Picking a 3, 8 or 12-Week Shooting Schedule


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

Don’t Boycott the Academy Awards®

Academy AwardsTwo factions are digging in their cleats to push their political agenda to the masses. One group suggests the Oscar® nominations must be more diversified. The other group suggests those receiving nominations did so on the merit of their work, not their skin color.

Side arguments have also risen suggesting that blacks shouldn’t complain, but instead “improve their craft to get nominated.” Still others suggest that “if you don’t like segregation, then close down the BET network.” More political strikes come from those suggesting it’s “the studios fault for not producing enough ‘black’ material.”

The arguments continue to divide the once unified art form, sending more professionals to television. Most shows are made with a universal audience in mind, but some are now suggesting that more “all black films” must be made. Diversity is now requiring more segregation for equality. Oh, the ebb and flow.

Everyone in the industry knows that audiences determine what films are made. If they support Star Wars to the sum of billions, then sequels will follow. If they don’t support the independent art film, then fewer art films will be made.

On average, white male actors dominate the box office. White females come next and then black men. The list continues through all nationalities, races and known orientations. It’s not rocket science. For some reason black actors like Denzel Washington (6 Oscar® Nominations and 2 Oscar® Wins) can draw a large audience of all races, while Tyler Perry (Zero Oscar® Nominations) draws a smaller mixed audience and a larger black audience.

Female leads draw fewer viewers than men, unless they happen to be Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Lawrence. Why? Because men and women both like watching men on screen and fewer men and women like watching women on screen. If you want people of color to have more lead roles on screen, you need to give the audience incredible talent to change their minds about what they prefer to watch.

Three factors can create a green light project: talent, money and distribution. But, only one factor can determine a film’s success: the audience. Whoever can build an audience can make whatever film-starring vehicle they want, but it doesn’t mean it’ll be award winning.

As for the Academy, it’s open by invitation to those who do great work for a universal audience. Those who create niche films typical don’t get invited. Why? Because they don’t reach a large enough audience for the Academy to notice them. That’s not to say the Academy doesn’t try to award great filmmakers who practice outside of the universal audience segment, they do with best short film and documentary categories.

The Oscars® are the best of the best based on wide distribution. The blacks that have won Oscars® in the past deserved it. To suggest that a poorly acted film like “Straight Outta Compton” should get a nomination because they’re black, only weakens the well deserved Oscar® received by blacks in prior years. Yes, Compton’s was a good film (although written by two white guys), but the acting was only up to the caliber of a music video, not an award level theatrical picture.

The Academy doesn’t give everyone a trophy for showing up to set. They keep things extremely competitive to raise the standards in the industry. You have to be “excellent” in the eyes of “all your peers” to win.

Now, some think Will Smith (2 Oscar® Nominations) should have received a nomination for “Concussion.” However, the story wasn’t as powerful as the “Erin Brockovich” story that landed Julia Roberts her Oscar®. While Smith may have performed well, Oscar® is usually associated with great stories.

It takes the right combination of audience, money, talent, story and excellence to land a nomination. And, it takes the admiration of ones peers to cash in the nomination for a win. By sticking a couple music video actors in the nominations reduces the weight the nominations carry among peers. If the nomination means nothing, the win becomes nothing more than political, which kills the awarding of the art form by peers.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers




Screenplay Oscar Nominations

SpotlightHere are the two categories of screenplay nominations. I’ve included the links for your reading pleasure.


The Big Short
Adaptation by Adam McKay, rewriting Charles Randolph
Based on The Big Short by Michael Lewis

By Nick Hornby
Adapted from the novel by Colm Toibin

By Phyllis Nagy
Based on the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

The Martian
Written by Drew Goddard
Based on the novel by Andy Weir

Written by Emma Donoghue
Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue


Bridge of Spies
By Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen

Ex Machina
By Alex Garland

Inside Out
Original story by Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen
Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley

Original screenplay by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy

Straight Outta Compton
Screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff
Story by S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff