Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Behind the Scenes 4: The Production team

I landed up in Production completely by default, and though it's not the glamourous end of film-making, it's certainly made for an interesting career.

We're the office workers of the film unit, and our job description includes everything from communication, admin and budgeting, to logistical planning. The production team is built like a pyramid, with everyone working together to make things happen. The people at the top make the decisions, the people further down make sure those decisions happen.

How big the department is depends on how big the production is. The majority of the TV ads I work on these days, there are just three of us: a producer, a production manager and a coordinator (see more on those job descriptions below).

The head honcho in the production department is the Executive Producer. This is usually the owner of the production company, the wheeler-dealer who put the whole shindig together, or on very rare occasions (if you're JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer) the original author. In TV this person might also be the show's creator, often known as the Showrunner. This is essentially the person (or people) calling all the shots.

Beneath the Exec Producer, especially on feature films, is a batallion of Producers, whose job is to manage the finances, oversee the above-the-line costs (director and actor fees, scriptwriting costs, book options) and make the big decisions. The Producer(s) will often be assisted by Associate Producers and/or Co-Producers.

The Exec Producers and Producers might oversee several productions at once, and so they hire in a dedicated team for each project, which is headed up by the next down in the food chain, the Line Producer.
He or she is responsible for creating and managing the budget, hiring and managing the below-the-line staff (ie. everyone except the talent, writers, director and producers), negotiating with suppliers, and overseeing the day-to-day operations. Aside from juggling figures and bringing the show in on budget, their biggest task is to prepare for the worst and hope it never happens.

From the Line Producer down the pyramid, the production team members have no input on the creative aspects of the film. These are freelancers who move from project to project, work longer hours than almost any other department, and who work on location, travelling wherever the film unit goes. They're also the people most likely to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at their desks.

The Line Producer might also be known as the Unit Production Manager (UPM) or on larger productions, the team will have both a Line Producer and a UPM. In the latter case, the UPM works closely with the Line Producer and co-ordinates between the crew on set and desk-bound people in the production office.

Below the Producers are Production Managers (that's me!). We're the worker bees who oversee preparation of the call sheets, book flights, liaise with hotels, book film equipment, ensure the right crew are booked for the right days, that suppliers are paid on time by the Accounts department, arrange freighting, and pretty much anything else that might be delegated down from above.

We liaise closely with all the other departments, and ensure the crew has everything they need to get their jobs done (assuming the Line Producer signs off on the expense!).

A good Production Manager (PM) is able to juggle many balls, has an eye for detail, good communication skills, and excellent organisation skills. And loads of lengthy To Do lists.
But one of the most fun aspects of this job is that no two days are the same and you never know what you might be researching or organising on any given day.

The Production Manager is assisted by a Production Coordinator (or Coordinators) and Production Secretary, who have less responsibility and less fixed job descriptions, and who do pretty much whatever they're delegated.

The bottom-most level of the Production team is the Production Assistant. This is an entry-level position, the person who gets to run around making tea and coffee for everyone else, does the photocopying, runs messages, and does the all-important lunch pick-up. And if they work for me, they might get sent out to buy Magnum ice creams.

If a PA has an ego that can handle taking orders from everyone else, keeps smiling in the face of everyone else's grumpiness, and is still willing and eager to help out after working a 14 hour day, then they have a very promising career in Production ahead of them.

This is not a department for sissies!

Monday, January 28, 2013

And the winner is....

The winner was selected by my completely impartial (since she can't yet read) five year old. And the winner of the Romance Madness give-away is:


I'll be emailing you direct, Cassandra. Well done!

Thank you very much to everyone who visited this blog during the Romance Madness Hop.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Romance Madness Hop: The Hunger Games

I'm taking part in the Romance Madness hop today on both my blogs. For Rae Summers' "Why I love this book" click here.

So I'm a bit behind the times. Most of you have probably not only read the book but watched the movie, and put the freebie poster inside your cupboard door. (Or maybe that's just me and my Twilight fixation).

I started the book last Friday, while waiting in an excrutiangly long queue to renew my driver's license. As anyone following me on Twitter that day will know, I had to stop on page 24 because I didn't think crying in public would go down too well.

Then I picked the book up again on the Sunday evening, and couldn't put it down again until I'd reached The End. At 4am. With my alarm set to go off at 6am Monday morning [Shhhh - don't tell my boss!]

I now completely understand why this book became the phenomenon it did. The writing is completely under-stated and the story so engaging that you hardly realise for a moment that you're reading words on a page and not living the adventure.

The Hunger Games, for those who have yet to read it, is a combination of Highlander, Logan's Run and Survivor in which the lone survivor of a barbaric futuristic reality show gets to live.

