A friend of mine surprised me with a note detailing the results of his unique research. He was adamant about learning why certain films succeed with a shooting schedule that kills other films. The correlation was eye opening and made me curious about my list of shooting scripts.
Typical Movies of the Week (MOW) fit easily into a 3-week schedule due to time constraints and budgets. Although some networks are satisfied with the results garnered by 2-week schedules because they prefer few set-ups and lots of close-ups.
Beginning filmmakers also use the 2-3 week schedule because they don’t yet have the artistic flair or knowledge of what to do with the extra time provided in an 8-week schedule. Many newbie directors can’t tell what the actor did right or wrong, so they move to the next shot without any exploration of how to best capture the human condition.
Oscar® loves the 8-week schedule because it keeps the story intimate and gives plenty of time to explore the artistic values that expose the human condition. The vast majority of Academy Award nominees and winners hold well to the 8-week shooting schedule. Few Oscar® winners use a shorter or longer shooting schedule.
Highly commercial films are forced to use the 12-week schedule due to its elaborate shots, visual effects and global storylines. The bigger box office spectaculars have even stretched the shooting schedule out to 6 months in order to properly create the world of adventure adored by audiences worldwide.
Understanding why the films in each category could succeed was impressive, but I found the list of failures more enlightening.
Many horror and Faith-based films attempt to make an 8-week film in 2-weeks and wonder why their box office couldn’t hit Hollywood’s $40MM mark that determines success within the industry. While most horror films shot within a 3-week schedule hit $12MM, Faith-based films tend to hit $3MM. I was curious about the gap.
According to the research, horror films use a simple “coming after you” action device to move the story forward and salts in a secondary plotline of romance or something from “Geekdom.” Faith-based films seldom use action plotlines, so the story has no forward movement. The filmmakers rely solely on the message’s innate value rather than salting it into an action throughline.
Of course, 8 and 12-week scheduled films usually have a strong action plotline and one or two subplots to entertain the masses. This structure in of itself demands more shooting time and exploration of the human condition. Comedies on the other hand don’t adhere to the story structure, as they explore improvisational work by the talent. Doing so can accidentally remove the pacing and format of the story, making it fall apart in the eyes of the audience.
Most $40MM plus stories are shot on the 8-week schedule using full story structure with an action plotline and two subplots. The longer schedule attracts larger names to the project that can draw a larger audience. The key to the film’s success typically rests on the director, writer and talent. Story is king and knowing how to direct is essential.
Most of the stories I write are for 8 and 12-week schedules. However, most of the shows I’ve been hired to direct have been for 3 and 8-week shooting schedules. The shorter schedules were due to investors or producers that wanted to spend as little money as possible to achieve their results, rather than investing the amount needed to honor the story’s natural schedule.
When I shot Mystery at the Johnson Farm we scheduled 11 pages a day and shot lots of close-ups with little coverage. When I was in The Dark Night’s parade scene we were capturing less than a page a day. On Nolan’s heavy stunt days they were lucky to capture one to two eights of a page a day.
The story demands a certain amount schedule for each of its specific scenes. To rob the story of what it requires only lowers the quality of the film. To give too much time to scenes causes the show to become bloated, forcing the editor to battle the director—trimming favorite shots for the sake of pacing and entertainment value.
The key question with independent film … is the story well structured enough to require the golden 8-week schedule or is it too weak? If it’s weak the filmmaker can either adjust the script or refocus his distribution to a small cable network in place of a theatrical release.
We’d all like more time to film. For me, as a director, I’m frequently finding that we can’t go on and get that perfect take because we’re constrained by time which is constrained by the budget. Dog will always be a-chasing its own tail.
Ah yes, the life of an independent filmmaker. Just enough money to shoot, but not enough to do justice to the story. But hopefully enough funds/time to get 80% of your dream on screen.