Picking a 3, 8 or 12-Week Shooting Schedule

StripBoard

Sample Scheduling Strip Board

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.

©2017 by CJ Powers

Faith-Based Films: Survive or Fade Out

I was asked what direction I saw faith-based films headed. The answer is difficult to explain without getting into the proper dollars, art, and story structure. All three elements must be present for a film genre to survive, but most “faith-based” films are void of all three.

I’ve attached a financial chart (provided by The Numbers) of what many have labeled as faith-based films to help my explanation.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 7.57.17 PMAfter chatting on the phone with co-producer Andrew Wallace of Heaven is for real and talking with the original writer of the story, Todd Burpo, I learned that the film was produced like a regular independent Hollywood film – Not a faith-based film. It had the standard budget of $12MM, a cast of well-known faces, artistic choices, and a strong story structure. The sum of its elements drove the box office to cross the $100MM mark.

Miracles from Heaven followed suit in maintaining Hollywood standards, artistic choices and a $13MM budget. While the film is still in theaters, it has crossed the $60MM mark. And again, it was not shot as a faith-based film.

God’s Not Dead and God’s Not Dead 2 were both shot as faith-based films. Neither film used a good story structure, artistic value was lacking, and the budget was an estimated $1.5MM each. With the sequel lacking all the key elements, there’s no surprise that the film is tanking.

The original, God’s Not Dead, arguably made money while lacking those same elements. However, the film’s success was attributed to its gimmicky marketing push that went viral thanks to the Newsboys – Something the sequel didn’t reproduce. In other words, the marketing campaign overcame the lack of key elements.

Risen took a Movie of the Week (MOW) approach. Reducing the film’s artistic choices to that of an MOW budget, keeping it below the $60MM threshold. Woodlawn, however, had no surprises being shot like a faith-based film and reaping its expected rewards.

Hollywood style films will always out perform faith-based films, unless the filmmaker pulls together their own large fan base like the Kendrick Brothers.

The real question behind the survival of a Hollywood production that includes the three key elements versus a faith-based film that does not, is which process is sustainable and reproducible?

The Kendrick Brothers have a sustainable fan base for their films that will support them for years to come. However, they have not been able to reproduce themselves in any of the film’s they’ve supported (The Lost Medallion and Beyond the Mask). They share and attribute their success to prayer and a team void of sin. Unfortunately, filmmakers who have followed that model have not reaped similar success.

The Hollywood process, which includes some who are without sin and pray, reproduces itself extremely well. The system drives individuals to become masters of their craft using an effective apprentice model. The system focuses on great story structure, artistic value and the appropriate budget to achieve success.

Because the faith-based film process is not reproducible and is unable to launch others like Alex and Stephen Kendrick, it will fade away until someone else brings new life to Christian films down the road. After all, the Christian film genre was created twice before and both times it faded away.

As for the Hollywood approach, it’s been around since the early 1900s with no end in sight because it’s easily reproducible. Those who follow this process understand that story is king, not message. They also understand that to demonstrate an emotional win for a character, the story must first demonstrate his or her original depravity – The greater the contrast, the greater the story.

Copyright 2016 by CJ Powers

 

Over Cranking Beauty Shots

Hop On The ChestHave you ever wondered why the female lead always looks stunning during an intimate heartfelt moment in a Hollywood film, but not in an independent film? It has a lot to do with the type of director at the film’s helm – artistic or techie.

There are several clear distinctions between the talents of a director with a techie background and one with an artistic background. The techie guy typically has a history of using technology to glitz up his film with cool imagery, while the artistic guy focuses on story, emotions, and rhythm.

When its time for close-ups, the techie director uses the same lighting and lens set up as he used for the medium shot or the over the shoulder shot. The artistic director hates to see the camera team just tighten the shot and instead suggests a significantly heightened set up to explore the feelings of the moment.

One of my favorite techniques is over cranking the film. Or, for those with a video only background, shooting more frames per second. The technique is ideal for those heartfelt moments when the director needs a beauty shot or a graceful close up of the female lead.

I tend to ask my DP (Director of Photography) for a more muted lighting set up to help enhance the over cranking shot. The softer lighting bends gently around the woman’s face and diffuses any harsh shadows that would otherwise be present. A soft filter might also be added to the camera to makes sure that there are no sharp edges.

If the camera is shooting at 24 fps (frames per second), I have the DP bump it up to 32 fps. This increases the clarity of the shot, while taking off the rough edges. By clarity, I’m not referring to sharpness of image, but rather the avoidance of extra blur inherent in capturing motion.