The heroine is Katniss Everdeen, a remarkably resourceful young woman who goes from underdog to show favourite thanks to a cast of delightful secondary characters, including her blind-drunk mentor, a savvy stylist, a whole horde of villains, and (for those who, like me, adore a good love triangle) two gorgeous heroes.

It's hard to point out what I loved most about this book, as there was just so much. But I think perhaps the aspect that comes up trumps is the book's pacing. Suoerbly crafted like the best TV dramas, the book sweeps us through highs and lows, catches us unawares, twists around, reveals tantalising glimpses, and never ever gets boring. Hence the lack of sleep.

Have you read Suzanne Collins' trilogy yet? What did you think? And am I in for a similar treat with book two (once I've caught up on some sleep)?

The Romance Madness Hop is organised by The Romance Reviews and runs from 25 to 29 January, and there are loads of prizes. To follow the Hop, or to sign up to win, click on the button below.

The Romance Reviews Romance Madness Hop

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Behind the Scenes 3: The Call Sheet

The Call Sheet is the Bible of any film production. It's the document that tells everyone involved in the film shoot, from the director to the lowliest runner to the insurance company covering the shoot, what's being filmed on any given day.

The international websites I've visited state that the AD's department (assistant directors) are responsible for putting together the call sheet, but in my experience it's the Production Manager's job. (ie. mine!) I'm not sure if this is because South Africa works differently to every other country or because things have changed since I last worked on a movie, or because ADs like to take all the credit.

On commercials, we usually issue one call sheet for the entire shoot. It can run anywhere from 10 pages up to about 30, and includes the complete list of crew and cast, contact numbers for all our suppliers, the shooting schedule, lists of all the equipment required, travel and accommodation information, safety notes, as well as maps to all locations.

On bigger commercials we may supplement this with daily call sheets, a 1-2 pager with nothing more than location details, maps and call times.

Call times are the start times for the beginning of each shoot day, and may differ from team to team and actor to actor. Since film shoots are mobile and every day is different, every crew member has to check daily where they're working the next day and what time they need to be there. I bet that makes most of you glad you work 9-5 in the same place every day!

On feature films and TV series (what we call 'long form work') call sheets are issued daily and are  little different. Rather than listing every single crew member or piece of equipment, the daily call sheet only lists the elements that vary from day to day.

So, for example, it's a given that your main crew will be on the shoot every day, but a stunt team, extra riggers, auto detailers etc, will only be called when needed for a specific scene, so they'll be listed.

Each technical team will already have its truck packed full of the standard equipment, but the call sheet will tell them if they need to arrange something special for that day - for example, a special underwater housing, tracking vehicle or steadicam rig.

Without doubt, the most important part of any call sheet is the daily shooting schedule: which scenes will be shot that day, which script pages, which actors are required for those scenes, what sets, props and wardrobe will be required at what times, and transport arrangements to get everyone and everything to where they need to be.

If the shoot is exterior, the daily call sheet will also list the alternate scenes that might be shot in the event of bad weather halting exterior filming. This is so that the locations people, drivers, and props people can ensure they have everything they need on standby just in case.

Finally, the call sheet will also give advance notice of what scenes are planned for the next few days and will notify the crew of any changes to the schedule so they can plan ahead.

Film shoots are often compared to military units, and it's an accurate comparison. Not the crack SEAL teams that can get in and out of a contact with lightning speed, but those big, lumbering units that involve massive preparation, clumsy communication, and lots of people who don't really have a clue why they're doing what they're doing, but do it anyway. Yet somehow it all works.

Here's a sample call sheet I pulled off the internet. It's a little old, dating back a few years, but a great example:

Next week I'll start to introduce you to the people who make up a film crew, starting with my own team: the Production department.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Behind the Scenes 2: Who's the Boss?

Who’s the head honcho on a movie?

I’m pretty sure you answered ‘director’ and in most cases you’d be ... wrong.

Because the most important person on any movie is the one with the money. Usually this person gets the title of ‘Executive Producer’ and often they’re not even involved in the actual making of the film.

The director calls the shots on the film set, but behind the scenes the person with the power is whoever arranged the finance, did the initial deals, and hired the crew (and that includes the director).

Once the movie goes into production the deal-maker(s) usually step back and leave the real work to the director and a team of producers, but the deal-maker will still have the final say in all the big decisions. Because we all know that he who has the money rules the world.

Unless you're Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott or Peter Jackson. Because then no matter who the deal-maker is, they're lucky to have you and have to do whatever you say!

Next week we'll look at the Call Sheet, those bits of paper that hold an entire film unit together.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Review: The Family Stone

This movie was billed on the back of the DVD box as a ‘feel good comedy’ about a family reunited for Christmas, featuring a large cast of well known, bankable actors.

