difference between an amateurish film
and a professional film. Invest time in dressing sets and locations so they
are not only appropriate to the story, but also visually interesting. Make
backgrounds as realistic as possible by incorporating visually interesting
items, shapes, and colors.
Work closely from the storyboards so you know what areas of the set need
to be dressed. Dress only what the camera will see to save money and
Discuss production design with the director of photography so that color
selections and textures work in conjunction with lighting and camera
Avoid shooting against white walls AT ALL COSTS. They are boring, are
flat, and look cheap. If you have to shoot in a small apartment or a location with white walls, consider adding plants, fake trees, or posters (make
sure you have the rights to use them in your movie).
Production Design
White walls are very difficult to expose because they reflect so much light.
Consider painting walls a light to medium gray so they fall off in the
background. The director of photography can easily add light to brighten
up gray walls or throw a colored light to break up the background much
easier than with white walls.
Contact local interior designers for decorating advice and suggestions on
where to get inexpensive set dressing. Also call local construction companies and ask them who decorates their model homes. They might not only
be up for the challenge of dressing movie sets, but also have great contacts
to get inexpensive furniture and set dressing elements.
Think out of the box. Good production design doesn’t have to be expensive. Use local resources like garages, attics, thrift shops, and even stores
looking to get rid of old inventory to dress the set, clothe the actors, or
provide props.
The contributions of the production design and art departments are both vastly
underrated and underappreciated on most independent films until the day of
the shoot arrives and the director realizes how sparse the background looks.
When producing a low-budget film, bring the proper art department people
onboard early, communicate your vision, and give them a budget to go out and
begin collecting set-dressing elements, props, and wardrobe.
The production design of a movie is incredibly important in creating a realistic
environment for the characters, especially in a period film like Time and Again. We spent
a lot of time making sure that everything in every shot was of authentic 1950s look and
feel. In some instances, like the diner, we didn’t have to do too much work, but other
sets, like Awanda’s trailer, were dressed from the ground up.
Often, simple things like old dishes, a blanket, and old pots and pans work wonders. We
tried to find a few authentic items like radios and clothes to put in the background that
really sold the time period.
Ultimately, we spent less than $250.00 on all the props and set dressing in the movie,
finding free or really cheap objects in thrift shops, borrowing from friends, and sometimes
making our own props. Doing the production design for Time and Again wasn’t difficult; it
just involved doing a little research, seeking out good deals, and having fun in the process!
Props are objects or items that an actor physically touches or handles in a
■ Begin collecting props as soon as you finish the script to avoid the rush
of searching days before you go into production. There will be many other
things for you to worry about.
If you’re producing a period film, do the necessary research to ensure that the props are
appropriate to the time period. Be aware of
even the smallest details.
■ Go through the script and make a list of props
mentioned in the script (which you should
have already done when you broke down the
script), then assemble a list of items that could
be used to dress the set. Work off the list and
pass it around to people and contacts you
know to see if they have any leads.
■ Delegate responsibility to the property master,
whose job it is to research, collect, and possibly make the necessary props for the film.
■ Props can be acquired inexpensively from
thrift stores, garage sales, Internet auctions,
and even family and friends. Ask around—you’d be surprised what you
can find.
Keep a variety of spray paints on set in case props need touching up during
the rigors of shooting.
It’s a good idea to keep a master list of the props you borrow from people
so that at the end of production, you know to whom the props belong.
Some more expensive props may require proof of insurance.
If you damage any props that you borrowed, be sure to offer to either
repair or replace the prop, at the owner’s discretion.
When assembling props, be sure to tag each one with the scene number
and day of production so it’s easy to store and locate each prop when you
need it.
Approach a store and ask them if you can borrow merchandise as props.
Give them a credit card number and pay them if the prop is damaged and
not sellable.
For physically demanding scenes in which props can be broken,
consider acquiring two or three replacements.
I created the 1958
newspaper on my
computer and then
asked a local newspaper printer to donate
a roll of newsprint.
Using a blueprint
printer, I printed three
copies of the newspaper, just in case
something happened to
one of the props.
Awanda’s diner dress
came from a rental shop
in Cleveland. For a very
reasonable price, I was
able to rent almost 20
complete outfits, simply
by asking.
Wardrobe is the clothing actors wear in the movie. Wardrobe can
be as simple as jeans and a T-shirt or as elaborate as an 1800s
French ball gown.
■ Do your research on the Internet, at the library, or simply by
talking to people knowledgeable about the time period your
story is set in, and select wardrobe that is appropriate to the
■ Try to avoid white and black colors. They present an exposure
problem for the director of photography. Also avoid tight patterns such as tweed. If you are shooting on video, the patterns
Production Design
will create a rainbow moiré interference effect on the television screen that
can be distracting to the viewers.
Make sure all actors try on and size their wardrobe well before you begin
shooting to allow time for alterations.
If stunts are involved, secure multiple sets of the same wardrobe in the
event that a piece is damaged or torn. If wardrobe is supposed to look
torn and dirty, like Bobby Jones’s wardrobe, make sure blemishes are
consistent from one article of clothing to the next.
Make sure that the wardrobe fits in a way that allows the actor full range
of motion. If the wardrobe is too tight, or doesn’t fit right, it may tear
during a shot.
Clean and press wardrobe after every shoot and take care of every article
of clothing . . . put it on a hanger, hang it up, and don’t wad clothes up
and throw them in a box.
In searching for appropriate wardrobe for Time and Again, I looked in the phone book
under “costumes” and found Chelsea’s Costumes, a terrific costume shop with
thousands of costumes in Cleveland.
I spoke with the owner about our project and explained how we were working with a
limited budget. She really got excited about what we were doing and offered us a flat
rate to rent all the wardrobe we needed for the film. We borrowed Awanda’s costume as
well as wardrobe for dozens of extras.
Other wardrobe came from other places. Brian used his own clothes for Bobby Jones’s
outfit and we borrowed the Sheriff uniform from a friend of mine.
I was really surprised at just how many resources were available to us in finding
appropriate period attire.
Remember that you can make creative costumes out of existing clothes by
layering or sewing different garments together to create different looks.
Remember that the wardrobe department is also responsible for jewelry,
accessories, shoes, hats, gloves, and anything the actor wears.
Contact local seamstresses to help you design and create custom wardrobe. Often, local fabric stores know people in the community who enjoy
sewing and may be able to give you references.
As you locate and assemble the wardrobe, pin a tag to each garment that
lists the actor it’s for, the scenes the garment is to be used in, and which
day of production it is to be used.
Wardrobe continuity is extremely important, so take a Polaroid or digital
photo of each actor in their wardrobe each day to make sure their look is
continuous throughout the shoot.
Actors should not be responsible for their own wardrobe. In Hollywood,
SAG (union) actors are paid extra money if they bring their own wardrobe
to the set. Even in instances in which the clothes may be as simple as jeans
and a T-shirt, there should be two sets of the same wardrobe and the
wardrobe needs to be maintained for its continuity. The actor shouldn’t
have to worry about his wardrobe, he has his own job to perform.
Finding a location such as a laboratory or space ship interior can be both challenging and cost-prohibitive, so in many instances, building a set piece is the
most reasonable course of action.
Constructing sets allows filmmakers unprecedented control over the layout,
design, and style of the set, including the ability to design the color and texture
of the walls, ceiling height, and floor plan and to create wild, or removable,
walls to allow better camera access. Designers can design the layout of the set
so it works to complement the actors’ blocking, giving the director much more
flexibility than working on a traditional location. Open-ceiling sets allow the
director of photography to rig lights from behind and over the top of set walls,
granting a greater degree of control over the look of the movie.
One factor in crafting realistic sets is the need for believable set dressing. Small
details such as furniture, aging the walls, and details in photos and artwork on
set will all help sell the realism of the set.
The crew built a shuttlecraft cockpit for my first feature film, Clone. The set was built using cardboard,
masking tape, and Christmas lights and cost less than $60.
Production Design
In finding a location to construct the set, consider empty warehouses or stores, gymnasiums,
convention areas, or any high-ceilinged area with
a floor that can withstand the wear and tear of
construction and filming.
Remember that building a set doesn’t have to be
expensive. Creative thinking and looking at available resources are the best way to start.
If you’re looking for a location to build the
set in, landlords of vacant commercial properties may be willing to give
you a space for free or for a heavily discounted rate if you plan on using
it for only a week or so. Just make sure that the location still has utilities
such as power and running water. Empty grocery stores, shopping malls,
and strip malls are great places to look. Look into any empty factory buildings. There is plenty of room to work and the circuits are wired for heavy
power usage.
Make sure that the rental space has a loading dock or is otherwise accessible to trucks so that you can bring lumber, set dressing, and camera
Check the power and circuit configuration in the building to ensure that
it is able to support the electrical draw of the lighting gear.
When budgeting for set construction, consider the cost of truck rental, cost
of materials, helping hands to load and unload the materials, rental of
the property where you’ll be building the sets, utility bills, flooring,
cleanup, portable toilets if needed, dumpster rental, and possibly a generator for power.
Listen to the ambient sound outside the building. Warehouses or gymnasiums aren’t designed for the acoustics needed for film production. Avoid
buildings near freeways or heavily trafficked areas.
Sets can be inexpensively built using flats, a four- by eight-foot sheet of
plywood stood on end and braced with two-by-fours. The flats can then
be painted or wallpapered to create the walls of the set. The flats can be
moved during production to allow placement of the camera in places
otherwise impossible in a real location.
Think about the floor and ceiling of the set. Building only walls will
limit the potential camera angles. To build an inexpensive floor, consider
buying carpet remnants or inexpensive carpet squares from a local carpet
store. Use carpet tape to secure the carpet temporarily but safely to the
Consider hiring a local construction contractor to assist in building the
sets. Although you may want to try it yourself, a professional touch will
make the set believable on camera. If the scene requires an elaborate set
piece, consult a local architect for help. Don’t be afraid to ask these professionals to donate their time if you’re on a tight budget. You may be surprised at their willingness to help.
After rigging the
lighting, we transformed
our cheap set into a
realistic shuttlecraft
The use of furniture pads, normally used by movers to wrap furniture, is
a great way to reduce sound on a location. Hanging packing blankets (also
called sound blankets) on the back of the set walls will help reduce exterior ambient sound.
When constructing the set it must be not only aesthetically pleasing, but
technically functional as well. Be mindful of the placement of lights and
how lighting and grip equipment can be rigged on the set.
Creating a brick facade or stone wall can be simply achieved by using
textured panels attached to the flats. These panels are lightweight and look
very convincing. Although some hardware stores may have them, it may
be easier to find them at a theater supplier.
Create convincing exteriors outside of windows by adding greenery and
plants. For a sky effect, consider taking a large light blue bed sheet of fabric
and lightly spray paint clouds. A small section of fence may also help
obscure the background.
Always make sure the set is safe and secure. Use sandbags to weigh down
flats, use safety cables when rigging lighting, and be sure the set can withstand the rigors of film production.
The set dressing in
Bobby Jones’s bedroom
came from a bunch of
electronic junk and an
antique radio I borrowed
from a friend. With a
little creativity, it was
easy to re-create the
1950s for next to no
Set dressing is the decoration of the set, including wallpaper, plants, furniture,
and any objects that an actor does not touch during the scene. Set dressing is
important in establishing the tone of the scene and establishing the realism of
the setting.
Use storyboards to help prepare the design of the set and figure out how
much of the set needs to be dressed.
I know I said it before, but I’ll say it again: DO NOT SHOOT AGAINST
WHITE WALLS! Dress the set with furniture, wall coverings, tapestries,
posters, and pictures (provided you have the rights to use them). If you
can’t hang anything on the walls, use light to
create the shadows of blinds or an outside tree
branch to break up the solid color. This is especially true if you’re shooting in an apartment or
house with white walls and little wall dressing or
■ Although it depends on the director’s vision,
it is often better to have a background that is
slightly darker than the actor’s flesh tones. It’s
easy to light a dark background to make it
brighter than it is to work with a bright or
white background.
■ Research the time period to ensure that everything in view of the camera represents the time
frame of the story.
Production Design
Work closely with the director of photography when you are designing
the look of the set. Colors, patterns, and brightness values of the set will
be very important to consider when the director of photography is designing lighting and camera placement.
Design your plan for dressing the set during the location scout and work
everything out on paper. Once you get to the set on the day of production,
the production design team should simply unload the truck and set everything up . . . not figure out what to do ten minutes before it’s time to
roll the camera.
Set dressing is important not only from an artistic standpoint, but also for practicality.
A great example in Time and Again is when Bobby Jones looks into the basement of his
father’s house and sees him painting the figurines. In real life, the location we shot at
didn’t have a basement, so instead of moving the entire crew to another location, we
faked it where we were. I noticed that the home owner’s garage door had a window that
looked like a basement window, so we raised the garage door high enough to bring the
window up to six feet. We then built a simple frame out of saw horses and two-by-fours
and laid a sheet of plywood across the top so it was propped up against the garage
door, just under the window. Then, we took grass, mulch, a few branches, and a couple
shrubs and built a fake ground. The actor, Brian Ireland, then climbed on top of our little
set and, with a tight camera angle, looked as though he was at ground level looking
down into a basement. The effect took less than an hour to rig and looked spectacular
on camera.
Think outside the box when planning shots and remember that no matter how makeshift,
jury-rigged, or cheap it looks on camera, all that matters is that with proper framing,
good lighting, and convincing acting, you can sell practically anything.
This simple and zero-cost approach was effective and easy, taking only a little
imagination and available resources.
Shooting on location will allow you to use the existing dressing of the
location; however, if you shoot on a soundstage or on a built set, there is
virtually free license to create whatever look you want. Building and dressing a set can be extremely cost prohibitive, so think carefully about
windows and window dressings, furniture, wallpaper or paint, rugs, and
floor style.
Plants, especially fake Ficus trees, are great to break up a solid wall or add
an interesting visual element to an otherwise drab background.
Fabric is a cheap way of dressing drab walls, floors, furniture, and windows.
Purchase inexpensive material from a craft store, or buy ends at a discount.
Be sure to coordinate the fabric’s color and pattern with the actors’ wardrobe and production design.
When Bobby was kneeling on the ground watching his father through the bedroom window, in reality, the actor, Brian, was on a
piece of plywood covered with dirt looking into a partially-open garage door. Little did the audience know. . . .
If you can’t hammer nails or use regular push pins on the walls of a location, try using straight pins. They are so small that the hole isn’t noticeable, yet strong enough to hold up material or set dressing.
Cars, props, and wardrobe from a different time period can easily be obtained
by seeking out collectors, reenactment groups, and even museums. For Time
and Again Adam Kadar and I used the Internet to figure out where all the antique
car shows were around northeast Ohio. We visited nearly a dozen shows in the
month before we went into production. Armed with a flyer detailing the production and what we were looking for, we approached and spoke with hundreds
of car owners who were displaying vintage 1950s cars in an effort to sell them
on the merits of providing their cars for the film.
Production Design
Letter to car owners.
We used dozens of 1950s cars in Time and Again for free, because we got the owners excited at the
prospect of being involved with a movie.
As we walked around the car show, we wrote down the names and telephone
numbers of car owners who were interested in participating in the production.
Adam then contacted them a few days later, inviting them to the set to establish
that we are professional and legitimate. We knew exactly who was going to
arrive on each shooting day with which car. In an effort to control how many
people arrived with cars, we did not provide a blanket invitation to everyone.
The result was over 75 1955–1957 cars that established the time frame for the
film. Although there was no compensation, the vehicle owners were all happy
to show off their prized possessions for the camera.
If authentic extras are needed, try calling a reenactment group, especially
for military scenes in which costumed extras who understand the protocol
from the era are needed. Often, reenactment groups can also provide
props and even vehicles.
Car shows are a great place to find owners of old or unique vehicles. Many
owners love to show off their cars, provided the scene won’t put the car
at risk of being scratched or damaged. Some vehicle owners may wish to
be placed under the production company’s insurance policy.
i. Coffee and breakfast are set-up
30 minutes before
call-time, location
is unlocked and
Craft Services/Catering
Cast and Crew
i. Make-Up and Hair
departments set-up
and begin prepping the
actors. If the hair and
make-up needs are
complicated, the artists
and the actors may
need to arrive early before the rest of the cast
and crew.
i. Cast and Crew begin
arriving based at their call
times and are directed to
the appropriate parking
areas. 1st Assistant Director
walks everyone through the
set before the crew begins
unloading equipment in
designated staging areas.
i. The director meets with
the entire cast and crew,
talks about the scenes
to be filmed, and runs a
rehearsal with the cast
in front of the crew, so
everyone understands
what occurs in the
i. The 1st Assistant Director will issue call sheets
for the next day
i. The cast either finishes with make-up/
hair or begins on-set rehearsals with
the director while the crew, under the
direction of the director of photography, sets up the camera, lights and
grip equipment.
ii. Everyone goes home,
collapses from exhaustion and sleeps well...
only to get up the next
day and try it all over
i. Every six hours, the cast
and crew break for lunch
or dinner, even though
craft services munchies
are available throughout
the day.
Craft Services/
i. Once all the equipment is set-up, the director will rehearse the
scene several times for the camera crew to practice their moves,
the boom operator to place the microphone, and the actors to
practice their blocking and motivation in the scene.
ii. The cast and crew film the “master shot” first, which
encompasses all the action of the scene.
iii. Once the master scene is shot, the crew then sets up the
camera for the close-ups and insert shots, meticulously filming
each camera angle one at a time until the scene is “in the can.”
iv. The director will go over the script supervisor’s notes to ensure
that he has the coverage he needs before moving on to the
next scene.
i. If the production was well-organized, properly scheduled,
and the director knew what
he wanted, the cast and crew
should have finished up the
filming on time. The director
will thank everyone and briefly
explain what is to be filmed
the next day.
ii. The crew will either wrap the
equipment or secure the set if
they are retuning the next day.
Once all the preparations have been made, it’s time to begin production. Production is the process of physically making the movie, once all the elements
are in place. Production begins once the camera rolls on set, either in the studio
or on location, and continues until the final shot has been shot.
Production can be divided up into two categories:
Principal photography: Principal photography is the shooting of any
scenes that involve the main actors. The majority of the movie is principal
photography and involves the director and the first unit crew, that is, the
primary director of photography, department heads, and crew.
Second unit: Second-unit photography is a separate, smaller crew headed
up by a second-unit director and second-unit DP that shoots insert shots,
establishing shots, plates for digital effects, special effects shots, stunts,
and any other sequences that do not involve the main actors. Shooting
second unit allows the first unit crew to focus on the performance and
maximizes the actors’ time to be working on set instead of waiting around
for complicated set ups to be completed.
When it’s time to enter the production phase, every department should be clear
on what they need to do each day, what elements and equipment are needed,
and what each person’s job is. Every aspect of the production should be ready
to go and no creative idea has been left undiscussed or unplanned.
Shooting a movie is a very demanding yet exciting activity that is the result of months of
work and preparation. When getting started in the production phase of a movie, be ready
for what awaits you!
Long hours: Shooting a movie often leads to long, tiring hours. Be sure to eat healthy
food and get enough sleep before the production begins. You’ll need as much energy
as you can muster. Also be sure to eat well. Avoid sugary junk food from the craft
services table; eating good meals will help carry you through the day.
Stress: Be prepared for problems and stressful situations on set. The better organized
you are in preproduction, the easier it will be to overcome problems as they arise on
set. Remember Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Assume
there will be problems and keep a professional, level head so you can work through
issues when they arise. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed out.
Keep organized: The secret to a smooth-running production is to be as organized
as possible during the entire shoot. From keeping equipment organized to keeping
the office paperwork in order, always maintain a clean, safe work environment.
Stepping on set the first day can be a really intimidating experience, especially
when the cast and crew are looking to you, the director, for advice and guidance.
Begin the production day by going over ground rules for that day of shooting.
The first assistant director should point out where the restrooms are, what parts
of the set are off limits, where the trash is, where craft services are, where the
designated parking is, and all other location-specific details. Then, once everyone has gotten his or her morning coffee, go over the production schedule with
the cast and crew, and walk them through the scenes you are going to shoot.
Explain what the scenes are and how they relate to the overall story, where they
will be filmed, and how they fit into the production schedule. If the entire crew
understands the shooting schedule, they will be much more invested in the day
of shooting, feeling a part of the creative process rather than grunts moving and
setting up equipment.
After the general overview, run through the first scene in its entirety with the
actors so that everyone can see the blocking and flow of the scene. After this
overview, briefly run through the camera angles and how you plan to shoot the
sequence. Once everyone understands the setups for the scene, the crew should
begin unloading the equipment, prepping the set, and getting ready for the first
While the crew is rigging lighting and camera gear, meet with the actors and go
over the motivations for the scene, refine the blocking, and rehearse the details
of the scene. Talk about specific moments and describe what scenes came before
the scene you’re shooting and what the following scene is to help the actors
understand where they are in the story arc. Then, the actors should visit the hair
and makeup artists for any touch-up work needed.
There are instances in which the actors may need to arrive before the crew if
elaborate hairstyling or makeup is required. In Time and Again, Jennie was
always on set an hour and a half before everyone else to get her hair styled by
Key Hairstylist, Deb Lilly.
Once the camera and lights are set up and the actors are ready, bring everyone
on set for a camera rehearsal, allowing the director of photography to see how
the actors look on camera, the second assistant cameraman to double-check
focus marks, the director to adjust the performances or blocking, the production
sound mixer to set the audio recording levels, the boom operator to set the
microphone position, the art department to look over the set one last time, and
the actors to get into character.
Once all departments are satisfied, go for the first take.
The first assistant director will call for quiet on the set and will give the command
to call camera, roll sound, and mark the shot. After the second assistant cameraman marks the shot with the clapboard, you are free to call action.
Be sure to let the camera run for a few moments before calling action and after
calling cut—this extra footage will provide pad for the editor to work with when
cutting the film.
During the take, watch the performances carefully on the monitor and look for
authenticity, realism, and emotion from the actors. Be aware of how the actors
move around the frame and how well all the technical elements play together.
The crew shoots Bobby’s approach into the playground. Every scene was carefully planned before we
even arrived on set. The result was that each day of shooting was completed on time and on budget.
Does the moment feel real? Are the actors over- or underacting? Does the blocking seem real and motivated? Is the scene full of subtext, character, and driving
story elements? Watch carefully and make mental notes of what to change or
adjust for the next take.
Once you call cut, go directly to the actors and talk to them about their performance. Be encouraging and suggest different approaches to take if you’d like to
change a performance. While you are talking to the actors, the first assistant
director should be talking with the director of photography about the shot. Was
it in focus? Was the frame clean of any stray equipment, microphone booms,
and crew members or were there any other problems that necessitate another
take? The 1st AD will also ask the same of the production sound mixer. Were
there any problems with the audio—trucks or airplanes in the background, poor
sound levels, actors turning away from the microphone?
After the director talks to the actors and the 1st AD talks to the crew, the AD
briefs the director, who then decides if he wants another take. If yes, the crew
immediately resets and gets ready to do the process all over again. The director
will do as many takes as he needs and within the time the shooting schedule
After the first setup is complete, the director then directs the crew for the second
camera position. This process continues until the scene is complete.
Normally, shooting is slow in the morning and picks up pace as the day progresses. It is not uncommon for the production to fall behind schedule by lunch
time, which will require you to reassess the shooting schedule and possibly cut
shots out of the scene to save time on set. This difficult task can be avoided by
carefully preplanning the day in preproduction, rehearsing the actors, and
making sure the crew knows what is expected before the day of shooting
Make sure everything is planned out on paper before stepping onto the
set. All storyboards should be finalized, actors rehearsed, and camera
angles planned. Remember that the production process is about executing
the plan that you built in preproduction.
Make sure camera angles are concise and camera coverage overlaps so that
the editor has options in the editing room. A script supervisor will keep
track of which parts of the scene are covered by which camera angle.
Make sure the camera follows the actor’s actions and the actor motivates
the camera’s movements. Rehearse every camera move to ensure the actor,
dolly, focus puller, and boom operator hit their marks before rolling on
a take.
Do a complete rehearsal with the actors for the crew before setting up
equipment so everyone on set understands what is happening in the
scene. Go over general camera angles and how the scene is to be shot.
Be mindful of the rules of composition (see Cinematography chapter)
when placing the camera and determining angles and movement.
Think about how the shots will be edited together while figuring out
optimum camera angles on set. A smart director shoots for the edit.
The camera operator should always communicate with the boom operator
so she knows where the frame is BEFORE rolling. This will minimize the
microphone boom drifting in and out of the shot.
When shooting a camera setup, consider shooting another size frame (i.e.,
a long shot, medium shot, or close-up) of the action from the same angle.
While this doesn’t require a repositioning of the camera, it will provide
the editor the option of intercutting closer and farther shots of the same
Before each new camera setup, discuss the details of the shot with
the crew. Good communication is always key to a smooth-running
Jennie and Brian rehearse the moment when Bobby discovers the ring on the floor of Awanda’s trailer.
Rehearsing the action in a scene for the entire crew before shooting helps the production process flow
Be mindful of on-set continuity as the camera positions change. Are props,
set dressing, and even actors where they are supposed to be from one shot
to the next?
Productions always go slower early in the day. As the hours wear on,
filming usually has to pick up pace because the production is running
behind schedule. Move quickly and efficiently from the beginning of each
day to avoid the mad rush at the end.
Have a backup plan if exterior scenes are canceled due to weather. Always
have a backup interior scene to film so the cast and crew can change locations and continue shooting.
Make sure every crew member knows his on-set duties. If a crew member
has nothing to do, he should ask his department head if she needs help.
There is always work that needs to be done on set.
Keep the set clear of equipment. Organize lights, grip gear, and electrical
cables. This will make cleanup easier at the end of the day and make
getting out new gear easier.
Make sure breaks are allotted for eating.
When working on set, practice on-set safety by securing cables and riggings
and maintaining an environment that minimizes accidents.
Ensure that every crew member has the day’s script, call sheet, and shooting schedule.
4:00 AM—The UPM arrives on set, opens the set, and lets craft services in
to set up and prepare breakfast and coffee for the crew.
4:30 AM—The crew arrives and makes a beeline to the craft services table
for coffee.
4:45 AM—The 1st AD welcomes everyone to the set and establishes
rules and guidelines for working at this location, parking information,
location of restrooms, first aid, shoot schedule, and any other important
5:00 AM—The crew begins to unload the equipment and prep the camera,
lighting, and sound for the first setup.
5:30 AM—The actors arrive and go to have their makeup applied and put
on wardrobe.
6:30 AM—The lighting and camera are set up for the first shot. The
director runs through a complete rehearsal of the scene for the actors and
6:40 AM—The first shot of the day is taken. The crew continues to
10:30 AM—Six hours after call time, the crew breaks for lunch.
11:30 AM—After an hour, the crew returns to work.
4:30 PM—12 hours after call time, the crew wraps and begins to pack up
the production equipment. The 1st AD issues call sheets for the next
Before every take on a sync-sound production, there is a series of commands that
ensures that the set is quiet and every department is ready to roll. This helps keep
everyone on track with what is happening.
1st AD
“Quiet on set, please!”
“Camera ready?”
Camera operator
1st AD
Audio mixer
1st AD
1st AD
“Roll sound.”
Audio mixer
“Sound is rolling.”
Second assistant camera
“Scene 46a, Take 4.”
1st AD
“Roll camera.”
Camera operator
Second assistant camera
The 2nd AC then carefully closes the clapboard before pulling it out of the shot. The
camera operator may then need to reframe the shot after the clapboard is removed.
Once the shot is reframed, he says . . .
Camera operator
Safety is the single most important practice on set and should NEVER be compromised. When shooting, minimize liability by running an organized, safety
conscious set.
Always bring a fire extinguisher and first-aid kit on set. During the morning
meeting, the 1st AD should point out where they are located and where
to go in the event of an emergency.
List the contact information for local police departments, fire stations, and
hospitals on the call sheet, so in the event of an accident, everyone knows
where to go.
When working with firearms or pyrotechnics, the armorer and pyrotechnician must have a safety meeting to go over safety practices when working
with firearms and explosives.
Make sure cables are neatly coiled on the ground, are not stretched across
the set, and are taped to the floor in high-traffic areas.
Make sure C-stands, lights, and gobo arms are rigged either high or low
so pointy ends aren’t at eye level.
Whenever rigging overhead lights or grip equipment, always tie a safety
line in case a light loosens and falls.
Make sure all weight-bearing stands are weighted down with sandbags.
Never overload circuits, power strips, or cube taps.
Use dollies or hand trucks to move heavy pieces of equipment.
When using ladders, have someone to assist, and never use a ladder that
is too short for the job.
Overall, take your time, slow down, and think about what you’re doing on set.
The injury or death of a crew member is never worth making the production
The first time I ever visited a professional set, I was shocked to see how many people
were standing around. It seemed as though only a handful of people were actually
working, while the rest congregated around the craft services table. What I later learned
is that the people standing at crafty had already performed their jobs and were waiting
for the camera crew and director to complete a series of takes so they could rush in and
set up for the next take.
If correctly organized, production is an extremely methodical, calculated process, with
each person understanding his or her job and helping the machine move forward. Every
camera setup is meticulously lit, the camera is prepped, the makeup and hair are
touched up, the set is tweaked, props are placed, and a myriad of other processes occur
This type of organization and on-set rhythm is how movies get finished on time and on
The crew shoots the windmill. Although it looks massive in the shot, the actual set piece was less than
12 inches in diameter. Using a wide-angle lens and a smooth dolly movement helped us create a
million-dollar-looking shot for nothing.
Movies are shot in a very orderly, organized manner, and each camera shot is
categorized so it is easy to reference.
Scenes: Scenes are parts of the story that take place in the same location and
time. Breaking a script into scenes makes it easy to schedule and shoot similar
scenes. Scenes are always numbered.
■ Setup: Every time the camera moves to a new location or changes the
angles, a new setup is created. Setups are marked with a letter within each
scene. For example, Scene 45b is the third camera angle in Scene 45.
(Scene 45 is the first setup and is usually the master shot, Scene 45a is the
second camera angle, Scene 45b is the third setup, and so on). If you run
out of letters, start over, but double up on the letters, Scene 45aa, Scene
45bb, and so on.
■ Take: The take is the number of times each setup is recorded. A shot can
be taken numerous times because of technical issues, focus problems,
changes in performance and blocking, or sound issues.
This method allows each shot to have its own unique reference. Use this reference through postproduction to ensure easy access to the footage.
A tremendous amount of work goes into the production of a movie,
although much of that work is invisible to the audience. Location scouting,
insurance, securing permits, and equipment are not as noticeable as on-screen
components such as wardrobe, props, cinematography, and, most importantly,
Choosing good actors who can convincingly play a range of emotions is the
most important quality of making a movie, next to having a great script.
Communicating with actors requires a finesse that will help the actors find the
emotional and mental state needed to play a
moment properly. Although the basics of acting
seem simple, crafting the details of a performance
requires a special level of trust and communication between the director and the actors.
Explain to the actors what production is
like: slow, tedious, and repetitive. The more
prepared they are for the experience, the
better they’ll be. This is especially the case
when working with inexperienced actors.
Painting a picture of the realities of production will help them pace themselves and
maintain a strong energy throughout the
Jeanie Lalande plays
the teacher in Time
and Again.
Make sure the actors have their lines memorized before stepping on set.
This will allow you to craft the subtleties and nuances of the scene.
Always give actors feedback on what they did correctly and what they
need to change. Never begin another take without giving the actor something to work off of. Remember that as a director, you are their only
Help the actors develop a purpose, or objective to attain, during the course
of the shooting. In Time and Again, Awanda’s purpose during the porch
scene was to get Bobby home in bed.
Always help the actors stay RELAXED on set. Keep actors sheltered from
any problems and issues on set. The more relaxed the actor, the better the
Avoid saying phrases like “Just act natural” or “Just be yourself.” These
phrases don’t give any meaningful insight or direction to the actor.
Be specific in your direction. “Sheriff, when Bobby approaches, don’t step
back. Look him straight in the eye. It’s a challenge. Which of the two of
you is in command of this moment? He thinks he is. You’re letting him
know he’s not. It’s a power play.”
Don’t be negative when asking an actor to change a performance, but
rather, put a positive spin on it. Don’t say, “I don’t want you to say that
line so loud,” rather, say “Let’s try it again, but this time, try the line a
little softer. I think it would be more effective in this moment because . . . .”
NEVER say what they did wrong; suggest a way they could do it
Encourage actors to remain in character, even when the camera isn’t
rolling. The more comfortable they are in their role, the more convincing
and real the performance will be. Set a place aside for the actors to go to
between setups so they can practice their lines and prepare for the next
The only person an actor should get advice from is the director. If crew
members or other cast members feel free to give helpful acting suggestions, it will only undermine your relationship with the actors.
Avoid foreign dialects or accents unless an actor can speak them
Be aware that working with children or animals increases the time and
effort needed to get the shot.
The more you rehearse, the better the on-set performance. Help the actors
prepare not only their lines, but also their character motivations.
After auditions, consider hosting a social event with both the cast and the
crew to give everyone an opportunity to get acquainted with one another
before you get to the set. You will find a tremendous improvement in
quality and camaraderie.
Help the actor understand where the character was emotionally before
and after the scene you are shooting. Because movies are shot out of order,
it is important to establish and discuss the character arc of how a character
got to this scene and where they are going after the scene.
Respect the fact that acting can be an emotionally stressful and trying
process, especially with difficult scenes. Be sensitive to the actors’ needs
and always be supportive.
Part of being able to act a moment in a scene properly is to understand how
real people react to similar events in real life. Try these simple exercises to hone
your ability to identify realistic performances.
Activity 1
Pick a public location such as a shopping mall or a restaurant and watch how
people interact with others. Can you tell what kind of a mood a person is in?
How long did it take for you to figure it out? What subtle body language did
you pick up on? How can you direct an actor to convey an emotion using the
same subtle body language instead of dialog?
Activity 2
Select a scene from the Time and Again script and choose two actors to play
Bobby and Awanda. Direct the scene so the actors play the scene with two
varying subtexts. Some examples of subtexts are:
The cast of Time and Again. From left to right, Bob Darby, Jason J. Tomaric, Jennnie Allen, Brian
Ireland and Paula Williams.
late to an important meeting.
tired from working all night.
concerned about a sick friend.
thinking about their upcoming birthday party.
None of these examples describe a particular emotion, but rather a situation
that conjures up an emotion. It’s easier for an actor to react to a situation than
to play “happy” or “sad.” Part of getting a good performance from an actor is
to set up a situation and let them play the moment.
Activity 3
Because acting is about relaxing and trust, it’s important to trust and feel
confident in your fellow actors. Stand in a circle and place two actors in
the middle. One actor should put on a blindfold and relax for a moment
before falling backward. The second actor should catch him or her. The purpose is to relax and trust. If you can trust an actor in this exercise, then you
can trust him or her with your innermost feelings when in front of the
What makes bad acting in a movie? Can you find an example?
How is emotion conveyed through body language?
Why, in scenes in which actors act well, does it not look like acting at
How, in real life, can you tell if someone is lying? What are the visual and
verbal cues?
How do music, cinematography, and editing affect the acting?
Like any other position on set, acting is a job and the actors are expected to do
their part, especially when potentially thousands of dollars and precious time
are resting on their ability to deliver.
Understand the character’s history. Remember that we are all the sum
of our experiences and just as we have a history, so does the character. A
movie is nothing more than sharing with the audience a small slice of this
person’s life. Understand where the character is coming from and what
life experiences have shaped this person. Do research on the character’s
education, characteristics, hobbies, quirks, friendships, and problems and
speak with people who have had experiences similar to those of the character to build a complete, multilayered person in front of the camera.
Although the director will give you direction, it is your responsibility to
develop the character in line with the director’s vision and be prepared to
perform, in character, every time, and without hesitation.
None of the principal actors in Time and Again had ever acted before. This was their first
experience on a movie set and their first opportunity to play a role. I was very lucky to
have found inexperienced actors who were able to deliver. Their maturity, outlook on the
project, and life experiences all contributed to their on-camera abilities and attitude on
set. Not all filmmakers will be as lucky to find such talented novice actors.
Remember that acting is a skill that takes a long time to develop. For some people it
comes naturally and others require years of schooling and training to hone and perfect
their skill. Beware of actors who overuse techniques and rules of thumb to play a
character. Unless their ability to play the part comes from their heart, the result will be an
academic, flat performance. However, using technique can make a good actor great.
Learn to hone your intuition and understand what makes a realistic performance so you
can effectively work with your actors and achieve the best results.
Listen. Listen to the director . . . very carefully. The director is the guide
to the story and will tell you how the character should react and what
your motivation and subtext are for each scene. The director is also the
only person on set who knows how all the other elements will come
together to support the performances, from music and sound effects to
the editing and digital effects. Don’t be afraid to ask the director questions.
The actor–director relationship is very important to creating a living,
breathing character on the screen.
Relax. The set can be an intense, stressful place, but you must not transmit
this tension to the screen. Be prepared on set and focus on the moment.
Learn to forget the crew, equipment, and camera and create a bubble of
real life in the middle of the on-set hustle and bustle. If necessary, ask for
a quiet place to focus on your character while the crew is setting up the
next shot.
Memorize the lines. Knowing the lines
allows you to focus on the other details of
performance and keep the moment real.
Don’t waste the crew’s time by coming to
the set unprepared. You are an actor and
your job is to arrive on set with lines memorized, just like the property master’s job is
to arrive with all the props. The production
will run longer and you will only add to
the tension if you show up unprepared.
Know the objective. Talk to the director
and make sure you’re clear about what the
character’s goal is in each scene. What does
he want and what is he doing to attain it?
Bobby and Awanda.
After I cast Time and Again, I got the entire cast and crew together socially several times
even before we read through the script or talked about the characters. Having dinner
together, going bowling, and ice skating were great ways to allow everyone to get to
know and feel comfortable with one another.
Filmmaking is a challenge because you’re asking actors to bare their souls in front of
people they’ve known for only a few weeks. If the process is too rushed, the
performances will suffer.
By allowing Brian, Jennie, Bob, and the rest of the cast and crew to mingle and socialize,
it made our time working together smooth and effortless. By the end of the production,
we had all become great friends and were all saddened to have to part ways.
Know where the character is coming from in the
previous scene and where he is going in the next
scene. If you don’t know, then ASK!
■ Act the subtext. Acting isn’t about reading
lines; the dialog is a symptom of the deeper
feelings and drive of the character. Act for the
subtext, or deeper meaning, not the dialog.
Ask yourself WHY the character is saying a
certain line, what is the underlying motivation
for this comment, and is that motivation the
real driving force behind the movie?
■ Know the story. The process of making a
movie means shooting it out of order. When
shooting a scene, know where, how, and why
it fits in the overall movie. Understand the
complete plot and character arc so that when
you’re asked to begin filming Scene 46, you
should know what your character’s behavior,
feelings, and motivation are in Scenes 45 and 47. When the editor edits
Scene 46 together with Scene 45 (which you may have filmed a month
later), the transition of performance must be seamless.
React, don’t act. Be open and spontaneous to what happens next in
the scene. Don’t anticipate action or your performance won’t be realistic.
A good actor simply reacts to the events occurring in the scene, in
much the same way that we all react to events in everyday life. I don’t
know when the doorbell will ring, so when it does, I REACT
Know the business. If you want to work in the entertainment industry,
you have to understand how it works. This knowledge comes not only
from books, but also from talking to agents, production personnel, and
other actors in the industry. Know what’s
expected of you and what procedures you
need to follow to get work.
Learn your craft. Much like the medical or
law fields, acting and filmmaking require
years of training and study of the craft.
Always strive to learn more and perfect
your craft. Take acting classes, attend
seminars, involve yourself in community
theater, read books, watch interviews with
successful actors, and talk to working
The camera sees everything. Acting for the
stage and the screen are completely different crafts. A screen performance, in which
your image will be blown up 40 feet tall,
requires subtlety to convey volumes of emotion. Learn to internalize your
performance. Be the character but don’t act the character. The difference
will be a strong, subtle performance.
Don’t tell the crew what to do. There’s nothing more annoying than an
actor who tells a cinematographer how to light or the sound person where
to put the boom. Your job is to act. Period.
Be positive. Movie production is a long and tedious process and the better
the cast and crew’s attitude, the smoother the shoot will go. Be pleasant
to work with and don’t have an attitude. No one likes egos, especially
egos from actors. The crew arrives much earlier and leaves much later than
you do. They work hard and become very frustrated with egocentric actors.
Remember that everyone in the production process is equally
Headshots. Headshots are eight-by-ten color photos of you, usually from
the shoulders up. Find an excellent photographer who can capture the
essence of you—your look, personality, and character. Your headshot is
the first and usually only thing a casting director will see and it’s important
to make the best impression!