More importantly, by adjusting the speed by about 30% the image is captured with more detail within the actor or camera’s motion. This translates to an image with a great fluid movement during playback. Directors all have their own set of percentages for capturing a beauty shot, but I’ve found mine to be emotionally effective for all audiences.

In post-production, the 32 fps are then played back at 24 fps to generate a far more graceful shot of the female lead than was present on set. That ideal graceful cinematic shot can only be achieved with special diffused lighting, slightly soft focus lens and adjusted speed of film with readjusted playback.

The techie director tends to avoid the elaborate set up for the beauty shot by just slowing down the image in post. However, he can never get close to capturing that same dreamy and graceful effect that comes from the in camera artistry created on set by the camera team.

This one difference between a techie director and an artistic director is magnified when considering all the other techniques artists master that techies rarely learn.

The cumulative sum of these parts or production elements is what creates the uniquely different look between a Hollywood produced picture versus an independent picture. This focus on detail requires time and a budget for talented people in order to capture the beauty shot that everyone remembers from the film, but can’t explain why.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers

The Coming Demise of Independent Filmmakers, or NOT

Short Films Require Set-Up by CJ PowersMega studios are teetering on the brink of collapse based on the ratio of mega hits versus losers they field. The industry is already projecting a downward trend of the comic and action/adventure franchises that generated the rebound for Hollywood over the past ten years.

For the consumer, the blame is focused on increased technologies reducing the price of a high quality theater experience at home compared to the rising ticket prices at theaters. For the artists, the blame falls upon the marketing and business people forcing the creatives to regurgitate franchise installments and sequels over and over again – Driving the creatives to independent projects and “television” (in its latest Internet form), where they can create something new and unique.

Within this setting is the rise of independent niche production companies including, and most notably, the faith-based and horror genres. Today there are tens of thousands of production companies due to easy access to less expensive technologies. Anyone with a wealthy friend can now make a feature length movie.

Unfortunately, this glut of material is turning major distributors away from purchasing independent films, as the vast majority of the films lack great techniques and story structure. The films that can’t get a viewing with a distributor and those that are rejected by distributors, are creating a massive transition to digital releases to niche markets, sabotaging the numbers within existing audience venues.

Since no independent filmmaker has enough fans to perpetuate his products, the need has grown for joint ventures within the independent marketplace. This is closely following the corporate trend of jobs being farmed out to boutique companies that pool their resources from one project to the next.

The companies that are attracting the pros and generating sustainable work, rather than just collecting points for backend payoffs that rarely occur due to creative financing, are expanding into macro studios. This enormous growth is being tracked by studios who plan to infiltrate and take advantage of the new production finance models.

While Orlando was first considered to be the east coast of Hollywood, it evaporated when the economy dropped. This was due to the fact that studios only sent overflow work to Orlando. However, the high risk ventures of big box office mega pictures created additional constraints and forced Hollywood to pick up as many titles as possible without the up front risks.

Everyone, filmmakers included, decided they were capable of making films and created a glut of bad movies. Last year, out of the 400+ horror films produced, less than 50 got distribution deals. Out of the 470+ faith-based and Christian films produced, about 200 were self-distributed and 19 received a major release. The glut of bad movies that distributors had to sort through was on the increase; causing distributors to focus only on companies they can trust.

In other words, the onslaught of amateur films in 2014 made it very difficult for professional companies to start off 2015 with any traction. This trend will continue, as Hollywood knows that only great production techniques coupled with great storytelling is paramount to wide distribution success.

The ramifications will force the professionals to create macro studios and joint ventures in order to consolidate audiences and accumulate enough revenue to cover better techniques and storytelling.

Thanks to a new stream of creative control in cable and Internet television, many macro studios are already in place and waiting for the transition to grow their businesses. Unfortunately, some smaller studios are still trying to make films for the dispersing markets instead of consolidating audiences with like-minded projects.

This shake up is as significant as the one that hit in the late 70’s with the introduction of home video. In the long run, the mom and pop shop studios that survived were the ones who shifted to digital production over film. The ones who held tight to film fell by the wayside.

Over the next three years, production companies that partner on bigger projects will see a great deal of growth, while those trying to keep everything within their full control and low budget will be forced to stay within their niche markets. Horror film companies will be sorted based on the categories of thriller versus blood and guts. Faith-based films will be most likely sorted by denomination.

The companies rising to the top will be limited to higher budgets, production values, great unique stories, and universal appeal. Amateur companies can’t fake these key elements, which is why it will become the differentiator within the world of motion picture production, regardless of release format.