Archive for the 'general' Category

Saturday, October 21st, 2006

Building the team

It’s amazing how a movie production works! It’s literally a small company, and I’m the CEO, CFO, CMO, (all other O’s), and General Manager. And with this small company, I will have to hire, manage and run this business for the length of the production (most likely about two months). We have payroll, taxes, work for hire contracts, hiring, firing, schedules, milestones, and maybe even a cubicle.

Note to self: go rent “Office Space” again.

I’m glad I have 16 years of corporate business experience. I’m familiar with org charts, managerial issues, process definitions, workflow, etc. I’m finding that a movie production is very similar. Here’s the org chart for our production.

Fissure Production Chart

As the director, my first three key hires are: Unit Production Manager (UPM), Production Designer (PD) and Director of Photographer (DP). I need to find a UPM who can manage most of the other team members of the production. The PD and DP are more visual and require direct management from the director.

As producer/director, I need a UPM who can manage a lot of the team hiring and management so that I can focus on the key issues like directing and bringing this show to life.

It’s interesting when you look at the differences between a Line Producer and UPM. The Line Producer is an opening credit, and it’s a role that is much more coveted than an UPM role. It’s a producer credit. The UPM credit appears at the end of the movie, but did you know that typically, the first credit you see after the movie ends is the UPM credit? Interesting.

Here’s something I found on the web about what a Line Producer does. Good stuff.

Line Producer
The Line Producer in the film and television industry is involved in the whole process of producing feature films, television and corporate videos. He works closely with the Production Coordinator and Production Manager.

Central Aspects
• Dealing with paperwork such as letters, forms and records
• Organizing or supervising other people
• Planning how work is to be carried out

Secondary Aspects
• Being involved with music, drama or dance performance
• Keeping accurate records or reports
• Making agreements through negotiating and bargaining
• Work involving teamwork and co-operation

Other Aspects
• Working under pressure
• Being away from home regularly
• Working evenings or weekends

Work Activities

The Line Producer, Production Manager and Production Coordinator work on the schedule of a production in terms of the time and days required for each stage of the production (research, rehearsal, shooting, editing, post-production). They work together in organizing/booking the crew, cast, locations, facilities required.

The Line Producer goes out on the set or shoot with the crew and his/her primary function is as a trouble-shooter on the set. The Line Producer ensures that everything required is organized and in place for the Director and the rest of the crew so that production can proceed as scheduled.

The Line Producer would be responsible for the daily expenses of the crew and getting receipts for all expenditure, and would often be responsible for determining overtime requirements. If archive footage is being used in a production, it’s the Line Producers’ job to source it or oversee whatever research is needed to source extra footage; to negotiate the use of same and to ensure that everything is returned to source after use.

The Line Producer also works on post-production and would be responsible for booking personnel required at that stage; voice-overs / narrators for example and any music that’s required, whether it’s looking after copyright regulations or organizing an original score.

The Line Producer generally negotiates legal and statutory contracts. He/she logs and transcribes interviews recorded, necessary for the edit stage and works on post-production with the Director and Editor. The Production Manager and Production Coordinator report back to the Line Producer on progress at all stages.

Saturday, October 14th, 2006

Name Talent

Of all the filmmakers I meet in this journey, there is one piece of advice that repeats like a broken record: “land a name talent for the lead.”

The only problem is that good name talent is almost always unaffordable. Even with the new Low Budget SAG agreements, good name talent is out of reach. So, you end up with a great story, great production values, even great non-SAG actors, but no distributor will give you the time of day, unless you win the lottery and land your film in Sundance or Cannes, or some big name festival.

So, what do you?

Maybe you can find a well known actor who’s interested in low-budget projects if the story is right. Or, maybe you know someone who knows someone. Or, maybe you find a distributor who likes the project, and will give you some pre-sale agreement that gives you the extra money to land name talent.

Or, you pray.

Thursday, October 12th, 2006


After development, we were ready to start production. But, you can’t really produce anything without any money. So, our next step was to raise the money.

There are a number of ways to raise money for a movie production.

Private Money
For first-time filmmakers, it’s always best to raise private money from private investors. That’s why you start with a low-budget feature, so you can quickly raise private money and get your film made. As your projects begin to grow in size and budget, then you can move into…

Pre-sale deals
This is where you agree to distribute with a certain company, and they promise to buy certain rights at x dollars.

Studio deals
Another option is to secure an agreement with a studio, who has much bigger channels of distribution. But, when a studio gets ahold of your project, you lose considerable control. And, it typically takes having one or two successful movies under your belt.

We are proud to announce that our project is fully funded. We have a single investor who is funding the project. So, we are a greenlight for production. Our new schedule is to do all of our pre-production in January, and start principal photography in February.

A special thanks to our an investor who is as excited about the project as we are. Thanks!

Sunday, October 1st, 2006

Moving into Development

Now that we had a story, it was time to start developing it.

First, we optioned the script from Nick Turner for one year. That simply means we paid for the “option” to buy it if we found it was a story worthy of production. You pay an amount that legally holds the script for a set amount of time. The owner can’t sell it to someone else. The contract also guarantees that we can purchase it at a future date.