When people talk to each other, the words that come out of their mouths do not
necessarily reflect how they are feeling. But, the words are a symptom or result of how
they feel. True acting isn’t based on the words a character utters, but is driven by WHY
she says those words. What is MOTIVATING those words?
For example, you may run into an old friend at a restaurant that you haven’t seen in
years. Although you may exchange greetings, ask how he or she has been, and express
an interest in seeing him or her for lunch to get caught up with each other, the scene
An industry standard
headshot and resume.
would be played very differently if you secretly hated that person. What if you found out
that person stole from you? Or was cheating with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Although
the dialog is pleasant, the subtext is anger. Acting the subtext will add additional layers
of realism to the performance.
Part of creating multilayered subtext is having a strong character backstory. Understand
what is driving the character to act certain ways, say certain things, and react to different
In Time and Again, Awanda’s subtext was that she was a woman who used her looks to
sleep with many men. Although she was beautiful on the outside, inside, she was a
lonely person looking for a man who would love her for her personality, not her body.
When she met Bobby Jones, at first she saw him as another physical conquest, but, as
the story progressed, she found herself attracted to him as a person. This driving subtext
can be seen in every scene and motivates the way Awanda behaves and what she says
around Bobby Jones.
Network. Meet people. Talk to everyone. The
more people you know and the more your
name is known, the more likely you will be
remembered if a part comes up. Attend parties,
plays, industry events, and classes to build a
group of people who can support you and
help you achieve your acting goals.
Actor Brian Ireland
pulled moments in his
performance from past
life experiences.
Acting techniques are tools that help the actor
convincingly play a character in a situation.
Whereas there are several acting methods, a
skilled actor understands each of them and may
employ the techniques taught in each method
depending on the demands of the scene.
The Stanislavsky system
Before movies became an entertainment mainstay, actors worked on stage,
where performances involved reciting lines of dialog, using very “external techniques.” Gestures were broad and sweeping, performances never explored the
true emotions of the character, and the actors played characters no deeper than
the dialog written on the page.
This all changed when Konstantin Stanislavsky, born in 1863 in Russia, developed an acting method that, for the first time, took actors beyond the page and
provided them with tools to explore the real emotional subtext of their charac-
ters. By exploring how to control and manipulate
seemingly intangible human traits such as feelings and emotions, he devised one of the most
influential techniques of modern acting.
In the “Stanislavsky system,” actors must develop
and feel every emotion their character is feeling.
Unlike previous methods in which actors simply
“acted” the emotions, in Stanislavsky’s approach,
actors actually “feel” the emotions, creating
organic life within moments, psychological
realism, and emotional authenticity. The result is
a true, multilayered performance through which
the actor can introduce subtext and behavioral
subtleties that take the character to a new layer
of realism.
One of the cornerstones of this technique is the
“magic ‘if’,” where actors ask themselves, “what if I was in the same situation
as my character?” Actors often remember similar situations that occurred in
their own lives and refer to that moment when playing a similar moment as
their character. What Stanislavsky wanted was for actors to create a real moment
in time—not an acted moment, but a truly emotionally felt moment that would
be seen by the audience or captured on film.
This approach is considered the foundation of modern television, stage, and
movie acting. Stanislavsky’s technique evolved into what is considered “method
acting” today.
The Meisner technique
Whereas in the Stanislavsky system actors create life within moments, the
Meisner technique, developed in the 1930s by Sanford Meisner, encourages the
actors to use a method called “Substitution.” If the actor is playing a character
who walks into his house and finds that his mother died the night before, the
actor may not have had that experience of his mother dying to draw from. The
Meisner technique allows the actor to substitute that experience for another,
similar experience that the actor actually had in his life. Perhaps the actor
walked into his house and found his dog had died. Although the situation isn’t
the same, the actor is substituting a similar moment he experienced to motivate
his performance on screen.
An important aspect of the Meisner technique involves repetition. Repetition
exercises minimize the emphasis on the spoken word and focus on the nuances
and subtext of how the words are being spoken. These exercises help the
actor craft in-the-moment subtleties of body language and inflection in the
Actor Jennie Allen
worked as a bartender,
which helped her play
the role of a waitress.
The Chekhov technique
The bedroom scene
was especially
challenging for the
actors because it was
shot in a garage. Their
bed was a piece of
plywood and a blanket.
Russian-born actor Mikhail Chekhov developed
a variation of the acting technique in the 1920s.
Rooted in the Stanislavsky technique, Chekhov’s
“dual-process” approach taught actors not only
how to create life within the moment (first
process), but also to understand how to portray
that moment within the actor’s realistic surroundings of the movie set, in front of an audience and in front of cameras and lights (second
process). As deep as the actor is in her character,
the actor is still subconsciously aware of her
surroundings and must consider them when
One aspect of Chekhov’s approach is the “psychological gesture,” which is a
physical or verbal cue that a character expresses under pressure that reveals his
heart and soul. To reach this psychological gesture, an actor must understand
the character’s breaking point and the personality aspects that will come out as
a result of that pressure. The gesture quantifies the character’s inner need in the
form of an external action. The actor uses the
gesture subtly as a way of refocusing the performance internally.
Supporting characters
such as the waitress
played by Mary Slowey
help add realism to the
A play, story, or movie is nothing more than a
short glimpse of a part of a character’s life in a
moment of conflict. The audience does not have
the luxury of knowing the character from birth,
so personality and behavioral traits, quirks, likes
and dislikes, and temperaments must be derived
during the short time the audience watches the
character in action. An actor who plays a character must understand the character’s life up to the
point the story takes place. This is called the “backstory.”
Backstory is critical to a performance because people operate on many levels,
each level determined by our past. For example, a man may react when provoked in a bar fight differently if:
1. He grew up in a poor neighborhood in a single-parent family. His father
is in prison for murder and his mother is a drug addict who has resorted
to a life of crime to support the family, or . . .
2. He grew up in a wealthy house where money was no object. His father
is an attorney and his mother a congresswoman.
When creating a character’s backstory, determine:
How was the home life? What was the character’s relationship with parents, siblings,
and extended family? What conflicts were
How was the character in school? What was
the best memory of school? The worst
memory? Was the character teased? Was he
or she popular? An outcast? How did this
affect the character later in life?
What is the character’s job history? Is he or
she frustrated at work? Ambitious? Lazy?
Always waiting for the big break?
Who are the character’s friends and
How did the character get to the point at which the story begins?
Actor Brian Ireland
waits between takes.
Although much of this backstory doesn’t appear in the script and will not appear
on screen, it is critical to helping an actor determine how to play a role or how
to react in a given situation if he fully knows and understands his character’s
Write out the backstory for every character in the story. Create a detailed character profile as if you were writing the character’s biography. In addition to
broad points, create a variety of specific moments (scariest moment, happiest
moment, a moment when the character experienced death) for the actor to refer
to when on set.
Learn how to effectively communicate with actors on set. Hollywood acting coaches, directors
and actors share valuable tips
and secrets to help you get the
best performances out of your
Check out the directing modules
at www.powerfilmmaking.com.
i. Break down the script
to determine story and
character arcs, motivations and subtexts.
each camera angle.
v. Rehearsal 2 – Work
with actors to
create and help
them understand
their characters.
viii. Block the entire scene
for the cast and crew.
iv. Rehearsal 1 – Read
through the script
with the actors and
discuss broad story
ii. Determine camera
angles and set-ups
for each scene.
x. After each take, go
to the actors and
give them immediate
vii. Work with department
heads so they have a
clear understand of your
vi. Rehearsal 3 – Block
each scene with the
ix. Give clear, concise direction
to the cast and crew and
limit the number of takes in
each set-up.
The director is the master storyteller of the movie with two primary jobs. The
first is to read the script and develop a strong mental image of how the movie
will look, sound, and feel. By researching other movies, studying art, traveling,
and reading, the director develops the style, pacing, and tone of the movie.
The second part of her job is to communicate her vision to the cast and crew
during preproduction, production, and postproduction, helping direct the cast
and crew’s artistic and technical skills. The ideal director knows exactly what he
wants, is able to communicate clearly and effectively, and maintains a positive,
creative environment for everyone involved.
Often glamorized, a director’s job is rarely simple.
The degree of organization necessary to coordinate with actors, cinematographers, editors,
sound designers, costume designers, hair and
makeup artists, production designers, producers,
and writers is incredibly essential to producing
an on-time, on-budget project.
Most importantly, remember that the director is
a director, not a dictator. Direct the cast and crew
toward the vision and allow each person to add
his or her own talents to the mix.
I am directing the extras
on Chardon Square.
When I arrived on set, I
knew how I wanted to
shoot the scene. I had
spent dozens of hours
working out my shot
lists, actor blocking and
lighting schemes. As a
result, the day went
smoothly and I got every
shot I wanted.
The director’s role during preproduction includes three main areas of focus:
study the script to determine the tone, theme, and style of the movie; rehearse
the actors so they can play convincing characters based on the director’s vision;
and work with the crew as they prepare the technical and artistic elements of
the movie.
Reading the script
As a director, either you will direct a script that has been written by another
writer or you may have written the script yourself. In both instances, it is essential to become intimately familiar with the story before moving into preproduction with the cast and crew.
If you are given a script, read the script enough times so you have a complete
understanding of the story arc and how every individual scene ties in with the
greater story. Figure out how each scene needs to be paced, how each scene is
going to start and stop, and what story elements need to be conveyed in each
scene by writing notes to yourself in the margin of each page. For example, if
a scene foreshadows a future plot point, the director’s note for that scene may
read “scene necessary to foreshadow John’s theft of the car at the end of the
story by establishing his need to steal paper clips.” Each scene should have notes
on the character’s objective and the scene’s overall purpose written in the script.
As you read through the script, make sure every scene tightly drives the story
forward and consider cutting any scenes that are superfluous.
Once the story plot points are mapped out, identify the story’s deeper meaning,
subtext, and overall theme so you understand how every scene and every
moment supports and develops toward that theme. Most good scripts have
several layers of meaning, and it’s the director’s job to identify these because
they will be the foundation for the actors’ performances. For example, in a story
whose theme is how family is stronger than worldly hardship, one scene may
be about loss, whereas the next may be about vindication. Understanding the
themes of each scene and how it ties into the overall theme is critical in directing the performances, style, and pacing of the movie.
Once you’ve read and identified the plot points and subtexts, begin studying
the personality traits, motivations, subtexts, and histories of each of the characters and develop a clear understanding of why a character behaves the way
he or she behaves in each scene. This is the foundation for beginning to work
with the actors. Unless you know each character’s role in the story, how can
you expect to direct the actors? I do this by taking a blank sheet of paper for
each character, listing each scene number along the side if the paper, and listing
the motivation and subtext of the character in each scene. The description is
usually only a few words, like, “Awanda’s goal is to take Bobby home. All she
can think about is sex,” or “Bobby wants to go to Awanda’s trailer so he can get
washed up. He has no intention of doing anything else.” Understanding what
each character wants in each scene is critical in directing the actors and giving
them the guidance they need.
If you wrote the script yourself, you should already have a good idea about the
motivations, plot, and character arcs. Beware, however, because you may be so
familiar with the story that you may miss plot holes or confusing areas because
of your deep familiarity with the subject. Try to read the script with fresh eyes
as if you are an audience member seeing the movie for the first time.
Going through the script and breaking down each of these elements is important because, invariably, the cast and crew will ask you questions like:
What is this scene about? How does it fit into the scene that came before
and the scene that comes next?
What is my character’s motivation, or reason for acting this way, in this
What is the driving subtext of this line of dialog? Why am I saying this?
How should I say this line and what is my character implying by saying
this line?
How would you like the lighting and cinematography to serve the theme?
Determining coverage
The next step is to go through each scene and envision the actors’ blocking and
the camera angles and positions. Rarely at this stage does the producer have
any locations locked, so although it’s impossible to block out specific moves,
you can still determine where and when you want a long shot, a master shot,
close-ups, and medium shots. The goal is to arrive at the number of setups, or
times the camera has to move to a different position, for each scene. This will
help determine the rough shooting schedule and number of days needed to
shoot the movie.
A common approach to blocking the camera positioning of a scene is:
Always shoot a master shot that covers all the action in the scene from
the beginning to the end. Even if you run out of time or encounter prob-
Write down the shots you envision for each scene. This should ideally done before the budget and schedule are determined.
lems that prohibit you from shooting any other angle, you will always
have the entire scene in a master shot. For example, if a couple is having
dinner at a restaurant, the master shot includes the two actors, the waiter,
and the table in the shot for the entire scene.
Plan for medium shots of each character. Especially in a dialog scene, plan
a single or over-the-shoulder shot of each actor. In our sample scene, there
would be three medium shots: one of the man, one of the woman, and
one of the waiter.
Plan for any insert shots. Inserts are shots that cover action already covered
in the master shot, but are closer and draw the audience’s attention to an
action or detail. For example, an insert shot may be of the man pouring
wine into the woman’s wine glass or a close-up of the woman’s hand as
she temptingly caresses her wine glass.
Once you determine the basic coverage of the scene, write down
any special dolly, steadicam, handheld, or jib arm shots. In this example,
we may want to shoot a dolly in from a two-shot of the actors into the
waiter as he arrives, breaking up a tense moment between the dining
I like to draw vertical lines through the scene with a pencil and ruler to identify
how much of the scene will be covered by each camera setup. I then write the
setup name in the margin next to each line.
The result will be a shot list of the scene that lists each camera setup. For
Master shot of entire scene
MS OTS (medium shot, over the shoulder) of the man
MS OTS of the woman
Insert of the woman’s wine glass
Dolly into waiter
Once the shot list is developed, sit down with the director of photography and
first assistant director to build a rough shooting schedule and determine whether
the budget will allow for all the proposed setups. Be prepared to consolidate or
reduce the number of setups during this initial process. In the low-budget realm,
it isn’t uncommon to cut any complicated camera moves like dolly, crane, or
jib shots.
During the location scouting process, take the shot list and determine the actors’
final blocking, camera position, lighting options, and technical requirements
before committing to the location. Once a location is secure, plan the final
blocking and make any necessary adjustments to the shot list, so when you go
into rehearsals with the actors, you already know how they will move and what
the frame will be.
Once each scene is broken into a shot list, the next step is to sketch each setup
in a comic book form and indicate specific framing, camera moves, and actor
movements. These sketches are called storyboards.
Storyboards are used to previsualize the action that occurs within each frame
and convey the director’s vision to the cast and crew. By thinking about the
shots in advance, the crew is better able to prepare and plan the shooting schedule, art direction requirements, and lighting and camera needs and, most importantly, the director is able to judge the pacing, movement, and structure of the
story before getting to the set. Remember that revising shots on paper is a lot
cheaper than revising shots on film. Use the storyboards on set as a reference
for the cast and crew as to how the scene will be shot and ultimately pieced
together. The alternative to previsualizing the movie with storyboards is arriving
on set with no one on the cast or crew knowing what the director wants or how
a scene is to be framed, lit, or dressed. Time will be wasted and the director
may not get the shots he wants because he will be worrying about how to
cover the scene with the camera rather than focusing on perfecting the
Be careful, however, not to be so heavily reliant on the storyboards that you
can’t deviate from them if there’s a change on set that is out of your control.
Oftentimes, productions run over schedule because of technical, scheduling, or
weather-related issues, and the director is forced to cut shots and even entire
sequences. Flexibility in adapting the storyboarded shots makes it easier to
adjust to the continuing demands of the shoot.
The purpose of storyboards is to convey
to the cast and crew actor blocking and
camera positions.
It’s important to establish what the shot
size and framing of subjects is within the
frame. The reader should be able to
determine if the shot is a long shot,
medium shot, or close-up.
Include important set, set-dressing, prop,
and wardrobe information in each
Convey movement of subjects and
objects in the frame with single, bold
Convey camera movement with 3D
Label each shot with a brief description
of what is happening in the shot, and
even lines of dialog. A well-done storyboard should incorporate all elements
of the script so that it reads like a comic
book. Pictures represent the visuals, and
sound and dialog are written below each
When representing different characters,
draw a simple characteristic to differentiate one character from another, i.e., a
hat and necktie for the lead male character and a bow and dress for the lead
female character. Storyboards don’t have
to be great works of art . . . just tools to
convey the framing of the object or
subject within the scene.
Try drawing the scene first on blank
paper, then draw the frame box around
the action you want. Sometimes, it’s
easier to storyboard this way than to
draw the shot within predrawn frames.
Spend extra time storyboarding any
shots that incorporate digital effects.
Consider working with the digital effects
artist to develop any digital effects shots
so that they are properly shot and framed
for their post needs.
Once complete, storyboards should be copied
and distributed among the department heads.
Example of a close-up.
Example of a medium shot.
Example of a long shot.
I also find it valuable to post a spread of the storyboards on an empty wall of
the production office and on set so everyone can readily access and see them.
Although many filmmakers create storyboards by hand, there are a number of
2D and 3D programs that make rendering storyboards easy. For creating 2D
storyboards, check out a program called “Storyboard Artist,” and for 3D boards,
“Poser” and “DAZ Studio.”
The director’s primary job on set is to work with the actors to get the best
performance for the story. This process begins long before the cameras roll,
during rehearsal. Once the actors are cast, the director begins to help the actors
craft their character’s history, motivations, and subtexts so they can play their
characters realistically during the time of their lives in which the movie takes
When working with actors, try a three-rehearsal process:
Rehearsal 1—Understanding the story
For the first rehearsal, assemble the entire cast together for an informal meeting.
This is the first time the actors are meeting each other, so providing snacks and
drinks and creating a relaxed atmosphere is a great way to break the ice and
allow the actors to get to know each other. Once you feel comfortable, assemble
everyone and pass out a copy of the most current draft of the script. Begin the
rehearsal by thanking everyone and introducing them to your vision.
Tell the cast:
What inspired the idea for the movie
How you envision the style, pacing, and feel of the story
What the main theme is
How you view the overall feel of the performances
Once you establish the overview of the story, introduce each actor to his or her
character with a brief introduction and description of how you envision the
character. Once you get through the main and supporting cast members, begin
the read-through of the script.
The read-through involves the actors reading the lines of their own character.
Choose an actor with a small part in the script to read the narrative directions.
Take this time to listen carefully to how the dialog and pacing sound during
the read, taking notes about where the story lags, where dialog feels unnatural,
and any other ideas that come to mind. Do not interrupt, but listen to the entire
read-through from the beginning to the end.
The first rehearsal is about describing the story, characters, and plot points in
broad brushstrokes. This is not the time to delve too deeply into each character,
their arcs, subtext, or motivation. Talk in terms of how the film will look cinematically, what the themes of the movie are, even the music style and what the
moral of the story is.
Once the read-through is complete, ask the actors what they thought, answer any
questions they may have, and determine what weak spots the script has. Listening to the actors’ feedback on the first read-through is an outstanding opportunity to gauge how well the story unfolds, especially considering that the actors
are reading the material for the first time, are unbiased, and have significant
interest in making sure the movie is done as well as it can be done.
At the conclusion of the first rehearsal, ask:
What parts of the story and script dragged?
Did every scene contribute to the overall theme of the story?
Which actors immediately understood their character and which will need
more help?
Does each actor seem committed to the project?
Are there any strengths the actors have that can bring a unique depth to
their characters?
After the first rehearsal, have the actors read and reread the script on their own
time until they have a concrete understanding of the story points and their
character arc. This will help build a strong foundation for the second
Rehearsal 2—Creating the characters
Whereas the first rehearsal introduces the actors to the basic story, theme, and
style of the movie, the second rehearsal helps the actors delve deeper into their
characters by crafting the backstory and subtext of their characters with the
A truly exceptional exercise for helping create each character’s backstory
involves seating the cast in a circle around two chairs. One chair is for the
actor who must always remain in character and the other is for the director
who plays the role of a psychologist. The director takes each actor through his
character’s life by asking the actor questions that help shape memories
of past events like, “Tell me about your first day of school” or “Tell me
about the moment in life you were the most afraid.” The questions the director
asks should help develop events in the character’s life that motivate his
actions during the time of the story. For example, in a scene in which a
character watches a man get run over by a car, consider creating an event in
the character’s life that explores how he copes with death, say the death
of his father. Even though the father’s death isn’t mentioned in the script,
the director can reference this backstory on set when directing the actor.
During this exercise the director can help create these events by asking questions
Let’s talk about the day you learned that your father died. What were you
doing when you found out? How did you feel as soon as you heard the
Do you remember the day of the funeral? What were you thinking about
as you sat in the back of the car on your way to the cemetery? How did
you react when you saw the casket for the first time?
What was the first time your father’s death really hit you? What were you
doing? How did his death change you?
Although this is primarily an improvisational exercise for the actor, the director
steers the “session” the way he wants, guiding the actor through the development of his character with the type of questions he poses.
Performing this exercise in front of all the actors allows everyone to build their
character’s backstory into the other character’s backstories. In the case of Time
and Again, Awanda and the Sheriff’s pasts have a direct influence on how they
behave with each other in the story.
Andrew’s portrayal of
Young Bobby Jones
was both convincing
and moving, especially
when he finds
Awanda’s body. We
discussed this moment
often during rehearsals.
The objective of this exercise is twofold. The actors understand their character’s
personality, history, and motivations and are now able to develop the characters
on their own. The second benefit is that the director can reference these prebuilt
memories on the set when directing the actors. For example in the scene in
which the character sees a man getting hit by a car, when the director is directing the actor’s reaction, he can mention, “Go back to the day that you learned
that your father had died. Feel the numbness you felt at that moment for this
scene.” This gives the actors a real, tangible moment that is true to the
After the second rehearsal
Now that the actors have an understanding of their characters with the blessing
of the director, they are free to research their
roles, study the script, and apply what they
learned on their own time. The actors can meet
with the director individually to craft any finer
points of the character or discuss specific
moments, working out the subtext and motivation for specific scenes.
Rehearsal 3—Scene specifics
The third time the actors and director get together
is to block the actors’ movements for each scene.
Plan movements, discuss camera angles, and
work out natural blocking until each scene feels
kinetic and fluid. Because this rehearsal rarely occurs on set, the director needs
to explain and translate the blocking in a way so that it will work on the actual
set. Start with major scenes and work through to the medium scenes so the
actors understand how minor scenes connect the main story beats.
Some questions to tackle with the actors:
Discuss each character’s intent and goal for each scene. What is his objective? Does the character obtain his objective or does he fail?
Even though the actors are playing the words written in the script, work
out what each character is really trying to say. Define this subtext for each
character in each scene.
Discuss any themes or subplots in any given scene so the actor understands how the scene fits into the greater story.
This rehearsal is a great time to discuss where the characters are coming from
emotionally in the moments before the scene and where they are headed in the
scene following. Avoid working on the emotional context too heavily as the
actors should remain fresh for the day of shooting.
By the end of this rehearsal, each actor should feel comfortable with how to
play each scene. This blocking combined with the research each actor has done
on his character will greatly help the actors feel extremely comfortable when
they arrive on set.
Every director has a different style of rehearsing actors. Some directors prefer
light rehearsals so the first time actors truly perform is on set in front of the
camera. Other directors prefer to rehearse every emotion and every moment
beforehand. The decision on how to rehearse should be based on the nature of
the story, the experience of the actors, and the director’s experience. In Hollywood movies, actors rarely rehearse. They prepare for the role on their own
time, arrive on set, act, make adjustments based on the director’s feedback, and
go home. For less experienced actors, more rehearsal time may help boost their
confidence on set.
Scenes that involve stunts or digital effects need to be
carefully rehearsed and blocked until they are done
correctly. Bring the animator or stunt supervisor
Learn additional tips on directing
on set to help ensure that the blocking
rehearsing actors, working with
will work in the editing room and on set.
and directing on set at www.
Working out logistics, safety, and blocking in
Visit the section
a rehearsal space is a lot cheaper than losing
expensive time on set. The more prepared you
are in preproduction, the smoother production
will run.
Exercises during rehearsals
It was always important
for us to sit down and
review the plan for how
I wanted to shoot each
scene. Although this
work was done in
advance, this little
refresher helped get
everyone on the same
There are a number of exercises that you can use to help an actor develop the
subtext and motivation of his role. Use these exercises sparingly and only in an
instance in which the actor is having difficulty finding his or her character’s
■ Gibberish exercise: In this exercise, the actors should perform a scene as
written, but instead of saying the lines of dialog, they should speak gibberish. The purpose is to help the actors convey what their characters
mean instead of what they are saying. Try this exercise if the scene is flat
and the actors are having difficulty playing the subtext or if the scene is
in the actor’s nonnative language.
■ No words: During rehearsal, the actors should convey their objective and
the theme by playing the scene only through their actions. For example,
if a wife has learned that her husband has cheated on her, during a scene
in which she’s making breakfast she may be unsuccessfully try to hide her
betrayal. Even though the words on the page are about going to a party
that night, her actions speak differently. Use this exercise to craft this
physical subtext by removing the dialog.
■ Act the subtext: This exercise is designed to help the actors identify and
understand the subtext of a scene. Instead of playing the scene as written,
for example, the breakfast scene, the actors should play the raw subtext.
How do the character’s really feel? In the previous example, the actress
playing the wife would play the scene angry, upset, and betrayed and make
no attempt to hide or conceal her feelings.
If you’ve properly rehearsed, worked with the actor to develop the backstory,
identified the subtext of each scene, discussed the character’s motivations, and
set up where the character is coming from emotionally in the previous scene
and what his objectives are, then let go and let the actor do what he does best.
Remember that good actors are artists who simply need to be directed in the
right direction so they can play a convincing role,
not dictated to and hand-held by the director
through every bit of minutia.
The director’s role is critical during the preproduction phase of the movie, as she makes important decisions about actors, production design,
cinematography styles, and locations. The director’s vision and ability to focus a creative team
toward her vision are essential in keeping the
production on time, on budget, and a pleasurable experience for everyone.
On a low-budget production, the director assembles main crew positions, such
as the director of photography, production designer, producer, casting director,
actors, and composer, himself, unlike larger productions on which the line
producer assembles most below-the line crew members. For more information
on finding and hiring the crew, go to the Crew chapter.
The daily demands of preproduction can be extreme for the director as she is
pulled by the needs of the cast and crew. Dozens of people from different
departments will be asking hundreds of questions a day, questions that often
require immediate answers. It can be very overwhelming unless you have done
your homework in advance and can be clear about what you want. You should
be able to give concise, decisive answers and direct each department in the right
direction. Waffling or changing your mind will only cost time and money, make
your crew frustrated, and maybe even make them lose their confidence in your
Conversely, don’t be too dictatorial. Moviemaking is a collaborative effort and
everyone involved is an artist with a unique talent or specialty. A good director
will recognize these talents, give a direction for the crew to go in, and then step
back and let them do their job. These artists will infuse their own experiences
and skills into their work and feel a greater sense of pride than if the director
walks them through every step.
The director’s duties during preproduction include:
Studying the script
Determine story plot points, theme, and story arc.
Plan the visual and storytelling style of the movie.
Build the shot list and storyboard.
Rehearsing with actors
Discuss the theme of the movie with the actors.
Help actors build their character’s backstory, motivations, and personality.
Rehearse blocking and pacing.
Working with the crew
Scout locations and determine blocking.
Work with the director of photography to determine the visual look and feel of the
lighting and shooting style.
Work with the production designer on set dressing, wardrobe, and props.
Help develop the shooting schedule.
Coordinate with department heads.
Activity 1
Objective: Learn to determine coverage.
Activity: Write a simple two-page script and think about what types of
camera shots you might like to use to cover the action. When would you
want to use a long shot? A dolly shot? A close-up? Then illustrate what the
camera will see from each set up, in much the same manner as a comic book
artist illustrates a story. Draw each frame and label what is happening in the
Activity 2
Objective: Learn how to interpret a script for an actor.
Activity: Select a scene from a play or a movie that you haven’t seen before, and
discuss what the scene is about and why the characters are in this moment of
the story. Once you know the style and approach you’d like to take, you can
begin creating the character profiles and backgrounds and then block the actors
in a convincing way. Produce the script as a play, focusing on the actor’s
Activity 3
Objective: Learn how to place critical action within the frame of the camera.
Activity: Write a simple one-minute scene and rehearse your actors and their
positioning. Then videotape the scene without cutting. Shoot the scene as many
times as necessary until all the critical moments in the scene make it to the
Activity 4
Objective: Create a constant action through shooting and editing together multiple camera angles.
Activity: Write a short scene that involves one actor performing a task,
then shoot the scene with 8–12 different camera angles. Edit the shots together
to create a continuous flow from one shot to the next, without any jumps
in time or space. The final result should look as though the actor seamlessly
performed the task and it was covered by 8–12 cameras scattered around
the set.
The director’s primary responsibility on set is to the actors, coaching, guiding,
and supporting their efforts. In addition to this main responsibility, the director
must wear several other hats, all of which involve coordinating the efforts of
all departments.
The director works with the actors on set and helps them achieve the best
performance to serve the story and the director’s vision.
The director works closely with the director of photography in determining the look of the lighting, camera placement, camera movement, and
framing of each shot.
The director works with the production designers to approve and make
minor adjustments to the set, wardrobe, makeup, hairstyles, and props.
The director works closely with the first assistant director to stay on time
and on budget.
Blocking the scene
Blocking is the process of determining the actors’ positions and movements
around the set.
Use gaffer’s tape to set T-marks to identify specific starting and stopping
points for actors.
Set marks on the floor to determine where the camera should stop and
start if a dolly or crane is being used. This helps the camera operator correctly frame the shot consistently in each take, the 1st AC consistently pull
focus to keep the actors sharp, and the dolly grip time out the speed and
stopping position of the dolly with ease.
Before going for a take, rehearse the entire cast and crew to make sure that
the blocking works for performance, lighting, and sound.
Good blocking feels natural and motivated. Remember that the actors
need to have a reason to move throughout the set.
I block out a scene as early as the location scout, because before I commit
to a location, I want to make sure it works for the actors’ movements, as
well as camera and lighting placement. Although there are small refinements on the day of the shoot, the rough blocking has already been determined early in the preproduction phase.
Blocking a scene isn’t only about the actors’ performance, but about affording the camera the
most interesting angle, finding the most aesthetically pleasing part of the set to shoot, factoring
in lighting and sound requirements. As a result,
the more experienced a director is in how the
technical side of production works, the more
effective he will be at blocking a scene so it works
well for all departments.
Remember that all this work should have been
done during preproduction. When the cast and
crew arrive on set, the day should be about carrying out the details of the plan, not figuring
In the scene in which
Bobby sees Awanda, I
directed Brian where
his eye line should be
and where Awanda’s
final position is behind
the bars. Jennie
(Awanda) was in hair
and makeup and was
unable to be present
for the shot.
things out for the first time. The more time you spend preparing in preproduction, the more smoothly the shoot will go.
Directing actors
Directing actors is the primary function of the director. Work closely to help
them understand where their characters are at any given point in the story so
that they can deliver a believable and realistic performance.
All too often, directors are technically adept and understand where to place the
camera and how to work with the crew but they do not know how to speak
with or work with actors. Few directors have ever acted and, thus, lack the
understanding of the actor’s process.
Brian and I would shoot
simple moments
together. I found that
the strength of our
actor-director relationship led to some really
honest performances.
Take acting classes or audition for a play to help your understanding of
what the actors are going through on set and how to communicate effectively with them. Learn what it’s like to be directed and what type of
feedback and guidance you need to play your role.
Learn acting theory and terminology. Working with actors effectively
means speaking their language.
Most first-time directors will direct the actors with a surface direction
such as “Act happier” or “Scratch your head when you say ‘I don’t
know.’” These directions don’t give the actor anything to work off of
and limit their ability to craft a real performance. Instead, give the
actor a subtext to work from, such as “You are really attracted to this
girl and every time she looks at you, you’re afraid she notices the rash
on your forehead. Because you’re so afraid of rejection, try to subtly
cover your forehead up. In reality, you’re drawing even more attention
to it, making the moment even more uncomfortable for the two of
Make sure that every actor is sure of his or her character’s objective in the
scene. What does the character want? What are his or her goals? Does he
or she achieve those goals? Let’s say that the
scene is about a mother asking her little boy how
his school day was. Although he’s telling her
about his math test, he’s secretly trying to sneak
cookies from the cookie jar behind her back. This
objective makes the scene not about math tests,
but about the little boy talking about math tests
to keep his mother from seeing him steal
■ Make sure that the actors’ blocking, or positioning during a scene, is motivated and makes
sense. In real life, people only approach
another person or an object if there’s a reason
to do so. Make sure the characters have a
reason to move.
Remember that actors are artists and enjoy practicing their art. Give the
actors a general direction and let them craft a performance. Treat the
actor/director relationship as though you were both on opposite ends of
a football field and you run to meet each other at the 50-yard line. It’s a
creative collaboration with each side respecting the other.
Be open to feedback from your cast and crew. Remember that filmmaking
is a collaborative process that involves many artistic people, each of whom
is probably very passionate about his or her work. Listen to them,
but . . . when it comes time to make a decision, stand firm.
Set a positive tone on set and treat everyone with respect. Your attitude
will trickle down through the cast and crew.
Take time to get to know your cast before you go into production.
The better the relationship and the stronger the trust level, the more
inclined your actors will be to open up and deliver a real, heart-felt
Take time to rehearse and discuss the script BEFORE getting on set. Give
the actors solid direction in terms of where their characters are in the arc
of the story, what the characters’ goals are in the scene, and what their
relationships are with other characters. Discussing this beforehand gives
the actors time to prepare.
Even though working on set is stressful, take the time to communicate
with your cast in a slow, concise manner. Remember, you’re the only
person who can see the big picture and everyone is looking to you for
guidance, so organize your thoughts and present them in a simple, direct
Never demonstrate what to say or how to do something. Asking an actor
to mimic the way you say something kills the art of acting and will turn
the actor off to you.
Help the actors block out and ignore the camera, crew, lighting, and boom
microphone so they can delve deeply into their roles and not perform for
the crew.
Give actors something to do during a scene. Most people never stand and
stare at the person they’re talking to. Most conversations are held while
one person or both people are busy doing something: washing dishes,
changing a flat tire, or looking through papers. Directing this type of business will help make a performance more real.
Inexperienced actors are more likely to overact than underact. The result
is a showy, theatrical, and ultimately unconvincing performance. If this is
a problem, talk to the actors in simple terms and help them internalize
the moment by acting the subtext rather than the dialog itself. Allowing
actors to improvise the dialog in the scene can also help.
If an actor is having a difficult time with a particular moment, help him
remember a similar moment in his own life he can draw upon for
Because you are shooting your movie out of order, it’s important to help
the actors understand where their characters are coming from in the story
and where they are going. Always set up the scene so that it’s clear how
this scene relates to the overall story.
Try to minimize the number of takes in emotional scenes to avoid
overtaxing the actors. The more takes you do, the more you risk
stale, overrehearsed performances that will lack spontaneity and real
Directing the subtext
I remember that Bob
(Sheriff Karl) and I had
an extremely difficult
time arriving at the
right emotional
intensity for the
moment when he
learns that young
Bobby committed the
murder, so we
discussed the Sheriff’s
backstory, which
helped Bob find the
inspiration to play the
moment. What could
have been disastrous
ended up being a
minor issue, because
we spent the time in
rehearsal developing
the backstory and
subtext of each
Directing actors is all about understanding what happened in the character’s
life up to the point the story takes place. One common mistake of first-time
directors is that they direct the moment without any regard to the history, circumstances, and personal trials and challenges in the character’s life that may
affect his behavior in the moment. For example, when I am teaching a class, to
the casual observer who doesn’t know me, I am simply a teacher, but my behavior in the moment is shaped by many other influences in my life. Earlier that
day, I got in a fight with my significant other, my car broke down and I’m concerned about how much it will cost to fix, I’m also worried about if my friend
will show up to drive me home from work, and I’m hungry. All these short-term
factors will influence my behavior as I stand in front of the class and give the
day’s lecture. The subtle nuances of my behavior will automatically come out
because they are motivated by these other thought processes in my mind, not
because I was directed to “act like I have something on my mind.” In this case,
I actually do.
When directing actors, describe for them other outside factors that may be
influencing their behavior in the scene. The more layers, and the more a character feels these undercurrents of thought and emotion, the more realistic and
subtle a performance will be.
This can be called the subtext of the scene. Although the character is doing one
thing, her actions are motivated by another. For example, if you were shopping
at the mall and you ran into a high school bully you haven’t seen in years, you
may exchange pleasantries, talk about your career
and life after high school, and maybe even throw
out an offer to have lunch to get caught up on
old times. Although this seems like a civil conversation on the surface, the undercurrent may
be one of hatred, as old memories are conjured
up of when the bully shoved you into the lockers
and beat you up. You may be secretly happy he’s
been unemployed and divorced two times. This
subtext drives the actor’s performance and it is
important to understand this when directing.
Always know what the character wants in each
scene. Although they might not say it through
the dialog, the actors should have a clear objec-
tive of their characters’ goal . . . what they want to
achieve by the end of the scene. A well-written
scene will always introduce an obstruction that
prevents them from achieving the results they
want. This conflict is what makes for good
Directing extras
In Hollywood movies, the job of directing the
extras usually falls on the first assistant director,
but in independent movies, that job will probably
fall on the director. Extras are nonspeaking actors
who work in the background of a scene to bring
life, movement, and a sense of realism to the set. Extras are the other patrons
in a restaurant behind the main characters, they are the passersby on the street
and the people sitting around our characters in the movie theater. Extras add
production value, scope, and size to the movie.
When I was shooting Time and Again, we had nearly 200 extras from the
schoolchildren, to the people in the diner, to the townspeople on the
square outside the theater. Everyone was willing to work for free simply for the
experience of being in a movie and really helped add to the realism of the
Working with kids
requires specific,
simple direction. I told
them to pretend like
they lost their voices.
They could play, run
around, and move their
mouths, but they could
not say anything,
allowing our production
sound engineer to
record the actors’
dialog cleanly.
Finding extras can be as easy as looking to your local resources:
Try contacting local theaters, schools, and university theater programs.
Many aspiring actors are willing to work for free simply to get the chance
to be in a movie.
Avoid shooting in high-production towns like Los Angeles or New York.
These cities attract people who are looking to make a living as actors and
it is more difficult to find people who are willing to work for free than in
nonproduction towns.
Providing food on set is a great way to help attract extras.
Working with extras is similar to working with the principal cast.
Be as concise as possible as to what each
extra needs to wear and bring to the set. On
larger budget movies, the production provides hair, makeup, and wardrobe for the
extras, although this may be cost-prohibitive on lower budget projects.
Be sure to provide an area on set to hold
the extras between takes. This area needs to
be off the set and out of the way of the
The extras outside the
theater and all along
the town square were
actors from the Geauga
Lyric Theatre Guild.
Organized by Stacy
Burris, they not only
added life to the scene,
but graciously
volunteered their time.
Make sure you have appropriate restroom facilities to accommodate the
number of extras working on set.
When directing extras, explain to them the nature of the scene and what
type of atmosphere they need to create in the background.
If necessary, give groups of extras specific direction for blocking, or something you would like to see them do, especially if their action is happening
directly behind the principal actors.
Beware of extras who try to draw attention to themselves. Move them to
the back, out of sight of the camera. Good extras should make the background invisible to the audience.
Extras should never talk during a take even if they appear to be making
noise or speaking on camera; they should always mime the action so
sound editors can put the sound of the background in later.
Always be supportive. Many extras have never had any experience shooting a movie and are probably volunteering their time. Always thank them
and let them know when they do a good job.
The “bedroom” in Awanda’s trailer was really a sheet of plywood resting on two sawhorses in my garage. Part of my job was to
help Brian and Jennie understand the environment their characters were in so they could effectively play their roles.
Make sure each extra signs a release form before stepping on set.
Keep a mailing list of the extras so when the movie is finished, you can
notify each person of how to see the film.
Balancing acting with the technical tools
When the audience watches a movie, they experience a complete soundtrack,
sound effects, digital effects, color correction, and editing style as well as the
actors’ performances. Unfortunately, actors and crew members on set do not
have the luxury of seeing or hearing all these elements when the scene is being
filmed. It is therefore important for the director to paint as complete a picture
as possible for the cast and crew of what the audience is going to be seeing and
hearing in the theater so the actors can give a performance that works in conjunction with all those elements.
For example, when I was directing Brian in the opening title sequence of Time
and Again, I asked him to play the scene as if the crushing exhaustion of the
prison break met the overwhelming sense of freedom of being outside, bathed
in warm sunlight in the calm, serene wheat field. His objective was to play the
scene with two motivating factors: fatigue and his basking in his new-found
freedom. Cinematically, I chose to shoot the scene with wide, sweeping vistas
and used warm, soft lighting to convey to the audience that this place is safe.
Although this is how we filmed the scene, the audience got a very different sense
when they saw the final scene, complete with sound design and music. Although
the look of the scene was warm and comforting, it had a foreboding and eerie
overtone that came from the musical score. Using instruments that conveyed a
sense of strangeness and creepiness, I was able to instill an emotional response
in the audience using techniques other than the acting. The final result is a scene
that, whereas Bobby is tired and content in the field, the audience gets that there
is something wrong with this picture . . . that something is going to happen,
unbeknownst to Bobby Jones.