So on Christmas Day we grabbed the popcorn and cooldrinks and settled down for a rip roaring evening of laughter and Christmas spirit.
What we got was nearly two hours of melodrama in a movie that would have been far more accurately billed as a “study of middle class prejudice”.

Basic premise: Everett (Dermot Mulroney), the serious older brother of the Stone family, brings his new girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home to meet the family at Christmas time. Before she even walks in the door, most of the family have already decided they don’t like her. So they set out to make her feel as uncomfortable as a stranger can possibly feel at a big family gathering.

Everett asks Mom (Diane Keaton) for the family ring [the family stone of the title] as he intends to propose to Meredith. He then spends the rest of the movie being a spineless wimp who turns his back on her and proceeds to fall in love with her goody two shoes sister (Claire Danes). The only support Meredith gets is from Everett’s endearing but goofball brother (Luke Wilson).

Do we feel sorry for this abused heroine? No, because she just comes across as an uptight racist bigot. She tries to defend her opinions, and in an outburst accuses the family of pigeon-holing her as an uptight racist bigot. Well yeah, because that’s how you’ve behaved throughout the movie so far!

Apart from the obviously misleading billing of this movie as a romantic comedy, the biggest failure of this movie, in my opinion, is that none of the characters are given any meaningful reason for their actions. It’s all back to that motivation thing again.

Why are Everett’s sisters so bitchy? Why does Mom dislike Meredith so much? Why is Everett such a spineless waste of space? Why does the heroine keep spouting idiotic sentiments that make her completely unlikeable? And what the hell does sweet Brad the paramedic see in little sister Amy?
We never find out the answers to any of the above, so unless you enjoy angst-ridden drama in which people are nasty to each other for an hour and a half for no good reason, don’t bother watching this movie.

Oh ... there is a two-minute slapstick sequence when Everett chases little brother Ben around the house which might be classed as comedy. Why are they fighting? Because after the big scene in which the heroine offended everyone and the family effectively ran her out, little brother took her out drinking. And when she was blind drunk, he didn’t take advantage of her. Yeah, you read that right.

Have you seen this movie? What did you think? Do you agree with me, or do you think I completely missed the point? And what do you think of some of the comments on the movie left by IMDB users?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Behind the Scenes 1: Introduction

This year I'm going to take heed of that valuable advice to 'write what you know' and I'll be running a series of blog posts on the film industry.

Once a fortnight, I'll post a new Behind the Scenes, starting with a who's who of jobs within the film industry, as well as some of the funnier terms used by film makers. Later in the year I'll follow the process it takes to make a feature film, from the script right through to the premiere.

Film making is a hugely collaborative business, with literally hundreds of people involved in making even the simplest of movies (hence those lengthy credits lists at the end of every film). The TV adverts I work on these days employ on average anywhere from 50 to 80 people - and that's just for a 30 second ad!

So if you've ever had a question about how films are made, or who does what on a movie set, ask away and I'll answer your questions here.
Image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Six Sentence Sunday: Blaze

This year I'm trying something a little different, by taking part in Six Sentence Sunday, that Twitter and Facebook sharing of excerpts.
I'll kick off the year with an excerpt from The Fire Inside, my contribution to Blaze, the anthology of eight stories by the Minxes of Romance.

He was tired beyond belief of the endless events he attended. More and more all he wanted was a real conversation over dinner. A real flirtation with some real chemistry.
“You can always take Sam. She doesn’t have a date.”
Yeah. That kind of chemistry.

Fire fighter Sam Redfern is used to being seen as just one of the boys. Until TV talent scout and celebrity Ryan Morgan shows up in Coombethwaite and starts to make her feel very much like a woman. A woman with needs.

Available from Amazon and Amazon UK.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Happy new year!!

I can't remember when last I started a new year so full of energy, hope and excitement!

2013 has got off to a wonderful start. On January 1st I began my new contemporary novel, Time Heals, managing 1,304 words. According to my spreadsheet (thanks Minxes!) I've already completed 4%.

I've also started using my treadmill again. It needed a good dust off, but I've now used it every day for a week. My new motto is "begin as you plan to continue".

What am I hoping for this year? Aside from keeping up the writing pace I established during Nano, I'm hoping for feedback from the two publishers I currently have submissions with, and I'm hoping to get the way overdue feedback on my query for When September Ends so I can start shopping that to agents ... oh, and a big lottery win would be real nice.

Finally, I'm hoping for lots of reasons to pop open champagne this year, and happiness, health and posperity for everyone I know. And yes, that's you too.

How have you started the new year, and what are you hoping for from 2013?

Image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net