Nikki on Production BoardsIn August, we hired a Line Producer (Nikki Nanos) to help us breakdown the script. That’s where you go through each scene and create a little strip with information about that scene. Then, you arrange them based on shooting schedules. This is tediious and time-consuming, especially since Nick and I (Russ) kept doing rewrites while she was breaking down the script. That’s like trying to hit a moving target. (I think Nikki was about ready to hit me, but I kept moving.)

After the long and tedious process, you have your schedule in the form of a Production Board.
Nikki finishes Production Boards

This step of the process was really important, because now we had a number of shooting days, and the entire schedule revolves around these shooting days. Through the production boards, we also have our locations defined and our cast members defined. It’s a very good process.

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

Finding the story

After we decided to make a movie, we had to get a story. It was May of 2006.

I always wanted to write my own story. I love storytelling, and when I write, I always see things in my head. It’s see the surroundings, the people, the buildings. I hear the sounds, the music, the voices. I sense the smells, the emotions, the dangers.

So, I spent the next weeks studying story structure, reading Chris Vogler’s book on the Hero’s Journey. He outlined twelve stages of the Hero’s Journey:

• Ordinary World
• Call To Adventure
• Refusal Of The Call
• Meeting With The Mentor
• Crossing the First Threshold
• Tests, Allies, Enemies
• Approach
• Supreme Ordeal
• Reward
• The Road Back
• Resurrection
• Return With Elixir

With my math background, I was now eqiupped with a formula for success. After all, Star Wars followed this outline. Woo hoo! Let’s start writing.

Quickly, I realize that storyteling was considerably harder than just plugging in a formula. It actually required some amazing creativity. Yet, we pressed on.

We came up with a story about a guy who dreams of a car crash, but awakes in bed with his wife. It was only a dream. Later, throughout the day, things start to unravel. Things don’t seem real. Bizarre things start to happen. There is a lady there throughout the story to help him through his ordeal.

We thought it was a great start. It was only a couple of locations and a small cast, so the budget was low. So, we sent our writer friend, Mike, down that path. Yet, we only had about three months, because we wanted to start shooting on July 1.

But, July 1 came and went. The story development was going to take more time than we had planned for.

So, we decided to take another route–find a story that’s already developed.

We created a website page. Here, we described our goals, targets and movie objectives. Then, I posted the site to some writer’s forums.

The stories flooded in. Within in one week, we had received about 450 submissions. I specifically asked for a logline, synopsis (no scripts) and for the story to meet our criteria:

• Had to be a redeeming story.
• Had to be low budget.
• You need to be flexible with you story, so we can tweak as needed.

Note to writers: If someone wants a story with certain criteria, please make some effort to meet those criteria. We trashed hundreds of stories that were the most unredeeming stories. And we trashed many big budget stories. And, there were a few who demanded that we cast Bruce Willis or J Lo or Samuel Jackson. Ain’t going to happen! Let us produce the film.

So, we had our webiste and stories were coming in. We narrowed it down to about 30 stories. Narrowed it down to 30! It was crazy, but exciting. I enjoyed skimming through the stories and reading the creativity of others.

But, we found this one story–Fissure. It was really amazing. It was written with a low budget in mind. That was key. It had somewhat of a redeeming ending, but not quite what we were looking for. We wanted that commercially successful, walk-out-of-the-theater-crying, redeeming story. But, it was workable. And the writer was flexibile.

The story structure was truly amazing. The twists, the misdirection, flow, the intesity, the strategic plot points to move the story–all was quite amazing. Rick and I quickly selected it.

We then started working with Nick (our writer) on a new ending, one that would have the redeeming impact we were looking for. After a few revisions, he nailed it.

We had our story!

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

Three kids lost in the woods

Spring of 2006 arrves, and we’re trying to decide what kind of movie to make. That’s where we started–three kids lost in the woods. Thankfully, we didn’t go down that route, because everyone and their dog has made a movie like this, and it’s almost always shot on DV.

But, that’s where we started: let’s just make a movie, and we’ll use some of our own money to fund it. So, we allocated $5,000 of our own personal money and set out to make a movie.

During that time, we “stumbled” across a writer who was willing to help us write the story. That was exciting. So, he started writing, and we started brainstorming.

We were making a movie.

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

How did it all start?

In October of 2005, I decided to resign from my cushy, corporate job and pursue my dreams of producing. It was a scary but exciting step. And, today (a year later), I have no regrets (and still no health insurance). But, I’m loving life. Everyday, I get to create. I get to produce. I get to be as successful as I choose to be.

Taking that step was not as hard as it could have been, because I had partnered with a good friend of mine, Rick Morrison, to launch MorrisonPond, a creative marketing agency. Having that partnership helped me land a little softer on the other side of the pond. Thanks Rick!

In January 2006, Rick and I decided to “make a movie”. It’s both of our dreams to tell stories–me on the fiction side, Rick on the non-fiction. But, we’re storytellers. So, we decided to tell a story.

Monday, September 4th, 2006

We’re making a movie!

And, we want to share that experience with you as well. So, join us on our journey as we step into the world of movie production.

Our goal is to blog as much as possible so that you can experience this journey with us.

We’re going to spend the next few days (blogs) describing how we got started. And, we’ll play catch up and give you some background on where we came from and where we’re going.