Sound effects, cinematography, music, and digital effects can create these overtones, with each aspect adding to the drama of the scene. Acting is only one
part of this “dramatic pie.” For the director to create a strong scene, he has to
understand how all these elements are going to be used in advance so that when
he directs the actors, he can tailor the performance so it works when all the
other elements are added.
When directing the cast and crew on set, explain to them what the music is
going to sound like over the scene or what sound effects will be added. The
more complete a picture the cast has of the final story, the more fitting their
performances will be.
Directing the crew
Directors come in two varieties, the kind that is technically gifted, but has a
hard time working with actors, and the type that is great with actors, but feels
out of place with the technical side and the crew.
Although a director’s primary responsibility is to
the actors, the more she knows about the role of
the crew and the technical aspect of filmmaking,
the better her understanding of the available
tools will lead to a quality film.
Working with the crew is much like working with
actors. Crew members are artists in their respective crafts and need direction on how their contributions fit into the director’s vision.
Sit down with the department heads and talk
about your vision and what you’re looking for
both for the entire movie and in each scene.
■ Communicate clearly. You may feel like you
are oversimplifying a concept, but in reality, walking through every detail
is critical in helping the crew understand what you want.
Have daily meetings with the department heads to get updates on where
they are at and what changes need to be made.
Work closely with department heads so that the work they are producing
is in line with your vision.
Be clear about every element needed in the scene. From the storyboarding
and breaking down of each scene, the department heads have a clear idea
of what is required in each scene so they can properly prepare. For example,
if a set needs to be dressed and the storyboards indicate that the camera
angle will favor only one wall, then the set dresser need be concerned with
dressing only that single wall.
Encourage communication between department heads: DP and set dressing, makeup and wardrobe, and so on.
Consider renting a production office so all department heads can work
out of the same office. The closer everyone is, the smoother the operation
will run.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT! Do not show up on set without having a
strong vision of what you want. Tell the cast and crew what you are
looking for in a scene. Do not second guess yourself or rely on the crew
to tell you what to do. This is the single biggest complaint from crew
members about first-time directors. The director is the ONLY person who
knows how to tell the story.
Be clear in explaining your vision to the crew, especially department heads
who need to translate your vision into physical reality.
Don’t try to do everything yourself. Surround yourself with people who
know their jobs and do them well, and let them do it! Directors who try
to wear too many hats are taken away from what should be their primary
focus—the actors.
Listen to the advice you receive from the crew, especially if they are more
experienced than you.
Producer Adam Kadar,
Grip Tom Clack, and I
prepare to shoot
Bobby’s approach to
the theater.
If you are in doubt, always hire a good, experienced cinematographer who
can guide you through the process, help you with setting up shots, and
even give you guidance with the actors.
Balance the attention you give to both the cast and the crew. Remember
that your first obligation is to the actors. The first assistant director will
manage the crew, but you still need to know what you want from them.
Hire a good crew and let them do their jobs. You shouldn’t have to worry
about the sound levels or if there’s enough light in the scene. Trust that
your crew will do the best they can so you can focus on the job of
Always run through the scene with the actors once for the crew so they
can see how the scene plays. Doing this before each new scene will help
the crew understand what each setup covers in the overall scene.
Stay calm and positive. Your attitude will determine how the entire set
will run. If you’re stressed, the cast and crew will feel it!
Directing the camera
In addition to directing actors, the director must also direct the camera. Although
many of these duties can be shared with the director of photography, the director must understand how to break a scene down into shots, where to place the
camera, and how the shots will cut together in each scene.
One technique I use to plan my camera shots is to plan camera angles that
mimic where an observer would be compelled to look during a scene. As I
block the actors, I take note of where my natural human tendency is to look.
If I feel the need to look at a character’s face in a certain moment, odds are I
will need to cover him in a close-up. If I am pulled to stand back and watch an
entire action unfold, I will think about covering that part of the scene in a wide
The camera is really an extension of the audience, so treat it as such. Pretend
as though you were taking an audience member by the hand as the scene
unfolds around you and walking him or her to
different parts of the set to experience the action
unfolding. What would be the best vantage point
to see the action? Where would the audience
member stand? How close or how far would he
or she be? All these answers can translate directly
into the positioning of the camera.
Although every filmmaker would like to have
dynamic dolly and jib moves in his or her movie,
the practicality of low-budget filmmaking prohibits too many extreme camera setups.
When shooting a low-budget movie, always
shoot the following shots:
I always think of my
camera as being like a
member of the
audience, almost
voyeuristically catching
a normally fleeting
The master shot—The master shot is a wide shot that covers the entire
action of the entire scene. Even if you didn’t shoot any other angles,
the audience would be able to understand what the scene is about. The
master is the universal safety shot and can always be cut to if there’s a
problem with any other shots or if you run out of time on set.
Close-ups—Move the camera in and frame up each actor in a close-up
single shot and run the entire scene from beginning to end. Direct the
actors not to overlap their lines with each other because that will be
done in the editing room. Make sure their eye lines are as close to the
lens as possible so the audience can see the actor’s face.
Insert shots—Insert shots are close-up shots of objects or actions within
the scene that draw attention to that action or can be used as a cutaway.
In a restaurant scene, a cutaway is a close-up of a woman playing with
her wine glass or a close-up of a man checking his watch. These insert
shots will be invaluable in covering up editing and shooting mistakes
Cat-in-the-window shot—These shots are usually of unrelated people
or objects in a scene that can be cut to at any time during the scene. In
our restaurant scene, it’s a shot of a waiter waiting in the corner of the
room, watching our couple dine. This shot got its name because filmmakers would actually shoot a cat sitting in a window, regardless of
whether it had anything to do with the scene. These unconnected shots
save the editor in the event there is a continuity problem or an editing
issue. An editor will cut one of these shots into a scene to help bridge
what could be a jarring edit, jump cut, or lapse in continuity. Always
shoot a couple shots like this for each scene.
Work with an experienced line producer or first assistant director to determine how long it will take for each camera set up. Many first-time filmmakers underestimate the amount of time it takes to set up a shot and
subsequently end up running over schedule.
If you’re confident that you can shoot the basics to cover the scene, then
you can consider adding specialized moves like a dolly or jib shot. Beware
that setting up dolly track and a jib arm is very time intensive, requiring
time not only to set up the equipment, but also to rehearse, set starting
and stopping positions, pull focus, and coordinate with the actors and
boom operator.
When planning camera angles, think about what you want the audience
to learn from each angle. There needs to be a reason the camera is positioned and framed in a certain way.
Aside from the master shot, a scene is told through a number of different
shots. Not every shot needs to tell the complete story. For example, in a
conversation scene, dedicate one shot to focusing on one character’s closeup. Then, reposition the camera to cover the other actor’s close-up. In the
editing room, you will then have the option of cutting to either character
and can make that creative decision then.
Shooting on set is about options. Be sure to shoot as much coverage as
you can from each of your camera setups.
Work closely with the director of photography. In Hollywood movies,
producers would often pair new directors with the most experienced,
seasoned director of photography they could find. If you hire a good DP,
she will help you determine proper camera placement.
Directing problems
There are a number of problems that plague a first-time director.
Overshooting: Directors who aren’t confident in their plan tend to overshoot a scene from too many angles, wasting time and falling behind
schedule. Take the time in preproduction to walk through the coverage of
each scene so when you arrive on set, you are confident in the number of
camera angles you need to cover the action properly.
Indecisive direction: The director who constantly looks to the crew for
help in directing a scene is a director who doesn’t know what he wants.
This is the most dangerous situation to be in because you end up in a
boat with no captain. As a director, take the time to sit down and map
out what you want, not only for each scene, but for the entire story. The
There are so many problems to juggle when on set that the director rarely has enough time to think
about his shots. The more prepared he is arriving on set, the happier he will be leaving the set.
cast and crew appreciate a director who knows what he wants to do, even
if he is wrong sometimes.
Lack of communication: Many directors may have their vision in their
head, but have a difficult time effectively communicating it to the cast
and crew. Often, directors fear that they will sound stupid and simplistic
when they explain what they see, but an effective director will communicate as clearly as possible what he wants to have happen. Remember that
the cast and crew have no idea what the director is looking for and need
everything spelled out in as much detail as necessary for them to do their
Once a movie is complete and enters the postproduction phase, the director is
usually exhausted and may be disappointed with the results of the footage. It’s
rare in the independent world for a director to have achieved her exact vision
due to time and budget restrictions. By this point in the process, it is best for
the director to find a fresh editor who isn’t familiar with the movie to bring an
objective eye to the project. The director should sit down with the editor and
talk about her vision and the tone, style, and pacing of the movie and then
leave the editor to assemble a cut of the movie on his own.
Many directors are afraid of losing control of the film by turning it over to an
editor. Holding the reigns too tightly is a mistake because the director is carrying a lot of baggage; she knows what scenes she likes, what scenes didn’t turn
out; she knows what performances were difficult to get, what shots were time
consuming to shoot . . . each shot is full of emotion, blood, sweat, and tears.
This emotional attachment makes it difficult for the director to separate herself
from the footage to assemble the shots objectively into a cohesive, well-paced
story. The editor doesn’t have this emotional connection to the material and is
confronted with the task of looking at the available footage and assembling it
in a way that best serves the story. The director should allow him the time to
do this while he relaxes and clears his mind so when an assembly cut is ready,
the director can view it with fresh eyes.
Communicate your vision to the editor in the same manner as you would
with an actor. Discuss each scene, what you want it to accomplish, how
you envision the tone, style, and pacing.
Be open to ideas and suggestions from the editor. He is seeing the
footage with fresh eyes and may have a perspective you haven’t considered
Relax and let the editor do his job. You’re probably tired and emotionally
charged from the shoot itself, so take the time to get away from the project
and clear your mind while the editor builds the first assembly cut.
After the cut is finished, work with the editor to refine and tweak the edit
until you are happy with the pacing and flow of the story.
Confer with others to get objective opinions throughout the editing
process, but be careful which advice you listen to. Everyone will have an
opinion, but not everyone will be right.
Refer to the postproduction chapters for more information on the editing
process, working with composers, adding digital effects, and the audio postproduction process.
Check out the companion DVD and watch the Directing video to see my approach to
directing Time and Again.
The Director’s primary job is to work with actors. Check out the directing modules at
www.powerfilmmaking.com and listen to Hollywood directors, actors, producers and
acting coaches as they reveal valuable techniques for helping you direct the best performances from your actors.
The Directing modules include:
• Rehearsing Actors
• Working with Actors on Set
• How to Direct Actors
• Working with Extras
Cinematography is the art of lighting and photographing a scene. Much like
photography, which involves taking single photographic images, cinematography refers to cinema or a series of moving images over time.
Cinematography can be broken down into two different, but very related categories: lighting and the camera. One aspect of the director of photography’s
(also known as the DP or cinematographer) job is to create the look of the
movie through the lighting. By coordinating with the grip and electrical department headed by the key grip and the gaffer, the DP lights each set not only to
meet the photographic requirements of the medium he’s shooting on, but also
to create a mood that complements the story.
The second element of the DP’s job is to understand the camera, how it operates, where to place
it, how it should move, which lens to use, and
how to frame the action for the best emotional
and logical impact.
The director/DP relationship is very powerful
and extraordinarily unique. With the director
working with the actors and crafting the story,
and the DP responsible for crafting the look,
emotion, and movement of the story through
lighting and the lens, communication and
mutual understanding between the two are key.
The camera we used to
shoot Time and Again,
the JVC-GY-DV500, a
professional miniDV
When it comes time to hire the DP, consider the following tips to help you find
the best, most qualified person:
Contact local film commissions, post an ad on craigslist.org or any crew
web site, and ask for online links to web sites or DVD demo reels. When
you begin looking at DP reels, look at:
䊊 Are the shots well framed and motivated by the story?
䊊 Does the lighting have a style that positively contributes to the story?
Does the picture look professional? Are there any shots that are over- or
䊊 How does the camera move? Are camera movements necessary and do
they contribute to the story, or are they frivolous?
䊊 Does the cinematography pull you into the story?
Meet with prospective DPs to see if your styles are compatible. Look at
her demo reel and talk to her about her approach to lighting a scene.
Discuss your story and see if it resonates with her. Much like auditioning
an actor, your quest to find a cinematographer lies not only in your
comfort level with her craft, attitude, and professionalism, but also in her
ability to work with you to fulfill your vision.
Once you choose your DP, sit down with him and show him scenes from
movies that you like the look of. Gather various examples of styles, camera
movements, and lighting that you’d like to see in your movie and listen
as the DP explains how to approach these styles. You both should be on
the same page as to the style and look of the movie, enabling the DP to
determine the equipment needed for the production. Discuss:
䊊 Camera movement: Are you looking for static setups? Tableau shots?
Handheld, documentary-style shots? Dolly or crane moves? Steadicam?
How are you looking for the camera to interact with the environment
and the set?
䊊 Lighting: Are you looking for flat (1960s Technicolor), colorful (Amélie),
black and white (Schindler’s List), or monochromatic (Minority Report)
lighting or lighting tinted with rich shadows (The Matrix)?
䊊 Style: Do you want a documentary (Babel, Traffic), poetic (Amélie), or
dramatic (Titanic) style?
䊊 Editing: How will the movie be cut together? Are you using long shots?
Quick, rapid MTV-style cuts?
While discussing these elements, an experienced DP will be able to help
you balance your vision with the realities of production, scheduling, and
equipment availability. Listen to her . . . she will be your greatest asset on
The key to a successful collaboration between the director and the DP is open
communication of ideas, thoughts, and technical approaches to realizing the
director’s vision. Never hesitate to ask questions and always understand the
complexities of achieving your vision. Most neophyte directors could benefit by
partnering with an experienced DP who can help with the blocking, framing,
and pacing of the movie.
Before shooting a movie, discuss the visual style of the film with the DP. Look
at the tone, feel, and theme of the movie to help craft the appropriate look.
Some common styles include the following:
Dogme 95
The principle behind Dogme 95 is to empower independent filmmakers to
make movies that focus exclusively on the art without the hindrance of technique. The Dogme 95 principles dictate that:
Filmmakers must always shoot on location. No sets can be used.
The sound and picture must always be produced at the same time. There
can be no alterations in the sound or picture in production or
The camera must always be handheld. Dollies, tripods, cranes, or any
other camera-support equipment may not be used.
The image must be acquired with only natural light. No lighting instruments of any kind can be used.
No superficial action such as murders, weapons, or explosions can be
used. The drama must come from the actors and their performances.
No genre-specific themes like horror or sci-fi.
No temporal or geographic alienation.
Film format must be Academy 35 mm.
The director must not be credited in the movie.
Adhering to these principles allows the filmmaker to obtain a “Dogme Certificate.” Although this style requires little to no equipment, the result is usually
amateurish. If you have any intention of producing a commercially viable
movie, I would strongly avoid using this style. I find that filmmakers without
resources, or who are lazy, tend to use the Dogme 95 principles as an excuse
for why their film is technically inferior.
Cinema Verité
The cinema verité style of shooting often incorporates a handheld camera that appears to
capture the action spontaneously. Contrasted by
highly refined and carefully rehearsed camera
moves, the cinema verité style creates an ultrarealistic feel to the characters and the setting. Even
though it may seem random, this style of shooting is very carefully planned, lit, and rehearsed
so as to appear impromptu. Examples are Babel
and Traffic.
I chose a polished style
of shooting for Time
and Again that
incorporated strong
camera angles, subtle
dolly moves, and a very
clean aesthetic.
Films with a polished style incorporate very deliberate and controlled camera
movements, precise lighting, and carefully choreographed blocking. Films like
Schindler’s List and Titanic represent the typical Hollywood style of shooting.
Every frame is carefully planned and expertly shot. Although this style can be
more time consuming and expensive to attain, audiences equate this style more
closely with professionally produced cinema.
The roving camera
Pioneered by the television show NYPD Blue, the roving camera style mixes the
polished and cinema verité styles of shooting. With well-lit scenes and tight
blocking, the camera frame tends to roam around the scene, catching snippets
of action, obscure reactions, and insert shots through foreground elements, in
reflections, and through other abstract means. Although it appears easy to replicate this style, the roving camera style is extremely difficult to attain correctly
and can look amateurish if not done properly. Even though much of this style
appears to be handheld, a loose-headed tripod is often used to create the controlled, fluid style.
The DP’s primary tool is the camera. Regardless of whether the movie is
being shot on film or digital video, a firm understanding of how the
camera works and how to frame is the key to achieving Hollywood-quality
I’m framing a shot for
Bobby and Awanda’s
conversation at the
counter in the diner.
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER use any automatic camera functions like autofocus, auto-white balance, or auto-iris. You’re an artist! Don’t let your
tools tell you how your shot will look; instead, control your equipment
to get the look you want.
■ ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS use a tripod
unless the story requires otherwise. Shooting
hand-held may be quicker, but the results will
always be amateurish. You never want your
audience to be pulled out of the story by a
shaky camera.
Operation of the camera can be broken down
into two categories: the way the camera and its
settings function and choosing where to place
the camera and how to approach the framing of
a subject.
First, let’s review how the camera functions by
introducing the most powerful part of the camera:
the lens.
The lens is the single most powerful tool in your arsenal. Although there are
lots of film-look software programs available, a mastery of the lens is the best
way to create a motion-picture-quality look. What’s really exciting about the
lens is that it works the same in every camera, whether it’s a disposal camera
from the drug store or an expensive Panavision 35 mm film camera. The principles we’re going to identify are all a matter of optics and the way that light
interacts with the lens.
Before we start, we need to understand that there are two types of lenses: prime
lenses and zoom lenses.
Prime lenses
A prime lens has a fixed focal length. The lower the number, for example 12 mm,
the wider the angle, and the higher the number, such as 120 mm, the closer the
lens brings the subject. Typically, prime lenses come in a set from which the
director of photography will choose the ideal lens for the desired field of view
and depth of field for the shot.
Prime lenses have fewer pieces of glass for light to pass through than zoom
lenses, which results in a sharper, crisper image. Prime lenses are often the
choice among directors of photography, especially when shooting a movie that
will be projected or shot under low light conditions or when a shallow depth
of field is desired. Although primes are more expensive to rent than zoom lenses
and require more time on set to change, the results are well worth the cost and
Many professional camcorders accept 35 mm, ²/³-inch bayonet-mounted interchangeable lenses, giving the director of photography the opportunity to use
primes. For cameras that have the lens built in, 35 mm adapters can be attached
to the front of the camera and accept 35 mm lenses. Despite the advantage of
obtaining a look closer to that of film, the amount of light lost through the
adapter requires up to four times more light on set to obtain the same exposure
than if the scene were photographed without the adapter.
Zoom lenses
Zoom lenses feature variable focal lengths because of additional pieces of glass
added to the lens. The majority of video cameras feature noninterchangeable
zoom lenses and offer greater flexibility and ease of use. Although they are faster
when setting up a shot, zoom lenses are not ideal for high-quality motion
picture usage because the increase in glass panes in the lens reduces the amount
of light that reaches the film plane.
Zoom lenses are much faster to use in the field and cut back on the time needed
to interchange primes, although the lens reduces the sharpness of the image
and requires slightly more light than primes for the same exposure.
The biggest secret to making Hollywood-quality movies lies in the lens you choose and
how you use it. Many filmmakers spend thousands of dollars on high-format cameras,
quality lighting equipment, and camera-support equipment, never realizing that if they
use a cheap lens, the potential clarity and sharpness of the recording format will never
be fully utilized. The quality of the optics, especially in high-resolution formats like HD or
35 mm film, will make a substantial difference in the quality of the image. Rent the highest
quality lens you can find, even at the expense of being able to afford the best recording
Every lens has five basic controls that the director of photography can manipulate to obtain the best technical and artistic image. Professional cameras with
better optics afford a wider range of control than consumer or prosumer camcorders, and having a firm understanding of these five controls will help improve
the image of even the cheapest camera.
• FOCUS Ring
The JVC GY-DV500
camcorder I used to
shoot Time and Again.
Ring 1—Focus
The first control of the lens is the focus ring. The focus ring adjusts a piece of
glass to focus light entering the camera from a certain distance onto the film
plane or CCD. You may have noticed the first assistant cameraman in behindthe-scenes videos of Hollywood movies, measuring the distance from the lens
to the actor with a tape measure. He marks these measurements on the camera
so he knows the precise focus setting for each of the actor’s blocking marks.
If focusing using a zoom lens, zoom all the way in on the actor’s eye, set the
focus, then zoom back to the proper focal length. This ensures that the actor is
in the sharpest focus and eliminates the need to measure the distance from the
actor to the lens.
Pulling focus
Setting your focus once at the beginning of a setup works, provided neither the
actor nor camera moves. In situations in which one or both move, the first
assistant cameraman must “pull,” or adjust the focus, during the shot to ensure
that the actor remains in sharp focus throughout the shot. Pulling focus is a
very important skill that takes years to master. The trick lies in the fact that a
lens measures distances logarithmically, not linearly. If an actor stands 50 feet
away from the lens and walks 2 feet toward the lens, the first AC needs to rotate
the lens barrel a little bit. If, however, an actor is only 10 feet from the lens and
walks 2 feet toward the lens, the first AC must rotate the barrel almost one-fifth
of the way around. This may seem easy, but when the DP chooses a long focal
length, the first AC may have a depth of field that is only an inch deep, making
it challenging to keep the actor in a zone that narrow.
Follow focus units are designed to help the first assistant cameraman pull focus. The two marks on the
white ring identify the focus positions necessary to keep the actors in focus.
If it’s necessary to pull focus on a shot, use these simple steps to maintain focus
throughout the shot:
1. Make sure the director is happy with the actor’s blocking, then use colored
gaffer’s tape to mark the actor’s starting and stopping positions.
2. If the camera is on a dolly, mark the starting and stopping points of both
the camera and the dolly positions.
These four stills are taken from the opening sequence of Time and
Again. In this shot, neither the camera position nor the focal length
changed. Rather, I racked focus from the wheat in the foreground to
Brian, who was about 250 feet away. The lens was set at 175 mm at
an f1.8.
3. Move the camera and the
actor to the first position and
set focus. The first AC will put
a piece of white tape around
the focus ring of the lens and
mark that focus setting using
a thin line. Then move to
the second position, set the
focus, and mark that as the
second mark on the lens.
4. Rehearse the action several
times to ensure that the actor,
dolly grip, and first AC are all
in sync with each other.
5. Shoot the scene and keep a
sharp eye on the monitor to
make sure the entire shot is
in focus.
Pulling focus can result in remarkable Hollywood-like images, but
also requires careful preplanning
and execution on set.
Remember that the longer the
focal length, the shallower
the depth of field and the
more difficult it is to keep the
subject in focus.
Combining camera moves
with moving actors will require additional time to block
the action, set focus, and
properly pull the focus for
the shot.
Using 35 mm lens adapters
on HD cameras allows the use
of 35 mm prime lenses and
the desired shallower depth
of field that emulates the look
of film cameras; however,
because of the way the optics
work, the distance markings
on the 35 mm lenses are
inaccurate, making focus
pulls even more difficult.
Ring 2—Focal length
The focal length is the measurement (in millimeters) from the optical center of
the lens to the film plane (the film itself or, if you’re using a video camera, the
CCD). Zooming is the process of changing the focal length. Zooming out shortens the focal length and zooming in lengthens the focal length. Remember that
prime lenses have fixed focal lengths.
Shorter focal length (zoomed out)
Longer focal length (zoomed in)
Deeper depth of field
Shallower depth of field
More, exaggerated depth
Flatter image
Farther from subject
Closer to subject
Perception of faster time
Perception of slower time
Shot size: Changing the focal length has a huge impact on the look of
your image. The most obvious is the difference in shot size. Longer focal
lengths bring the audience closer to the subject, whereas shorter focal
lengths give us a very wide shot. Changing the focal length also affects the
depth of field. Believe it or not, the change in size isn’t the primary reason
most DPs change the focal length of the lens, but rather they want to
create a shallower depth of field or exaggerate or flatten the depth of a
Depth of field: The depth of field is the zone in front of the lens in which
objects are in focus. Changing the focal length, the exposure, and the distance of the subject from the lens can control the depth of field. Lengthening the focal length (zooming in), opening the iris, and moving the subjects
close to the camera lens are three ways to create a shallow, or small, depth
of field. Shortening the focal length (zooming out), closing the iris, and
moving the subjects away from the camera lens are all ways to create a
deep depth of field. Whereas the focal length determines how big the depth
of field is, the focus determines where the depth of field is. Moving the
depth of field from one subject in the foreground to a subject in the back-
This shot (left) was
taken with a 7.5 mm,
or a short, lens. Notice
that everything in the
shot is in focus and the
background appears
sharp and deep. You
can judge the distance
between the actors and
the trees in the
background. The iris
was set at f11, so
closing the iris helped
add to the deep depth
of field. The camera is
only about 15 feet
away from the actors.
This shot (right) was
taken with a 120 mm,
or a long, lens. Notice
that the shot brings the
audience much closer
to Brian, although the
camera is actually
about 50 feet away
from him! Shooting
with the long lens gave
us a very shallow depth
of field, which threw
the weeds in the
foreground and
background out of
focus, drawing our
eyes to Brian. It also
flattened the shot so
we can’t really tell how
far away the weeds in
the distance are.
ground is called racking or pulling focus. The farther apart the subjects are
and the shallower the depth of field, the more effective the technique.
Depth: The second change in the image when shortening or lengthening
the focal length is depth perception. A short lens (short focal length) will
exaggerate the distance between objects in the foreground and background. Increasing the focal length will flatten the image and the viewer
won’t be able to determine visually how far apart the foreground subject
is from the background image.
Time: One side effect of using a long lens to flatten out a shot is the illusion of slowing time. If an actor were to start walking toward the camera
from a distance of 200 feet, and you were to shoot him or her with a long
lens, the resulting image would be so flat that it would appear as if the
actor wasn’t moving forward at all. This creates the illusion of time slowing
down, because the character doesn’t seem to be making any forward
progress. Fight scenes, on the other hand, are usually shot with short
lenses, because the increase in depth adds to the intensity and exaggerates
the motion of the actors.
If you look into the zoom lens of a camera while you zoom in or out, you can
actually see the pieces of glass moving closer or farther apart. The farther apart
the pieces are, the “longer” the lens, or the longer the focal length. An easy way
to remember this is that telescopes have very long housings designed to separate
the pieces of glass, thereby getting very close to an object.
Ring 3—The iris: exposure
Any optical instrument, whether it’s a camera or an eyeball, has a certain limit
to the amount of light it is capable of seeing. In order to regulate the light to
the optimum range, an iris or aperture can be opened or closed. In a camera,
the size of the iris is measured in f-stops.
Mathematically, an f-stop is the number of times the distance across
the lens opening must be multiplied in order to arrive at the lens
focal length. Therefore, f-stops represent the ratio between the lens
opening and the lens focal length:
f-stop = focal length/lens opening.
When a lens iris is set at f4, the diameter of the lens opening must
be multiplied by 4 to arrive at the lens focal length; when it is set
at f2.0, the diameter of the iris opening must be multiplied by 2 to
arrive at the focal length.
This ratio results in the oddity that the smaller the f-stop number,
the more OPEN the iris is, and the larger the f-stop number, the
more CLOSED the iris is.
The f-stop scale on every camera lens is:
2 2.8 4
More open
5.6 8 11 16
More closed
Practically, understand that opening the iris by one f-stop DOUBLES the amount
of light let into the lens. Closing the iris by one f-stop HALVES the amount of
light let into the lens. The engineers who designed early optics wanted each fstop to represent either a doubling or a halving of light, so the resulting f-stop
numbers happened to be fractions instead of whole numbers. For example, if
a camera were set to f5.6 and we open the iris to f2, we would be increasing
the amount of light by 8x. Why? Opening the iris from f5.6 to f4 doubles the
light being allowed through the lens, then f4 to f2.8 doubles the light again (to
4x), and then f2.8 to f2 doubles it again (from 4x to 8x).
As is the case with the focal length, changing the iris has a variety of other effects.
Not only is the amount of light let into the lens affected, so is the depth of field.
The MORE OPEN the iris, the SHALLOWER the depth of field. The MORE
CLOSED the iris, the DEEPER the depth of field. Many cinematographers will
choose their exposure setting first, based on the resulting depth of field and will
light the scene for that particular exposure setting.
The proper way to expose a shot in video, when using prosumer and professional camcorders, is to use zebra stripes. Zebras are diagonal lines displayed
in the viewfinder over any overexposed area of the shot. Zebra stripes are only
a visual indicator in the viewfinder and are not recorded to tape. Set your exposure so that you barely see any zebra stripes on your subject (unless you want
to overexpose it intentionally). This will ensure that your subjects fill out the
contrast range of the camera. It is always important to have at least one part of
your frame be at or near the 100 percent exposure area.
Ring 4—Macro focus
Lenses are designed to focus incoming light onto a CCD or film, but there’s a
limit to how close an object can be to the lens and still remain in focus.
Most lenses aren’t able to focus on anything within a couple feet of the lens,
making extreme close-ups impossible. Manufacturers found a solution by introducing another piece of glass in the lens that gives the user the ability to focus
on objects within a couple feet of the lens. This is called “macro focus.” The
macro focus function is virtually invisible on consumer cameras because the
camera automatically switches from standard focus to macro focus whenever
an object gets too close to the lens. Professional cameras, however, have a separate ring on the lens that allows the operator to set the macro focus
The beauty of macro focus is that it exhibits the same changes in depth of field
and perceived depth as standard focus. Using this technique and convincing
miniatures you can rescale objects to appear large by working close to the lens
and using the macro focus.
Ring 5—Back focus
Lenses are either permanently built into the camera body or designed to be
interchangeable. The problem with swapping lenses between camera bodies is
that each lens needs to be calibrated so the image is properly focused onto the
film plane of the host camera. Because each camera is built differently and the
CCD is set either closer or farther to the lens, each lens has a back-focus adjustment used to focus the image squarely on the CCD.
The back focus should be set each time a new lens is mounted on the camera.
Although a qualified engineer should calibrate the lens, it’s possible to set the
back focus using a back-focus chart.
Take the camera outdoors and frame a small object (a water bottle, picture
frame, etc.) in the foreground and an object in the background (a tree or a car).
Using a short focal length (zoomed all the way out) and moving the camera so
the foreground object is framed within the frame, study how the distance and
focus between the foreground and the background objects are affected. Then,
zoom all the way in (lengthening the focal length), and physically move the
camera backward far enough to frame the foreground object at the same size
as when you were close. Look at how the distance and focus change between
the objects now that you’re shooting on the long end of the lens.
How did the depth of the shot appear to change when you shot the objects
on the short end of the lens vs the long end of the lens?
What benefit is there in shooting with a long lens? A short lens?
Shoot an object using a close-up shot, medium shot, and long shot, but shoot
it in a way that reveals the object without ever revealing what it is until the long
shot. Practice proper composition and framing so that each object is properly
placed in the frame. Try different objects and different reveals, using the camera
to tell a story about the object. For example, begin with a frame full of mud.
The frame cuts to reveal a muddy tire. Cut to a car, caked in mud. Cut to an
open field torn up by the car. It was off-roading. Learn to reveal the story with
a series of consecutive cuts, prompting the audience to ask more and more
questions that lead up to the reveal.
Always take care of the lens by keeping it free of dust and scratches. Carry a can
of compressed air to blow away dust that collects on the lens. If the compressed
air isn’t enough, use a camel hairbrush available from a local photography shop
to lightly brush away the dust. As a last result, use a lens tissue and lightly wipe
debris off the lens, careful not to scratch the lens coating.
Use a flashlight to check the lens at the beginning of each setup to ensure the
lens is clean.
One of the easiest tricks to creating a Hollywood-quality look is to work with a shallow
depth of field as often as possible. The 35 mm cameras used to shoot Hollywood movies
have a much larger film plane than most prosumer video cameras that utilize ¹/³ inch
CCDs. Larger film planes mean shallower depth of field.
To mimic the look of a 35 mm film camera, follow these basic steps:
Use the long end of the lens (zoom in) and move the camera forward or backward
to set the proper frame. Remember that the longer the focal length, the shallower
the depth of field.
Open the iris as much as possible. The more open the iris, the shallower the depth
of field. Consider picking up some ND (neutral density) filters to force the iris open.
Slow down the shutter speed. This will also make for a shallower depth of field.
When I shot Time and Again, I almost exclusively worked on the long end of the lens,
even in wide shots. The result comes really close to mimicking the depth of field attained
on 35 mm film cameras.
There are a number of camera settings that can influence the look of the image.
The director and DP should carefully discuss each setting in advance so they
are clear about what the look of the movie should be and how to achieve it.
Shutter speed
In film cameras, the shutter is a rotating disc with an opening that allows light
to pass through it to expose each frame. The wider the opening, the longer each
frame is exposed, resulting in greater motion blur. Narrower shutter angles
create a sharp, staccato look like the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan, when
Allied forces attack the beaches of Normandy.
In video cameras changing the shutter speed has the same effect, but the
“shutter” is a digital function that controls how long the CCD registers light for
each frame.
The shutter speed is usually set to an angle of 180, or half the exposure time of
a frame. For a more film-like look when shooting video, consider shooting with
a slightly faster shutter speed.
Maintaining the same visual look when changing the shutter speed requires
compensating by either opening or closing the iris. For example, if you
change the shutter speed from ¹/³0 second to ¹/60 second, the light hitting
the CCD is being cut in half. You must either double the amount of light
on set or open the iris one f-stop to compensate.
Think carefully about working with a faster shutter. You may need to add
more light to expose each shot adequately, and additional lighting fixtures
will add to the equipment budget.
Gain is to video the way film speed is to film cameras. Gain is a setting that
electronically boosts the sensitivity of the CCD, making it more sensitive in
low-light situations. The downfall, like using faster film, is that the resulting
image is grainier and noisier.
Gain is used primarily in documentaries and newsgathering situations in which
it’s impossible to light, but grainy images are acceptable to the viewing audience.
If you’re shooting a narrative film, avoid using gain at all cost, because the image
degradation is irreversible. If you want a grainy, contrasty image, filters and plugins in the editing room allow you more flexibility and control over the look.
White balance
The entire diner scene
has a subtle orange tint
(top), which helped
create a 1950s look. I
white balanced through
a ¼ blue gel to warm
up the image.
For Bobby’s flashback
sequence (bottom), I
white balanced through
a ½ orange gel to
create deep, rich blues
in the scene.
Different light sources have different colors and, although difficult to see with
the naked eye, are painfully evident to the camera lens. For example, tungsten
light has a warm orange color, fluorescent light has a green hue, and sunlight
at noon on a cloudless summer day has a blue hue. As a result, objects lit by
these light sources are tinted, resulting in the need to correct for the tint.
This process, called white balancing, involves holding up a white card under
the light source illuminating the set, zooming in on it so that the card fills the
frame, and then pushing the camera’s manual white balance button. Doing so
tells the camera that the light falling on (and reflecting off) the white card
should be viewed as white. The camera will then adjust the colors in the shot
by removing the tint so the light from the source appears white. For example,
if you are shooting a living room scene lit by table lamps and you white balance
to tungsten, the lamps will not cast an orange light, but a white light.
Avoid using either the camera’s auto whitebalance feature or the preset white balance settings. These auto-settings are calculated in the
factory for specific color temperatures and rarely
match the actual color of the light you’re shooting under.
There are also ways to cheat the white balance to
tint the overall look of the shot. Instead of white
balancing to a white card, as is standard, place a
lightly colored gel over the lens and then white
balance to a white card. This forces the camera
to remove the color of the gel to make the white
card appear white. When you remove the gel
from the front of the lens, the shot will be tinted
the opposite color.
You can see examples of this in Time and Again.
In the trailer scene, we white balanced through a
slightly blue gel, resulting in a warm, orange-tinted shot. In the courtroom
flashback, we white balanced through an orange gel, which tinted the shot blue.
Do not use a deep-colored gel and overtint your shot because once the color
information is gone, it cannot be replaced. Unless you’re confident in using this
trick, it is always better to tint your image during the editing process, in which
you can always change or undo the effect.
Why is it called color temperature when it has nothing to do with the heat of the light
source? In the late 1800s, British physicist William Kelvin heated a block of carbon
(called a black body) that glowed in the heat, producing a range of different colors at
different temperatures. It first produced a dim red light, increasing to a brighter yellow as
the temperature went up, and eventually produced a bright blue-white glow at the
highest temperatures.
The temperature of the carbon black body then identified the corresponding wavelengths
of light, hence the term color temperature. An example of this is tungsten. The color of
light emitted by a tungsten filament is equal to the color of light emitted from the carbon
when it is heated up to 3200 Kelvin. Hence, the color temperature of tungsten is 3200K
and has nothing to do with the heat temperature at which the tungsten filament burns.
The Kelvin scale is a temperature scale at which zero starts at −273.15 degrees Celsius,
also known as absolute zero, a temperature so cold that all molecular activity in matter
Color temperature chart
Blue sky
Summer sky
Partially cloudy
Summer shade
Light summer shade
Average daylight
Average noon
Late afternoon
Early morning
Hour after sunrise
Half-hour after sunrise
Candle flame
Match flame
Table 15.1
Digital CCD Area
9 (2.40:1)
Digital CCD Extended Area for Anamorphic
Regular 16mm Camera Aperture
Super 16mm Camera Aperture
35mm Full Camera Aperture
Anamorphic Projection Aperture
35mm 1.85:1 Projection Aperture
Super Panavision 35mm Extracted
Area for Anamorphic Projection
35mm TV Transmitted Area
(SMPTE recommended practice)
35mm TV Safe Action
Aspect ratios for common film and video formats
.945 .531
(16 9)
4-Perf Transmitted Area
.980 .546
.910 .511
(16 9)
Panavision 3-Perf 35mm Camera Aperture
3-Perf Transmitted Area
65mm Camera Aperture
70mm Projection Aperture
(Panavision Super 70mm)
Extracted for 2 Projection
The biggest difference between amateur and professionally produced movies is
how shots are framed. With an almost limitless number of possibilities as to
where to place the camera and how to frame up a shot, a careful eye and some
forethought will greatly improve the professionalism of your movie.
Although this sounds simple and mundane, the audience sees only where you
point the camera. Especially in the low-budget realm, creative camera angles
and careful framing can help sell limited locations, basic production design,
and even simple lighting.
Aspect ratios
The aspect ratio is the ratio of the width of the frame to the height of the frame.
Referred to as a dimension such as 16 × 9 or 4 × 3, the aspect ratio refers to the
shape of the frame, not the size.
Film and video formats have different aspect ratios that are chosen for creative
and technical reasons. Most filmmakers will agree that shooting with a wider
aspect ratio more closely mimics the human eye’s area of view and is more
aesthetically pleasing.
Converting from one format to another can create problems because the aspect
ratios may not match. Letterbox and pan-and-scan techniques are used to overcome differing frame shapes.
Converting one film/video format to another can be challenging, especially
when the aspect ratio of the two media is different. In this instance, a 1.85 : 1
35 mm film frame is wider than an NTSC 4 : 3 television frame, so one possible
option is to reduce the 35 mm frame so that it fits inside the NTSC frame and
to fill the top and bottom areas with black. Although it may seem as though
the top and bottom of the frame are cut off, the letterbox format allows the
viewer to see the entire 35 mm frame.
Pan and scan
Many distributors and broadcasters do not want to use the letterbox format, so
instead, the pan-and-scan technique is utilized. This process involves blowing
up the 35 mm frame so that it fills the NTSC frame. Because the 35 mm frame
is wider than the NTSC frame, the sides of the picture are cut off, losing up to
40% of the image. Critical elements in the movie may be lost outside the NTSC
frame, therefore the 35 mm frame can be shifted left and right to “reframe” in
order for critical objects to appear.
There are a number of guidelines that help the cameraman best utilize the area
of the camera frame. Although these guidelines can easily be compromised,
33 mm Film Frame
NTSC Frame
A letterbox preserves the 35mm aspect ratio when it is
converted to NTSC.
Unlike letterboxing an image, cropping cuts off almost 40% of
the 35mm frame.
The 35mm frame must be shifted to the left and right within the NTSC frame to ensure important subjects and objects aren’t cut
off. This move, called “pan and scan” can be jerky and disorienting.
they provide the most aesthetically pleasing look and should be heavily considered. From classic paintings to modern motion pictures, you’ll begin to
notice these conventions used again and again.
Rule of Thirds: The Rule of Thirds is
designed to help the camera operator determine where in the frame to place important objects. Instead of centering a subject,
always frame the subject a third from either
side of the frame or a third from the top or
bottom. Here’s how it works: Place an
imaginary tic-tac-toe board over the frame
and place the subject on one of the lines.
