Archive for the ‘Pre-Production’ Category

A Good Start

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

(Let’s just forget that it’s been nearly a month since my last post (it’s wild berry season, c’mon!) and just jump right in.)

When first faced with a legal document, every novice writer or filmmaker has heard the advice before: Get a lawyer. And every novice writer or filmmaker that I know, has emphatically replied: Why bother?

Well, my fair reader, I’m here to lend what cred I have to this bit of age old wisdom:

Get a lawyer.

I’ve had years of experience handling contracts myself. There are plenty of template legal docs out there for the start-up filmmaker and plenty of websites describing what everything means and what types of red flags to look out for and I think it’s prudent to read all of them. Learn as much as you can as tedious as it is. Never the less:

Get a lawyer.

Sure, it’s easy advice to give. I’m not the guy who’s going to have to shell out hundreds of dollars an hour, you are. And do you really want to shell out money on a project that you don’t even know has legs yet? Probably not, which is why so many of us forego getting proper legal counsel. And yeah, if your project dies in pre-production then hey, way to go, you saved yourself some dough by not getting a lawyer right?


Here’s why: Maybe you shouldn’t have been wasting your time on that project in the first place. See, I’ve learned that the get a lawyer question is not only not a question (you should get a lawyer) but it’s a good qualifier for your project. Are you confident enough in this project to put down money up front? Are your partners? Are you going to take it the distance? If not, why not? You could even ask the lawyer - as entertainment specialists they’ve probably seen more warning signs than you and they can probably tell you if your project has a shot. And, yes, when I say get a lawyer, I mean an entertainment lawyer - preferably one from your province or state - and one who comes recommended.

Now, glorifying attorneys isn’t my point here. Ultimately they are a tool at your disposal that you should utilize. Like a dictionary. Ooh, that’s good, actually - good simile. Because like a dictionary a lawyer is going to be able to tell you literally what you’re getting into by signing any given document but what they can’t do is make the decision for you. Like a dictionary, they can show you the word but they can’t tell you if it’s right for your text. What if it’s a homonym? Hm? Those damn homonyms… You think your spellchecker’s the best thing since sliced bread when BAM: A heel slips by.

What was I talking about?

Right. Lawyers. They can’t prevent you from making a stupid decision but they will help you make the most well informed stupid decision possible.

What do you call 5000 dead lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

A good start.

You know what else is a good start?

Getting a lawyer.

The Way It Was Meant To Be

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

The other day I was listening to some podcast jibjab about Oscar best picture winner The Hurt Locker and its current re-release woes. As has been trendy in recent years, big Oscar winners often get a second theatrical life. It seems however that major US exhibitors are reticent to give Kathryn Bigelow’s flick another shot at the big screen as it has already been released on DVD.

But this isn’t an essay on the closing release window gap that’s going to spell the inevitable destruction of the old way of doing things. *Sob*. Boring. What made my ears perk up during this discourse was when one commentator lamented that it was a shame that without a re-release few people will ever have seen Bigelow’s film on a big screen; “the way it was meant to be seen.”

This was interesting to me because with the cinemascape changing so much lately I wonder how many filmmakers still actually envision their movie on a big screen.

I used to design websites and one thing I learned very early on in this type of media design is that you can’t control everything. You do your best to cover all platforms, browsers, plug-ins, etc but when it comes down to it, your immaculate design doesn’t stand a chance against a computer user with his own control over his screen colour calibration, resolution and aspect ratio. So you do your best to control what you can and learn to accept what you can’t.

When I produce something I do think about the final destination. An obvious example would be where titling comes into play. A small font size on a big screen looks great - not so much when it is downgraded to a smudge on the web version. But titling can be altered for varied exports in post. Shot footage, less so. The notion of a close up or an extreme wide is going to change drastically depending on whether you’re shooting for a theater display or a cell phone. So, like, website design you sort of have to control what you can and accept that your brilliant cinematography and sound mix may not translate too well to, say, the LCD display and previously-loved headsets of an in-flight movie.

I’m not advocating mediocrity or settling for less than what your project deserves. I’m just thinking about the fact that the more the technologies advance - the more multifarious the media become - the more finesse it is going to take to bring out the best in your project wherever and however it is seen.

So will most people lamentably not see The Hurt Locker the way it was intended? That depends on what Kathryn Bigelow intended, I guess.

Don’t Forget The Sound, man

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Continuing in my do anything once for free just for the experience manifesto I took the opportunity to play soundman on a small but ambitious production this past week.

The soundman’s job, like many positions on a film crew, is a pretty unsung responsibility. Sound really is fifty percent of your film and bad sound will pull an audience right out of the moment faster than anything on the screen. Yet the director of photography’s title still seems to come with a little more prestige than that of the soundman.

So I donned my headphones and hoisted my boom pole and did my thing. The experience was a great one. My back is still a little sore and my sleep schedule will be screwed for another few days but that’s par for the course. What was really great was not being the guy in charge. I felt like I was on vacation. Or at least, maybe, visiting a dominatrix of some kind.

Just thinking about a shooting location in strictly sonic terms was a great eye-opener. Being in the vicinity of an airport is a fairly obvious no-no but scouting locations previously I wouldn’t have immediately thought about the perils of situating your set near an open intersection. On straight bits of road cars roll at an even clip but at intersections you have to consider the volume of accelerating engines. Also, if you’re in a low-income housing area you may want to consider that a lot of those cars may have noisier mufflers than elsewhere. The neighbourhood garbage pickup rotation is also something that’s worth factoring in to your schedule.

This of course assumes that you have a pick of several locations. And anybody who’s ever tried to put together a small but ambitious shoot will tell you that this is a pretty rare luxury. But anything I can do to help out my soundman will be on my mind the next time I go into a production.

A Case for Talent Agents

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

I was recently invited to sit in on a casting session held by a colleague of mine. Always eager to get a glimpse at the talent pool without having to put on my own water wings I was happy to oblige.

The process went well and I think my friend got what he wanted; as I’ve said before, there’s a wealth of talent in this city.

On this particular occasion however the most memorable actor on the schedule - for me - was the guy who didn’t show up. See, while we sat there for fifteen minutes waiting for this guy I had occasion to reflect on the more important things that I could be doing with my time. I also did a little pondering about what would possess a person to simply not show up to an audition without so much as a call or an email or a text - it’s not like there aren’t ample modern tools at one’s disposal to facilitate the cancellation of an appointment. Especially an appointment with a potential employer. A potential employer in an industry of employers who share information with each other not only about the people who have been good to them but also about the people who have wasted their time.

Then the next actor arrived and we moved on.

It’s abundantly clear to me in times like this why talent agents and managers exist and why in fact they are a necessity. It’s sad really. I do think there is indeed a wealth of talent out there but I wonder just how much more talent there is that I’ll never find out about. Because you may be Meryl Streep but if you can’t even manage to get your pants on by yourself in the morning much less make it to an audition then the restaurant you’re waiting tables at better be fulfilling all your creative needs as well as have a great pension plan.

As a quick PS, I’ll add that if you’re a filmmaker holding an audition that wastes people’s time you should probably remember that actors love to share information too.