New Model of Film Production. Part 2. New is born from the death of the old
The system, built over the years, is increasingly burdened by the lack of significant changes and works against future films and their producers. A young director, starting the film, is told that the budget is, let’s say, two million, but he does not know that 40% to 50% is not the money for the film. We will not see this money on the screen. This is money that will melt into a badly functioning system. If the developer wanted to check how these funds are spent, it would collide with the iceberg of the existing system, which is convenient for individual professionals, but uneconomical habits and their interpretation.
A drastic example is the fact that digital technology has caused new professionals to appear on the film set, but this has not resulted in the disappearance of those who are not really useful in the new system. The redefinition of film professions, the redesigning of the film production system can have an extremely positive impact on the quality of films and the cost of making them.
I have no doubt that in case of a young director, who after a few years of efforts makes their first film and this film turns out to be unsuccessful, it is very often not because the debutant is incapable (great ones also sometimes produce rubbish films). The reason often lies in the system that works against them.
It is worth changing that if we want the film industry to develop.
For eight years we have been talking about the future of cinema at Film Spring Open workshops. Our future depends on whether we are competitive and whether we find a way to produce films for less money. Above all, however, whether we can find control mechanisms that control the quality of the film already during its production.
At FSO Workshop we are building a production model that will not only take full advantage of the latest technological tools, but will also change our (often harmful) film-making habits.
New is born from the death of the old.
Film production – what it is and what could it be like?
The current production system boils down to a very simple rule:
Film production within a predetermined budget creates technical and financial conditions for the director to transfer the screenplay to the screen in the shortest possible time.
This principle and the associated film production system have not changed for years. Films made with analogue cameras and the current digital ones are produced in an almost identical way. At the same time:
Good and bad films are made all over the world and this is the subject of evaluation and analysis. Nobody deals with the analysis of how films are produced in different countries, and it is often very different.
Why is this not happening? One of the reasons is very simple. An educated Polish or German film producer or production manager will be making films in their own country throughout their career and is unlikely to appear in another production system, because this is a local profession. The producer has practically no chance to compare different production models. They will not be able to personally track the Icelandic model of making films, and films are produced there in a completely different way. Undoubtedly a more economical one.
When thinking about the future of film production, we do not need to invent everything from scratch, just to reach for the existing well-functioning solutions from other film industries similar to ours, and not necessarily the leading American one.
- In Iceland, one vehicle on set is often Cinebus, which carries (of course, this applies to small-scale movies), all the equipment needed for production, including a small generator and a social room. Luggage carrier on the roof of this bus is often a convenient platform for photos, but most of all a place with rails for riding a ladder, large tripods and lighting towers.
- We have more and more trucks on the contemporary plan with the same tools often stored in many of them. In addition, and I will write about it later, the equipment that is stored in them often does not leave these trucks during the photographs. Not to mention that the load space in these vehicles is never used to 100%.
- Another, Mexican, example. Traditionally on the set we have a division into technical professional groups: illuminators, electricians, grips and prams etc. in Mexico they constitute a single group under the supervision of the Lighting Master. And it’s not the same as in here, that when you ride in the open air, the electricians are standing or sunbathing while the dolly operators are working hard and nobody will help them. The same situation reversed by 180 degrees is in the interiors (especially small ones) where electricians work and dolly guys have nothing to do. Moreover, due to technological changes, these professional groups will be shrinking. The cameras already have a sensitivity of 50,000 ISO and a light from Ipad is enough to illuminate them. The need for systemic change is indispensable. Material and workforce savings in the Mexican and Icelandic models are an obvious example. These are some of the many examples that are worth using on the Modern Film Plan.
Selection. Who should be entrusted with considerable funds for making a film?
I have been lecturing at film schools in Europe for thirty years and I note which of my students will make a career first as a director. Years later, these notes show that the fastest entry on the market is for those who are the loudest, who know how to incite others, that is to say, those who actually make a career are those who are – mentally – producers, organizers. A talented, sensitive, often shy man will not muster enough money for a film. We need to be able to promote ourselves visibly – that is the most effective way.
Moreover, a young European director must have a complex accounting knowledge, knows all the subsidies, knows which conditions apply to spending money from funds. Without this knowledge they will never start, because there will never be a producer who would risk his time for a newcomer. The rule is that a debutant has to arrange the money themselves and then there he might stand a chance to find a patron or a producer.
In addition, a young director is often also the author of the script, because it puts him in a better position in relation to his colleagues who do not have such a talent.
Today, the director must not only be a scriptwriter, not only a director, but also a producer, a specialist in finance and promotion. Such a situation often leads to negative selection, because it is often not those who have talent and deserve it.
Risk Management – a system of control over what is being created
Let’s look at what a young director’s path to making a film looks like today. In order to make the film, he spends between eighteen months and five years running among lots of people, telling the same story, promoting the script to potential investors. And when the “zero hour” finally strikes, the shooting starts – this young director often does not know what he is doing. His attitude towards the text is the one of a man who endlessly had to repeat the same joke. His sensitivity to his own screenplay is already dulled, because it got worn out long time ago. He’s on auto-repeat. It is not a new wife anymore, no fascination, it is a state shortly before divorce. And in such a state the young director usually starts making film…. In addition, the production system prevents him from having control over what he does. I would like to remind you of the rule mentioned above:
Film production within a predetermined budget creates technical and financial conditions for the director to transfer the screenplay to the screen in the shortest possible time.