For example, frame an actor’s eyes one-third from the top of the frame,
or when shooting a sunset, place the horizon one-third from the bottom
of the screen. Whereas these examples demonstrate framing of horizontal
elements, this same concept applies to the placement of vertical elements.
If there is a single tree silhouetted against the setting sun, the tree should
be placed either a third from the left or a third from the right of the frame,
never centered.
Lead room: Not only should an operator
frame for an object or subject, but also for
the action of the subject. If an actor were
to look directly into the camera lens, he
should be centered in the frame with his
eyes a third from the top of the screen. If
the actor were to turn his head frame right,
pan right to allow room for him to look
into. The more drastic to the side the action
is, the more lead room must be provided.
The 180 Rule: If you and I were standing on set, we would be able to see
every object in the room, know the geography of the room, and have a
sense of spatiality. The audience, however, sees only what the camera sees,
and when the camera shoots a series of close-up shots, the geography of
the room and the objects in it are never fully revealed to the audience.
Take, for example, two people facing each other, talking over a restaurant
table. If you’re standing on the set, you know they’re facing each other.
But if the only camera coverage is two single close-ups, it is possible to
misplace the camera so that it looks as though the two people are looking
in the same direction, incorrect as it may be.
The 180 Rule prevents this geographic confusion from taking place. In order to
apply this rule, draw a line, called the line of action, between the two subjects,
as though you were connecting the dots, except that this line extends infinitely
in both directions. The rule specifies that the camera must remain on one side
of the line of action to prevent a geographic conflict that confuses the audience
as to the placement of the subjects and objects on the set. You can choose any
camera angle, any distance from the actors, any lens type, and any camera
height, provided the camera always remains on the same side of the line.
As is the case with many rules, there are three exceptions when the camera is
allowed to cross the line:
(a) In the first exception the camera cuts to a shot while on the line. In the
instance of a car chase, a shot on the line could be a point of view of a
driver, or a car could drive over the camera, or, if placed on a bridge,
the camera could shoot directly down onto the cars driving underneath.
Once we establish a shot on the line, the camera is free to either return
to its original side of the line or cross to the other side for the duration
of the scene.
(b) In the second exception the camera crosses the line during a dolly or
handheld shot. If the camera dollies across the line of action, then the
audience is watching as the camera crosses, preserving the geographic
layout of the set. If the camera crosses, the next shot must occur on the
same side the camera ends up on.
(c) In the third exception the line of action crosses the camera. For example,
if two actors are seated at a table and one of the actors stands and walks
across the frame, then the line has effectively moved across the camera.
The next shot must be taken from the new position unless one of the
above-stated exceptions is applied.
Remember that the 180 Rule is a guide you can use to determine where to put
the camera for the next shot. Regardless of whether you followed the rule or
used an exception, the next shot must always take place from the correct side
of the line to avoid confusing the audience.
Eye line: When shooting a dialog scene between two actors, place the
camera close to the line of action so the actors are facing the camera as
much as possible, with their eye line just off the side of the lens. A
common mistake committed by many new filmmakers is to place the
camera too far away from the line of action, framing a profile shot instead
of a full-facial shot. The more an actor faces the camera lens, the greater
the audience will emotionally connect with him.
Headroom: Headroom is the distance from the top of the actor’s head to
the top of the frame. If you follow the rule of thirds and always place the
actor’s eyes a third from the top of the frame, then the headroom should
automatically fall into place.
Background: Make sure the background is free and clear of any distracting
elements like plants or phone poles that, if improperly framed, appear to
grow from the actor’s head. Using tools to throw the background out of
focus will draw the audience’s attention toward the subject of the shot.
Think and preplan the background of every shot from an art direction,
set-dressing, and color standpoint so the background serves to tell the
Camera: CU on Awanda
In this frame, Awanda is
looking FRAME LEFT at
Bobby who is looking
Line of action
Camera: Master shot of
Bobby and Awanda
In this frame, Awanda is STILL looking
FRAME LEFT at Bobby while Bobby
Camera: CU on Bobby
In this frame, Bobby is STILL
looking FRAME RIGHT.
By crossing the line of
action, this shot of Bobby
WILL NOT edit correctly
with the shot of Awanda
because both Bobby and
Awanda are looking FRAME
LEFT! Editing them
together will make it
appear as though they are
facing the same direction.
In Time and Again, whenever a shot was framed,
we looked at the background very carefully to
make sure it accurately portrayed the 1950s. We
added props or set dressing to help sell the illusion and were always mindful of the colors and
textures, making sure the frame was as rich as
Foreground: Add depth to shots by shooting through foreground elements. Fences,
objects on a table, plants, and even shooting through car windows all add
several layers of depth to a shot and can help frame a subject. Always think
in terms of what the background, midground, and foreground elements
are in a shot.
This shot was framed
through the controls of
a tractor. By using a
shallow depth of field,
the foreground was
thrown out of focus,
yet the tractor still
framed Bobby. The
background element in
the frame is a wheat
field. The foreground
and background
elements both help
make the shot more
visually interesting.
A great example of using the foreground occurs in Time and Again when Bobby
Jones leaves the wheat field and is walking around the barn behind the house.
The shot was framed through a piece of farm equipment that was thrown out
of focus, helping to draw the audience’s attention to Bobby Jones.
If you have access to a dolly, consider opening a scene by dollying from
behind an object or slowly dollying in front of, or through, a foreground
element. These subtle techniques help add production value and make for
interesting shots.
Balance: Always make sure that elements in the frame feel balanced. Look
at the rough shape, color, and brightness of the primary objects in the
shot and make sure they complement each other in the frame.
Don’t be afraid to cheat! In many instances, I would frame up a shot and decide that it
needed a little more spice to make it interesting. Provided it didn’t interfere with the
continuity of previous shots, I would add elements in front of the camera lens to provide
an interesting foreground to shoot through, or we would move and finesse the set
dressing in the background, always taking time to scrutinize the frame before rolling off a
take. Sometimes small changes like moving a plant into the frame or removing artwork
from the wall that competes for the viewer’s attention can make a big difference in the
balance and feel of the shot.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and, provided you have the time, make each shot a
masterpiece that you could print, frame, and hang on the wall.
Communication between the director and the director of photography starts by
understanding the size of the frame and how the actors will look in the frame.
Below are the most common frame types and examples of what they look
close up
Close up
full shot
Full shot
Establishing shots are wide shots, generally to show the audience where the following scene is taking place. These shots serve
to set up, or establish, the location.
Master shot is a wide shot that covers all
the action of a scene from the beginning to
the end. Usually a simple shot, master shots
sometimes incorporate a dolly move to
keep them from being stagnant. Master
shots always include everything the audience needs to see to understand the scene.
Full shot is a full head-to-toe body shot of
the actor.
¾ or Hollywood shot—The frame cuts the
actor off at the knees. This shot is not used
often in modern cinema because cutting
off a subject at the joints is considered bad
composition and looks awkward.
Medium shot—The medium shot is the
most common shot and frames the actor
from midtorso to his head.
Two shot—Two actors, usually standing next
to each other. A two shot has two actors in the
frame. A three shot has three actors in the
frame and so on.
Walking two shot is a two shot, except that the
actors are walking during the shot. They can
either stop or start or be walking when the
camera rolls.
Standing two shot is a lock-down shot in
which neither the camera nor the actors
Reversal—A shot in which two actors are facing each other, across a
dinner table for example, and the camera cuts from a medium shot of one
actor to a medium shot of the other actor, hence “reversing” the shot.
Over-the-shoulder shot (OTS)—A medium
shot of an actor over the shoulder of another
actor. An OTS shot frames one side of the shot
with the back of the actor’s head and shoulder.
As a general rule, the audience should see only
one ear of the actor facing away from the
Close-up—A tight shot framing an actor’s
head and shoulders, the close-up focuses
the audience’s attention on an actor’s facial
expression and is a very powerful frame,
but should be mixed in with a variety of
other shots to keep the sequence from
feeling claustrophobic.
Deep focus—A shot in which all elements
in frame are in focus. Also called a “deep
depth of field,” this can be achieved by
using a short focal length (zooming out)
and closing the iris.
Shallow focus—A shot in which only
certain objects in the frame are in focus.
You can achieve a shallow depth of field by
lengthening the focal length (zooming in)
and opening the camera’s iris.
Dutch angle is a shot in which the camera
is intentionally tilted out of horizontal.
This adds power and emphasis to the
Panning is horizontal movement of the camera on its axis, usually while
on a tripod.
Tilting is vertical movement of the camera on its axis, usually while on a
Pedestal—Vertically raising or lowering the camera. This term is used in
television production. On a film set, the term is “boom up” or “boom
down,” when using a pneumatically controlled dolly.
Tracking shot is a shot that involves moving the camera laterally, side to
High shot is a shot in which the camera is
positioned above the subject and is shooting down, making the subject look
MOS—Short for “mit out sound” (German),
which identifies a shot recorded without
Montage—A series of shots interwoven with transitions to show the
passage of time.
One of the most critical tools on set is a properly calibrated production monitor.
Although expensive (a good field monitor will cost between $800 and $1200),
professional monitors offer calibration tools so the image displayed on the
monitor is exactly what is being recorded.
This is especially important when shooting in a digital format in which the
director and DP tend to light and expose the shot based on how the image
looks on the monitor.
The process for properly calibrating a monitor is as follows:
1. Connect the monitor to the camera and, through the camera’s settings,
activate the color bars. Color bars are used to ensure that all the video
devices through the production chain are properly calibrated. Always
view the monitor in a dark room or in a low-light environment to ensure
proper calibration.
2. To set the luminance, or brightness, of the monitor, look for the three
vertical gray bars in the lower right portion of the color bar chart. You’ll
notice that the left bar is black, the middle bar is dark gray, and the right
bar is light gray. Adjust the brightness on the monitor until the two bars
on the left appear as black and the rightmost bar is barely visible.
3. The next step is to adjust the contrast. Look at the white square in the
lower left corner of the color bar chart and turn up the contrast until the
white begins to bloom into the surrounding boxes. The contrast is properly set when the edges of the white box are sharp and defined.
4. Professional monitors have a “blue-only” mode that turns off the red
and green cathode ray tubes, displaying only blue. If your monitor doesn’t
have a blue mode, try placing a 47b blue gel over the monitor so it filters
out all colors except blue. Adjust the chroma
(color) setting until the two outside bars match
the same brightness as the bars below them.
When properly calibrated, the two bars should
appear as one.
5. To adjust the hue (phase or tint), adjust the
setting until the two inner bars match in brightness to the bars directly beneath them. It may be
necessary to readjust the chroma and hue
together, as one will influence the other.
6. The monitor will be properly calibrated once
top and middle bars match each other in the first,
second, sixth, and seventh columns.
7. Turn off blue mode and know that the image
you’re seeing is true and accurate.
Lighting is as important to crafting the emotional tone of the scene as the actors’
performance. One of the most common mistakes made by independent filmmakers is either neglecting the craft of lighting all together or, even worse yet,
using light simply as a way of illuminating the subject enough to expose the
Properly lighting a shot is, by far, the best way to achieve a big budget, Hollywood-quality look. Good lighting can enhance limited set design and art direction and truly make the difference between an amateurish and a professional
One of the most common lighting techniques and the foundation of most
lighting setups is called three-point lighting, which utilizes three different types
of lights:
Key light: The key light is the main source of illumination on the subject and
is generally placed about 45 degrees off the camera line. Off-setting the key
creates shadows on the face and brings out depth and dimension. The harsher
the key light, the more pronounced the shadows. The more diffused the light,
the softer the shadows.
Fill light: The key light will create shadows, and the “fill” is used to fill in some
of those shadows without adding so much light that the shadows are completely
lost. Fill lights can either be the ambient light on set or be added with something
as simple as a bounce board. Remember that the fill light is never as strong as
the key.
Rim/back light: Positioned so that it is almost facing the key light, the back
light is a very subtle accent that brings out the actor’s shoulders and back of
head, separating him from the background.
Although the three-point lighting technique is a classic approach to lighting,
there are many variations that can be used to help create a high-quality look,
even on a low budget.
Always place the camera and the key light on opposite sides of the
actor’s eye line. In the traditional three-point lighting demonstration, the
actor is almost always facing the camera. Unfortunately, actors rarely look
directly into the camera, but rather off to the side of the lens, usually at
another actor, which affects the placement of the key light. The trick to
placing the key light is to determine the actor’s eye line, or the direction
of his gaze. If the camera is on one side of the eye line, then place the key
light on the other side so the key light will illuminate the far side of the
actor’s face. This technique brings out the depth and details of his face,
while allowing the fleshy part of his cheek to fall slightly into shadow.
This will help frame his eyes, nose, and mouth while creating a sparkle
in his eye, called an eye light.
Rim/Back Light: Lightly edges
the shoulder and head from the
background; usually faces the
key light
Fill Light: Fills in some of the
shadows cast by the key light,
but not all; positioned
about 45 off the center
line of the camera, opposite
the key light
Key Light: Main source of
illumination; positioned
about 45 off the center
line of the camera
Light the actor brighter than the background. Try lighting the actor at
least one f-stop brighter than the background to help her pop out of her
surroundings. One big problem in independent films occurs when the
actors and set are so evenly lit that there is no sense of depth within the
frame. Lighting the actor and blocking any spill off the background is a
great way to guide the audience’s eye to what you want them to be
seeing—the performance.
Use reflected light. When most independent filmmakers approach lighting, their natural tendency is to aim a light directly at the actors. Try
bouncing the light off a reflector, a piece of white foam core or bead board
to soften the light. Applying this technique to the key light is especially
helpful when shooting an actor’s face. The light will be much more natural
and flattering to the actor.
Key light: We used a
1200-watt HMI, which
is equal to a 5000-watt
tungsten light, through a
4 × 4-foot silk diffusion to
soften the light.
Back light: We used
a 250-watt Lowel Pro
light to accent
Awanda's hair.
Fill light: We used a
white bounce card to fill
in some of the shadows
created by the key.
Working with shadows
It would make sense that lighting a subject would involve directing a light at
the subject and turning the light on. Although this approach works some of the
time, it results in harsh shadows and usually creates an unnatural look.
Good lighting creates shadows, provided those shadows are in the right place.
In real life, we are able to determine depth and distance because we have two
eyes that work together, each one seeing an object from a slightly different angle.
When our brain puts these two images together, we are able to see depth. This
process, called triangulation, helps us determine the distance between objects
or the distance from an object to our face. Incidentally, the closer an object is
to our eyes, the more depth sensitive we are. The farther away it is, the more
difficult it is to determine depth. For example, if
you hold your finger at arm’s length and move it
12 inches toward your face, your brain will detect
that change in distance much more than if a
friend, standing 100 feet away, moves his finger
12 inches closer to you. It is for the same reason
that it is difficult to tell how far away stars are
relative to each other. The angle from the stars to
our left eye and the stars to our right eye is so
narrow that we can’t tell how far away they are
from us, or from one another.
Unfortunately, a camera doesn’t have depth perception because it only has one “eye,” the lens.
In order to create depth, you have to create
shadows through the use of good lighting.
There are good shadows, called internal shadows, and bad shadows, called
external shadows. External shadows are created when a light casts a harsh
shadow of the subject onto another object, drawing the audience’s attention to
the presence of the light. Internal shadows are cast by the subject onto itself,
resulting in contrast. For example, lighting one-half of an actor’s face will not
only cast a shadow of him on the wall, resulting in an external shadow, but
also cast a shadow on the other side of his face, an internal shadow. He casts
a shadow onto himself. Good lighting technique avoids distracting external
shadows, but uses internal shadows to give a sense of depth and dimension to
a shot.
The transition between the bright and the dark sides of a subject’s face is called
the “wraparound.” A harsh, distinctive line between the bright and the dark
sides of a subject’s face is called a hard wraparound, whereas a soft transition
from dark to light is a soft wraparound. Famous female movie stars of the 1940s
and 1950s look glamorous because of soft wraparound.
You can create a soft wraparound by reflecting light off a white piece of
foam core (available at most home improvement stores), walls, or other
reflective surfaces. The larger the reflector area and the closer to the subject,
the softer the wraparound.
If you need to break up an empty wall behind the subject, try taking a
piece of foam core and cutting out the pattern of a window frame, a
random shape, or the pattern of Venetian blinds. Place this “cookie” in
front of the light to cast a patterned external shadow onto the back wall
to help break up the monotony. Try cutting some small tree branches and
mounting them in front of a light to cast the shadow of branches or leaves
on the set. The closer the cookie is to the light, the softer the shadow cast
on the set wall.
Another great way to break up the background is to focus a light onto the
wall, then use a flag to cut off the top, bottom, or sides of the light. The
result is a smooth grade from light to dark. I like to set my camera frame
and grade the wall directly behind the actor’s head so the darker part of
the wall helps his face stand out.
Notice in these still images taken from Time and Again that no matter what
the shot, the key light is offset to the side of each subject, creating a light
and a dark side of the face, with varying grades of wraparound. Good cinematography and lighting create contrast on either side of the subject’s face; the
amount of contrast is dependent on what you want the scene to look like
Four examples of
The qualities of light
Light has a number of attributes, each of which
can be controlled to create the desired look on
Falloff: Falloff is the distance light travels
before its brightness severely drops off. Focused
lights tend to have greater falloff than soft,
diffused sources. Falloff is important when
working in tight locations such as an apartment, where lights with a long falloff will overlight the background walls. Fluorescent lights,
like Kino-Flos, have very fast falloff.
Color: The color of the light is measured by
its color temperature. It’s important to match
the color temperatures of the lights when
shooting. For more information, please refer
to the color temperatures section in this
Brightness: The brightness is how much light
a fixture generates and is measured in foot
candles or watts.
Wraparound: Wraparound is the transition
from light to shadow on an actor’s face.
Harsh direct lights have a small wraparound,
whereas large, soft sources have a greater
Specularity: Specularity is the intensity and
color of highlights on a subject. An example
of a highly specular source is a bright spot on
a bald actor’s head created by the rim light.
Baby—a 1000-watt light
Blonde—an open face 2000-watt light
Brute—a 225-amp, DC-powered arc light
Deuce—a 2000-watt light
Junior—a 2000-watt light
Mickey—an open face 1000-watt light
Midget—a 500-watt light
Redhead—a 1000-watt light
Senior—a 5000-watt light
Lighting a scene
1. Look at the existing ambient light. In the ideal situation, the director of
photography would be working on a pitch black soundstage and have complete
control over all the lighting and reflective surfaces. Unfortunately, on location,
you will be forced to contend with windows, sunlight, overhead lights, and
reflected sources, so planning your lighting to work with these ambient sources
will greatly improve the look of the film. The worst ambient light sources are
nondirectional, even light. Although there may be plenty of light, if it is evenly
spread or diffused on the set, the result is a low-contrast, flat look. Use locations
that have a directional ambience such as windows on one side of the room or
focusable spotlights in the ceiling. The more directional the ambience, the easier
it will be to control.
The crew lights the
garage for Bobby and
Awanda’s bedroom
2. Determine the direction of the light. Referring to three-point lighting,
thenext step is to determine the position of the key light. The secret to placing
the key light is to watch the blocking of the actors, determine the camera’s position for each setup, and then think about light placement. Once you know
where the camera will be placed for each setup throughout the scene, place the
key light so that it works for each angle. For
example, in the trailer scene between Bobby
Jones and Awanda, the light was coming in from
the side of the trailer, so that no matter where
the actors were, as long as they were positioned
along the length of the trailer, the window light
would always serve as the key. Try to think ahead
so that the key light’s position will work for each
camera position in the scene. Storyboards are
helpful in preplanning the camera positions.
3. Determine the amount of fill light needed
to balance out the key light. Once the key light
has been placed, look at the amount of fill light
you may want to add to increase or decrease the
contrast ratio. Remember, the less fill you have, the more contrast, and the more
dramatic the shot will look; the more fill you add, the less the contrast ratio
and the flatter the lighting will be on the subject. Adding a fill light source could
be as simple as reflecting a light onto a white bounce card or using a softbox.
4. Add rim light if necessary. Determine if you need a rim light to help separate the actor from the background. Make sure the rim light is motivated by a
light source that the audience can see in the shot, either a window or a lamp
in the background, and for realistic lighting designs, try to keep the rim light
very subtle and not overly harsh.
5. Add accent lights to the set, if necessary. Once
the actors are lit, look at the scene and determine
if any accent lights are necessary. Does the
background need any splashes of light? Or
perhaps the wine glasses on the table may
benefit from a kicker to help them sparkle.
While adding accents like this, don’t forget to
also include shadows, because good lighting
stems from both light and shadow.
For more information on lighting,
camera movement, and framing, check
out the Cinematography modules at
Working with a single light source
Many times, especially when working outdoors, you only have one light source
with which to work: the sun. Although this may seem like a limitation, the sun
is the most powerful light source available and can be easily reflected, bounced,
and diffused to move, shape, and craft the light to serve the needs of your shot.
In working with the sun, treat it in the same way you’d treat the key or rim
light. The only difference is that you need to move the subject and camera to
position the sun in the ideal location.
There are two ways to approach shooting using the sun as the primary light
Use the sun as the key light. Position the
actor so the sun is illuminating the far side
of the actor’s face, opposite the actor’s eye
line. This is much easier to do before 11:00
AM and after 2:00 PM, when the sun hangs
lower in the sky. Avoid shooting near noon,
because the sun tends to cast shadows on
the actor’s brow, creating deep, cavernous
shadows over the actor’s eyes. Use a bounce
board to fill in some of the shadows, especially if the sun is too direct.
Use the sun as a rim light. Position the
actor so the sun is positioned behind him
or her, then use a bounce board or reflector
to bounce the sunlight as the key light. I would recommend using a silver
reflector available at most camera stores.
There are a number of low-budget approaches to working effectively in
Obtain foam core or bead board to reflect sunlight and create a softer light
on the subject.
Use mirrors to reflect direct sunlight onto the subject. The more mirrors
you use, the brighter the light.
If you need to soften the sunlight directly, consider renting a silk stretched
across an 8 × 8-, 12 × 12-, or 20 × 20-foot frame that is rigged over the
actors. Because these professional tools can be expensive to rent or purchase, consider building a frame out of 1.5-inch PVC pipe and then using
a white bed sheet or shower curtain to serve as diffusion, softening harsh
sunlight on your subject.
When scouting a location, look at the sun’s position to determine the best
placement for the actors and the camera, then make sure the background
works for that blocking. It may be necessary to choose a location based
on the optimal sun position.
Guide to building a cheap softbox
Softboxes are large enclosures around a light that soften the light while preventing spill all over the set. Professional softboxes can cost almost a thousand
dollars, but there is an inexpensive way to build your own. All you need is an
open face light (try a 500- or 100-watt Lowel light) and four 2 × 3-foot sheets
of foam core. Using a utility knife and gaffer’s tape, build a four-walled tunnel
that is tapered toward the light fixture so that the small opening of the box can
neatly fit over the light’s barn doors. The wide opening of the softbox can be
as large as you like. Secure the softbox to the barn doors using grip clips, and
cover any light spill with black wrap (black-coated aluminum foil that can be
purchased at www.filmtools.com). On the open end of the softbox, tape a piece
of diffusion across the entire opening.
Film has such a rich, textured look that many filmmakers work hard to mimic
that look when shooting video. Here are some tricks to creating a film look for
your video.
Shoot in 24p. Film cameras capture in 24 frames per second. For a long
time, video cameras were locked into capturing 60 fields per second
because of technical restrictions of the NTSC format. With the advent of
high-definition video, camcorders are able to capture true 24 progressive
frames per second, mimicking the look of film.
Use a shallow depth of field. The second major component in achieving
a film look is to shoot on cameras with the largest CCD. The bigger the
CCD, the shallower the depth of field and the more film-like the image
will look. Most movies are shot on 35 mm film, which, because of the
large frame size, yields a very shallow depth of field. Even in wide shots,
the background can be in soft focus. Because video cameras use very small
CCDs, force a shallow depth of field by shooting on the long end of the
lens, opening up the iris and slowing down the shutter speed.
Fill out the contrast range of the camera. Film has a greater latitude
than video, which equates to much richer blacks and more details in
highlights; it’s important to light the scene with as much contrast between
the bright and the dark areas as the format will allow. Always make sure
there is a perfect black element and a perfect white element in the
Shift the gamma curve. The gamma curve (brightness of the midrange
values) for video-acquired images is much more linear than that of film.
In postproduction, shift the curve to more closely reflect the gamma
response of film.
Move the camera. Controlled camera movements are typical of highbudget Hollywood productions, so the more you can move the camera
with dollies, jibs, and cranes, the higher the production value.
Filters. Consider using a Tiffin ¼- or ½-grade Pro-Mist filter to soften highlights. Film tends to bleed overexposed elements into surrounding objects,
whereas highlights in video are often sharp and crisp. Using softening
filters will help soften the effects of overexposure in the frame. Pro-Mist
filters were used in Time and Again throughout most of the 1950s scenes.
Look at the scenes in the diner and in Awanda’s trailer and you’ll see how
the background windows are softened and appear very film-like.
When it comes time to shoot a take, look over the shot in the viewfinder or on
a monitor to double-check framing, the actor’s blocking, focus, and set-dressing
elements. Be sure to rehearse each shot to ensure everyone in the cast and crew
is clear on what they are doing. This communication is essential, especially in
complicated shots.
Make sure you have complete coverage of important scenes from multiple
angles. Be sure to cover the entire action of a scene from beginning to end
from each camera angle, then choose which one works best in the editing
room. Always remember, it’s easier to cut a shot than it is to need it and
not have it.
Treat the camera as though it’s an actual member of the audience that
you’re taking around your set. Show them exactly what you want them to
see. If ever in doubt as to where to put the camera, think about what you
want the audience to focus in on and position your camera accordingly.
Your camera angles should reflect our own positioning as observers within
the set watching the action unfold.
The crew sets up the next shot in Bobby Jones’ jail cell.
Watch continuity carefully to ensure that objects, characters, and movement are consistent from shot to shot. This is the job of a script supervisor,
to watch and log continuity issues like the amount of milk in a glass, or
an actor’s hand position on the steering wheel, so it remains the same
during the course of shooting the scene. The better the continuity, the
easier it will be to edit the scene.
Take your favorite movie scene and storyboard it, shot by shot. Study
WHY the filmmaker made certain choices about camera placement, lighting, and timing. Then try to replicate those shots at home with a video
camera and friends.
Always carefully check the frame before you start shooting for stray production equipment, soda cans, garbage, or even crew members. Also,
make sure there are no bizarre objects such as light poles or trees positioned behind your actors in a way that makes it look as though they were
sticking out of the actor’s head.
The best way to learn about camera coverage is not only to do it, but to
follow in the footsteps of the people who are doing it right. Study cinematography in movies and try to determine the placement of lights and why
certain camera angles were chosen.
Let the camera roll for several seconds before the director calls “action”
and after he yells “cut.” This padding can always be trimmed in the editing
room, but may prove invaluable for transitions or fade-outs.
Always keep good logs of the shots taken on set. Camera logs are forms
on which you record the shot number and description, the focal length
and exposure settings of the lens, and any comments. These logs are
invaluable when editing, saving a tremendous amount of time when
searching through the rough footage.
Be precise with every camera angle and shoot each shot with the intention
of covering a particular action. Remember that each scene is a combination of camera shots and not every shot has to cover the entire scene in
its entirety.
Always shoot the master shot first, covering the entire action of the scene
from beginning to end. Then, move in for close-ups and coverage. If, for
some reason, there is a problem later in the day, at least you have the
master shot to fall back on.
The best way to learn cinematography is to be a good editor. Practice
shooting several small sequences and then edit them to see what shots
work and what shots don’t.
Think of creative angles that accentuate the performances. Unique
shots are fine provided they support the story and the characters.
The cinematography should NEVER draw attention away from the
When covering a scene, shoot a variety of long shots, medium shots, and
close-ups. Remember that the more variety an editor has to choose from,
the more dynamic the scene will feel on the screen.
Never set the camera up and have the actors
perform in front of it. Involve the camera;
move it around the set and treat it like an
audience member. What does the audience
want to see? What is happening in the scene
that would motivate the audience to look
in a certain direction? Think about this if
you’re ever in doubt as to where to place
the camera on set.
Each day of shooting will yield dozens of shots,
takes, and setups. It is critical to organize and
track each shot carefully so that each shot can be
easily located in postproduction.
Using a clapboard
The first step in organizing shots is to mark each take with a clapboard. Clapboards serve two purposes. The first is to identify the name of the production,
the shooting date, the director and director of photography, which roll of film
or video tape you are shooting, the scene, the setup and take, any filters used,
and whether the take has recorded audio.
The second purpose of the clapboard is to assist the editor in syncing the audio
to the visuals if the audio is being recorded on a separate unit. You cannot
record sound directly to film, because film is designed only to react to light. As
a result, a separate audio recording device is required, usually a Nagra (reel-toreel analog recorder), DAT (digital audio tape) recorder, or digital hard drive
recorder. Technology has progressed to the point where audio engineers record
the sound from the set directly to a laptop computer.
Although technology is progressing, it is still necessary to sync, or line up, the
audio with the visuals . . . hence the clapboard, which provides a visual sync
indicator to the editor. For each take, once the sound recording device and the
film camera are rolling, the second assistant cameraman verbally speaks the film
title, scene, setup, and take. It sounds like this, “Time and Again, Scene 45 apple,
Take 3 . . . marker.” Then he claps the clapper. This action provides a visual cue
for the editor so he can line up the sound of the clap with the visuals of the
clap. Once synced up, the rest of the take should line up and remain in sync.
Recording audio into the camera: It is
not necessary to clap the clapboard
because the audio is already synced to the
visuals. When marking this type of shot,
the second AC need simply to hold the
clapboard from the top, with his hand
covering the clapper.
Recording sync sound: When recording
audio into an external recording device,
it’s critical to clearly mark each shot by
clapping the clapboard. The second AC
should always place the clapboard in
frame with the clapper open and ensure
the camera has a clean view of the slate.
Recording MOS (mit out sound): If
recording with no audio, the second AC
should place her hand between the
clapper and the clapboard. This indicates to the editor that there is no audio
associated with that take.
Tail slate: There may be instances when
it’s easier to mark the end of a take
rather than the beginning. The second
AC indicates a tail slate by holding the
clapboard upside down and marking
the shot and then quickly turning the
clapboard right side up so the editor
can read the information.
Camera logs
When you’re shooting on set, use camera logs to keep track of the details of
every shot. Usually filled in by the second AC, the camera logs are used to track
the scene and shot numbers, description of the shot, camera settings, and a
rating for each take. Camera logs are beneficial in the editing room because they
enable the editor to quickly and easily find the best takes from each tape. The
same information is written on the clapboard, so each shot should match the
camera log. Although it may seem like a lot of work on set, tracking the shots
will save a tremendous amount of time in postproduction.
Script supervisor
The script supervisor’s primary function on set is to maintain the internal continuity of the production by watching the script and logging any deviations in
performance by the actors. The script supervisor’s duties on set include:
Making sure everyone on the cast and crew has a current version of the
Taking detailed notes during each take so as to maintain strict continuity
from one shot to another and from one scene to another, including dialog,
actors’ blocking, screen direction, and even camera information such as
lens type and iris setting.
Coordinating with the second assistant camera to make sure each shot is
properly marked on the clapboard and coordinating shot markings with
the sound department.
Lining the script by drawing vertical lines through each scene to identify
which part of the scene is covered by each camera angle.
Producing production reports that include the continuity logs; the time
the production started and stopped; the times of the first shot, last shot,
and meal breaks; a breakdown of the pages, scenes, and minutes that were
shot that day; as well as the numbers of takes and retakes.
The script supervisor is a vital position to have on even the lowest budget movie
Watch Time and Again on the companion DVD and study Jason’s lighting and framing
choices. What would you have done differently?
Learn valuable lighting techniques, how to choose a lens, framing, camera movement
and much more in the Cinematography modules of www.powerfilmmaking.com.
Listen to Hollywood experts as they reveal tricks of the trade to obtaining a professional look with both light and lens.
Audio Recording
i. Hire a production sound
mixer and boom operator.
iii. Rent necessary
sound recording
equipment and
purchase tape
v. After each take, the
production sound
mixer relays any
sound problems to the
1st assistant director.
ii. Choose a recording
format: sync sound
or directly to the
iv. When on set, the boom operator works with the camera
operator to find the optimal
position for the microphone.
vi. Sound logs are turned
into the 1st assistant
director at the end of
each shooting day.
Audio is the other 50% of the movie-going experience and requires very special
attention. Good audio in a movie isn’t nearly as noticeable as bad audio, which
can ruin a great film and take the audience out of the story. The seemingly
simple approach to audio recording is really an art.
Sound is nothing more than changes in air pressure that originate from a vibrating source. The stronger the waves, the louder the sound. These waves are
measured in increments called decibels, or “db” for short. A decibel is the smallest amount of change in a sound wave that our ears are capable of detecting.
In much the same way that film has a range of sensitivity to the brightness of
light, sound recording devices have a range of the volume of sound they are
capable of recording. For analog recording devices, this range is around 70 db.
For digital recording devices, the range is greater, at 100 db, from the quietest
sound capable of being detected to the loudest sound.
So whereas the amplitude of the wave determines the volume of the sound, the
frequency determines the pitch. Measured in hertz, or Hz, the lower the frequency, the lower the pitch of the sound, and the higher the frequency, the
Amplitude (Volume)
Hertz (Pitch)
Amplitude (Volume)
Amplitude (Volume)
Hertz (Pitch)
Amplitude (Volume)
Sound waves.
The goal in recording a strong signal-to-noise
ratio is to use as much of that dynamic range as
possible, without exceeding it.
Hertz (Pitch)
higher the pitch. Human hearing can detect
sounds as low as 20 Hz and as high as 20,000 Hz,
although this ceiling is reduced as you get
Sound travels in sinusoidal waves that move the
pickup device in a microphone. The microphone
then converts these waves into an electronic
signal, which is then recorded onto the recording
device. In early days of recording, the sound
waves were recorded in a way that preserved the
true curve and all the nuances of the sound
waves. This type of recording, called analog
recording, results in rich, textured audio. Tape
cassettes, records, and reel-to-reel recorders are
all analog formats.
The analog signal is recorded by capturing the
signal and using magnetic heads in the recording
device to position magnetic particles on the tape
into a pattern. Playback heads read the position
Hertz (Pitch)
of the particles and reconstruct the signal. Because
particles can be oriented in any one of an infinite
number of ways, the analog signal can be
recorded with great detail and warmth. Despite the richness of the sound,
analog recording’s major setback is the loss of quality each time a copy is made.
This is called generational loss and it occurs each time a copy of a copy is made.
Each time a copy is made, the recorder copies the position of each particle to
a new tape, although a certain amount of unavoidable error is introduced and
the particle’s position is close to the original, but not identical. The result is
degraded signal that further randomizes each generation.
Digital recorders sample the audio wave thousands of times per second and
convert the resulting signal to a binary code so that instead of recording particles
in one of an infinite array of patterns, they record them in one of two: 1 or 0.
The higher the number of samples, or the sample rate, the higher the audio
quality. The result is a sound signal that can be broadcast and copied without
loss because any error added can be easily detected and corrected. The major
downfall of digital recording is that recording devices do not capture the true
sinusoidal wave, but break it down into a number of samples, resulting in what
many audio experts describe as a loss of warmth and presence.
Audio Recording
Common sample rates and bit depths in the
recording industry are:
Amplitude (Volume)
Hertz (Pitch)
Amplitude (Volume)
Whereas the sample rate is the number of samples
per second, the bit depth is the amount of data
recorded in each sample. A bit is the smallest,
most basic amount of data, which in binary is
a 1 or a 0. An 8-bit data stream will have 8 bits,
or 10010101. Sixteen-bit, which is the most
common bit depth for digital video recorders,
has a data stream with 16 bits, or
Telephone: 8 kHz (8000 samples per
Hertz (Pitch)
Analog vs digital.
MPEG/PCM compressed audio: 11.025 and
22.050 kHz
CD: 44.1 kHz (44,100 samples per second) at 16 bits per sample
MPEG-1 audio (VCD, SVCD, MP3): 44.1 kHz
DV: four tracks of 32 kHz (32,000 samples per second) at 12 bits or two
tracks of 48 kHz (48,000 samples per second) at 16 bits
Digital TV, DVD, DAT: 48 kHz
DVD audio, Blu-ray, HD-DVD: 96 or 192 kHz
Advances in increased sample rates have made digital sound recording comparable to the quality of analog recording and an industry standard.
There are a variety of microphone types, each one designed for a specific
Omnidirectional microphones have a pickup pattern that captures
sound in all directions, making them ideal for recording ambient
sound. Omnidirectional mikes should not be used to record dialog
because they record too much of the surrounding ambience,
making it difficult to hear the actors’ lines clearly. Omnidirectional
mikes are usually inexpensive and can be found at your local
electronics or video supply store.
Cardioid microphones have a heart-shaped pickup pattern that is
more sensitive to sounds in front of the microphone than to the
sides. Cardioid mikes are usually used for singers, public speakers,
and reporters when the mike can be placed three to six inches away from the
mouth. Any farther and the vocals begin to lose their presence. Because of this
limited proximity, cardioids are not the best choice for recording dialog.
Shotgun microphones have a narrow pickup
pattern of 5–25 degrees and are designed to
record sound from an optimal range of one to
four feet. Shotgun microphones are ideal for
recording on-set dialog because the narrow pickup pattern helps reduce ambience on the set, helping the spoken word stand out in the recording.
Lavalier mikes are clip-on mikes with a very tight cardioid pattern used for oncamera interviews in which it is acceptable to see the microphone in the shot.
Usually clipped to a necktie or lapel, the mike should ideally be placed over
the subject’s sternum so that it picks up not only the voice, but also the low-end
resonance from the chest cavity. Lavalier microphones work best when they are
within one foot of the subject’s mouth.
The location scout is the time when the director and her key department heads
look at a potential location to determine whether it will work creatively in the
story and technically for the production.
Part of determining the feasibility of a location is to listen for any sound
problems that may exist and figure out how, if possible, to reduce or
eliminate them. Sound sources that may cause problems when recording audio
Air conditioners or air handling units. The blowers, although they may
be quiet, emit a broad-spectral sound that is nearly impossible to remove
in postproduction. Take the time during the location scout to figure out
how to turn off all air handling systems.
Refrigerators and appliances. Often the bane of location sound mixers,
appliances cause intermittent hums in the background that change tone
and intensity when the microphone is repositioned during setups. Figure
out how to turn the fridge and freezer off, and as a tip, leave your car keys
inside. Then no one will leave until you remember to turn the fridge back
on. I remember when we were shooting at the Chester Diner for Time and
Again. There was a long row of coolers for deli trays and various pastries
that would have wreaked havoc on our sound, especially considering that
we only had two days to shoot the coverage we needed. Knowing in
advance that these coolers would cause problems in any shots for which
Audio Recording
we needed to record sound, we contacted a local grocery store manager
who let us move all the food out of the diner’s coolers into theirs. We
were then able to turn every appliance and cooler off, put fake food inside
the coolers, and save the audio for the scene. This only goes to show that
a little preproduction can save you major headaches in postproduction.
Sirens. Note the locations of hospitals, fire stations, and police stations
and whether they are active around your location. Sirens and alarms not
only ruin your audio, but also cause major time setbacks as you wait for
ambulances, police cars, and fire engines to get far enough away so you
can resume shooting.
Schools. Check to see if there is a school nearby and determine if the
children and school buses passing by in the morning and afternoon will
disrupt your audio.
Airports. Is there a nearby airport and, even more importantly, is your
location within the arrival or departing flight path? If so, calculate the time
between flights and schedule your shots accordingly. The script supervisor
will keep you aware of how much time you have before the next
Freeways. Listen for highly directional ambient sources like freeways.
Although it may sound quiet on location, pointing the microphone in
different directions will change the volume and tone of the ambience and
make it very difficult to match from one shot to the next in the editing
room. If you have a choice, shoot away from freeways, intersections, and
Beaches. Although the beach has a romantic allure for filmmakers, it
almost always signals immediate death for the audio track. The directional
crashing of waves is nearly impossible to filter out of the recording mix,
and changes in the microphone position will make the change in the
sound of the ambience abrupt and disruptive to the audience.
Camera noise. The camera itself can be a source of noise. From the sound
of the magazines to lens motors, the operations of the camera are loud
enough to be picked up by a microphone. Use a barney or a thick padded
blanket draped over the camera to muffle some of the camera noise.
Consider this: you, as a director, are scouting houses for your next film and you find the
perfect location. It matches your vision, the colors and layout are perfect, and you can
practically see your characters moving through each room. The big problem is that it’s
next to the freeway. So, no matter where you are in the house, you can hear the cars. If
you choose to shoot in this house, you may later learn in postproduction that the audio
you recorded on set is unusable because of the changing volume and tone of the
freeway ambience. The sound engineer tells you that the only option is to ADR, or
rerecord the actor’s dialog. So, at a rate of around $100/hour, you spend dozens of
hours with the actors re-creating the performance, timing, and emotion of each and every
line of dialog, racking up a bill into the thousands.
