Basic Film Production Matthew T. Jones
Production Phases • There are three phases of production common to most professionally produced motion pictures. These are: • Preproduction phase • Production phase • Postproduction phase
In general, the preproduction phase encompasses all aspects of preparation that are performed before the camera starts to roll. Some aspects of preproduction include: Screenwriting Storyboarding Funding Assembling a crew Casting Costume Design Location Scouting Set Design Properties (“props”) Scheduling Preproduction Phase
Preproduction phase • Screenplay/Script: The screenplay supplies the general plan for the production of a film. There are two types: • The “spec” script • The “shooting” script
Preproduction Phase • The “Spec” (Speculation) Script is the version of a screenplay that writers distribute to producers in the hope that it will be “optioned” (i.e. considered for production). It primarily contains: • Slug-Line (brief description of the setting, e.g. “INT. ROOM – DAY” which means the interior of a room during the day) • Business (descriptions of characters/action) • Dialog (the lines intended to be spoken by the actors)
Preproduction Phase • The Shooting Script is a much more detailed version of the spec script that includes numbered scenes, specific camera angles and other technical information. An example of a page from a shooting script (from the film Pieces by Andrew Halasz shot here at William Paterson) can be seen on the next slide.
Preproduction Phase • Writing a screenplay and analyzing a film narrative require an awareness of similar concepts: • Character • Conflict • Action • Story • Plot
Preproduction Phase • Character • Agent of physical and social action • Subject to physical and social action • Subject to needs and desires • Subject to social norms, mores, and laws
Preproduction Phase • In an instructional book on screenwriting, Syd Field (1979) divides character into interior and exterior aspects. Viewers of a film don’t have access to the character’s interior life and so it must be expressed in the exterior life through actions taken in professional, personal, and private contexts. One pursuit of narrative analysis is the interpretation of character motives based on action.
Preproduction Phase • Conflict • The source of narrative conflict is the needs and desires of the character when they are met with oppositional forces. There are three basic types of narrative conflict: • Character versus Nature (i.e. the physical world) • Character versus Character • Character versus Self
Preproduction Phase • Action • In a film narrative, a character is expressed through his/her actions in responding to a conflict. Two overlapping types of character action are: • Social Action (e.g. dialog, communicative behavior) • Physical Action (e.g. stunts, athletic behavior)
Preproduction Phase • Story • Cooper & Dancyger (1994) define a story as “any narration of events or incidents that relates how something happened to someone. The ‘someone’ will be considered the main character of a story, and, if the element of causality is added to the telling of how something happened to that character, the story will then be considered to have a plot” (p. 3).
Preproduction Phase • Story • The Russian formalists made a distinction between “fabula” and “syuzhet”: • Fabula: The story as it occurs in its natural, chronological sequence from beginning to end. • Syuzhet: The sequence in which events are presented in the telling of the story (the plot).
Preproduction Phase • Story • There are a limited number of relevant stories to be told because there are a limited number of human emotions and experiences. Plots, however, are limitless because emotions and experiences can elicited at in an infinite number of ways.
Preproduction Phase • Story • Myths or fairy tales are an excellent starting point for the construction of a plot because they tap into the reservoir of unconscious, archetypal human experiences. As Cooper & Dancyger (1994) point out: • “In most cases, the archetypal form of the story remains, while the meaning and the underlying myth changes in response to the pressure of changes in society” (p. 5).
Preproduction Phase • Plot • Syd Field (1982) describes the construction of a screenplay according to three acts: • Setup • Confrontation • Resolution. • A diagram of these three acts is available on the next slide.
Preproduction Phase • Plot • Act I • According to Field (1982), the first act (or setup) must be directed toward arriving at the first “plot point” and accomplish three tasks within the first 30 pages or so. These are… • Set up the story. • Introduce the main character. • State the dramatic premise. • Establish the situation.
Preproduction Phase • Plot • Plot Point I • Field (1982) defines a “plot point” as “an incident or event that ‘hooks’ into the action and spins it around into another direction” (p. 192). In other words, the first plot point is an event that serves as a segue between the setup and the confrontation.
Preproduction Phase • Plot • Act II • Just as the first acted is directed toward the goal of arriving at the first plot point, the second act must be directed toward arriving at the second plot point. The task of the second act is to show the confrontations that stand between the protagonist and his/her goal in approximately 60 pages.
Preproduction Phase • Plot • Plot Point II • Similar to the first plot point, the second one is an event that segues between Act II and Act III. However, in this case, the event brings the events of the narrative back on track for the third act, leading to the climax of the film.
Preproduction Phase • Plot • Act III • Act three completes the narrative paradigm by bringing the protagonist from confrontation to ultimate resolution. Just as Act I was directed toward arriving at plot point 1, and Act II was directed toward arriving toward plot point 2, Act III is directed toward arriving at the resolution.
Preproduction Phase • Plot • Cooper & Dancyger (1994) suggest two basic plot structures for the short film: • The Journey Structure: In which the protagonist sets out in pursuit of a goal. • The Ritual Occasion Structure: In which “adventure finds the main character in his or her situation” (p. 8).
Preproduction Phase • Storyboarding: A storyboard is a series of drawings intended to represent how the film will be shot, including how each frame will be composed and how subject and camera motion will occur. • The storyboard articulates the mise-en-scene of the film. • Mise-en-scene: All of the elements that compose the shot.
Preproduction Phase • Funding: Films are generally expensive to produce. Even small independent productions with unknown actors can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Because of the level of investment involved, most films rely on either production companies (“Hollywood” films) or independent investors (“Independent” films).
Preproduction Phase • Assembling a Crew: A crew is the group of workers on a film set who are responsible for facilitating production (as opposed to acting). Although large productions may employ many crew members in many different departments, there are only a few basic positions which are detailed later in the production phase.
Preproduction Phase • Casting: Choosing actors to play roles. • Costume Design: Choosing or designing the clothing/costumes that the actors wear. • Location Scouting: Choosing the locations where the film will be shot. • Set Design: Constructing sets where the film will be shot.
Preproduction Phase • Properties (“Props”): Choosing the tools and objects used in the film. • Scheduling: Coordinating all aspects necessary to the production.