This “shortest possible time” for many projects (meaning also: directors) is deadly.
Krzysztof Kieślowski was not a man of poor health. After 12-14 hours of work on the set he went to the editing room and worked at night another 3-4 hours. He did this because he was aware that a true work of art had “his own life” and that what the director had “in his head” are two different visions. He knew that the only way to check what film he was doing was by parallel editing (at that time technologically impossible) and a working overview of the editing of what was already filmed. Unfortunately, no human can withstand many years of work without sleep.
Great artists control what they do, listen to their partners, are critical of their own vision and ready to change it at any time. I know good directors who, after three or four days of shooting on the set, were able to change their main actress because they came to the conclusion that she was the wrong person. A young artist is often unable to make any move because he has a “template” in his head. And when the point of entry into production comes already, he has to make the film as quickly as possible within the limits of limited resources. And thus, he transfers to the film all the mistakes that were made at the stage of the script or “in his head”.
One young director of an award-winning film told me how, after 3 weeks of film, the shooting was interrupted for financial reasons. He had a shock, became suicidal. With nothing better to do, he sat down in the editing room and started to work on the filmed material. And then he realized that the film was going in the wrong direction. He sat down and started writing the script again. When he got the funds to finish the film, it was another film altogether.
“My film is so good, because due to the lack of money they stopped my production. I was given time to analyse my mistakes,” he said. I made him aware that it was nothing new, because Woody Allen, for example, made all his films in this way: two or three weeks of shooting, then he let the whole crew go, edited, checked what he had, added dialogues, got everyone back together and finished the film. Our Oscar-winning “Ida” was also created in this manner. Because of adverse weather conditions, production was interrupted and Paweł Pawlikowski, taking advantage of the break, analyzed the material he had and changed the scenario.
One might ask why it is not clear, especially in the case of beginners’ films, there is no break planned (unpaid). That would be a tool saving many potential projects.
The score and the performance. What does it look like in the film world?
The basic document, the score of the future film, is the screenplay. The format was created and petrified many years ago. The screenplay is a base for funding films. At the same time, we all know that often a very good script results in a poor film (poor cast is enough) and a poor script can turn into a good film. In addition, there are genres or films where the literary version is misleading. It is worth mentioning “Amélie”, a film whose screenplay would not be accepted by any Hollywood producer, as the written version of such a script would have to be 300 pages long.
We also know that 100 different directors would make 100 different films based on the same good script. Some very good ones, others good enough, and many bad ones. The risk of “translating” the text into an image is enormous. The chance that the money invested in the script will be wasted is very high. And it does not have to be that way, because new technology gives new solutions. Just look at the changes that have taken place. We have tools (unavailable in the past) that allow us to make a rough draft of a film. A previsualization of the future, often costly, project – reducing the risk of creating a piece of junk. I will write much more about it later, but here I will confine myself to saying that I do not think that the production of a previs would be yet another barrier on a sufficiently difficult path to fund film. Previs should be made as an internal “creation”. Filming the readings of the actors’ rehearsals (btw. mandatory in the Anglo-Saxon system and absent in other countries) also, so that each of the creative members of the crew can have “their” contribution. The composer should provide a model of the score, operator the cinematographic ideas etc.
In making a previs, the director and the producer of the film will achieve something that is certainly not a finished film, but it is also no longer just a piece of paper with a text on it. It is not without reason that in the studio system in all high budget productions, the film is previsualized in 100% in animatics are made, and the companies specializing in such productions spring up like mushrooms.
The availability of ever cheaper digital cameras and cheap storage media makes us shoot more material. The material selection process becomes more important than it used to be in the past, in the era of film stock-based cinema,. Thus, the role of the script, from which the ready film usually deviates in many places, is weakened. From my own experience, I can say that in European cinema, it varies between 20% and 30% from the original text. Working in the current system, the director has little chance of controlling what has been filmed. An incredible number of takes are made, more and more often in a multi-camera system. Due to lack of time, the material selection falls on the shoulders of the film editor. An editor who works in a traditional model in an assembly room away from the set and often starts to work after the shooting is finished. And yet today’s technology makes it possible to edit directly on the set – when the shooting is still in progress. All you have to do is move the editing onto the set, and the director and other filmmakers will have a chance to control what is being created, and also to select the material on a daily basis. Thanks to this, you would avoid taking so-called “just in case shots”, just because they may be useful. Each director is nagged by creative anxiety: will I not run short of editing material? Everyone tends to take lots of unnecessary shots. Editing on the set will undoubtedly reduce the tendency to film large quantities of material just in case. The saving of time and money is evident, not to mention that a talented and sensitive director will be able to distance himself from the original vision that has petrified in his or her head, as I described above. Why is nobody doing this?
Because that is the tradition!
[Extracts form the Essay “How to make films cheaper and better” by Sławomir Idziak.]
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