At this point, the dialog sounds great, but you then learn that you need to re-create the
Foley (the sounds the actors make while interacting on set). So the sound engineer
spends countless more hours rerecording footsteps, movement of props, and clothing
rubbing together to rebuild what you should have recorded originally.
So dozens, possibly hundreds, of hours later and thousand of dollars in the hole, it
suddenly seems like that exquisite house, although artistically perfect, wasn’t a good
technical choice to shoot in. Perhaps it would have been better to have chosen a house
that might not have been as artistically perfect, but that was at least away from the
When working on an independent film, a lot of attention is spent rehearsing
the actors, setting up the lights, tediously blocking the camera, and making sure
that makeup and hair look good. Unfortunately, sound doesn’t seem to get the
same attention and time the rest of the departments receive. Although the audio
is half the movie-going experience, the boom operator always seems to be the
last person to rush in as the director is about to call action, struggling to find a
position that doesn’t cast shadows while he’s being prodded by the first AD to
hurry up. The result is unspectacular sound that eventually comes back to haunt
the filmmaker later in postproduction.
The proper way to achieve high-quality sound on set is for the boom operator
and production sound mixer to be in constant communication with the rest of
the crew to determine the best possible position from which to record sound.
1. As the director is rehearsing the scene for the cast and crew, the boom
operator should be watching the blocking, taking note of the positions
of the lights and camera in order to determine the most optimal position
to place the microphone in the set. Ideally, the shotgun microphone
should be one to four feet away from the actors, always pointed at the
chest of the person speaking, and positioned about 45 degrees above their
heads. The microphone should move with the actors so that the actors
are always facing it. Because the shotgun microphone has such a tight
pickup pattern, it’s easy for the actors to move in and out of the microphone’s range, so the boom operator must constantly adjust the position
of the boom for optimum recording.
2. Once the boom operator has located the ideal microphone position, she
needs to ask the camera operator what the frame is in order to determine
the amount of headroom in the frame. She then places the microphone
above the actors and slowly lowers it until it appears in the shot so she
knows how close the microphone can be to the actors before it breaches
the frame.
Audio Recording
3. The boom operator then determines how he will move relative to the
actors’ blocking so that his microphone remains at a consistent distance
and always points at the actors’ chests. He must always be aware of the
positions of lights so as not to block any light or cast shadows on the
actors or the set.
4. Once in place, the boom operator will wait until the director is ready for
a camera rehearsal. During this rehearsal, the production sound mixer
will set the levels for the recording based on the actors’
delivery and any final blocking alterations are
5. The sound department is ready and awaits
the first AD’s call for a take.
Learn more about proper audio
6. After the director calls cut, the boom
recording techniques from
operator confers with the first AD and
industry professionals at
notes any problems with the audio and
then waits for the director and first AD to
decide whether to pursue another take.
There are two ways to record audio when shooting with a digital camera. The
first is to plug the shotgun microphone directly into the camera, and the second
is to record the audio to a separate recording device.
If you are recording the audio directly into the camera, you will need:
Shotgun microphone
Boom pole
XLR cable
XLR splitter
If you want the production sound mixer to have more control over the audio,
plug the microphone into a sound mixer and then from the sound mixer into
the camera. This will free the camera operator from the pressure of having to
monitor the audio levels while watching the frame during a take. Usually, with
this configuration, the audio mixer should be
able to generate a 0-db tone that is used to set
the camera’s input levels to −20 db. After the
camera input level is set, put a piece of tape over
the gain levels so no one accidentally changes the
levels. From that point, the production sound
mixer will monitor and adjust the levels of the
incoming sound source from his mixer.
Sync sound means that the audio is recorded to
a device other than the camera. When recording
sync sound, the microphone is plugged into an audio mixer that is then run
into an external recording device. The recording device’s independence from
the camera gives the boom operator the freedom and flexibility to move around
the set, untethered from the camera.
Used in film production because audio can’t be recorded onto film, and used
more often on high-definition productions, recording sync sound offers a variety
of benefits and drawbacks for the filmmaker.
Sync-sound recording allows the sound recording device to be placed
anywhere on set, giving the boom operator and production sound mixer
greater flexibility and range of motion around the set.
Recording sync sound shifts the burden of monitoring the audio levels
from the camera operator to the production sound mixer. This allows the
camera operator to focus on the frame.
Running the microphone into the camera yields very few choices as to the
recording format of the incoming audio. For DV and HD cameras, audio
is recorded at 48 kHz, 16 bits. Sync-sound recording devices offer a wide
variety of sample rates and bit depths, allowing the filmmakers to record
very high quality sound.
Many new Flash media-based recording devices allow instantaneous
recording, playback, and transfer of sound files by shifting from tapebased recording to recording onto digital media.
Several sync-sound recording devices record multitracks that allow the use
of multiple microphones on set, each with its own channel. This gives the
editor the option to choose between separate microphones to build the
best audio track. Using multiple microphones while recording into the
camera requires that the multiple feeds be mixed down to two channels,
making it impossible to separate later.
One drawback of sync-sound recording is the cost of the recording device.
Some common recording devices are:
䊊 Nagra—Nagra is an older, reel-to-reel analog recorder that was popular
for its high sound quality and durability. Nagras were the primary
recording tool used on set prior to the advent of digital recording
䊊 MiniDisc—This format is a small recordable disc housed in a plastic
casing. Developed for the consumer market, the MiniDisc never caught
on in professional applications because the sound was overcompressed.
This compression makes it a poor choice for location-based audio
䊊 DAT—Short for “digital audio tape,” this format is a standard in professional audio recording and is still used on set today. Recording to
inexpensive tapes, DAT recorders are inexpensive and durable, although
adverse weather conditions may affect the contact point between the
tape and the recording heads and cause audio dropouts.
䊊 Digital—Digital recorders record directly to a hard drive and record
reliable, high-quality audio. Digital recorders allow the user to play,
Audio Recording
seek, transfer, and delete individual clips instantly and offer a wider
range of compression and audio formats.
Recording sync sound requires the editor to line up the audio and visuals
manually in the editing room. Although this process is not difficult, it is
time consuming.
The boom pole is used to suspend a microphone over the actors on set. Although
using a boom pole seems easy, there are a number of techniques that are used
to reduce boom-handling noise and improve the quality of the recorded
After the microphone is placed in the shock mount, tape the XLR cable
to the end of the microphone-end of the boom pole, alleviating any pressure or stress on the microphone. Be sure to allow enough slack so the
microphone can be tilted up or down depending on the angle of the boom
Tightly coil the XLR cable along the length of the boom pole so it doesn’t
move or rub against the boom pole. The end of the cable should hang
from the back end of the boom pole.
When holding the boom, lock your hands in position as if your hands
were glued to the boom. Do not move, twist, or rub your hands against
the boom during a take because the microphone will pick up handling
When holding the boom during a take, extend your arms straight above
your head, as though you were hanging from a tree limb. This relieves
muscle fatigue and helps keep the boom parallel to the top frame line,
minimizing the risk of clipping the corners of the frame.
Always point the microphone at the actor’s chest and hold at a 45-degree
angel in front of the actor, moving with the actor so the actor never falls
outside the pickup pattern of the microphone.
Never put the microphone in anyone’s face.
If you ever need to change the boom’s position during a setup, notify the
production sound mixer in the event that he needs to recheck the sound
When recording a scene in which the actors are walking, or there is complicated blocking, consider taking off your shoes to minimize the sound
of your footsteps.
When not in use, place the boom in the corner. Do not lay it on the floor
or against a wall as it can fall, or be stepped on, damaging the
Always wear headphones when operating the boom to ensure optimal
placement of the microphone and to listen for any noise that could
disrupt a take.
Remember that changing the distance from the microphone to the subject
is a much bigger problem than changing the distance from the subject to
a light source. Maintain an equal and consistent distance between the
microphone and the subject for optimum sound quality.
Most dialog on set is recorded using a shotgun microphone, a highly directional
microphone that is usually suspended over the actors using a boom pole.
Shotgun mikes are the best for isolating dialog spoken by the actors and their
movements while reducing the ambient sound.
Shotgun microphones can be purchased for $500–$2500 from Audio-Technica,
Sennehiser, and Neumann or rented from an equipment rental company. In
addition to the shotgun microphone, you will also need a shock mount, which
suspends the microphone in a series of rubber bands to minimize boom-handling noise, a zeppelin or wind sock to place over the microphone to reduce
Audio Recording
Shock mount.
Professional boom poles can cost up to $1000, but why spend that money if you can
build one for less than $100? A terrific, low-budget boom pole can be constructed from a
telescopic paint roller extender available at a hardware store. Then purchase a paint roller
handle that will screw onto the end of the pole. Unscrew the roller from the handle and
screw a shock mount (you can pick one up from
a music/audio store) to the handle. Now you
have a homemade boom pole. Don’t think it will
work? Listen to the audio in Time and
Again . . . we used one!
Microphone mount.
wind noise, and a boom pole. Boom poles can
be made inexpensively, or they can be rented. Be
sure to have plenty of XLR cables on set not only
to ensure enough distance between the camera
and microphone, but also for backup in case one
of the cables goes bad. Run the shotgun directly
into the camera or external recording device and
be sure to monitor the audio with headphones
from the recording source. If you’re recording the
audio to the camera, plug the headphones into
the camera. If you’re recording to an external
recording device, listen to the audio from the
Lavalier microphones are outstanding for recording interviews for documentaries or news, actors for corporate and industrial videos, and actors on stage.
Although they can be used in film production for long shots, lavalier microphones are not the best choice for recording on-set dialog because the need to
Shotgun microphone.
conceal them in an actor’s wardrobe increases the chances the
fabric will rub against the microphone and ruin the audio. Concealing the wire leading from the microphone to the camera may
also interfere with the actor’s performance. The best way to record
on-set dialog is with a shotgun microphone suspended over the
actors with a boom pole. Use lavaliers sparingly and only when
you have no other option.
Lavaliers are best used in the following situations:
Lavaliers allow the recording of audio in big, wide shots, and
in moving shots in which it’s difficult to place a shotgun microphone, or when the actors’ movements make it difficult to
record the dialog.
■ Lavaliers can be placed closer to the actor’s mouth in highambience locations, helping to improve the sound quality by
increasing the signal-to-noise ratio.
■ Use them when interviewing a subject or shooting a corporate
video in which it is acceptable for the microphone to be
Use them in closed, cramped quarters such as in a car, when
positioning a shotgun microphone is impractical. A common trick for
recording sound in cars is to mount a lavalier mike above the sun visor
of each actor and run the mike cable into a separate DV camcorder on the
floor. Although separate from the main camera, which can be placed
anywhere in or out of the car, this sync-sound rig produces surprisingly
good results with minimal syncing efforts in the editing room.
Where ambience is too loud, such as on a beach, using a lavalier microphone will help reduce ambience that a shotgun will more than likely
pick up. A conversation between characters on the beach can be recorded
using a little bit of audio trickery and careful art direction. Try running a
lavalier mike up the pole of a beach umbrella and drilling a tiny hole on
the side of the pole to stick the mike through. Place the umbrella close to
the actors so they fall within the one-foot pickup pattern. The mike will
pick up the dialog while reducing the ambience, which will be added in
Lavaliers are sometimes used when actors are far away from the camera
and positioning a shotgun microphone is impossible. Be aware that intermixing audio recorded by a shotgun and a lavalier will yield very different
sounds and could prove challenging to edit.
Although lavalier microphones record strong dialog, they will not pick up
ambience and an actor’s interactions with his environment as well as a
shotgun mike. Often, using a lavalier requires additional Foley work in
postproduction to fill in the sounds that weren’t recorded on set.
One challenge of using lavaliers is that they are fixed in one position on
an actor’s body, so when the actor turns her head, her voice may trail off
as she talks away from the microphone.
Lavalier microphone.
Audio Recording
In general, I would not recommend using lavalier microphones to record dialog.
The issues of hiding the mike, avoiding the rustling of clothing, inconsistencies
with proximity to the actor, and problems in postproduction make it a useful
tool in extreme situations, but not a substitute for the ever-useful shotgun
Wireless systems use a transmitter connected to the end of a microphone to
send the audio signal to a receiver mounted on either the camera or a syncsound recorder. Wireless systems free the boom operator from the confines of
being tethered to the recording device by XLR cables and allow microphones
to be mounted on actors or sets without unsightly cables. Although beneficial,
wireless systems are prone to a number of problems.
Some of the benefits of working with wireless systems:
The number of cables running to and from the boom microphone, camera,
or sync-sound recorder is reduced.
They allow wireless lavalier mikes to be inconspicuously placed on the set
or on actors.
The production sound mixer can be located anywhere on or off set so long
as he is within the range of the transmitter.
The boom operator has the freedom to move and place the microphone
anywhere without worrying about tripping on cables.
They save setup time by reducing the need to rewire and restring XLR
cables from the microphones to the production sound mixer.
Some of the drawbacks of wireless systems:
All wireless devices are prone to picking up transmissions from other
devices, especially radio stations and other wireless transmitters on similar
frequencies. Purchasing high-quality UHF systems gives users the flexibility to change frequencies for cleaner audio.
The wireless signal can be disrupted by large metal objects like fences,
trucks, buildings, and power lines, which may introduce interference. This
interference can be minimized by using fresh batteries in the unit and
minimizing the distance between the transmitter and the receiver.
Wireless lavalier transmitters may be difficult to hide on actors, but can
be attached to their belt, thigh, or ankle using straps or gaffer’s tape.
The range of wireless systems can affect the quality of the audio. The
greater the distance between the transmitter and the receiver, the weaker
the signal.
Wireless transmitters and receivers require a lot of battery power. Be sure
to have plenty of extra batteries on set.
One of the most common types of wireless microphone is a wireless lavalier,
which consists of a small fingernail-sized microphone attached to a transmitter
via wire that the actor usually wears on his belt. The transmitter is a battery-
powered unit about the size of a pack of cigarettes. The receiver is connected to
the camera, usually with XLR inputs. With a range of about 50–1000 feet,
depending on the quality of the mike, wireless microphones are mostly used
for “walk and talk” scenes that would be difficult to record with a boom pole.
Always use headphones on set and listen for interference as the scene is being
Ambient sound is the background noise of a location. For example, waves,
seagulls, and wind are the ambient sounds of a beach, and traffic, horns, and
people talking are the ambient sounds of a city street. Although ambient sounds
are important in helping establish the location, they must be reduced as much
as possible so that on set, the only sounds recorded are the actors’ dialog and
their movements. Ambient sounds are then added to the entire scene in postproduction, helping add consistency to a scene. There are several techniques to
help minimize the ambience. Most importantly, listen on set during the location scout to determine what sounds are present. Most often, the ambient
sounds will be air conditioning units and refrigerators. Talk to the location
owner about turning these off on the day on the shoot.
Interior locations are easier to control because the walls absorb much of the
sound from the outside. Shooting outdoors makes controlling ambient sounds
more difficult. If you’re in a noisy location, bring several packing blankets
(available from your local mover) and hang them on C-stands to create movable
“sound walls” that can be positioned between the actors and the source of the
sound. Place the sound blankets behind lights and the camera after all the
equipment has been set up. If you’re recording in a church or a large room with
a lot of echo, try placing the packing blankets on the floor under the actors to
absorb the sound. It is important to minimize the ambience as much as possible
to save time and money in postproduction. If there is too much ambient noise,
you may need to ADR the actors’ dialog and then recreate the Foley and ambience. This is a time-consuming and expensive process that can be avoided by
using these techniques on set.
There may be scenes that involve background actors or extras, such as a restaurant, bus station, auditorium, or any other public place. Although in real life
you can hear the ambience of people talking, laughing, chatting on cell phones,
arguing, and otherwise interacting with their environment, when you film that
moment in a movie, filmmakers instruct the extras to ACT as if they are talking
but to SAY NOTHING. The only sound that should be heard on set when the
cameras roll is the sound of the principal actors delivering their lines and their
interaction with the environment. The rest of the ambience is recorded later
and mixed in during the editing process, giving the filmmakers control over the
balance between background sounds and dialog.
Audio Recording
A few years ago, I shot a short film called The Overcoat that featured a scene in
a grocery store. In order to control the environment, we closed down the store
on a Sunday night; populated it with extras; turned off the overhead music,
coolers, and appliances; oiled the shopping cart wheels; and asked the extras
not to make any sounds when the camera rolled. Although it seemed bizarre
to see people miming their actions, it allowed us to record the actors’ dialog
cleanly and without competition from background noise.
Later, in the editing room, we added the sounds of people talking, squeaky shopping carts, tacky elevator music, beeping price scanners, bag boys loading up
groceries, and a baby crying, among other sounds that added to the realism of
the moment back into the scene. As a result, we were able to control the volume
of each individual sound so nothing competed with the dialog. The result was a
scene that appeared to be recorded in a busy, bustling grocery store.
The production sound mixer should maintain complete and comprehensive
sound logs, which list the audio take, the scene and setup, the timecode of each
take, and any notes regarding the quality of each take. These sound logs will help
the editor determine which take is best to use and aid in finding a particular
Choose locations that are as quiet as possible, away from freeways, airports,
hospitals, police stations, and fire stations.
When in the location, disable anything that makes noise, including refrigerators and
air conditioners.
Use a shotgun microphone to isolate and record ONLY the dialog from the actors
and NEVER use the built-in microphone in the camera.
Position the microphone on a boom pole above the actors at a 45-degree angle and
aim the microphone at the actor’s chest.
The camera operator and boom operator should be listening to the audio over
headphones to ensure maximum sound quality.
Make sure that the audio levels average between −3 and −6 db on the audio meters
and NEVER hit or exceed 0 db.
Record with XLR (or balanced) cables only from the mike to the camera. Using
unbalanced cables creates an antenna that picks up unwanted signals like radio
If there is a lot of ambient noise such as traffic, waves on a beach, or wind, try setting
up several stands and hanging furniture pads or other thick material around the set
to absorb some of the sound before it hits the microphone.
At the end of the shoot, in each location, always record 30–60 seconds of the
ambient sound of the location. Ensure the cast and crew stand perfectly still so the
room tone is as pure as possible. This will come into play during the editing process,
in which the room tone will be used under shots with no audio, or to fix problems
with the ambience track.
Hair and Makeup
i. Hire a make-up artist
and hair stylist.
iii. Meet with actors
to fit wardrobe and
conduct hair and
make-up tests.
v. Make sure a hair stylist
and make-up artist
is available on set to
touch up and maintain
the actors’ look.
ii. Research appropriate
looks and styles for the
setting of the story.
iv. Schedule the hair and make-up
departments to arrive early on
set to allow time for hair styling
and make-up application.
vi. If necessary, assist
the actors in removing
Makeup and hairstyling are an essential part of making a movie, for both practical and technical reasons. Whereas the creative aspects are obvious, it is important for a hair and makeup artist to monitor the continuity of the actors’ look
as well as ensuring that the actors aren’t shiny or sweaty or have hair that will
draw attention away from their performance.
Straight makeup (or beauty makeup) is noneffects makeup designed to maintain
the actor’s flesh tones, minimize oil and shine that show up under production
lights, and help facial features stand out on camera. Both male and female actors
wear makeup that is usually applied by an experienced makeup artist at the
beginning of each production day and touched up before every take. This ensures
that the actor’s look remains consistent during the course of the scene.
Most makeup is applied so the actor looks natural. Although we often think of
plaster-faced news anchors or highly made-up fashion models, most movie
actors wear makeup to look like they’re not wearing makeup! The ability to
create a natural look is difficult and often requires the skills of an experienced
makeup artist.
Even elements like sweat and dirt must be carefully maintained by makeup artists to ensure that
they remain consistent from take to take. The dirt
on Bobby Jones’s face from the prison to the
school yard to the farmhouse was carefully monitored so it appeared the same, even though these
three scenes were filmed within weeks of each
Determine the work load during preproduction, the number of actors to be made up, the
amount of makeup, and the complexity of the
makeup, and then figure out how many
makeup artists are needed.
■ Discuss how much time is needed at the
beginning of each day to apply makeup on the main actors and schedule
call times for actors and makeup artists accordingly.
Remember to factor the cost of makeup materials in the budget. Even
though makeup artists may be willing to work for free, many will expect
to be compensated for the cost of their materials.
Discuss the look of the lighting with the director of photography. The
color of the lighting, harshness, and wraparound and whether the light is
a bluish outdoor light or warmer tungsten light will affect the look of the
actors. Make sure the makeup complements the lighting.
If there is time, consider testing the makeup on the actors before getting
to set. This will save time if there is a problem with the colors chosen or
the application process.
Make sure there are adequate facilities and power for makeup artists and
hairstylists to do their jobs on set. Although you may be shooting in a
remote location, it is important that the artists have the resources they
■ Once the actors’ hair and makeup is done in
the morning, it is important to touch it up for
each and every take, requiring that a hairstylist
and makeup artist be on set and ready to tweak
the actor’s look before the camera rolls.
■ When producing a period film, hairstylists and
makeup artists can help create a convincing
and believable look for each character, but
keep in mind that time needs to be factored
into the schedule for them to do their jobs. In
Time and Again, the actors spent two to three
hours getting their hair and makeup done
before they appeared on set.
■ Take Polaroid or digital photos of the actors
to maintain a continuous look throughout the
production of the movie.
Actress Paula Williams’
remarkable transformation into Martha Jones,
courtesy of Hairstylist
Deb Lilly and Makeup
artist Jason Blaszczak.
Key Make-Up Artist
Jason Blaszczak
touches up actor Brian
Hair and Makeup
Straight makeup: The standard, noneffects beauty makeup applied to male and female
Special effects makeup: Prosthetics, foam latex appliances, gashes, cuts, and bruises
all fall under this category. Special effects makeup artists require special training to
perform these types of effects competently.
Key makeup: The lead makeup artist to whom all other makeup artists answer.
Developing the look of the female characters was extremely important in creating a
realistic 1950s film, so Key Hairstylist Deb Lilly and Key Makeup Artist Jason Blaszczak
did a lot of research before Time and Again went into production. We studied 1958 hair
styles and makeup trends and performed several tests on the actors to make sure that
the look of our characters was accurate.
The two most striking changes were in Jennie Allen, who played Awanda, and Paula
Williams, who played Bobby Jones’s mother, Martha.
The platinum-blond hairstyle (that nearly ruined Jennie’s hair) completely transformed
Jennie into the Marilyn Monroe look I had always envisioned for the story. We worked to
make sure that Awanda’s hair would work with the pink waitress outfit, coordinating her
look with the hair, makeup, and wardrobe departments.
Paula’s transformation was even more incredible. Jason’s makeup job and Deb’s
hairstyle were so different from Paula’s normal look that Paula’s own sister didn’t
recognize her. Unbelievably, Paula is not wearing a wig in the film!
These looks, while drastic in real life, appear as normal on screen and accepted as what
these women would have looked like in July of 1958.
Jennie without makeup.
Awanda with makeup.
Paula without makeup.
Martha Jones.
If the production is so small that the budget doesn’t allow for a makeup artist,
consider building a small makeup kit to use on set.
A basic makeup kit can include:
Pancake—Pancake is a powder that is tinted to match the skin tones and
is used to reduce shine. There are numerous shades, so be sure to perform
tests on the actors before arriving on set to ensure a color match. Pancake
is applied over the entire face as a finishing makeup.
Greasepaint—Extremely thick makeup used for theatrical applications
that helps facial features stand out.
Concealer—Covers imperfections of the skin, blemishes, acne, and circles
under the eyes. After applying concealer to problem areas of the skin,
apply pancake to cover and blend the makeup.
Powder—Lighter than pancake and usually translucent, powder is used
all over the face to reduce shine. Be sure to keep plenty of powder on set
to keep sweaty actors looking dry.
Highlights—Highlights are used to accentuate parts of the face by drawing
attention to or away from facial features like the nose, cheekbones, or chin
by creating fake “shadows.” Use highlights to make a large nose appear
smaller or to reduce the appearance of a double chin.
Blush—Adds a touch of color to an actress’ cheekbones.
Lip color—Adds color to an actor’s lips.
Lip gloss—Adds a sheen to an actor’s lips.
Eye liner—Applied around the actor’s eyes to bring out the shape and
details of the eyes.
Mascara—Applied to bring out the eyelashes.
Application tools—Latex sponges, lip brush, powder puff, fluffy powder
puff, cotton swabs.
Cold cream—Used to remove heavy makeup while protecting and moisturizing the skin. Cold cream helps reduce damage to the skin caused by
Removers—Makeup remover.
Miscellaneous—Aprons, drop cloths, facial tissues, cotton balls, cotton
Makeup prosthetics are foam latex appliances that are glued to an actor’s body
to create everything from simple special effects like burns, scars, and cuts to
major makeup effects like turning an actor into a monster or alien. These appliances are created from a mold that is taken of the actor’s face to ensure that the
appliance fits correctly. Then, using the mold as a reference, the makeup artist
is able to sculpt a foam latex appliance that will be painted and glued to
the skin.
Hair and Makeup
Foam latex is an effective material for appliances because it mimics the look
and movement of human skin and muscle, is lightweight, and is able to
It is advisable to hire an experienced makeup prosthetics artist if appliances are
needed for the story. These makeup effects look terrific when they’re done
When using makeup prosthetics, be sure to schedule enough time on set
to allow the application of the makeup appliance.
Talk to the makeup artist in advance to determine the cost of materials
needed to produce the desired effect.
In productions with a heavy effects work load, it may be necessary to bring
numerous makeup artists to the set.
Special effects makeup includes everything from blood to scars. These basic
effects can be easily and inexpensively accomplished with common ingredients
available from the grocery store.
Time and Again ends with the camera dollying out from Bobby Jones,
who is kneeling in the prison yard about to die from a shotgun wound.
Because of the length of the shoot and how long the audience would be
staring at the wound, Jason Blaszczak created a wound that could be
applied within an hour while the crew reset the shot.
The prison gave us only one night to shoot the entire prison break as
well as the final shot, so we were racing against the sun to finish the
scenes. Because of the time crunch, we couldn’t wait for Jason to apply
a complete makeup prosthetic, so he jury-rigged a shotgun blast
makeup effect that worked well.
Thanks to tight scheduling, Jason’s smart thinking, creative lighting, and
Brian’s terrific performance, we were able to convince the audience that
Bobby was shot in the chest, making the end of Time and Again as
powerful as I envisioned.
Fake blood—Go to the grocery store and purchase corn syrup. Similar to
maple syrup, corn syrup is clear to yellowish in color and has the consistency of blood. Mix a few drops of red food coloring and a dash of blue
to make a deep red blood-like color.
■ Scars—Go to the grocery store and purchase
unflavored gelatin. Mix one tablespoon of gelatin
into a tablespoon of near-boiling water so it
completely dissolves. Be sure to avoid any
bubbles. Wait for the mixture to cool, and then
apply it to the skin, building and molding it as
needed. Be careful because the gelatin will cool
and harden quickly. Once dry, apply regular
makeup to match skin tones.
■ Sweat—Try using baby oil in a spray bottle.
The oil won’t evaporate as quickly as water and
provides a great sheen for the camera.
In addition to maintaining makeup needs, hairstyling is extremely important. Working with a professional hairstylist can add
an artistic touch when creating the look of a character, establish a time period,
and ensure hair continuity from one scene to the next. Be mindful of extras as
well as principal characters. With a movie like Time and Again, each extra needed
to have his/her hair styled by our make-up team before every shooting day. This
made the 1950s era the story was set in look realistic.
In working with hairstylists, provide the necessary resources on set for them to
work, including access to power, a trailer, tent, tables, makeup chairs, and
mirrors. For Time and Again, Hairstylist Deb Lilly worked everywhere from
bathrooms in nearby homes for the dirt road scenes to under tents in Chardon
to process the nearly 100 extras for Bobby Jones’s run through the town.
When talking with a hairstylist, find out if the actor needs to go through
any hair treatments prior to each shooting day. Jennie, who played
Awanda, needed extensive sessions to dye her hair the platinum blond
color that turned her into Awanda.
■ When casting, notify the actors during the
audition process if there are extensive hairstyle
requirements, for example, if a man needs a buzz
cut for a military role.
1. Purchase powder from your local drug store
and shoot an actor both with and without
makeup. Both men and women use powder
when they’re in front of the camera, mostly to
absorb oil from the skin and reduce glare or
Hair and Makeup
2. Choose a time period for a movie and then
research the appropriate styles of both hair
and makeup. Determine what types of
resources and the number of hairstylists
Learn more about finding qualified
and makeup artists that will be needed
hairstylists and makeup artists at www.
to implement the designs.
3. Contact a local makeup artist and ask for
a demonstration of basic beauty makeup.
Learn basic application techniques and
video tape the results, both before and after.
Bobby Jones’s scar was a simple makeup effect that took less than ten minutes to apply each day.
Craft Services and
i. Circulate requests for
special food needs
(vegetarian, allergies).
iii. Purchase perishable food the
night before or the morning
of each shooting day.
ii. Purchase bulk nonperishable snacks and
food within a week
before the shoot.
iv. Have craft services
(especially coffee)
available 30 minutes
before call time.
vi. Provide a meal
every six hours.
v. Replenish craft services
throughout the day.
vii. Always remove trash
at the end of the day.
The cast and crew of any movie will tell you that second to being paid, the
availability of good food on set is one of the most important aspects of a movie
production. Especially if the project is a low-budget project and the cast and
crew are volunteering their time, providing craft services and catering is essential
in not only keeping everyone’s energy up, but also maintaining a positive
morale on set.
When working on set all day, it’s standard industry practice to provide a meal
for the cast and crew every six hours. Although these meals can be as simple as
sub sandwiches, pizza, or hot dogs, try to keep it healthy and you will have a
happy, productive cast and crew that will have the energy for a whole day of
shooting. Also provide a table of snacks and beverages available all day.
In producing an independent movie, craft services and catering will most likely
be the most expensive line item on the budget. Do not cut back on the food
for the set, especially if the cast and crew are volunteering their time. It is often
said that if the cast and crew are well fed, they will follow the director
The food on set can be divided into two different
categories: craft services and catering.
Craft services are buffet-style snacks and drinks
available to the cast and crew throughout the
shooting day. Usually featuring an assortment of
hot and cold drinks, fresh fruit, vegetables, candy,
and snacks, craft services helps keep everyone
going during long production days.
Producer Adam Kadar
was instrumental in
negotiating with
restaurants to secure
free or heavily
discounted food for the
set. One day, he
procured dozens of
bagels from a local
bakery, all by asking.
Usually a craft services crew member is hired to
purchase the food in advance, bring the tables,
and prepare and maintain the food during the
course of the day, although on low-budget projects a production assistant can be assigned these duties.
When planning craft services, be aware of the shooting location and the weather
conditions and plan the food selection accordingly. In general, most craft services items must be easy for the crew to grab and eat on the run.
Craft services usually arrives and is set up 30 minutes before call time, so any
crew members wishing to eat breakfast can arrive early on set.
A typical breakfast spread includes:
An assortment of bagels.
Cream cheese, butter, and jelly in individual packs. Avoid purchasing jars
as it can get messy.
An assortment of donuts.
An assortment of muffins.
Fresh fruit: apples, bananas, pears, and peaches. Cut them into small,
easy-to-grab pieces.
Hot coffee with cream, sugar, nondairy creamer, coffee stirrers, and coffee
cups. Consider bringing a coffee maker to the set, as coffee is the primary
drink of choice throughout the day.
An assortment of juices, especially orange juice and apple juice.
Bottled water (lots of it).
An assortment of cereal travel packs with milk. The crew can eat out of
the box.
An assortment of yogurt.
After breakfast, the craft services table is updated with new selections throughout the day. Common items include:
Craft Services and Catering
Mixed nuts
Trail mix
Peanut butter and jelly
Bread for sandwiches
Potato chips and pretzels
Fresh fruit
A deli tray
Raw vegetables
Granola bars
Chocolates and candies
Chewing gum and breath mints
Also include a variety of hot and cold beverages throughout the day:
Coffee . . . all the time
Hot water and a variety of teas
A typical craft services table on set.
Bottled water (try buying half-size bottles of water, since less will go to
Caffeinated and caffeine-free soda
Approach local grocery stores and ask them to donate craft service items. Also
be sure to check out large wholesale stores where you can buy bulk items inexpensively. Send a production assistant on a craft services run several days before
the shoot for nonperishable items and have him or her pick up fresh food items
the morning of each shooting day.
Here are some tips for setting up a craft services table on set:
Craft services food should be easily accessible and easy to grab during the
day. Avoid food that needs to be cut or overly prepped.
Set up the craft services table near the set, but not so close that it is in the
Be aware of bugs, wind, or animals that may disrupt the food, so pick a
location where the food will be safe for the entire day of shooting.
Have coffee ready three hours after call time and three hours after lunch,
when the crew starts to slow down. Also have abundant coffee ready after
dinner, especially if the shooting goes into the night.
During the location scout, determine where power can be drawn for the
coffee pot and toaster. Make sure the location owner has given permission
to serve food on set and approves the designated location.
Catering is the full meals served for lunch and dinner. Typically provided by a
catering company or restaurant, catered meals consist of boxed meals or a
buffet-style layout. Full meals should be served six hours after call time and
every six hours afterward, based on standard industry guidelines. In fully paid
union situations, cast and crew members are paid extra money if the meals are
served late because shooting runs overtime.
Catered meals usually include a choice of two different entrees, one of which
is pasta or rice; a salad; several sides; and a dessert. Bigger-budgeted productions
can increase the selection of food to where a chef is brought on set to prepare
custom meals for the cast and crew. Be sure to include a vegetarian entree for
those people with dietary restrictions.
When I produced low-budget films, I negotiated with a local restaurant for a
discounted rate not only to provide the food, but to bring the food to the set,
set up the tables, and clean up afterward. This allows the crew to focus on the
production, not on food preparation and cleanup. For Time and Again, for which
the budget was limited, I was able to convince several restaurants to donate
food, free of charge. I also approached grocery stores that donated beverages,
condiments, plates, napkins, and utensils and even some sides like potato salad
and cole slaw. If we weren’t able to negotiate these deals, the producers and I
Craft Services and Catering
would make big containers of pasta to bring to
set, which is cheap and easy to prepare and provides a hearty meal.
Choose food that is healthy and energy-inducing. Remember that working on a film set is long,
tedious work, so having good food on set will
help maintain everyone’s energy level and make
for a much more pleasant demeanor on set.
When choosing catered meals, here are some
suggestions that are both nutritious and
Sub sandwiches (meat, tuna, and
Pasta, either hot or cold; pasta salads
Pizza (although not for every meal, please)
Fresh salads
While shooting at the
prison, we decided to
cook up a late night
snack for the cast and
If the location you’re shooting at has a refrigerator, ask them if you can
use it. Don’t assume you can. Always clean it out at the end of each shooting day.
NEVER, EVER serve alcohol on set, even if the actors are “drinking” in the
scene. Every alcoholic beverage can be faked using diluted soda, juice, or
food-colored water.
Provide vegetarian options or any other special dietary requirements of
the cast and crew. Send out an e-mail before production asking cast and
crew members if they have any special requirements.
When ordering food from a restaurant, contact the manager a week in
advance to make all necessary preparations, including the number of
people being served, types of food, delivery and pick-up information, time
the food is needed, and cost.
Be sure to bring plenty of garbage bags so you can dispose of your own
trash yourself. Never use public trash cans or private dumpsters, unless
you have permission to do so.
Assign a production assistant the duty of picking up and maintaining
the craft services table if you cannot afford a dedicated craft services
i. The director and editor go through the rough footage and decide the best takes to use.
ii. The editor begins assembling the rough footage into scenes, making editorial decisions
based on the director’s vision.
iii. Once the rough movie is assembled, the director begins altering and adjusting the order, length
and timing of the movie to improve the quality of the storytelling, understandability and pacing.
iv. The movie is screened before a test audience to see how they react, which parts of the movie
are slow or difficult to understand, and how they feel about the film when it’s over. The audience
reaction is heavily considered when making changes to the movie during post-production.
Digital Effects
i. The digital effects team
will begin taking the rough
footage and adding digital
effects, color correcting
and enhancing various
shots, then give them to
the editor to put back into
the final movie.
i. The opening and closing
credits are created and
edited into the movie.
i. Once the music is finished, the
sound mixer will mix the music
and all the sound elements
together to make the competed
i. Once the edit has been
“locked,” the audio engineer
will begin editing the dialogue,
re-recording the dialogue,
creating sound effects, foley,
and ambience.
Audio Post-Production
ii. The movie is done! Now, the
filmmakers hold their breath,
hoping audiences and
distributors, like the movie.
Audio Post-Production
i. After the movie visual effects are
complete and the audio work is
done, the composer will begin
scoring the movie, composing
music that will work with the
rest of the audio design.
i. Digitize or import rough
footage into a non-linear editing system.
iii. Discuss the style
of the film with the
editor and choose
the best takes for
each scene.
vi. The director and
editor make more
changes, revising
and tightening the
vii. The editor adds
rough or complete
digital effects to
the rough cut for
xii. Final credits are
added and the movie is
rendered and exported.
v. The director gives
feedback and the editor
re-cuts the movie.
iv. The editor builds
an assembly cut.
ii. Organize footage by labeling
each shot with a scene, set-up
and take number.
xi. Individual shots and
entire scenes are color
viii. Rough sound effects
are layed in to help tell
the story.
ix. Screen the rough cut for a test
audience to determine problems in pacing, characterization and comprehensibility.
x. The editor tweaks and
polishes the edit, adding
transitions and perfecting
every cut.
Editing is the process of assembling a series of shots to form a logical
sequence. Pacing, subtext, and the ability to convey emotion can be heavily
influenced by decisions made in the editing room. A good editor must possess
a strong sense of timing and an outstanding storytelling ability to assemble a
logical, entertaining, and emotionally driven story from thousands of individual shots.
Filmmaking is the tedious process of shooting a scene numerous times from
many angles using only one camera. When on set, always shoot “for the edit”
by envisioning how every shot will be cut together. Ensure good continuity by
directing the actors to perform each scene consistently in its entirety for each
camera setup.
In the editing room, assemble the shots so the action in the scene appears to
have occurred only once, yet creating the illusion that it was covered by multiple
cameras positioned around the set.
The process of visual storytelling, whether the medium is a comic strip, cartoon,
or motion picture, involves juxtaposing images that have no real meaning by
themselves, but have a greater meaning when placed with a series of other
Take for example the following shot: a young man runs down the sidewalk in
busy New York City. This shot, by itself, means nothing. We cannot tell to what
or from what he is running or even why he is running.
A linear editing suite.
If we take a completely unrelated shot and edit it either before or after the shot
of the young man running, it will give added meaning to the shot. For example:
Let’s edit a shot of a dog running before the shot of the man running. Even
though the dog and the man do not appear in the same frame, the audience
will automatically associate the two shots together and assume that the dog is
chasing the man. Or, we could replace the dog with a shot of the sky, filling
with storm clouds. The audience now thinks that the man is running to avoid
the storm. Or, we could place the shot of a young woman waiting, looking at
her watch. Now we’re implying that the man is late for a meeting. No matter
what shot we place before or after the man running, the shot is, after all, simply
of a man running. It means nothing by itself, but stands to gain a greater
meaning from whatever precedes or follows it.
This is the basic principle of filmmaking, assembling a series of seemingly unrelated shots to tell
a story. Shots edited together make a scene, and
scenes edited together make a film. Don’t try to
pack every story element into one shot, but
rather, let the collective power of multiple shots
tell the audience what you want them to know.
A decade ago, editing was performed by linking
two VCRs, one to play the rough footage and a
second to record selected clips onto a blank tape.
A program was cut linearly, from the beginning
to the end, limiting the editor’s ability to make
changes earlier in the program. Nonlinear editing
frees the editor from this restriction by allowing
the editor to edit any part of the movie at any
time while preserving the integrity of the original
footage. Sophisticated software brings a myriad
of editing, titling, transition, and effects tools
right to the desktop of your home computer.
Nonlinear editors work on the principal that
rough footage is digitized, or converted into the
binary language of ones and zeros, and stored on
a hard drive. An editing program like Apple Final
A nonlinear editing
Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere is then used to assemsuite.
ble the clips into a logical sequence, add titles
and transitions, color correct, and even composite clips together. The software
isn’t altering the original files on the hard drive at all, but rather creating a play
list in much the same way a CD player can be programmed to play music tracks
in a certain order. Just as the CD player does not affect the actual media on the
CD, nonlinear editing systems reference but don’t affect the clips on the hard
As you edit a sequence, the editing program plays the marked sections of each
movie file from the hard drive fast enough to appear continuous and seamless.
If the editor changes a movie clip by changing the color or brightness or by
adding any filters, titles, or transitions, the computer must calculate the changes
and render new frames. Many of these effects can be rendered in real time,
although complicated effects may require additional rendering time for the computer to play them. If this happens, the computer
saves the newly rendered shot on the hard drive and
plays it at the appropriate time in the sequence. For
example, if Shot A dissolves into Shot B, the computer will play Shot A up to the dissolve, then it will
play the new clip it made of the dissolve, then it will
jump back to play what’s left of Shot B. To the
viewer, this process is seamless.
Because it is a nondestructive process, editors can
undo, change, and alter previous edits at any time,
in any part of the movie.
Some of the most common editing programs
Apple Final Cut Pro
Apple iMovie
Avid Xpress Pro
Editing map.
Avid FreeDV
Adobe Premiere Pro
Pinnacle Studio
Window’s Movie Maker
Sony Vegas
Organizing your clips
It isn’t uncommon to find yourself working with hundreds, possibly thousands,
of individual shots. One key to editing productively is to organize your footage
meticulously by naming and categorizing each clip. Each shot should have a
numeric name, 16a-6 (Scene 16, Setup A, Take 6), and a brief description, “LS,
dolly Bobby enters street” (long shot, Bobby enters street). Organizing the
footage will make it easier to locate and identify specific shots throughout the
editing process.
Before you begin editing, always familiarize yourself with the rough footage by
watching all the source material and making any notes about outstanding
Maintaining detailed camera logs on set is helpful when logging and organizing
your footage. Here, the second assistant cameraman and script supervisor wrote
detailed comments about each shot, problems encountered and the director’s
rating of each take.
The assembly cut
Once the footage is organized, begin assembling the selected takes into a rough
edit of the movie. Usually built with very few edits and without inserts or closeups, the assembly cut is a way of laying down the rough story points before
working in the details.
While editing the assembly cut, do not be concerned with audio, titles,
music, insert shots, close-ups, sound effects, pacing, or timing. You’re
building the basic foundation of the story.
Use the assembly cut to judge broad plot points, character arcs, and story
beats. Serving much the same purpose as an outline or treatment in the
writing phase, the assembly cut gives the director the opportunity to work
in broad brush strokes while losing the least amount of work if sweeping
changes need to be made.
It is common for the editor to begin the assembly cut even while the movie is
still being filmed. This allows the director to see how the film is coming
together, giving him the opportunity to shoot scenes differently on set, pick up
missing shots, or grab an insert or reaction shot. At this stage, the editor usually
works alone, althoughs she may have an assistant that helps digitize and prepare
the footage for editing.
Editing window and camera log.
During this stage, the director sits with the editor to look at the footage and
gives guidance regarding how he envisions the pacing, timing, and flow of the
story. The director will then allow the editor to assemble the movie on her own,
trusting his objective eye on the project.
Many novice filmmakers insist on sitting with the editor, directing each edit.
This common mistake takes away not only the editor’s creativity as an artist,
but also the director’s ability to make objective decisions as to how the film will
cut together. The director has spent months, possibly years, working on the
movie and knows every detail of the story. Subsequently, plot holes may be
invisible to the director, who mentally fills the gaps with his knowledge and
familiarity with the story. That’s why working with an editor is so important.
Editors come onboard the project later in the process and aren’t exposed to the
creative process during production. When they receive the footage, they can
objectively build the story with the available shots.
The smart director will give the editor guidance and allow him to build the
assembly cut alone. Once the assembly cut is finished, the director canwatch
the film and give the editor notes as to what changes need to be made.
The rough cut
Once the assembly cut is finished, begin going through each scene one at a time
and reediting it until you are happy with it. Review all possible takes, arrange
and rearrange, tighten and move edits so that the final result features the best
performances, emotion, pacing, and timing possible with the available footage.
Add insert shots, master shots, and any footage needed to make the scene work
on its own.
Work your way through each scene in the assembly cut, but don’t worry
about music or sound design yet.
It takes many different angles of the same scene to assemble a well-paced sequence. Here
are, in order, nine shots taken from the stickball scene of Time and Again.
If a scene needs a digital effect, or the shot
isn’t yet available, edit in a blank title card
that describes to the viewer what he will be
seeing. Make this title card the same length
as the real shot.
Edit dialog scenes first to ensure that the
conversations sound real, then focus on
adding B-roll and cutaways. Scenes that are
non-dialog-based are called action scenes
and need to be driven by the pacing and
timing of the visuals.
The assembly cut is usually the longest version of
the movie, with all filmed scenes being edited into
the movie. It is not uncommon for the rough-cut
phase to last months, if not years. The Directors
Programs like Apple
Final Cut Pro give
Guild of America rules give directors a minimum
of 10 weeks after the completion of principal photography to build the first cut editors the ability to edit
in any order they choose
of a movie before the studio and producers are allowed to have input.
and to go back and
make instant changes.
The working cut
Whereas the rough-cut phase is about working in each separate scene, the
working cut is about getting those individual scenes to work together to produce
a cohesive, well-paced story. During this phase, it is natural to run into problems with plot points, character arcs, and story pacing. Approach this edit with
a creative, open mind and try different combinations of scenes, cut scenes, move
scenes, and add transitions. You can also add rough music, important sound
effects, voice-overs, and other audio elements to help develop the final feel of
the film.
This is a good time to begin screening the movie and getting opinions from
people who present a fresh perspective. Listen intently to their comments and
pay close attention to any problems they have with confusing parts of the story,
areas where the pacing lags, sequences that feel too long or too short, and
character actions that don’t seem motivated. Consider these comments and
begin to tweak the edit to solve some of these problems.
If you plan on making a lot of changes to the working cut, consider
saving a new version of the editing project on your computer. If you decide
that the changes you made won’t work, you can always return to the original
The fine cut
Once all the problems have been solved, the story appears tightly paced, and
the plot holes have been filled, go through each cut and perfect it to frameaccuracy, making sure each moment is the best it can be.
Once the fine cut is finished and approved, the movie is called “picture-locked,”
which means that no more changes to the timing of the film will be made. The
movie is now ready to move on to audio postproduction.
Editing an action scene
Action sequences refer to any scene that is driven by movements within the
frame instead of dialog. When cutting an action sequence, ignore the audio
tracks and cut the visuals together in a way that best suits the action, pacing,
and flow of the scene.
Once the visuals are edited, begin piecing the audio clips together, cross-fading
one clip into the next and adding sound effects, ambience, and music to pull
the sequence together.
Editing a dialog scene
Editing dialog can be tricky, especially if the scene was shot at a location with
a directional ambience that changes tone and volume from one shot to the next.
Although removing distracting ambience like traffic, wind, or waves is nearly
impossible, there are techniques to reduce the sudden impact of changing ambience from one shot to another. Here are a few tips:
The most important factor in editing clean, ambience-free dialog is to
shoot the scene in a quiet location.
When shooting the scene on set, have the actors perform the scene as it
should be played for the master shot. Then, when moving into close-ups
of each actor, position the microphone so that it points toward only the
actor who is on camera.
When shooting close-ups, make sure the actors don’t talk over each other’s
lines. In noisy environments, longer pauses between lines can help smooth
the ambience in the editing process.
Let’s say we have two characters, Dave and Jessica, talking at a restaurant
together. Although the restaurant was relatively quiet, the microphone still
picked up the ambience of outside traffic on the busy city street. Because of the
blocking and microphone position, the ambience is louder behind Dave’s shots
than behind Jessica’s.
Follow these steps to create a smooth, consistent dialog track:
1. Find the best take of Dave’s close-up performance and drag it to track 1
on the timeline. Using the razor blade tool, slice out Jessica’s lines as
close to the beginning of her first word and as close to the end of her last
word as you can, keeping as much of the ambience in the middle as possible. Delete Jessica’s segments from the track, leaving an open space.
2. Mute track 1 and drag Jessica’s close-up take to track 2. Use the same
technique to carve out Dave’s performance, leaving as much ambience at
the head and tail of each of Jessica’s lines.
Editing dialog.
3. Keeping Dave’s clips on track 1 and Jessica’s on track 2, slide the clips
together so the conversation sounds natural, even slightly overlapping
the lines. Remember that people tend to talk over each other instead of
waiting for the other person to finish speaking before responding. Mimic
this pattern as you edit the dialog.
4. Create a cross-fade at the beginning and end of every clip. The cross-fade
should start at the beginning of the clip and end just before the character
begins speaking. At the end of the clip, begin the cross-fade at the very
end of the last word to the end of the clip. The more of a pause the actors
added between lines, the longer the cross-fade can be and the smoother
the transition from one clip to another. As a note, make sure that crossfades don’t overlap each other, or you will hear a dip in the audio. Crossfades should exist only under another clip.
5. By this point, the dialog in the scene should sound natural and the ambience should smoothly fade in and out while the other character is
6. Once the dialog has been edited and sounds natural, unlink the audio
from its connected video clip. You can then change the in point and out
point of the video without affecting the audio, enabling you to change
when the video cuts from one shot to the next.
7. Now that the characters’ close-ups have been edited, add insert shots or
master shots to the third video track. Place each character’s shots on one
track, the master shots on another track, and insert shots on yet another
track. This will make it much easier to make changes to the edit in the
Some tips and tricks to keep in mind when you’re editing:
If you’re the director of the movie, strongly consider bringing on an experienced, objective editor. No matter how good of an editor you think you
are, NEVER cut your own film. You know it
too well and will mentally fill in plot holes
because you know the story so well.
■ Make sure there is a clear reason for cutting
from one shot to another, for example, a
Capture the best takes to a nonperson enters the room or a character reacts to
linear editing system like Final
Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere
a particular line or action.
If you’re not sure about the exact frame to cut
Put the shots together so you
cut long rather than short.
have a working cut of the movie
■ Ensure the edits smooth out the motion within
the scene, giving the illusion that the scene
Play with the order of shots
Screen the movie to see how
occurred in real time and was covered by muland scenes to improve the
it's paced. Note when the story
movie's pacing, flow, and
moves too fast or too slow.
tiple cameras. This can be done by cutting on
sure that every shot you cut to is imporDelete unneeded shots and
scenes, tighten up dialog and
the story, remember that the audience
is going to be looking for importance in any
Play the movie for an
person or object you show on screen.
objective audience and listen
Begin smoothing out dialog
to their feedback.
and add sound effects, Foley,
■ Each scene should start and stop with continuand ambience
ing action to avoid a jerky “start–stop” sense
while watching the movie.
■ When faced with a continuity error, choose to
edit for proper emotional continuity rather
than physical continuity. Let the edits be
Give the locked movie to a
composer, then add the final
driven by the content first, then technique.
score to project
■ Keep establishing shots quick. Dwelling on
them will serve only to slow down the story.
Mix together the audio tracks for
Make sure that your edits are tight within a
the best balance.
scene. Don’t put pauses between lines of
Editing guidelines.
dialog. Try overlapping lines of dialog.
■ Before fine-tuning the film, edit the entire movie in rough form and view
it as soon as possible to see how the movie is paced.
■ If a scene doesn’t serve to push the story forward or is unimportant, then
cut it out of the movie. Avoid falling in love with a shot so much that
you’re unwilling to cut it.
■ When you finish editing your movie, put it away for a week or so and
come back to it with a fresh eye before you make final tweaks.
■ Once you have a strong rough cut, try watching the rough footage one
more time to see if any unused takes may work better.
■ Show the movie to an objective test audience and avoid being defensive.
Rather, listen intently to their feedback and carefully weigh the validity of
their suggestions.
■ Remember that you can’t make everyone in the audience happy.
Go through all the rough
footage and, using the camera
logs as a guide, mark the best
takes of every camera setup
Famed editor Walter Murch said it best when he described in his book, In the
Blink of an Eye, in order of importance, the criteria used to determine an edit
1. Emotion—How does the edit make the audience feel in the moment?
2. Story—Does the edit drive the story forward?
3. Rhythm—Does the edit appear at a moment at which it feels it should
4. Eye trace—Does the edit follow the audience’s focus from one shot to
5. Two-dimensional placement—Does the edit respect and adhere to the
180 Rule?
6. Three-dimensional space of action—Does the edit respect the physical/
special relationship between objects and characters in the scene?
Activity 1: Using the footage on the accompanying disc, practice editing the
stickball scene into a cohesive, logical sequence. Add your own music and
sound effects. Try different edits of the scene, some longer, some shorter, and
even try rearranging the order of the shots to see how it impacts and changes
the feel of the scene.
Activity 2: Choose a scene from a Hollywood-produced movie and watch it
frame by frame, studying why the editor cut from one shot to the next. Study
where that edit was placed. Did it cut on motion? How did it help improve the
pacing? Did the editor show more or less of the action than you would have?
Activity 3: Produce a music video either using existing music or by shooting a
band or single performer, then edit the music video together in a stylistic, creative way.
Activity 4: As a real-life exercise, when you find yourself talking in a group of
three or more people, take note of who you’re looking at and why you feel
motivated to look at this person. What happens that makes you want to look
away? Why do you hold your gaze?
If this moment were a scene you were editing, every time you shift your gaze
should be an edit point between shots. Fluid editing should move the audience’s attention from one shot to the next in the same way we would feel
motivated to look at another person in a real-life conversation.
We have all seen movies in which two people are sitting on a couch talking to
each other and in one shot, the guy’s arm is on the back of the couch and in the
other shot, his arm is across his lap. These errors, called “continuity errors,”
happen often on set and are embarrassing for the filmmaker. Continuity errors
occur because scenes in a movie are shot out of order. For example, in a scene in
which a man and a woman are having dinner, the first shot is a long master shot
in which we see both the man and the woman and all the action of the scene.
The cast and crew will shoot the scene from the
beginning to the end, multiple times, from this
one camera angle until the director is happy with
the shot. When they are finished, the actors leave
the set and the crew repositions the camera for
the man’s close-up. The gaffer changes the lights,
the set decorator redresses the part of the set that
is visible in the new camera angle, and the production sound mixer repositions the microphone,
just to name a few of the activities that occur
between camera setups. Once the camera, lighting, audio, and set are ready, the actors return to
the set and the director films the entire scene
again, framing only the man in a close-up. After
shooting several takes and making minor adjustments to the performance, the crew again moves the equipment, this time preparing for the woman’s close-up. And the process begins again.
The editor must then take these three different camera angles and edit them
together so that it appears as though they occurred once and that the moment
was covered by multiple cameras. Continuity errors occur when the actors
change their performance, either intentionally or by accident, or if crew members
accidentally move a prop or a set piece.
The script supervisor,
props and wardrobe
crew, makeup artists,
hairstylists, and set
dressers take Polaroid
photos of the set, hair,
makeup, and wardrobe
elements to ensure a
consistent look from
one shot to the next.
Avoiding continuity errors is the responsibility of the script supervisor, who
notes the positions of people and objects and changes in dialog, camera coverage, or anything else that may not be continuous from one shot to the next.
Even though the script supervisor is watching, there may still be a continuity
error that he or she misses!
Imagine for a moment that you’re filming a basketball game with 10 cameras positioned around
the arena. Sitting behind a switching console,
you are able to switch instantly to the camera
with the best view of the action. Because the
game happens in real time and occurs only once,
your coverage of the game and choices of camera
angles will be made in the moment, without
much preplanning. The result is a kinetic, live
feel that would be difficult to replicate, even with
extensive rehearsals.
One of the reasons the action feels so real is that
the edit point, the place where you would cut
from one camera angle to another, usually falls
in the middle of some action, a lay-up, a rebound, or a free throw. Even though
you’re cutting between 10 cameras, the editing isn’t noticeable, because the
action of the game ties all the camera angles together. For example, you may
have a long shot of a player running up to the hoop and as he jumps up for a
slam-dunk, you cut to a close-up of him in midair from under the net. His
action of slam-dunking the ball bridges the two camera angles, making the cut
almost invisible.
Unlike a basketball game, movies are shot with one camera. The point of editing
is to cut together these multiple single-camera angles to create the same flow
that you would have by shooting the scene with multiple cameras and switching
live between them. This is the principle of cutting on motion: when editing two
shots together, let the action in the scene bridge the edit point of the two shots.
For example, if a character is sitting down in a chair and you want to cut from
a medium shot to a close-up, cut from one shot to the next as the character is
in the process of sitting down, not before she starts to sit down or after she
already sat down. Cut on her motion of sitting. By cutting on motion, the flow
of cutting from one camera angle to another will be much smoother.
Montages are video collages. Using a variety of shots edited together with transitions, montages convey the passage of long periods of time by showing only
the key moments of an event. For example, in a montage of an athlete preparing
for a game, the montage may consist of the following shots:
The athlete trains in the weight room and lifts only a little weight.
The athlete runs through tires on the football field and collapses in
The athlete tries to catch a pass and misses.
The athlete drinks a protein shake with friends.
The athlete crashes at home on the couch after practice.
The athlete gets yelled at by the coach.
The athlete bench presses 185 lb quickly.
The athlete tries to catch a pass and misses.
The athlete practices alone on the field at night.
The athlete does push-ups at home before bed.
The athlete runs on the field.
The athlete tries to catch a pass and catches it.
This montage, although consisting of only 12 shots, conveys the progression of
the athlete in his attempt to win the big game. Montages can be powerful when
the right images are used.
There are a number of editing tricks used by professional editors to help stitch
together unrelated shots into a smooth scene.
Example of an L-cut.
L-cut—Also called a split edit, an L-cut is when the audio and visual cuts
of two juxtaposed shots occur at different times. Used to help conceal the
edit and improve the flow of a scene, L-cuts are primarily used in editing
B-roll—B-roll is supporting footage inserted over the primary footage of
a scene. In a documentary about a cookie company, the primary footage
is an interview of a worker explaining the cookie-making process. While
the interviewee is still speaking, the editor may insert B-roll shots of the
actual manufacturing process. In a movie, B-rolls are also called cutaways
or insert shots.
Jump cut—A jump cut occurs when two shots of continuing action are
edited together, but there is a discontinuity between the two shots. A jump
cut is a jarring edit that draws attention to the discontinuity. Some jump
cuts are intentionally used to add confusion to the scene.
Axial cut—An axial cut occurs when the editor cuts from one shot to either
a tighter or a wider shot from the same camera axis. Axial cuts can occur
if the camera shoots a scene once from a short lens and then, without
moving the camera, from a long lens, or if the camera physically moves
toward or away from the subject without moving side to side.
Transitions—Transitions are editing techniques used to segue from one
shot to another.
Cross-cutting—Cross-cutting involves cutting back and forth between
two similar shots, for example, two medium, over-the-shoulder shots of
a couple at a restaurant.
Cutaway—A cutaway is a reaction shot that breaks away from the continuous action of a scene to show another person. Typically used to conceal
an edit, the cutaway is a vital tool in covering continuity errors, improving
pacing, and helping actors’ performances.
Soft cut—Whereas a hard cut places two shots back to back with no transition, a soft cut involves placing two shots together with a one- or twoframe dissolve.
Transitions are ways of segueing from one shot to another. There are three basic
types of transitions:
Cut—The cut is the most common and simple transition, when the last
shot ends and on the next frame, the next clip begins.
Dissolve—A dissolve occurs when one clip fades out while the other clip
simultaneously fades in. Dissolves imply a passage of time, especially
when dissolving to an establishing shot or when used in a montage.
Wipe—A wipe uses a shape pattern that moves across the screen to transition from one clip to another. One side of the wipe pattern is the first
clip, and the other side is the second clip. Whereas wipes are fun and
catchy to watch, they can be distracting to the viewer, drawing attention
to the editing and away from the action on the screen. Wipes are commonly found in industrial videos, promotional and advertising spots, and
wedding videos to transition from one picture to the next. Avoid using
wipes in a narrative film.
Shots in a movie may not match in brightness, contrast, or color, or they may
not meet broadcast specifications. An editor can correct and alter the color and
brightness values of individual shots to achieve an artistic look or for technical
Always make sure there is a 0% black value (in PAL and digital formats;
NTSC black value is 7.5%) and a 100% white value in every shot. Raising
the black value lowers the contrast and washes out the image. Flat whites
will look gray, but white values over 100% may flicker on a television
Use a waveform monitor to ensure the brightness values are within proper
technical specifications. Use a vectorscope to monitor color balance and
Correct the colors to match from one shot to the next in a scene. Often,
changes in lighting, sun positioning, and cloud cover will affect the overall
color palette of a scene, making it necessary to readjust the colors in each
Color correction can be used to simulate night time for scenes shot during
the day, add a tint, soften the image, and enhance the colors in a scene
or for any number of aesthetic techniques. In Time and Again, I warmed
up the 1950s scenes with a light golden yellow tint and lightly softened
the image.
When incorporating graphics and titles in a movie, there are a number of guidelines to follow to ensure the graphics appear as intended.
The outer box
represents the 90
percent safe action
zone, and the inner, 80
percent box represents
the safe title zone.
Make sure all photos,
text, and graphics
appear within the safe
title zone.
Safe action zone: Most cathode-ray tube television sets and monitors
display only 90% of the frame, with the other 10% projected off the edge
of the screen. When framing a shot, be sure to keep all action within the
90% boundary of the frame.
Safe title zone: Because 10% of the image is projected off the edge of the
screen, any graphics and images are at risk of running into or off the screen
edge. It’s for this reason we use a second boundary marking 80% of the
frame in which all graphics and text must be placed.
Lines thicker than three pixels: In standard definition formats, horizontal
lines thinner than three pixels will flicker on screen. Make sure all horizontal lines are at least three pixels thick.
Choose sans serif fonts: In standard definition formats, serif fonts either
flicker or lose their detail because of resolution limitations of the NTSC
signal. When choosing fonts, select thicker sans serif fonts.
■ Color safe: NTSC colors can bleed if they are
oversaturated, especially reds and blues. Oversaturation is not a problem in high-definition
■ Alpha channel: When importing graphics to
layer or composite into another video image,
be sure to create the graphic with an alpha
channel. This will make the background transparent so only the graphic appears.
Imagine that you just moved to a new town, but
you don’t have a car yet. One day, you get a taste
for orange juice, so you take your bicycle to the
local grocery store and pick up a gallon of deli-
cious, freshly squeezed, pulpy juice. As you stand in the checkout line, you
realize that you have no way of transporting a gallon of juice home—your
bicycle isn’t big enough. So you return the gallon of OJ in favor of a small can
of orange juice concentrate. This juice was filtered and processed at a factory so
it could be compressed into a small container, where it also lost flavor and
vitamin-rich pulp. You pay, stick the concentrate in your jacket pocket, and
head home, where you add water to restore the concentrate back to a gallon.
Although you still end up with a gallon of orange juice, the concentrate has
been filtered and reduced in quality to make it more transportable.
Digital video works the same way. In its raw form, video is beautiful, full of
detail, with bright, vivid colors. Unfortunately, uncompressed standard definition video is around 30 MB per second, and high definition is closer to 300 MB
per second. The cost of managing such a high data rate would drive up the cost
of camcorders, computers would need to be faster with better data throughput,
and drive-space requirements would increase significantly. Because of the
impracticality of transporting raw video, engineers developed a way of compressing the video and reducing the file size by averaging some of the detail
and color information. This is done by special algorithms called “codecs” (codec
stands for “compressor/decompressor”).
Much like the process the factory used to compress orange juice, codecs serve
to compress digital audio and video for any number of applications, and there
are several of them. A few examples of codecs include:
MPEG-2: The standard codec used in DVD players. Designed for highquality NTSC and PAL video, this compressor is vastly superior to preceding analog, VHS formats.
Sorenson, H-264, and Flash: These are all different codes used for compressing video for the Internet. Specially designed to maintain high quality
and low file sizes, these codecs are ideal for downloadable and streaming
DV-NTSC and DV-PAL: The revolutionary standard-definition, digital
video codec used in popular standard-definition consumer and prosumer
DV formats.
HDV: The new, ultracompressed high-definition consumer format.
Recorded to tape, this codec uses extremely high compression resulting in
motion artifacts and degradation in dark regions of the frame.
HDCAM and DVCPRO: These are both professional, high-quality highdefinition codecs.
When choosing the right codec for your project, be sure to research the pros
and cons of each codec thoroughly.
Credits appear at the beginning and end of a movie and list all the people who
worked on or contributed to the film. A cast or crew member’s credit is the most
important form of acknowledgment you can give.
The opening credits are reserved for the key cast and crew members as well as
the production companies responsible for the film financing. The closing credits
list all cast and crew positions, vendors, and those people the producers wish
to thank.
Make sure you include everyone in the credits. One good way of ensuring
this is by going through the release forms. Extras are generally not listed
in the credits unless they have been featured in some way on screen.
Double-check the spelling of each person’s name.
Have fun with the look and design of the opening credits of the movie.
Use font, size, animation, and color to set the tone for the story.
Use Helvetica 8- to 10-point font for the closing credits. This is the
optimum size for reading and speed.
When you design the closing credits, type the credits in a page layout
program like QuarkXpress or Adobe InDesign using a dual column format.
Export the text as a postscript file and import it into Adobe After Effects.
You can manipulate the credits just like a graphic and set them to scroll
up the screen vertically at whatever speed you want. The results are professional and easy-to-read credits.
Digital Effects
i. The director discusses each
digital effects shot with the
director of photography and
digital effects supervisor.
iv. Effects shots are digitized
and sent, uncompressed, to
the digital effects artists.
iii. Plates are carefully
shot on set, often
under the supervision of the digital
effects supervisor.
vi. Final effect shots
are sent to the
editor for inclusion
in the final movie.
v. Each shot or sequence
is built and revised until
the director approves.
ii. Digital effects shots are
carefully storyboarded
and planned.
Whereas special effects are physical effects that occur on set, such as pyrotechnics, weather effects, miniatures, and forced-perspective sets, digital effects are
created solely within the realm of the computer. Footage is either digitized and
manipulated using sophisticated programs or created from scratch with every
element being built within the modeling and animation software.
Digital effects can be organized into two basic categories: 2D compositing and
3D animation. Two-dimensional compositing is the process of using flat, or twodimensional images, photographs, animation, film, or video clips and layering
them into existing footage. Although the content of these images has depth, the
images themselves are flat. Three-dimensional animation involves modeling,
applying textures, and lighting and animating a three-dimensional
object in the computer so that it can be viewed from any angle creating, in most instances, a life-like, photo-realistic image.
Incorporating digital effects into your movie can yield spectacular
results if the process is well organized. However, hasty shooting
and adopting a “fix-it-in-post” attitude will cost both time and
Before going into production, break down the script to determine how many and what types of visual effects are required.
Which of these effects can be done mechanically or physically
on set, which need to be second unit effects (i.e., miniatures,
special set pieces, stunts, or pyrotechnics), and which need to
be digitally rendered?
To find a digital effects artist, contact your local film commission and ask
for leads. There are also numerous production and postproduction facilities that have computer animation departments that may be able to help
you. Other excellent resources are college and university art programs,
many of which have a visual media department with computer animation
classes. Students interested in breaking into the animation industry may
be willing to create free effects for your film as a way of expanding their
demo reel.
Digital effects, when done well, are convincing and impressive, but if they
are not executed properly or care is not taken to make them realistic, they
will cheapen the quality of the production, drawing the audience’s attention away from the story and to the bad effects work. Be sure to work
closely with the digital effects artist during preproduction to plan the
execution of each shot. If necessary, the digital effects artist should be
present on set to make sure the lighting, camera angles, and framing are
correct to ensure proper integration of the effects.
Make sure you have the means to produce convincing digital effects. If at
all possible, shoot both a scene with the visual effect plate (the shot that
is the background for the composite) and a shot that could work without
the digital effect. That way, if you run out of time or money or run into
a technical issue, you have a backup option.
Most importantly, make sure the story is strong enough to stand on its
own and is not dependent on digital effects to carry it. Digital effects are
often used as a crutch in films with weak stories.
The crew prepares to
shoot an insert shot of
Bobby Jones in the
field when he sees
Awanda. I realized we
needed the shot well
into the editing
process, but with three
feet of snow on the
ground, our only option
was to create the shot
digitally. A local news
station gave us
permission to use their
green screen.
Compositing is the process of digitally layering multiple flat images or video
clips together to create the final shot. This handy technique can be used to
replace the sky, add an image to a blank TV screen, place a map behind a
Digital Effects
Visual effects are created when animation, matte shots, composited elements, and
computer-generated elements are added to live-action footage.
Physical effects are those effects that are built and exist in reality, as opposed to
computer-generated effects. Examples include models and miniatures, special makeup
prosthetics, creatures and monsters, specialty vehicles (like the Batmobile), on-set tricks
and gags, and special props.
Mechanical effects include weather-related effects like rain, snow, wind, and hail, as
well as pyrotechnics such as explosions, bullet hits, and car crashes.
Digital effects include those effects created within the realm of the computer such as
computer-generated monsters, environments, vehicles, and spaceships.
weatherman, or add any layer or source over
another. Popular programs such as Adobe After
Effects and Apple Motion are excellent tools for
creating stunning visual effects.
In Time and Again, the majority of the digital effects
were composites. As an example, in the opening
of the diner scene, the script described Awanda
cooking and setting her food on fire. Because it
wasn’t practical or safe to use real fire on set, we
shot Jennie’s performance behind the stove first
without fire. Called a “background plate,” this
shot was used as the foundation for the composite. To create the fire, I found some stock footage
of a torch flame against a black background. Using
Adobe After Effects, I was able to cut the torch
flame out from the black background digitally and lay it over the background
plate of Awanda in the kitchen. I then created a mask to crop off the top and
bottom of the flame so it looked like it was behind the counter. The result is a
realistic shot that tells the story and was safe to produce.
Composites can be used to add buildings to backgrounds, replace the sky, add
images onto television screens, extend the set, mask elements out of the frame,
and integrate any number of images and video into the shot. Compositing is a
very powerful technique that adds production value to a movie.
Compositing programs such as Adobe After Effects, Apple Motion, and
Apple Shake are powerful, professional-grade applications that provide a
tremendous array of compositing tools for the filmmaker. Although the
learning curve on these programs is steep, there are a number of training
The crew prepares the
bike for a green screen
shot. You can see the
final shot in Time and
Again when Bobby is
riding on the handle
bars in the long shot.
This frame is what we originally shot on set. This layer, called
the background plate, will serve as the foundation for the
composite. We will have to add the fire into this shot.
This frame is a stock video of a torch flame that will be added
to the background plate. Compositing software like Adobe After
Effects or Shake allows you to remove the background,
especially if there’s a large difference in color or brightness
between the object and the background. In this case, the black
background was easy to knock out.
This is the final composite of the two elements. Notice how the
top and bottom of the flame have been cut off to give the
illusion that the flame is behind the counter. We also cut out, or
rotoscoped, the waitress so she appears to walk in front of the
classes in major cities across the country. Even if you are working with a
digital effects artist, understanding how the software works will help you
better prepare for the integration of digital effects in your movie.
Part of creating realistic and effective digital effects is to shoot high-quality
footage. Make sure that the footage is properly lit and in focus and that
all camera movements are smooth.
Remember that compositing images and animation over locked down
(nonmoving) shots is a lot easier than tracking, or following the camera
motion to match the movement of the images to the movement of the
camera. It may be faster to create 10 composites with a locked-down
Digital Effects
camera than one shot with a moving camera, especially if you are on a
tight budget.
Effective preplanning and storyboarding can make for a smooth compositing process. All too often, beginning filmmakers shoot footage without
worrying about how to add the digital effects, making it difficult for the
animator to complete his job effectively. Work with the compositor or
animator BEFORE shooting the footage and, if necessary, involve him on
set to ensure that the footage you shoot can be used.
Chroma key is a compositing technique that allows the animator to digitally
replace a solid color (usually blue or green) background behind the actor or
object with another image or film clip. Called “keying,” chroma key is a great
tool for placing the actor in environments that are impossible to create in real
life. For example, in Star Trek, the windows of all the spaceship sets have green
screens outside them that are replaced with a moving star field. Weathermen
use the same technology; in real life they are standing in front of a green screen,
but the chroma key system replaces the green with the weather map.
We used the chroma key technique in Time and Again to simulate Bobby riding
on the handlebars of Awanda’s bike. Because it was too difficult for the actress
Jennie Allen to peddle with Brian on the bike, we brought the bike into a local
news station (for free, of course) and set it up in front of their green screen in
the weather department. Even though the bike was stationary, Brian and Jennie
acted like they were actually peddling. We then digitally removed the green
background and replaced it with a still photo of the dirt road using Adobe After
Effects. Additional touches like lens flares from the sun, a little camera movement, and some color correction made a convincing shot that would have been
impossible to do on set.
Here are some tips for shooting against a green screen:
Choose either a green- or a blue-painted background. It will be easier to
isolate and key because they are the opposite of human flesh tones. Make
sure there are no traces of blue or green in the actors’ wardrobe or the
software will render these colors invisible to the background.
This is the original shot
(left), with Brian
standing in front of a
green screen. We made
sure to light him so the
look of the studio
footage matched the
material we shot on
We replaced the green
background with an
image of the weeds
next to the dirt road
(right). By blurring out
the background, and
color correcting the
shot, we were able to
match it to the footage
we shot on location.
We shot Brian and
Jennie riding the bike
(which was stationary
on set) and then
composited the
background plate of a
dirt road. It would
have been impossible
for Jennie to peddle
the bike with Brian on
the handlebars.
When lighting a green screen, it’s critical to light the entire
screen evenly. Avoid shadows of any kind. The more evenly
lit, the better the key will be.
■ If you need to paint a wall chroma-key green, use Rosco ChromaKey Paint, available from MarkerTek. The paint contains
reflective particles that makes it easier for a compositing system
to isolate and key out that particular color. If buying chroma-key
paint is out of your budget, I find that neon green poster board
works just as well, especially for close shots of actors.
When shooting subjects or objects against a green screen, try to shoot in
a video format with the least compression. Avoid miniDV and HDV
codecs and consider shooting Digital Betacam, HD, or even Panasonic’s
Prepping the bike and
Awanda for the digital
effects shot.
I created several digital effects in Time and Again to help cut production costs, by
creating landscapes and set dressing and even by adding digital 1950s cars in the
background. All the effects were free because I was able to use my limited experience in
Adobe After Effects to create them on the Mac system at home.
Fire in the diner kitchen—I added the flame burning behind the counter in the diner
digitally because using real pyrotechnics on set was too dangerous and would have cost
too much money. In creating the digital fire, I masked off stock footage of a torch flame,
so it appeared to be behind the counter, and even masked the waitress who walked in
front of the flame, so it appears to be behind her. This effect took only a few hours to
Digital mailbox—As Bobby Jones rides his bike home, he passes a mailbox with his
parents’ names on it. Because we didn’t have enough money to buy a real mailbox and
create a sign, I decided to add it digitally. When it came time to create the mailbox, I
simply walked up and down my street until I found a mailbox I liked. I took a few pictures
with my digital camera, imported the pictures, and digitally cut the mailbox out from the
background using Photoshop. I then created the sign with his parents’ names and
imported the final still image into After Effects. I then needed to add the image to a
moving dolly shot, so I hand-tracked the image so that it matched the camera
movement. Finally, I added a digital focus pull and color corrected the shot.
Digital Effects
The town square—I really wanted a vast, sweeping shot of the 1950s town as Bobby
left the diner, realizing his whereabouts for the first time. Because it wasn’t possible to
secure enough cars and shut down the town square for one shot, I created the entire
shot digitally. I took my DV camcorder to the top of one of the buildings in town and
rolled off a few minutes of footage. Then, using After Effects and Photoshop, I digitally
painted masks to cover all the cars, while still retaining the movement of trees and flags.
I then scoured the Internet for pictures of 1950s vehicles that matched the same lighting
and angle as in my shot. After cutting them out from their background, I used After
Effects to place them on the now-empty street and animated them moving down the
road. After a final pass of color correction and softening of the entire image, it seamlessly
matched the surrounding shots and convincingly showed off the town.
Digital picture frame—When Bobby Jones sneaks into his bedroom, he sees a picture
frame sitting on the shelf. The photo was digitally added. The photo we needed to have
in the frame wasn’t ready at the time of the shoot, so I used After Effects to track the
camera movement and insert the photo into the frame, complete with a reflection in the
HDDVCPRO codec. Highly compressed footage is difficult to work with
as the compression averages pixels together, resulting in large, blocky
edges around objects.
For the highest quality key, digitize the video footage into the
editing system uncompressed.
Three-dimensional animation is the art of creating objects, setting lights, and
moving a camera all within the virtual world of the computer. Programs like
Maya, LightWave, and 3D Studio Max afford users the ability to create digital
models of people, objects, and settings; stretch digitally created skins over the
wire-frame models; add texture and interactivity with light; calculate the physics
of how the objects move and interact within the environment; place lights; add
cameras with real interactive lens functions; and render the final image to create
realistic imagery.
Most Hollywood films use computer-generated imagery (CGI) in place of traditional hand-built models or old school tricks like matte paintings, forcedperspective models, and physical and mechanical effects. CGI is often cheaper
and offers filmmakers limitless options in creating and manipulating the environment of the story.
In the low-budget arena, inexpensive software and a well-equipped computer
can provide a myriad of options never before available to filmmakers. If the
tools are available, high-quality effects can be produced inexpensively, although
it still requires a lot of time to finesse and complete each effect until they appear
real and can be smoothly integrated into the rest of the movie.
3D animation, like the shuttlecraft from my feature film, Clone are impressive, but very costly and timeconsuming to produce.
Postproduction Audio
i. Import the unmixed audio
from the locked picture
edit of the movie.
iii. ADR poorly
recorded on set
v. Lay in ambience and
sound effects.
viii. Add compression
and a limiter then
export the final
audio mix.
ii. Assemble, edit and,
mix the dialogue
from the audio
recorded on set.
iv. Record foley sounds.
vi. Once the score is
finished, import into
the sound mix.
vii. Mix and master the audio
tracks, always ensuring
dialog stands out.
Once the visuals of a movie are edited, it’s time to focus on editing the audio.
Audio postproduction work includes rerecording dialog, mixing in music and
sound effects, balancing the levels of each sound element, and making sure the
audio is within the proper technical parameters for exhibition.
Considered even more important to the audience in making an emotional
impact than the visuals, people can detect far more sound cues than visual
images, making the sound design a very important, but often overlooked, aspect
of the moviemaking process. Sound design, ambience, and music bring together
the continuity of the movie by turning a series of choppy cuts into a fluid narrative. Creating the sound is a very creative job and good sound designers can
bring the quality of a movie up to extraordinary new levels.
Before beginning work on the audio, be sure that you are completely finished
editing the picture. Timing between shots should be locked, digital effects
added, titles and transitions added, and the entire visual aspect of the movie
finished. Locking the picture is important so the audio engineers know what
sounds need to be created and mixed into the soundtrack. Reediting the visuals
of a movie will throw all the audio files out of sync and require additional work
to realign large portions of the movie.
Audio in a movie can be broken up into five different categories: the dialog, Foley, ambience,
sound effects, and music.
Track 1—the dialog track
Mike Farona works on
the audio of “Time and
Again” at the Neon
Cactus Studios.
When recording audio on set, record the dialog
with as little ambient sound as possible. This is
especially important when producing a film that
will be distributed internationally because the
dialog track is often laid onto the master tape
separately from the music and sound effects. This
allows distributors in each foreign country to
remove the English dialog track and record a new, translated track in the native
language of the audience. The cleaner the dialog track, the easier it is to work
If the dialog is poorly recorded on set, it is possible to use a technique called
ADR (automated dialog replacement) to rerecord an actor’s dialog in a studio
setting. To ADR a scene, an actor enters a sound booth, watches a monitor with
the final cut of the movie rolling, and listens to the original recording from the
set on a pair of headphones. The audio engineer will then cue up and repeatedly
play each line that needs to be rerecorded one sentence at a time. The actor
then recites the dialog to match the timing and emotional delivery of the original. Once the first line is recorded, is in sync, and is properly performed, the
actor can then move on to the next line until the problematic dialog has been
replaced. Once this process is finished, the audio engineer must EQ (equalize),
or change the tone of the recording and add reverb to match the tone of the
room in which the scene takes place. This process yields excellent audio quality,
but is very time consuming and expensive and sometimes still doesn’t match
the original audio recorded on location.
If you need to ADR problematic lines, be sure to ADR the entire scene. It
is very difficult, even with the best software, to match the tone of dialog
recorded in the studio with location audio.
ADR is a very expensive and time-consuming process. For low-budget
projects, it’s smarter to choose locations where the sound can be controlled to avoid the ADR process. Even though the director may have to
compromise his creative vision, at least the film won’t go over budget due
to unforeseen sound problems.
ADR is a very tricky process and should be done in a professional sound
studio with professional microphones. Avoid attempting ADR at home
with a home editing system and a cheap microphone because much of
Postproduction Audio CHAPTER 21
When we recorded the sound for Time and Again, we took great pains to make sure that
dialog was cleanly recorded on set, making the audio postproduction process a breeze.
The bedroom scene in Awanda’s trailer was a notable exception. When we shot
Awanda’s angle, the set was quiet and we captured her sound flawlessly. When it got
time to shoot Bobby’s angle, the skies opened up and we recorded every bit of a typical
Midwest thunderstorm over his lines.
Because I didn’t have the money or the time to ADR the scene in postproduction, we
took the sound of the rain falling on the roof that we recorded wild on set and laid it
under Awanda’s lines, making a continuous ambience throughout the scene. I then took
the scene to Mike Farona at Neon Cactus Studios and, using sophisticated noisereduction software, was able to practically eliminate the sound of the storm in the
background. If you listen closely to the scene, you’ll notice the actor’s dialog is a little
thin because the software had to remove a pretty wide range of sound frequencies to
eliminate the thunderstorm.
Even though we ran into some problems, the available technology helped me fix a scene
that could have been ruined.
the prosumer software doesn’t allow the
level of finessing required to match ADR’d
dialog properly into a scene.
Be aware that some actors are better at ADR
than others. I found that actors who are
musically inclined, especially drummers,
are better able to match sync than those
without a musical background. Less experienced actors can be more expensive
because most audio studios charge by the
Remember that if you need to ADR a scene,
you are replacing the original audio with
studio-recorded audio. As a result, sound
effects, footsteps, clothes rubbing, the handling of objects in a scene, and ambience, all need to be re-created and
laid under the new dialog, adding to the postproduction budget.
Track 2—the foley track
Foley is the sounds of an actor interacting with his environment and includes
footsteps, clothing rustling, doors opening and closing, and the handling of
props. Often these very quiet sounds are virtually unnoticeable by the audience,
but are critical in creating a realistic environment for the characters.
We used the sound
booth to record ADR
and voice-overs for
Time and Again.
Scenes that use the audio recorded on set can benefit from Foley to
sweeten sounds the microphone may not have picked up. Adding Foley sounds
can help punctuate critical moments and can be easily done in the editing
Foley is especially critical when a scene is ADR’d. Remember that ADR is
intended to replace audio that was recorded on the set, so in addition to the
dialog, all the Foley sounds must be rerecorded and mixed as well.
Foley is usually recorded at special audio studios where the Foley artists watch
the movie on a screen and use objects made of various materials, sizes, and
shapes to record the sounds needed in the scene. Each sound is usually recorded
separately and is then synced and mixed into the movie.
Foley sounds can be divided into several categories.
Moves is the sound of an actor’s clothing moving, rustling, and rubbing against
other clothing and objects. It is virtually inaudible but critical in making the
audio sound realistic. Foley artists use fabrics and materials similar to those of
the actor’s wardrobe and move with the actors on screen, recording the resulting
sounds and mixing them into the movie.
The foot track covers all the footsteps in the movie. Often, when dialog is rerecorded in ADR, it’s necessary to add the sound of footsteps back in, matching
the timing and pacing of each step. The Foley artist uses shoes similar to what
the actor wore on a small square of floor that matches the make of the actual
floor and mimics the movement, steps, and slides of the actor’s shoes. She then
mixes the foot track into the movie.
To record the foot track properly, try visiting a used clothing store and picking
out pairs of shoes that match the shoes worn by the actors in the movie. Then,
go to a flooring store and pick up a collection of wood, tile, marble, and stone
floor samples that match the type of floor in each scene. It’s also a good idea
to have gravel, sand, grass, and concrete as well, if the scene calls for it. Position
the mike two to three feet away from the floor sample, kneel on the floor with
a shoe in each hand, and watch the movement of the actors. Try to hit the floor
sample with the same rhythm and strength as the actors. Add reverb and EQ to
the foot track and mix it into the scene.
Specifics are everything else beyond footsteps and clothing movement. Remember that you don’t need to use the same object that appears on screen to create
the sound. Part of the fun of creating the specifics track is creatively finding
objects to mimic a similar sound.
Postproduction Audio CHAPTER 21
Examples of the specifics track include the following:
How the sound is created
Bicycle riding over dirt road
Rustle hand in a thick paper bag of cat food
Horses galloping
Clap two coconut shells together
Bones breaking
Snap and twist celery stalks
Crackling fire
Twisting cellophane
Walking in leaves
Crushing egg shells
Bird’s flapping wings
Pair of leather work gloves
Be organized before recording the specifics track. Make a list of the specific
sounds needed for each scene, then gather the necessary objects you need to
create the sound and record each sound effect separately so you can tweak them
and mix them together later.
Track 3—the ambience track
Ambience is the sound of the environment. It’s the sounds of waves, seagulls,
and wind if you’re on the beach; it’s the sounds of car horns, people talking,
brakes screeching, jackhammers, and radios playing if you’re in New York City;
and the sounds of copiers, phones ringing, background chatter, and music if
you’re in an office building. These ambience tracks add the final touch of
realism to a scene and can be recorded on set, added using prerecorded sounds,
or recorded anywhere after the fact in a similar location and laid down over the
entire scene.
Ambience also includes room tone. Room tone is the background noise of the
set you’re shooting on. Even though it may sound very quiet, there are still
signals being picked up from the microphone, whether they are sounds of the
environment or simply the sound of the equipment operating. You can hear
the difference the room tone makes by listening to a quiet clip both with and
Video Track 1
Clip 1 Video
Audio Track 1
Clip 1 Audio
Audio Track 2
Clip 2 Video
Clip 2 Audio
Clip 3 Video
Clip 3Audio
Ambience Track
Add the ambience track under the entire scene to help cover the cuts between clips.
Clip 4 Video
Clip 4 Audio
Clip 5 Video
Clip 5 Audio
without the audio. Room tone is used to help bridge gaps between lines of
dialog, in insert shots for which sound wasn’t recorded, or to cover or conceal
unwanted sounds.
One common way to record the ambience of a location is to record a few
minutes on set. At the end of the shooting day, before you wrap production,
ask everyone to stand still for a few minutes while the audio engineer records
the ambience, or room tone, for at least a minute.
It may be necessary to edit the scene together and add room tone under some
lines of dialog when there isn’t any. Remember that the audience is more likely
to notice a change in the ambience from shot to shot more so than they’ll notice
a consistent ambience track. Part of having room tone is so that it can be added
to quieter shots for consistency. Once the room tone sounds consistent, then
you can add the overall ambience such as people talking in the background of
a restaurant or elevator music over the speaker in a store.
When audio is recorded on set during a scene, the objective is to record
only dialogue . . . the ambience is put in afterward. Because the ambience
track is several minutes long, it will add cohesiveness to the scene, pulling
the edit together.
The objective is to mix the dialog and sounds of the actors interacting
with the environment all by itself on set. The native sounds of the environment are added in the editing room, where more control can be
exerted over these sounds.
After the dialog is properly mixed with the room tone and the background
sounds consistent, it’s time to add the actual ambience track to the scene. Most
ambience tracks can be pulled from sound effects CDs or even recorded on a
similar location. If I’m shooting in an office, I may visit an actual office and
record the ambience of the environment for a few minutes and then take that
recording and lay it under the entire scene. Or if I shot in a closed-down grocery
store, I may visit a grocery store later and record several minutes of the ambience to add under the entire scene.
Ambience is a great way to add production value to your movie. In the instance
of sci-fi movies, the sounds of a spaceship can make the cheapest cardboard
sets seem much more realistic to the viewer. Let the sound complement the
Another type of ambience is called walla. Walla is the indistinguishable murmuring of people in the background of a scene, for example, other patrons in
a restaurant. Designed to blend into the background, a good walla track is
recorded in such a way that a listener cannot pick out any one conversation,
allowing the principal actor’s dialog to be heard clearly.
High-quality sound effects libraries have several walla tracks, or if you’re on a
budget, you can record your own walla track with friends or in an actual environment that matches the sound of your scene.
Postproduction Audio CHAPTER 21
Track 4—the sound effects track
Sound effects are non-Foley sounds such as
explosions, gunfire, car crashes, and monster
noises. These can be collected from sound effects
CDs, downloaded from the Internet, or created
and recorded in the studio. Sound effects help to
establish key events in the film and establish the
Be wary of cheap sound effects CDs from record
stores or the Internet. They are often poorly
recorded and contain a lot of background noise,
which will make it difficult to edit in postproduction. The cleaner the recording, the better the
Sounds effects can be sweetened or enhanced using software plug-ins in popular
editing programs. Reverb, EQ, pitch shifting, speeding up or slowing down,
noise reduction, and compressing are all examples of filters that can be used to
help integrate a sound effect into the soundtrack. Pro Tools is one of the most
common audio-editing programs available, although editing programs like
Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere offer comparable plug-ins with slightly less
control and speed.
Programs like Pro Tools
and Digital Performer
offer a wide range of
tools to help you
deliver the best
possible audio.
Track 5—the music track
The music is the composed orchestral score in the movie. For more information
on composing music, go to the “Music” chapter.
When you are working in an editing program, I suggest creating a different time
line to create a premix of each sound category.
For example, one time line will contain only the
dialog; the second is for Foley, the third for ambience, the fourth for sound effects, and the fifth
for the music. This will not only help keep the
potentially thousands of audio clips organized
by category, but also help when it comes time to
mix down the final audio. Using this process may
even speed up your computer because large
numbers of audio and video clips in a single
project can slow down the system.
When you are finished editing and mixing each
sound category, open a new time line and import
the mixed-down stereo dialog, Foley, ambience,
sounds effects, and music tracks. You can then
Audio mixing board.
easily mix the tracks together to achieve the proper balance between them, all
while making sure the audio never hits 0 db.
1. When you are mixing the five tracks, dialog must ALWAYS be the predominate and loudest of all the tracks. Even in the loudest battle scene
in which music and sound effects drive the action, the dialog must always
rise above the music and effects so the audience doesn’t have to strain to
hear what the characters are saying.
2. When mixing the dialog track, make sure that all the dialog, from shouting to whispering, falls between −6 and −3 db. Even though this doesn’t
match how the spoken word sounds in real life, movie dialog is roughly
the same volume throughout so that the audience doesn’t have to constantly ride the volume with the remote control in hand.
3. Play the movie while watching the VU meters. Every time the audio clips,
or hits 0 db, use the rubber-band tool to isolate the part of the audio that
peaks, and reduce the volume so it doesn’t peak. You should be able to
play through the entire movie and never hit 0 db.
4. Try applying a light compressor to the entire dialog track to bring up the
quiet spots and crush the loud spots, making the dialog much more even.
In addition, a limiter prevents the audio from hitting 0 db by bouncing
the peaking audio away from 0 db, much like a giant spring. The harder
the audio approaches 0 db, the harder it’s pushed back down. Although
a slight limiter is useful, heavily limiting peaking dialog causes
5. Once the dialog is ready, it’s now time to choose which of the four
remaining audio tracks will be brought into the mix. A common mistake
that many novice filmmakers make is to muddy the soundtrack by bringing up the music, sound effects, ambience, and Foley so loud that they
become indistinguishable. Unlike real life, in which we hear hundreds of
different sounds all around us, movie audio is much more sparse and the
audio that is put into the film strategically focuses the audience on what
they should be watching in the frame. For example, let’s say we have a
scene on a busy New York city street where a woman is struck by a car
and our hero rushes up to save her. Before she is struck, we hear the
ambience of New York City, with the sounds of the cars passing by. We
don’t need to hear the Foley of her walking, or any substantial sound
effects, so at this moment, the ambience is brought up. As she crosses the
street, a single car horn blasts out at her. This horn must stand out from
the rest of the ambience because it is coming from the car that will soon
hit her, so we would bring up the sound effect of the horn over the ambience in the mix. Once the woman is struck by the car and our hero runs
to her aid, we bring the ambience down to make room in the mix for
our hero’s dialog as he tries to save her and the music score that’s fading
in. At this point, we don’t need the ambience of the city street. It’s already
been established and this moment in the scene is about our hero and the
woman, not the surrounding traffic.
Postproduction Audio CHAPTER 21
Mixing the sound effects, ambience, Foley, and
music is like a dance. In any given moment, two
tracks step forward while the other two are mixed
down so they don’t all compete with one another.
Balancing the ever-strong dialog track, this
approach to mixing yields clean, easy-to-listen-to
audio that will not distract the audience, but
draw it into the moment on the screen.
Once all the tracks are edited, add light compression and a limiter to the entire soundtrack and
be sure to listen to the audio on different speakers to make sure that the mix is clear and clean.
Audio in a movie can be categorized into
dialog, sound effects, Foley, ambience, and
music. Be careful not to mix them too loudly, but in each scene, choose
which of the five should take priority and make sure it stands above the
other four. Dialog should ALWAYS stand above sound design or music.
Make sure none of the audio elements exceed 0 db or the audio will peak
and distort. Be careful when mixing your sound so you leave enough
headroom for the louder scenes. The dialog, though, should be of the
same volume during the entire movie so the audience doesn’t have to
strain to hear lines during quiet moments.
If you’re mixing the audio tracks together, be sure to listen to the mix
through different speakers. Remember that some people will listen to your
movie on an expensive home theater system, and others will listen on a
small mono speaker 1970s fake wood-sided television with knobs to
change channels. The audio needs to sound good on every system. When
I produced Time and Again, I edited most of the movie on my Apple Final
Cut Pro system and then took the final mix to a nearby audio studio to
clean up several scenes. We listened to the mix on both $100,000 speakers
and a pair of $20 speakers from the local electronics store. When the mix
sounded good on each set of speakers, I knew we had found the correct
When a foreign distributor picks up a movie, they often require a DigiBeta or
HD master tape with four tracks. Tracks 1 and 2 contain the stereo final mix of
the movie audio, and tracks 3 and 4 contain a stereo mix of the music and
effects, or M&E tracks.
M&E tracks are a complete mix of the movie audio minus the dialog, so that
foreign countries can dub in the dialog in their native language. Keeping the
various audio tracks separate makes it easy to generate an M&E track for
Mix the audio in a
properly designed
sound studio. The
acoustics are
specifically designed so
you can hear the
broadest range of
frequencies in as quiet
a space as possible.
If you’re planning on submitting your movie for distribution, be sure to keep
the tracks separate during audio postproduction. If you don’t, the distributor
will require separate tracks and you will have to go back into the studio to remix
the audio, racking up a bill for thousands of dollars in the process.
I had approached Mike Farona at the Neon Cactus Studios almost three years earlier for
another film I had directed called Clone. We met at a party one night in Cleveland and
began talking about my business as a filmmaker and Mike’s business as a recording
engineer of bands and live events. As we were both interested in getting into movie
audio, we began to talk about my need for an audio studio to provide postproduction
services for the film.
After meeting with Mike several times, I checked out the studio and he watched the
rough cut of Clone, and we decided to work together. The arrangement was that Mike
would do all audio postproduction services for free just for the experience of working on
a movie. The result was a two-year collaboration that resulted in a film that won
numerous international awards for artistic and technical achievement.
When I began working on Time and Again, I wanted to work with Mike again, but
decided to perform the bulk of the audio work myself so as not to take advantage of his
time and talents. Using Apple’s Final Cut Pro, I was able to edit the dialog, sound
effects, and music together into a 95% complete mix. I then converted the audio files to
OMF and took them to Mike, where he was able to perform light noise reduction, clean
up some problem scenes, and master the final audio mix. Within eight hours, the audio
was finished and ready to go. We burned the final mix to a 48-kHz 24-bit stereo AIFF file
and I took it to my Final Cut Pro system and laid it back into the movie. He agreed to do
the work for free and, again, added a few more awards that we won for Time and Again
to his shelf.
Go into the studio and watch
Mike Farona mix the audio for
a feature film! Mike walks you
through every step of the process from ADR to foley to the
final mix.
Check out the Mixing the Audio
module at www.powerfilmmaking.com.
i. View the movie with the
composer and discuss
theme, tone, and feel of
the story.
iii. Choose an instrument palette for
the score.
v. Spot the music by
determining starting
and stopping points
for each piece of
music throughout
the movie.
viii. Export the score
and deliver to the
sound mixer.
ii. Listen to a variety of
music to reference
appropriate tones
and styles.
iv. Write and tweak a
sample piece of music
until satisfied with the
theme, instrumentation,
and phrasing.
vi. The composer
scores the movie.
vii. Once finished, make
any changes per the
director’s request.
Music is an important component of a movie and can help craft the feel and
emotion of each scene. Considered the final dramatic player, the music is added
after all the other dramatic elements, the acting, cinematography, sound design,
and visual effects, have been completed. Music is also one of the most misunderstood and misused elements of the production, as first-time filmmakers will
piecemeal music tracks without properly integrating them into the story.
Music needs to be directed in much the same way an actor does. The tempo,
rhythm, timing, and phrasing of a musical score can be specifically written to
bring out an emotion or feeling, filling in the last piece of the dramatic
When I talk about directing the dramatic potential of a scene, I liken it to a pie
that the director has to cut into pieces and divvy up among the departments.
The actors get a piece, the cinematographer gets a piece, the sound designers
get a piece; essentially, every department receives a piece. The size of the piece
is entirely dependent on what the scene calls for. The final piece of the pie is
reserved for the music, and for the music to be just right, it needs to be crafted
so that it perfectly completes the drama and fits with the rest of the dramatic
Music can be added to a movie from any one of several sources. The music can
be originally composed for the movie, it can be published and copyrighted
material that has been cleared by the copyright owner for use in the movie, or
it can be stock music. Each type of music has its own benefits and drawbacks,
from creative control to cost.
Stock music: There are companies that produce entire music libraries and
license their unrestricted use to you when you purchase the library. You can use
the music in any project you wish, from commercials to trailers to feature films,
even if the project generates a profit. Once you buy the library, it is yours to use
as if it were your own.
Music loops: Popular software programs such as Apple Soundtrack come with
thousands of simple musical loops, melodies, and rhythms that you can
combine in an almost infinite number of combinations to create an original
piece of music. Much like buying stock music, you have the right to use the
music in any production you wish, even if it generates a profit.
Original music: Local bands or artists who haven’t been signed to a record label
are usually willing to give you the rights to use their music in your film. It’s free
promotion for them and doesn’t cost you anything. You can find local bands
online or in any club that features local artists. Make sure that the CD recording
is studio quality.
Creating original music
can be very time
consuming, but the
result is a musical
experience that evokes
the exact emotions a
filmmaker wants from
an audience.
Composer: The best way to score your film is to have a composer write an
original score specifically for the movie. While this a time-consuming process,
the resulting music will fit exactly what the movie needs. Composers will often
work for free if they feel that the movie will be a viable launching pad for their
career. Composers can be found in collegiate music programs, in orchestras, on
the Internet, and at churches. The best part is that you and your composer own
the rights to the music at the end of the project.
Be aware of how music can change the overall
theme of a scene. Although a particular mood
may not be conveyed through the actors’ performances, music can help add the underlying
emotion, giving the scene its emotion. Play with
different styles and emotions of music and see
how it will give the scene a different look and
There are a variety of companies that produce
original music that give you the unrestricted
rights to use this music in any production you like. You purchase the license to
the music by buying the libraries that contain dozens of songs in dozens of
styles, from classical and rock to action/adventure and jazz.
There are a number of benefits and drawbacks to working with stock music.
It’s easy to listen through the music library to find the perfect song for
your movie, and when you find it, you know you already have permission
to use it.
The music is finished and ready to be edited into the soundtrack.
Provided you legally purchased the library, you have the right to copy,
distribute, exhibit, and profit from any production that has stock music.
Many stock music libraries feature rich, orchestral sounds that are perfect
for a movie soundtrack.
They are quick to work with and are of great help in a time crunch.
The music cannot be edited for timing or feel, although you can edit the
music to shorten or lengthen it by slicing the sound file between verses
or refrains or at the bridge.
You are stuck with the melody and instrumentation of the music, which
makes it difficult to adopt a musical theme for your movie. Most
movies have a theme that runs throughout the movie as well as individual
themes for the individual characters. The musical arc follows the characters along the story, changing as the characters change. With stock music,
you only have one or two pieces of music with similar instrumentation
and melody, making it difficult to maintain a recurring theme throughout
the story.
The music you use is not unique to your project. Because anyone can own
a stock music library, your movie music may appear in anything from car
commercials to industrial projects.
Ultimately, stock music libraries are terrific for television and radio commercials, industrial projects, and even short-form narratives for which you need
music quickly and it doesn’t need to fit to the action on the screen. If you’re
working on a feature film, I would recommend staying away from stock music,
as the lack of flexibility may hurt your movie more than help it.
Check out some of these stock music libraries:
Digital Juice (www.digitaljuice.com)—They make a project called BackTraxx.
It’s a good library for the price and affords a wide selection of musical tracks.
615 music (www.615music.com)—This company offers orchestral stock music
that is used in Hollywood movies and television series alike.
For a complete list of stock music companies, visit www.powerfilmmaking.com
and check out the Music modules.
Even though I worked with a composer who wrote an original score for Time and Again, I
still used stock music in a number of scenes. The diner is one example, in which the
music playing over the radio in the background came from a stock library I bought from
Digital Juice. I needed an upbeat 1950s rock-and-roll tune but didn’t need it to change
with the changing drama of the scene, so I ran it though a high-pass filter to make it
sound a little tinny and then compressed it so it wouldn’t detract from the dialog and
main audio. The result was a great piece of music that sounded like it came from the
radio. The even better part is that I had the rights to use it!
If you like the soundtrack written by a Hollywood composer, or a popular artist,
you can secure the rights by contacting the publisher (the publisher is always
named on the CD case). Understand that the cost of leasing the rights to the
song is dependent on the nature of your project, what the distribution plan is,
how many copies of you movie will be distributed, and what the exhibition
format will be (film festivals, theatrical, DVD release, foreign or domestic).
These licenses are often very expensive, sometimes costing tens of thousands of
Most music rights are handled through the two following organizations:
ASCAP: www.ascap.com
BMI: www.bmi.com
Any work produced after 1920 is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced in any
way without expressed written permission from the author, publisher, and
copyright holder. This means you cannot add your favorite artist’s music to your
movie, even if it’s ten seconds of a song, or use classical music or use an existing
movie soundtrack.
Music written and performed before 1920 is in the public domain and can be
used in your movie without any legal consequence. It’s a difficult and timeconsuming process to determine whether a composition is in the public domain,
but visiting the Library of Congress is a great way to start.
When looking for works that are in the public domain, be careful of the
Classical music—Although the written piece itself may be in the public
domain, the performance of it may be copyrighted and cannot be used
without permission of the musicians that performed it. If you have the
written music, you can always perform the piece yourself or hire a musician to perform it for you under contract. You then become the owner of
the performance and have the right to incorporate it in your movie. For
example, Chopin’s Nocturne No. 2 is in the public domain provided you
perform it yourself or contract a pianist to play it. But using a recent
recording by the Cleveland Orchestra would be illegal unless you secure
permission from the orchestra and from the pianist who played it.
Pop music—Permission must be secured from the publisher to use any
portion of the music in a film or video production. A majority of music
licensing is handled through ASCAP and BMI.
On a cautionary note, if your movie is picked up by a major film festival or a
distributor, you will be required to show proof that you’ve obtained the necessary permission for all music, or the festival or distributor will refuse to exhibit
your movie.
Do not use music in your movie without securing the rights from the copyright holder.
Distributors will require you to provide proof that you have obtained the rights to a
copyrighted piece of music before accepting your project. Many film festivals, especially
the larger festivals, may also require similar proof. Remember that once you pick up a
camera and begin to shoot, you are a producer who is making content. If you are looking
to make a living as a filmmaker, you will be paying your bills with the money your movies
and creative content make. People who steal movies and music are not only hurting the
industry, they are also hurting you. One of the reasons the record industry has stopped
paying for the development of new artists is because there’s no money left to pay for
new artists. Piracy of music and movies has seriously cut into the development funds
that used to allow large media companies to discover and develop new talent like you!
Support the industry you’re trying to work in. Support yourself and protect your future.
Don’t encourage piracy of movies or music.
A new alternative to working with stock music is working with loop-based
music creation software. Programs like Apple Soundtrack, Adobe Soundbooth,
and Sony ACID give you unlimited flexibility to create original music by providing thousands of sound loops. A loop is a simple recording of a beat, a rhythm,
or a melody from hundreds of instruments that you can piece together to make
a complete piece of music. These programs give you the freedom to change the
tempo, pitch, and phrasing of the music by using complex algorithms to
conform each recorded loop to your project settings.
Much like stock music, purchasing the software gives you the rights to use the
music you write in any production you want, even if it makes a profit. Many of
the programs even allow you to record your own instruments to mix into the
score. You can even import the QuickTime version of your movie into Apple
Soundtrack Pro so you can watch the movie while you score, ensuring that the
score matches the pacing of the movie.
Although loop-based music creation software affords filmmakers a wide rage of
options and creative flexibility, you’re still limited to working with prerecorded
loops. One excellent option is to lay down the basic percussion and rhythm
tracks and then record live instrumentalists playing an original melody. By using
a combination of techniques, it’s possible to make a beautiful, original score
that you have the rights to use in your movie.
Working with a composer is a rewarding and challenging task. An artist in his
own right, the composer must write each piece of music so that it meets the
director’s vision, serves the emotional subtext of the scene, and yet allows him
to explore his own musical creativity.
Finding a composer
Finding a composer is easy; however, finding a composer with a compatible
style, musical taste, and personality and the time to dedicate to your project can
be difficult. There are plenty of ways to find a qualified composer in your
Internet: With the advent of craigslist.org, community bulletin boards,
and Google, searching the net will yield dozens of composers, small
orchestras, and music aficionados in your area. If you live near a major
city, I would recommend posting a listing on craigslist.org. The listing is
free and you’ll be surprised how many responses you’ll receive.
Churches: Many exceptionally talented musicians play at local churches
every Sunday. Feel free to approach them after a service or call them
during the week to discuss your project. I met my composer, Chris First,
through a friend who attended a church Chris played at.
Universities: Local universities often have music programs. Call the dean
of the music program and ask to speak with a professor who might be
able to refer talented students to you. If you live near Los Angeles or New
York, several universities offer music courses specifically for writing movie music. Students will
jump at the chance to have their work attached
to a movie, even if it is independent.
Once you have a list of potential composers, take
the time to meet and get to know them before
deciding to work with them. Although their
musical ability is important, it’s even more
important to find a composer with whom you
feel comfortable working. Make sure the composer understands your vision, is excited about
the project, and is willing to try new approaches
if the current approach isn’t working. The rela-
tionship between a filmmaker and a composer is a very special one, so be sure
you choose the right person.
When working with the composer, remember that she is an artist as well and
enjoys a certain creative freedom. As a director, paint the picture of what you
want the music to accomplish and then allow the composer to do her job.
Overdirecting the composer is a surefire way to limit the quality of the resulting
Working with a composer
Now that your movie has been locked and the dialog and sound effects are in
place, it’s time to begin working with the composer. It’s important to have as
complete an audio track as possible so that the composer understands what is
happening in each scene and how to write the music so it works in conjunction
with the existing sound elements.
The overview: Sit down with the composer and watch the movie from
beginning to end a few times and talk about the story, the character arcs,
and the plot points to give him a solid idea of what the movie is about.
Even thought the visuals are complete and the audio track is finished,
you’ll still be watching an incomplete film. Because the missing music will
heavily influence the emotional tone of the story, it’s critical for the director and composer to be perfectly clear about what the story is about. Talk
about why you felt inspired to tell this story, what emotions you want it
to stir up in the audience, and what the theme is. Understanding these
intangibles is the first step in composing an appropriate score.
Musical tone: Discuss how you envision the music’s role in the movie as
if the music were a character. What emotional support should it provide,
how should it support the characters, and how much should it lead each
scene? It doesn’t matter if you understand music or not. As a director, you
should talk about what the music should do emotionally in each and
every scene. Give the composer a “motivation” for the music as much as
you’d give each actor a motivation for his character. For example, in Time
and Again, I talked with Composer F. William Croce about the scene in
which Bobby Jones is walking through the wheat field during the opening
title sequence. Even though the visuals establish a warm sunny day, I
needed the music to imply that something was wrong by having an
ominous, almost disconcerting, feel. Regardless of what the instrumentation is, the end result needed to be unsettling.
Choose the instruments: After you discuss the overall feel of the music,
think about the types of instruments you hear in the score. Orchestral
instruments or synth sounds have an array of different tones and will
heavily influence the sound of the score. Do you hear heavy percussion,
light woodwinds, or emotional strings? Are the instruments native to a
certain region of the world, or do you hear a traditional orchestra? I often
spend hours with my composer listening to instruments from around the
world, either in her sample library or in other pieces of music, to find the
perfect “voice” for the movie. The job of writing the first piece of music
becomes much easier once you’ve selected your musical palette.
Once the composer and director share a common vision for the music, how it
should sound, and what it needs to accomplish, it’s time to begin planning the
details of the score.
Spotting the film
An important step in the composing process is spotting the film with the composer. Spotting involves going through the movie and writing down when, to
the frame, each piece of music needs to start and stop and then discussing what
the music needs to accomplish during that time. At the end of the spotting
session, the composer will know how much music is needed, where it goes, and
what style of music is required.
I often sit down in front of my editing system and use the timecode as a reference as we scrub through the movie. The composer usually has a sheet of paper
and I literally give him the starting and stopping timecodes for each segment
that needs music. Sometimes the music needs to be only a few seconds and
other times, the score will be seven or eight minutes long. For each piece of
music, we discuss how it needs to fit into the movie, how it will carry the
For example:
01:01:34:12 to 01:02:07:25—Bobby Jones escapes from prison. Driving percussion,
action, sense of urgency and fear. Heavy on drums, but not too brassy. Should crescendo
to the point at which the vortex opens.
01:02:07:25 to 01:03:12:18—Bobby Jones exits vortex and enters field. Music
suddenly shifts. Ominous, creepy. Something’s wrong. Try synth strings and unusual
sounds. Not too “in your face.” Let music work in the background and support the
By the end of the spotting session, you will have a list of the number of songs
that need to be written for the movie so the composer can go off and begin
Be as clear and concise as possible about the starting and stopping points
of each piece of music when talking to the composer. Tell her WHY the
music is starting and stopping and what type of emotional feel you want
the music to invoke. Explaining WHAT you want the music to do is sometimes better than trying to explain specifically what you want it to sound
Be careful not to overscore the movie. Using too much music will hurt
the movie by overdramatizing the action. Use music sparingly and carefully. Music in the right place will help a scene soar, but overscoring will
draw the audience’s attention away from the scene itself to the music,
defeating its purpose.
Sample scores
For larger, more complicated projects, I like to have the composer write a series
of sample pieces that use different instrumentation and phrasing so we can find
the right sound before beginning the actual work on the scene. Problems arise
when a composer begins scoring a film and the results aren’t what the director
is looking for. This can be avoided by writing test scores before the actual scene
work begins. My composer Chris First and I find this to be a very liberating
process that allows us to try out a number of ideas, sounds, and styles before
committing to using any one of them for the film.
Temp tracks
If there are two words that strike fear into the hearts of composers, they are
“temp track.” A temp track is a musical track the director edits into the movie
using a preexisting movie score or classical music. Directors like temp tracks
because it helps them see how music affects the movie in the editing room. The
problem with a temp track is that the director often falls in love with it and
asks the composer to replicate it—a difficult and very uncreative job. Most
composers don’t have the resources to re-create popular songs like Carmina
Burana or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, often favorite choices for many
Composers would prefer that you leave all music out of the movie and allow
them the creative freedom to write a score that fits the film. It’s all right to listen
to other music to get ideas or to share a feel you like, but don’t lay it into the
movie, fall in love with it, and expect the composer to write something
Most Hollywood movies employ orchestras and choirs comprising musical
freelancers who are able to read the composer’s
music on their first read-through. These musicians and the recording facilities often cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, placing them
well outside the financial reach of most independent filmmakers.
Fortunately, today’s technologies give filmmakers access to original orchestral music through
MIDI-based computer systems.
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a
computer interface that allows a composer to
map various sounds, both prerecorded and digi-
MIDI information
records the duration,
attack, and decay of
each note hit on the
keyboard. Then, by
mapping a prerecorded
sound to that key, the
composer has an
unlimited array of
sounds at his disposal.
tally created in a computer, to individual keys on
a keyboard. MIDI is the ideal alternative, providing realistic orchestral performances with less
With a MIDI system, the composer can buy
sound packages ranging from orchestral instruments to synth sounds to sound effects. Once
loaded into the computer, he can program a
certain sound set to his keyboard so, for example,
if he were to hit a C key, it would play a recording
of a violin playing a C note or a trumpet playing
a C note. The sounds samples are also touch
sensitive, so the harder a keyboard key is pressed,
the stronger the attack on the instrument.
Instruments can be layered, much like audio tracks in Final Cut Pro, to build a
massive orchestra or an array of sounds. Because it’s nonlinear, any instrument
can be changed at any time, tempos can be changed and pitch raised or lowered
to meet the demands of the movie. MIDI is the best way to produce outstanding
music for a fraction of the cost of recording it live.
In Time and Again, Fred Croce purchased several orchestral samples he used for
the score. The result is a lavish score made up of real instruments, all mapped
to the keys on the keyboard. Like Fred, most composers have their own composing suite and sound samples.
One added benefit of working with MIDI is the ability to load and sync the
movie into the recording program. By importing the movie, the composer can
write the music to frame accuracy.
Once the composer has finished writing the score and all changes have been
made, it’s best to output each piece of music separately as an AIFF file. If you’re
working in DV or HDV, output the files in stereo, 16-bit, 48 kHz. For HD
movies, you can output stereo, 24-bit, 48 kHz. You can then either import the
music into your editing program to mix into the final movie or give it to an
audio studio so they can mix them together.
It may be necessary to add a compressor and some EQ to the music so it doesn’t
peak the levels. Refer to the instruction manual of your editing software for
directions on how to do this.
When the composer scores the movie, she should not adjust the volume
of the music when scoring, but rather give the score to the audio engineer
to mix it into the movie.
A common problem in independent films is a music track that is too loud
and overwhelms the dialog. Pull the music back in the final audio mix so
that the dialog can be prominently heard.
You will need a movie and a variety of music.
Activity 1
Pick your favorite movie and turn down the sound completely. Using different
styles of music, classical, popular, or even other movie soundtracks, how can
you change the mood of the scene?
Can you make a normally happy scene seem scary?
Can you diminish the intensity of an action scene by using a waltz?
How does the music change the mood and feeling of the scene?
Does it matter if classical or pop music is used?
If the scene was a simple conversation with no emotional overtones, how
does the music add emotion to the scene?
Activity 2
Listen to a movie and how the music is used to accentuate the action on the
screen, when the music is used, and when the director chooses not to use music.
Pay attention to the instruments used and how intense or sparse the score is.
Watch as award-winning composer Chris First walks you
through the process of scoring
a scene from a movie. From
choosing the instruments to
building a MIDI system, Chris
reveals his secrets in the Scoring
a Scene module at www.powerfilmmaking.com.
i. Assemble press releases that detail
the production, screening or release
information, production stories, cast
and crew bios, and a story synopsis.
iii. Find a reputable sales
agent who can represent
your movie to distributors.
ii. Contact the local media and arrange
interviews for magazines, radio, and
television stations. Generate a buzz
around your project.
iv. Apply to film festivals with
the help of the sales agent.
v. Attend film festivals and market
yourself and your movie.
vii. Negotiate the final distribution
deal with distribution companies.
vi. Schedule special screenings in
a local theatre or screening room
for distribution companies.
viii. Prepare all deliverables
for the distributor.
Distribution is the duplication, advertising, and promotion of a film to theatrical, television, or home video markets, both domestically and internationally.
Securing foreign distribution is increasingly important due to the escalating
worldwide demand for movies. Many distributors seek out new product at film
festivals and film markets in search of quality films, in some cases, offering
substantial advances.
Every filmmaker dreams of having his film premiere to a sold-out theater of
excited, supportive moviegoers, but the reality is that very few actually get this
opportunity. Distribution is a complicated and somewhat mysterious part of
the process that most filmmakers seem to ignore until it’s too late.
The process of making a movie is the same as the process of manufacturing any
other product. Research the market, the audience, and what the distributors are
looking for before you undertake a production. Most filmmakers spend massive
sums of money and time on a movie only to discover that there’s no market
for it.
Smart moviemaking means figuring out a marketing and distribution plan
before you begin preproduction.
Call and set up meetings with domestic and foreign distributors and ask
to talk to a sales rep.
䊊 Ask them what genres are selling and what genres they feel will be hot
in a year. The horror genre is the best seller in the foreign market, is
cheap to produce, and doesn’t require big name actors in the cast.
䊊 Find out which actors you should approach to help increase the marketability of the movie. Which actors are bringing in the largest sales of
independent movies in the foreign market?
䊊 Find out what format is the best. Do they prefer 35 mm film, or is an
HD format acceptable?
䊊 What is the ideal length for the movie?
UNIT 5 Distribution
What marketing materials should you begin to collect during production to help in the distribution of the movie?
What are the average sales prices for the type of movie you’re making?
This will help as you calculate the budget and determine how much
money you should spend.
Many filmmakers consider it a sellout to design a film around what distributors are
looking for, rather than letting the movie stand on its own merits. Before you begin a
production, you need to make a very important decision as to whether you want to make
a commercial film or a film for art’s sake. If you want to make a commercial film that gets
distribution and makes a profit, you have to produce a movie that is a viable product in
the world market. If distribution is of no interest to you and you don’t care if anyone sees
your movie, these guidelines do not apply to you.
The rules of producing and selling a movie are a lot like the rules governing the game of
basketball. Each player must acknowledge and understand the parameters, the size of
the court, the height and diameter of the hoop, the number of players on each side, and
the time restrictions for an organized game to take place. Whereas some may find these
rules limiting, many talented athletes have excelled at the game, even when playing
within the guidelines. The same philosophy applies to the production of a movie, in that
filmmakers must follow the distributor’s strict guidelines governing the content, format,
casting, and genre for the film to be commercially viable. Using a little creativity and
talent, filmmakers can certainly succeed within a distributor’s rules. Remember that the
film industry is a business designed to make a product that sells and makes a profit.
So what are distributors looking for and how does a movie become a commercially viable
Who’s in it? The first question most distributors will want to know is what name
actors are in the film. Recognizable names help sell the film to foreign distributors
and command larger profits. Unfortunately, the stature of the actors involved
overshadows practically every other aspect of the movie. If you want to sell a film
and make good money, hire name actors.
What is the genre? Horror and action films sell best in foreign territories because
they’re not overly reliant on translated dialog. These genres have a longer shelf life
and are universally top-sellers in the global market.
How long is it? Most movies need to be between 90 and 100 minutes long. If you’re
producing a low-budget movie, keep the length to as close to 90 minutes as possible
to stretch the budget as far as possible.
Production value: Quality cinematography, special effects, and production design
are all important factors in helping sell a movie. Regardless of how low the budget
it, all that matters is that the film looks expensive.
The buzz: Movies with a bigger buzz tend to fetch higher dollar amounts. Be sure
to drum up as much publicity as you can to attract distributors.
Begin the marketing of the movie before you start production.
䊊 Build a web site that teases the audience and builds interest in the
project. Post trailers and behind-the-scenes photos to build a buzz so
that when the movie is finished, people will already be familiar with
and anxious to see the film.
䊊 Take lots of publicity and behind-the-scenes photos during production.
The distributors will ask for these to help promote the movie. They are
also helpful to distribute to newspapers and magazines when critics
write articles about the movie.
䊊 Get as much media coverage as possible during production.
Newspaper clippings, television news stories, and magazine articles are
all powerful ways of building a buzz around the film and attracting
Foreign distribution is the licensing of the film to theatrical, home video,
and television buyers in over 65 countries. Most independent movies make
more money in the overseas market than in the Unites States, which is why
careful planning and casting are critical in making a film with the broadest
Most independent movies are picked up by a foreign sales company that serves
as a middleman, brokering deals with individual distribution companies in
each country. The foreign sales company does not replicate or distribute the
movie itself, but markets the film to television stations, home video distributors,
and theaters in foreign countries. The distributors in each country will pay a flat
rate to the foreign sales company for the exclusive right to sell the film in that
country, keeping the resulting sales and subsequent profits for themselves. The
more recognizable the names and the more popular the genre, the higher that
Foreign sales companies will sell films to international distributors at film
markets. Held six times a year, these markets are high-profile events that may
occur during notable film festivals. Using advertising, posters, and movie trailers, the distributors lure potential international buyers in an effort to showcase
and sell off their library of films. Buyers include home video distributors, theatrical exhibitors, and television station owners looking to purchase programming for their companies.
There are six major film markets:
1. American Film Market (AFM) is held every November in Santa Monica,
California, for eight days. Nearly 300 buyers attend the hotel-based
market and can screen films on sale at local theaters.
2. Cannes Film Market occurs in May in Cannes, France, during the Cannes
Film Festival. The festival is a showcase for screening films and the market
is a venue for selling films.
UNIT 5 Distribution
3. MIFED Market occurs each October in Milan, Italy.
4. MIPCOM takes place in October in Cannes, France, and is mostly focused
on television productions such as series and made-for-television
5. European Film Market occurs in Berlin, Germany in February and runs
in tandem with the Berlin Film Festival.
6. Hong Kong International Film & TV Market (FILMART) takes place in
March and provides a sales opportunity for film and television
Distributors will pay the costs of traveling and representing the film at these
markets, although market costs and additional marketing expenses such as
posters, trailers, and press kits will be taken out of the gross revenues generated
by the movie.
If the movie is shot on 35 mm film, or the distributor chooses to transfer
the movie to 35 mm film, the distributor may set up a screening at a nearby
theater for potential buyers. Transferring a 90-minute digital movie to 35 mm
film will cost on average $30,000–$90,000, depending on the lab and the
quality of the transfer. This may be a necessary move to sell the theatrical rights
to a movie.
Foreign sales companies usually require a filmmaker to assign them the rights
to sell the film to all foreign (meaning outside North America) territories in all
theatrical, home video, and television media.
Do not try to market a film to foreign territories yourself. Part of the job
of a foreign sales company is to collect the monies due to them from
individual buyers. The larger the foreign sales company, the easier it is to
leverage their position to make sure each distributor pays.
The foreign sales company will also make sure that the movie is sent in
the proper format and within proper technical specification as required
by each distributor.
The foreign sales rep will represent and pay for the up-front costs of marketing and promoting the movie, although these costs will be deducted
from your movie’s gross income.
Domestic distribution is the licensing of the film to theatrical, home video,
and television buyers in North America (United States, Canada, and Mexico).
Unlike foreign distributors, domestic distributors will create the product,
the artwork, and the marketing materials; replicate the product; and broker the
distribution deals with stores in North America. Domestic distributors
often have connections with large retail stores, video rental stores, and
online stores and will push to sell large quantities of the movie through these
For a complete list of foreign distributors, please consult the Hollywood distributors
directory from the Hollywood Creative Directory (www.hcdonline.com).
Alliance Atlantis
121 Bloor Street East, Suite 1500, Toronto, ON, Canada M4W 3M5
(416) 967–1174; www.allianceatlantis.com
Crystal Sky Worldwide Sales
1901 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 605, Los Angeles, CA 90067
(310) 843–0223
Curb Entertainment
3907 W. Alameda Avenue, Burbank, CA 91505
(818) 843–8580; www.curbfilm.com
Film Artists Network
P.O. Box 93032, Hollywood, CA 90093
(818) 344–0569; www.filmartistsnetwork.com
Fries Film Group
22817 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 909, Woodland Hills, CA 90093
(818) 888–3052; www.friesfilms.com
Miramax International
99 Hudson Street, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10013
(212) 219–4100; www.miramax.com
New Concorde International
11600 San Vicente Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90049
(310) 820–6733; www.newconcorde.com
New Line International
116 N. Robertson Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 854–8511; www.newline.com
Nu Image–Millennium Films
6423 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 388–6900
Show Case Entertainment
Warner Center, 21800 Oxnard Street, Suite 150, Woodland Hills, CA 91367
(818) 715–7005; www.showcaseentertainment.com
UNIT 5 Distribution
Distributors specialize in one or more markets, be they theatrical, television,
direct-to-DVD, or video-on-demand. The salability of your film and profit-generating potential will often dictate how much of a financial risk a distributor is
willing to accept. Given that the distributor will pay the high costs of advertising
and replication up front and will see a return only on the gross revenues makes
many distributors choose the movies they purchase carefully. Subsequently,
only those movies that have the commercial appeal will be considered for larger
The primary markets throughout the world include the following:
Theatrical release: The film is released in theaters in the United States and in
foreign territories. Independent films are rarely picked up for mainstream
release, as screen availability is already extremely competitive among Hollywood films. Most independent films are released in small art-house theaters to
small audiences who enjoy nonmainstream movies.
Home video: The most likely distribution outlet for low-budget, independent
films, home video and DVD distributors sell the movie to video sales and rental
Television: A sale to a television station or cable outlet can gross from $10,000
to $750,000 for the television rights of a film. Television sales can be divided
up into broadcast, cable, pay-per-view, video-on-demand, satellite, and closedcircuit television (airplane screenings).
Attracting the attention and interest of a distributor is like trying to sell a book
idea to a publisher. It’s critical for the distributor to understand the value of the
product and see a potential market for the film before agreeing to distribute it.
Make a poster for the movie. Distributors who respond
favorably to a poster are much more likely to view and consider
purchasing a film. The poster should excite and engage the reader
by painting an accurate picture of the tone and style of the
movie. Consider hiring a graphic designer to design the movie
poster professionally and have a small number printed at a local
Produce a trailer of the film. Distributors handle hundreds of
films every year. Although they don’t have time to watch every
film, they can be enticed to do so after watching an engaging
movie trailer. Editing a two-minute promotional trailer that
contains the movie’s best acting, dramatic, and action-based
moments set to exciting music can generate excitement around
the project. Be sure to include any recognizable actors, effects
sequences, and any other shots that could help push a sale.
For a complete list of domestic distributors, please consult the Hollywood distributors
directory from the Hollywood Creative Directory (www.hcdonline.com).
1000 Flower Street, Glendale, CA 91201
(818) 695–5000; www.dreamworks.com
MGM (Metro Goldwyn Mayer)
2500 Broadway Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 449–3000; www.mgm.com
Miramax Films
375 Greenwich Street, New York, NY 10013
(212) 941–3800; www.miramax.com
New Line Cinema
116 N. Robertson Boulevard; Suite 200, Los Angeles, Ca 90048
(310) 854–5811; www.newline.com
Paramount Pictures
555 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 956–5000; www.paramount.com
Sony Pictures Entertainment
10202 W. Washington Boulevard; Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 244–4000; www.sony.com
Twentieth Century Fox
10201 W. Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90035
(310) 369–1000; www.fox.com
Universal Studios
100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608
(818) 777–1000; www.universalstudios.com
Warner Brothers
4000 Warner Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91522
(818) 954–6000; www.warnerbros.com
The Walt Disney Company
55 S. Buena Vista Street, Burbank, CA 91521
(818) 560–1000; www.disney.com
UNIT 5 Distribution
Hire a sales representative. With the complexity of the distribution process, hire a reputable
sales rep who, for 10% of the gross revenue,
will negotiate with distributors on your behalf,
arrange festival screenings, assemble press kits,
implement marketing efforts, set up private
screenings with distributors, and try to secure
the best distribution contract possible.
■ Submit your film. Try sending the film, trailer,
press kit, and a cover letter to a distributor and
ask them to review the movie. Be sure to send
a thank you note and follow up with any questions they may have.
■ Enter the film into festivals. The easiest way
to get your movie in front of distribution companies is to screen at major film festivals. Distributors often attend top-tier festivals looking
for projects to acquire. Major film festivals
receive thousands of entries each year for only
a couple of dozen slots, so take the time to
assemble the highest quality submission materials to help increase your chances.
■ Get positive reviews! If audiences and critics
like the movie, distributors are more likely to
view the film. Positive word-of-mouth, critical
reviews printed in newspapers and online, and
news coverage of your project are all outstanding ways to attract distributors’ attention.
Present the movie to distribution companies once it is finished. Avoid
circulating rough cuts, works in progress, and unproduced concepts.
Unless you already have a proven track record, unfinished works may
actually hurt you by wasting the one chance you had to impress a distributor. Always present your movie in its most polished form.
Arrange private screenings in New York and Los Angeles, where most
distributors are based. Renting a screening room can cost around $500–
$1000 per showing, but you can help manage the screening by pitching
the film before and after it runs, filling the screening with your friends
and supporters of the movie to increase the excitement for distributors,
and talking to distributors in person.
Hire a good entertainment attorney who can read through and help
negotiate the distribution contract. Distribution contracts can be long,
complicated documents that, if unchecked, can provide loopholes for the
distributor to write off profits so you may never see a dime, regardless of
the number of copies they sell of your movie.
Begin assembling and organizing distribution materials during preproduction. On-set pictures and copyright notices are easy to generate while
The official movie
poster for “Time and
in production and are often required elements of a distribution
Before signing with a distributor, contact the producers of other films picked
up by the distributor to see if the distributor has behaved ethically, paid the
residuals, and kept honest bookkeeping records and how well their sales
numbers met the projections.
In addition to residual payments based on the number of sales, distributors
may pay an advance, or up-front money to you, if they purchase your movie.
The advance is intended to help you pay the costs of deliverables and the distributor will recoup the advance from the gross earnings of the film before
paying you additional residuals.
There are a number of terms of a distribution deal, each of which can be negotiated in the contract. Distributors will usually take $25,000–$35,000 out of the
gross sales to cover advertising and marketing costs, in addition to a budget for
replication and distribution and recoupment of the advance before paying the
filmmaker a percentage of the sales of the movie. In most instances, the only
money filmmakers ever see is the advance, because low sales, creative bookkeeping, and exceedingly high marketing costs keep most of the gross revenues
in the pockets of the distributors.
The amount of the advance, percentage of royalties, and payment schedules are
often affected by a number of factors.
1. Who is in the film? Recognizable actors will not only help secure distribution for a film, but also increase its value. Audience members and
customers at video stores are more inclined to purchase a movie if they
recognize an actor on the box cover. When producing a film, spending
$50,000–$100,000 on a recognizable actor may substantially increase the
sales of the film, especially if that actor has international appeal.
2. What genre is the film? Typically, genres like action, horror, and animation are easier to sell in the international market than comedies and
dramas because action works much better when the dialog is translated
and dubbed in a foreign language.
3. What is the technical quality? High production values will increase the
amount of money a distributor is willing to pay. Distributors will be
hesitant to purchase a film with poor lighting, sound, special effects, and
production design. Distributors usually buy only films shot on 35 mm
film or HD formats.
4. What types of films are popular at the time? Current box office successes
have a great impact on what types of films distributors buy. At the height
of Titanic’s popularity, dozens of movies about the doomed luxury liner,
boats, and shipwrecks appeared on video store shelves.
UNIT 5 Distribution
5. Is the film good? If your film can hold an audience’s attention and is
entertaining, distributors will be willing to pay more money for the right
to distribute the movie. Word-of-mouth advertising and reviews are just
as important as purchased advertising.
When a distributor agrees to distribute a film, they require the filmmaker to
provide a number of materials in addition to the movie. Begin gathering these
materials at the beginning of the production to simplify the distribution process
and minimize your out-of-pocket costs.
1. Delivery of the film on Digital Betacam, 35 mm film, or high definition: The technical requirements of movies released on DVD, on television, and in theaters are very carefully regulated and must meet or
exceed stringent guidelines. Most distributors require that you master
the movie in the best possible format and that brightness and color
values, audio levels, and picture resolution meet broadcast specifications. Producing a Digital Betacam master alone can cost upward of
$1000 per tape and a conversion to PAL (for overseas sales) can cost an
additional $1000–$1500 per tape. If your film was shot on HD or
35 mm film, you may need to provide a pan-and-scan full screen as well
as a letterboxed version, which can cost thousands of dollars.
2. Stereo mix on tracks 1 and 2—M&E on tracks 3 and 4: When a film
is distributed to non-English-speaking countries, the distributor will
often dub the dialog in the audience’s native language. To do this, the
filmmaker must, when mixing the audio in postproduction, separate
the dialog and provide a clean copy of the music and effects tracks.
When the master copy of the movie is made, the complete English
version stereo mix must be placed on tracks 1 and 2 of the master tape
and the music and effects tracks, minus dialog, must be placed on tracks
3 and 4. This is an easy task if a majority of the film is ADR’d, but if
the original on-set dialog is used, consider making a Foley and ambience track during audio post so when the dialog is stripped away, the
M&E track still exists.
3. Dialog script: Distributors require a word-for-word transcription of
every spoken word in the movie so that dubbing houses can rerecord
the dialog in a foreign language and closed-captioning services can
quickly type the dialog for DVD and television markets.
4. Music cue sheet: Distributors require a detailed list of every song used
in the film, proof of the copyright holder’s permission to use the track,
label, and artist information.
5. Song lyrics: Distributors require a complete list of all song lyrics so they
can be translated into a foreign language.
6. Advertising materials: Include photographs, behind-the-scenes photos,
and any and all print materials for use in the advertising of the movie.
It is extremely important to generate on-set photos of the making of the
film as well as “beauty shots” of the cast and crew during production
so the distributor can create press kits and sales and marketing
Movie trailer: If a trailer has been edited to promote the movie, the
distributor will ask for a copy of it, either to use it to promote the film
to potential buyers or to include it on the DVD. If the distributor deems
the trailer to be unsatisfactory, they will produce a new trailer for around
$10,000 to be deducted from the film’s gross revenues.
Chain-of-title: The filmmaker must provide copyright notices and proof
of ownership of the movie. Registration with the U.S. Copyright Office
is required.
Errors and omission insurance: Required for almost all domestic distribution in the United States, E&O insurance protects the distributor
from any third-party lawsuits stemming from the production of the
film, such as theft of the idea or unauthorized use of copyrighted material in the film. E&O insurance can cost anywhere from $4500 to
$15,000 and must be paid before a distributor will accept the movie.
Additional materials: A distributor may ask for behind-the-scenes clips,
videos, news reels (copyright-cleared, of course), director commentary
tracks, making-of specials, or any other additional materials to put on
the DVD to increase sales.
The cost of deliverables can quickly add up, and wise producers include a line
item for distribution in the budget. If the distributor doesn’t offer an advance,
the filmmaker must personally bear the costs of producing the deliverables
himself. Ironically, these costs can be more than the cost of producing the
Producing a film is a tremendous amount of work, and most directors want
to showcase their work. Whereas most filmmakers dream of receiving a
million dollar check for their film, many are content just to have their work
screened in front of an audience. Regardless of your intentions, film festivals
are a terrific way to exhibit your movie and start down the path toward
Most major cities both in the United States and internationally have film
festivals. Check out www.filmfestivals.com or search for “film festivals”
on the Internet to find dozens of guides to festivals, the dates they run,
cost of application, and the genres they are soliciting.
Film festivals are outstanding venues for meeting other filmmakers, agents,
managers, attorneys, distributors, film executives, and financiers. Because
the purpose of the event is film-based, most attendees are approachable
and willing to talk about the business.
There is a difference between the film festival and the film market.
Film festivals are places to screen your work, gain recognition, vie for
UNIT 5 Distribution
Time and Again
premiered to five
sellout crowds. It was
certainly an exciting,
much anticipated day
for the cast and
crew . . . and for me
prizes and awards, and generate reviews and
publicity for your film. Film markets, such as the
Cannes Film Market in France, the American
Film Market in Los Angeles, and MIFED in Italy,
provide an opportunity for buyers to screen and
purchase films that are already represented by
■ When applying to a film festival, follow the
application instructions closely and APPLY
EARLY. Many filmmakers wait till the last
minute to submit and the judges are often
overwhelmed by the number of late
■ Check the submission format. Does the festival require a DVD copy or a VHS copy of your movie? If it’s a short film,
can you upload it to their web site?
Most film festivals require a nonrefundable application fee that averages
between $25 and $150, payable by check or credit card.
Although film festivals may accept rough cuts, or works-in-progress, send
the most complete, if not finished, version of your film possible. Only
you know what the final quality will be, not the judges. They will see only
what you present them, and the better the presentation, the better the
chances of your film being accepted.
Send a detailed press kit that describes the history of the project, anything
unusual about the production, or any other information that will help
distinguish your film as being worthy of special attention. The film festivals are always looking for something new and exciting.
Generate as much publicity and press during the production of the film
as you can. The bigger the buzz, the more likely the film festivals will be
to accept your film. Don’t go to the festival . . . get them to come to
Know the exhibition formats supported by the film festival. Although
many festivals support digital projection, some festivals may require a film
print. Film prints can be extremely costly, running into the tens of thousands of dollars for a feature film.
If your movie is accepted, arrive at the festival armed with postcards and
posters to advertise your movie and its show times. Much like a Hollywood release, potential moviegoers will be more inclined to see a film if
they know about it and find it interesting.
Bring lots of business cards. Film festivals provide the opportunity to
network and build contacts in the filmmaking community.
When planning to attend a festival, secure hotel reservations as early as
possible, especially for larger festivals. Rooms fill up quickly and the
hotels sometimes charge a higher price, so book early.
Purchase festival tickets in advance, as popular films will sell out
Sundance Film Festival—Park City, Utah, in January, submission deadline is early
(310) 394–4662; www.festival.sundance.org
Toronto International Film Festival—Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in September,
submission deadline is April/May
(416) 967–7371; www.e.bell.ca/filmfest
Telluride Film Festival—Telluride, Colorado, in September, submission deadline
(603) 643–1255; www.telluridefilmfestival.com
Cannes Film Festival—Cannes, France, in May, submission deadline in March
(33–1) 45–61–6600; www.festival-cannes.fr/default2.php
American Film Institute Fest—Los Angeles, in November, submission deadline in
(323) 856–7707; www.afi.com/afifestm
Berlin Film
Festival—Berlin, Germany, in February, submission deadline in October/November
+49 30–259–20–0; www.berlinale.de
Tribeca Film Festival—New York, in April, submission deadline November/December
(212) 941–2400; www.tribecafilmfestival.org
Los Angeles Film Festival—Los Angeles, in June, submission deadline February/March
(310) 432–1240; www.lafilmfest.com
New York Film Festival—New York City, in September–October, submission deadline
(212) 875–5638; www.filmlinc.com
Consult www.filmfestivals.com for a complete list of film festivals around the world,
submission deadlines, and festival dates.
Self-distribution involves replicating, marketing, and selling the movie without
the aid of a distribution company. This gives the filmmaker complete control
over all aspects of the film, for example, how much to charge, where to sell it,
and how the monies are dispersed. The downfall is the filmmaker must also
front all the money to produce, replicate, advertise, and ship the film, as well
as the time required to promote and sell it.
Filmmakers can build a web site to promote their film and, using credit card
processing companies like 2checkout (www.2checkout.com) or PayPal, accept,
charge, and fill orders as they come in, managing the complete distribution
UNIT 5 Distribution
2checkout.com is a
shopping cart site that I
used to process orders
for Time and Again
The official web site for
Time and Again (left).
process themselves. YouTube.com, MySpace.com, and a host of other video
streaming sites are ideal for posting trailers to create a buzz, leading traffic to
the sales-based web site.
Online sales outlets such as Amazon.com and Ebay.com can bring in additional
sales. Although the number of sales probably won’t be as high as if a distribution company were involved, profits per unit will be higher and the filmmaker
can produce the product on an as-needed basis.
DVDs can be replicated either commercially in bulk, with on-disc printing,
black Amaray case, and full color insert cover for around $1400/1000 copies,
or using a DVD burner at home, producing single copies on an as-needed basis.
Take note that discs burned in DVD burners are read on only about 92% of
DVD players and are not reliable enough for commercial sales.
Another distribution option is to stream the movie online. Viewers can enter
credit card information or transfer money with a PayPal account to view the
film on a single, nondownloadable, stream. This eliminates the need to produce
DVD discs and keep an inventory, although customers may be sluggish to pay
for a film they won’t own.
Premiering on your own
Filmmakers who choose to work outside the film festival system can organize
their own screening in a local theater. Combining a smart advertising campaign
with strong local support can attract a large public audience and even generate
a profit.
Cost of renting the theater: Local community theaters and one-screen
theaters may be more willing to work with an independent filmmaker
than large multiscreen chains dependent on revenue from studio movies.
Small theaters are generally more flexible for scheduling, rental rates, and
show times and can benefit from the added
publicity generated by the movie. Discuss
either a flat rate to rent the theater or a
percentage of ticket sales.
Cost of equipment rental: Unless the
movie was shot on or transferred to film, it
may be necessary to rent a digital video
projector and/or appropriate sound equipment. These rentals range from $500 to
$1000 a day; costs that can be recouped
through ticket sales. When we premiered
Time and Again, we rented the screen, projector, a complete sound system for the
weekend, and labor to set up and strike the
equipment for $1900. I played the movie
off my Apple PowerBook directly through
a FireWire drive to the projector and it
looked AWESOME!
Cost of printing tickets: Local printers can
easily print tickets for the premiere. Print
them on a colored cardstock to make it
more difficult for people to copy the tickets.
A different color per show or date can keep
ticket inventories organized.
Schedule multiple screenings: Even if the
theater is available for only a weekend,
schedule as many screenings as possible,
both matinee and evening screenings, to
maximize the possible number of attendants. We held the Friday night
premiere for Time and Again at 7:30 PM and then screened it again on
Saturday, at 4:30 PM, 7:00 PM, and 9:30 PM. Our rental arrangement with
the theater and the equipment rental company was for one weekend, so
the more screenings we packed in, the more revenue we generated.
Advertising: Contact the local media and distribute press kits promoting
the release of the film. Schedule interviews on the local television station
or radio morning shows to talk about the movie and generate hype.
Always include press photos, bios of the cast and crew, and some quotes
the media can use in newspaper articles. Newspapers may ask for printquality photos taken from the set or stills from the movie itself, so be
prepared with these resources, as the newspaper writers are often under
Promotional materials: Consider creating posters or DVD copies of the
movie so the audience can purchase these souvenirs on their way out the
door. It’s a great way to make extra money and can help cover the costs
of the premiere.
Here I am, before the
premiere of Time and
Again. It was incredible
watching all the people
who were interested in
my film arrive at the
theater. The feeling in
the air was electric.
UNIT 5 Distribution
Press release.
Press releases
Catching the attention of the media by developing a strong press release is the
first step in marketing a movie. Press releases are brief, one-page summaries of
a news story that provide a reporter with all the information he needs to pursue
and cover the event.
Story synopsis: In a brief paragraph, describe the plot of the movie in the
same way it would be written on the back of a DVD case. The newspaper
will probably print the synopsis directly from the press release.
Cast and crew: List the main actors and key crew members and include
short bios of each person.
Quotes and funny stories: Include a variety of quotes as well as interesting anecdotes from the set, especially those that may appeal to local
Premiere times: Give concise directions of when, where, and how much
tickets to the premiere will cost. Give landmarks as a reference if the
theater is difficult to find.
Include photos: Newspapers may ask for photos from the set or stills
from the film. Have five or six pictures ready in a high-resolution, e-mailable format to send to the paper.
Clips from the movie: If television stations express an interest in interviewing cast or crew members, prepare either a trailer or a series of short
(10–15 seconds long) clips to be broadcast on the air during the interview.
We had the greatest response not only from viewers, but also the news
anchors, when we ran part of the trailer. Giving the audience a chance to
see clips from the film is the best way to market it.
Remember that in order to get to this point, you need to have an excellent script.
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AC, see Assistant camera
acting techniques
Chekhov technique, 222
Meisner technique, 221
Stanislavsky system, 220–221
activities, 215–216
auditioning, see Auditioning
backstory, 222–223
budgeting, 49–50
compensation, 144
directing, see Director
rehearsals see Rehearsal
tips, 216–220
AD, see Assistant director
ADR, see Automated dialog
Alpha channel, 350
Ambient sound
location sounds, 366
overview, 316
room tone, 365–366
premise development, 8
three-dimensional, 360
Animator/compositor, function, 30
Antagonist, 21–22
Armorer, function, 129
Art direction, budgeting, 56
Art director
function, 128
wages, 142
Art finisher, function, 130
Aspect ratio, 167, 272–273
Assembly cut, 338, 340
Assistant art director, function, 128
Assistant camera (AC)
function, 125–126
wages, 142–143
Assistant director (AD)
function, 123
wages, 142
Associate producer, function, 122
Audio mixing
music and effects track, 369–370
overview, 361
tips, 367–369
ambiance, 365–367
dialog, 362–363
foley, 363–365
music, 367
sound effects, 367
activity, 116
advertising, 106–109
casting agencies, 109
first audition, 109–111, 113
follow-up and hiring, 116–119
information form, 112
location, 106
monologs, 113
overview, 105–106
resources, 107
second audition, 113–114
third audition, 114
warning signs, 115
Audio recording
ambient sound, 316
analog versus digital, 304–305
boom handling, 311–312
extras, 316–317
Lavalier microphone recording,
306, 313–315
microphone types, 305–306
noise problems, 306–308
overview, 303–304
recording to camera, 309
shotgun microphone recording,
306, 312–313
sound logs, 317
sound team roles before action,
sync sound, 309–311
tips, 317
wireless microphone systems,
Automated dialog replacement
(ADR), 362–363
Axial cut, 348
Back focus, 268
Background, composition, 276, 278
Back light, 283
Backstory, acting, 222–223
Balance, composition, 278
Barn doors, lighting, 175
Best boy electric
function, 128
wages, 143
Best boy grip
function, 127
wages, 143
Blocking, scenes, 243–244
Blood, fake, 323
Blue screen, 357, 360
Boom operator
function, 130
wages, 143
B-roll, 348
business formulas, 44–45
business plan contents, 50–52
cast and crew, 49–50
categories, 55–59
company types and formation,
free item searching, 45–46
fundraising, 43–44
management of budget, 54–55
overview, 43
script considerations, 30–31
spreadsheet, 47
tips for cost minimization, 48–50
unexpected costs, 46, 48
Business formulas, 44–45
Business plan, contents, 50–52
Buyer, function, 128, 130
Call sheets, updates in production,
Camcorder, purchasing tips,
Camera log, 299–300, 339
Camera operations, budgeting, 57
Camera operator
function, 126
wages, 143
Cardioid microphone, 305–306
Cast and crew, see Actors; Crew
Cast insurance, 78
Casting director, function, 123
Catering, see Craft services
Certificate of insurance, 80–81, 89
Characters, creation, 21–23
Chekhov technique, acting, 222
Chroma key, 357, 360
Cinema verité, 259–260
guidelines, 260
lens, see Lens
settings, 269–271
director/director of photography
relationship, 257–258
film look achieving with video,
lighting techniques, 283–294
overview, 257
production monitor, 282
scene shooting, 295–297
shooting styles, 259–260
shot types, 278–282
Clapboard, 298–299
Close-up shot, 281
Color correction, 349–350
Color temperature, 271
Commercial, premise development, 8
Communication, director, 254
Community relations
preproduction, 94, 95–97
production, 102–103
Company, types and formation,
finding, 376–377
instruction, 377–378
sample scores, 379
score finishing, 380–381
spotting the film, 378–379
temp tracks, 379
Composer, function, 130
Compositing, 354–357
180 rule, 275–276, 278
crossing the line, 276
frame formats, 273
lead room, 275
rule of thirds, 275
Compression, overview and codecs,
Construction coordinator
function, 129
wages, 144
Contact list, updates in production, 73
budgeting, 55
editing, 345–346
music, 374–375
script, 32
Corporate production, premise
development, 9
Corporation, definition, 53
Costume designer
function, 129
wages, 143
Costume standby, function, 130
Coverage, determination, 227–229,
Craft services
breakfast, 328
catering, 330–331
function, 124, 327–328
menu throughout day, 328–330
tips, 331
wages, 144
Credits, 351–352
basic crew structure, 135
budgeting, 49–50
credit, 139
deferred payment, 139
money, 138–139
wages, 142–144
contract and deal memo,
director interactions
preproduction, 240–241
production, 249–251
finding, 135–137
art department, 128–129
audio department, 130
director of photography and
camera crew, 124–126
electric department, 127–128
grip, 126
hair and makeup department,
postproduction crew, 131
producers, 122
production department,
prop department, 129
special effects, 130
stunts, 130
transportation department, 130
wardrobe department, 129–130
preproduction duties, 121
structures, 131–133
ultrasmall crew structure, 131,
133, 135
Cross-cutting, 348
Crossing the line, 276
C-stand, lighting, 178
Cutaway, 348
Deep focus, 281
Depth of field
film look, 294
focal length effects, 265–266
overview of process, 1–2
script, see Script
DGA, see Directors Guild of America
audio track, 362–363
automated dialog replacement,
lighting, 178–179
low-budget alternative, 182
Digital effects
animation, three-dimensional,
chroma key, 357, 360
compositing, 354–357
definition, 355
overview, 353–354
Digital Juice, 373
acting activities, 215–216
activities, 242
director of photography
relationship, 257–258
function, 122–123, 225–226
postproduction roles, 254–255
preproduction roles
coverage determination,
227–229, 242
crew interactions, 240–241
rehearsals, 232, 237–240
script reading, 226–227
storyboarding, 229–232
production roles
actor directing, 244–246
balancing acting with technical
tools, 249
camera directing, 251–264
crew direction, 249–251
extras, 247–249
problems, 253–254
scene blocking, 243–244
subtext directing, 246–247
tips, 213–215
Director of photography (DP)
director relationship, 257–258
function, 124–125
tips, 260
wages, 142
Directors Guild of America (DGA)
contact information, 153
functions, 152–153
rates, 152
Dissolve, transition, 349
deliverables, 394–395
attracting, 390, 392–393
domestic, 391
foreign, 389
film demand factors, 386
domestic distribution, 388,
film festivals and promotion,
foreign distribution, 387–389
markets, 390
music and effects track
importance, 369–370
overview, 382–383, 385
payments, 393–394
planning, 385–388
self-distribution, 397–399, 401
Documentary, premise
development, 8–9
Dogme 95, 259
Dolly, 173–174
Dolly grip
function, 127
wages, 143
DP, see Director of photography
Dutch angle, 281
action scenes, 342
activities, 345
budgeting, 58
continuity, 345–346
cutting on motion, 346–347
dialog scenes, 342–343
edit types, 347–349
montages, 347
overview, 335
assembly cut, 338, 340
clip organization, 338
fine cut, 341–342
rough cut, 340–341
working cut, 341
relationship between shots, 336
sound, see Audio mixing; Music
systems, 336–338
tips, 343–345
transitions, 349
function, 130
wages, 144
function, 128
wages, 143
Equipment, see also specific equipment
cameras and gear, 171–174
film, see Film
lighting, 175–180
low-budget alternatives, 181–182
microphones, 180
minimal requirements, 180–181
overview, 155–156
renting, 182–185
video versus film, 156–158
Equipment insurance
overview, 78
requirements, 79
Errors and omissions insurance
overview, 78–79
requirements, 79
Establishing shot, 279
Executive producer, function, 122
Exposure, 266–267
audio recording, 316–317
budgeting, 56
directing, 247–249
Eye line, 276
Feature film, premise development,
Fill light, 283
advantages and limitations, 166
formats, 157, 159–160
insurance, 78
lab costs
16mm, 164
35mm, 165
look achieving with video, 294
purchasing, 160–162
video versus film, 156–158
workflow, 162–163
Film commissions
listing by state, 100–102
services, 98–100
Film festival
distribution promotion, 395–396
types, 397
Filters, film look, 295
Flags, lighting, 178
Fluid head, 173
Fluorescent lights, 176–177
Focal length, changing and effects,
back focus, 268
macro focus, 267
pulling focus, 263–265
rack focus, 264
technique, 262–263
Foley artist, function, 130
audio track, 363–365
sound types, 364
Font, titles, 350
Food, see Craft services
Foreground, composition, 278
Found, see Foley
Framing, see Composition
Friction head, 173
f-stop, 266–267
Full shot, 279
function, 127–128
wages, 143
Gain, camera, 270
Gamma curve, film look, 295
Gear head, 173
Gel, lighting, 178
General liability insurance
certificate of insurance, 80–81, 89
overview, 77–78
requirements, 79
General partnership, 53
Generator operator, function, 128
Gibberish exercise, 240
Graphics, 350
Green screen, 357, 360
Greensman, function, 129
function, 127
wages, 143
Guilds, see Unions and guilds
Hair and makeup
activities, 324–325
budgeting, 56–57
function, 129
hairstyling, 324
makeup kit contents, 322
overview, 319
prosthetics, 322–323
special effects makeup, 321,
straight makeup, 319–320
terminology, 321
wages, 143
Halogen metal iodide lights, 177
Head carpenter, function, 129
Headroom, 276
High shot, 281
High-definition video
decision-making, 167
formats, 169–171
television standards, 170
Hollywood shot, 279
IATSE, see International Alliance of
Theatrical Stage Employees
Idea development, script, 4–6
budgeting, 59
certificate of insurance, 80–81, 89
requirements, 79
types, 77–79
International Alliance of Theatrical
Stage Employees (IATSE),
Iris, exposure, 266–267
Joint venture, 53
Jump cut, 348
Key grip
function, 126
wages, 143
Key light, 283
Key makeup, 321
Key scenic, function, 129
Laboratory, budgeting, 57–58
Lad room, 275
Lavalier microphone, 306, 313–315
L-cut, 348
Lead man, function, 128
Leasing, equipment, 182–185
Legal consultation, resources in
preproduction, 39–40
care, 268–269
framing, 273–278
rings of power
back focus, 268
exposure, 266–267
focal length, 265–266
focus, 262–264
macro focus, 267
selection, 261–262
Letterbox format, 273
Liability insurance, see General
liability insurance
accessories, 178–180
back light, 283
categories of lights, 175
features in fixtures, 175–176
fill light, 283
fluorescent lights, 176–177
halogen metal iodide lights, 177
key light, 283
kits, 178
low-budget alternatives, 181–182
qualities of light, 287
scene lighting, 288–294
shadows, 285–287
single light source tips, 289, 294
softboxes, 177–178
terminology, 288
tips, 283–285
tungsten lights, 176
Limited liability company (LLC), 53
Limited partnership, 53
Line producer, function, 122
LLC, see Limited liability company
activity, 97
budgeting, 56–57
community relations
preproduction, 94, 95–97
production, 102–103
film commission services,
filmmakers’ code of conduct,
noise problems, 306–308
overview, 83
permits, 92–93
precautions, 89
scouting tips, 84–89
agreement, 89–91
certificate of insurance, 89
production schedule, 89
Location manager, function, 124
Location scout, function, 124
Logline, writing, 18
Loops, music, 375–376
Macro focus, 267
Makeup, see Hair and makeup
Marketing, see Distribution
Master shot, 279
Mechanical effects, definition, 355
Medium shot, 279
Meisner technique, acting, 221
quality, 180
types, 305–306
Microphone boom
construction, 313
handling techniques, 311–312
low-budget alternative, 181–182
MIDI, 379–380
Montage, 282, 347
MPEG-2, 351
activities, 381
audio track, 367
budgeting, 58
finding, 376–377
instruction, 377–378
sample scores, 379
score finishing, 380–381
spotting the film, 378–379
temp tracks, 379
copyright, 374–375
loops, 375–376
MIDI, 379–380
music and effects track
importance, 369–370
overview, 372–373
stock music, 372–375
Music video, premise development,
Nets, lighting, 178
Nonprofit company, 53
Office, see Workspace
Omnidrectional microphone, 305
180 rule, 275–276, 278
Optioning, material for script, 10–
11, 32
Outline, writing, 19–21
Overrehearsing, 230
Overshooting, 254
Pan and scan, framing for
television, 273, 274
Panning, 281
Pedestal, 281
Permits, location, 92–93
Physical effects, definition, 355
Plot, see Script
Polished, shooting style, 260
digital effects, see Digital effects
editing, see Editing
overview of process, 332–333
Premiere, self-distribution, 398–399
Premise development
fiction versus nonfiction, 7
format, 8–9
genre, 8
plot type, 10
auditioning, see Auditioning
budgeting, see Budgeting
crew, see Crew
insurance, see Insurance
legal consultation, 39–40
locations, see Location
overview of process, 34–35, 37,
39, 41
production design, see Production
scheduling, see Scheduling
Press release, self-distribution,
Prime lens, 261
Producer, function, 122
acting, see Actors
cinematography, see
directing, see Director
food, see Craft services
hair and makeup, see Hair and
organization and rhythm,
overview of process, 199–200
preparation, 203–204
principal versus second unit
photography, 203
safety, 210
schedule sample, 208
shooting procedure, 206–209
sound, see Audio recording
Production assistant
function, 124
wages, 142
Production coordinator, function,
Production design
overview, 187–189
props, 189–190
set building, 192–194
set dressing, 194–196
time period recreation, 196
wardrobe, 190–192
Production manager
function, 123
wages, 142
Production monitor, calibration,
Production schedule, see Scheduling
Production sound mixer
function, 130
wages, 143
Property master
function, 129
wages, 144
budgeting, 56
guidelines, 189–190
Props builder, function, 129
Prosthetics, makeup, 322–323
Protagonist, 21
Pulling focus, 263–265
Pyrotechnician, function, 130
Quantus Pictures, Inc.
actor deal memo, 118–119
audition information form, 112
car owner letter, 197–198
cast acceptance letter, 117
community relations, 95–96
crew deal memo, 140–141
location agreement, 90–91
press release, 400
storyboards, 233–236
Rack focus, 264
Reflector, low-budget alternative,
exercises, 240
first rehearsal, 232, 237
overrehearsing, 230
second rehearsal, 237–238
third rehearsal, 238–239
Release forms, 40–41
Reversal shot, 280
Rim light, see Back light
Roving camera, shooting style, 260
Rule of thirds, 275
Safe action zone, 350
Safe title zone, 350
Safety, production, 210
SAG, see Screen Actors Guild
Scar, makeup, 324
blocking, 243–244
breakdown sheets, 62, 64–66
shooting, 295–297
daily production schedule, 68–73
finalizing, 73
flow chart, 67
overview, 61
production schedule sample, 208
scene breakdown sheets, 62,
script marking, 62–63
shooting days, determination, 64,
updates in production
call sheets, 73–76
contact list, 73
Screen Actors Guild (SAG)
agreements, 148–149
Background Actor Incentive,
contact information, 153
diversity casting incentives, 149
eligibility requirements, 147–148
Screenplay, see Script
activities, 23
budgeting considerations, 30–31
character creation, 21–23
copyrighting, 32
formatting guidelines, 23–27
idea development, 4–6
importance of good script, 3
logline, 18
marking, 62–63
optioning material, 10–11, 32
outline, 19–21
premise development
fiction versus nonfiction, 7
format, 8–9
genre, 8
plot type, 10
resources, 29
rewrites, 31–32
story structure
Act 1, 12–13
Act 2, 13–14
Act 3, 14–15
gasp moments, 16
subplots, 15–16
turning point, 14
theme, 18
title, 18
treatment, 18–19
work space setup, 7
writer collaboration, 11–12
writing tips, 16–17, 27–28, 30
Script supervisor
function, 123, 299, 301
wages, 142
Second assistant director, function,
building, 192–194
dressing, 194–196
Set decorator, function, 128
Set designer, function, 128
Set dresser, function, 128–129
Shadows, 285–287
Shallow focus, 281
Shooting days, determination, 64,
Short film
premise development, 9
value for experience, 9
Shot size, focal length effects, 265
Shotgun microphone, 306, 312–313
Shutter speed, setting, 269
Silks, lighting, 178
615 Music, 373
Soft cut, 349
construction, 294
overview, 177–178
Sole proprietorship, 53
Sound, see Audio mixing; Audio
recording; Music
Sound designer, function, 130
Sound effects, audio track, 367
Sound logs, 317
Special effects
budgeting, 57–58
function, 130
makeup, 321, 323–324
Stage facilities, budgeting, 57
Stand-in, function, 124
Stanislavsky system, acting,
Steadicam, 174
Still photographer, function, 124
Stock music, 372–375
Story, see Script
Storyboard artist, function, 124
example, 233–236
overview, 229–232
Straight makeup, 319–320
Stunt coordinator
function, 130
wages, 144
Stunt person
function, 130
wages, 144
acting exercise, 240
directing, 246–247
Supporting characters, development,
Sweat, makeup, 324
Talent agent, function, 124
Television, standards, 170
Temp track, 379
Theme, writing, 18
Time perception, focal length
effects, 266
Time period
cars, 196–198
recreation, 196
budgeting, 58–59
safe title zone, 350
writing, 18
Tracking shot, 281
Transitions, editing, 348–349
budgeting, 57
captain, 130
Travel, budgeting, 55
Treatment, writing, 18–19
Tripod, 172, 260
Tungsten lights, 176
Two shot, 280
Unions and guilds
contact information, 153–154
Directors Guild of America,
International Alliance of
Theatrical Stage Employees,
overview, 145–147
Screen Actors Guild, 147–150
Writers Guild of America,
advantages and limitations,
versus film, 156–158
formats, 166
4:3 aspect ratio, 167
NTSC, 167
720 × 480, 167
29.97 interlaced frames, 168
Video assist, function, 126
Visual effects, definition, 355
budgeting, 56
guidelines, 190–192
Wardrobe supervisor
function, 130
wages, 143
WGA, see Writers Guild of America
White balance, 270–271
Wipe, transition, 349
Wireless microphone, 315–316
Worker’s compensation
overview, 78
requirements, 79
office setup in preproduction, 39
script writing, 7
Writers Guild of America (WGA)
contact information, 153
functions, 150
low-budget contract, 150–151
script protection, 32
Writing, see Script
Zoom lens, 261
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