Filmmaking Basics/Understanding Filmmaking/Narrative Filmmaking Process

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Narrative Film Production:
Course #01: The Basics
Lesson #002: Understanding Filmmaking - Study the Way Movies are Filmed in Hollywood
Pages of this Lesson:
Page 1 - Introduction
Page 2 - Watching how dramatic scenes are broken down and filmed in Hollywood.
Page 3 - Analyzing the movie George Lucas in Love
Page 4 - The Basic Filmmaking Process


The Process of Single Camera Filmmaking for Narrative Dramas[edit | edit source]

The following outline intends to give you a brisk walkthrough of what film and television production entails when filming narrative dramas.

Development[edit | edit source]

Before even pre-production, there is the initial phase where ideas are bounced around. The idea for this script had been around for many years.

The Story[edit | edit source]

All movies start with a story. Click here to look at our story. In Hollywood, the story might start with just an idea which is pitched to someone with money. Or the story might be a book which is then suggested for turning into a movie.

The Script[edit | edit source]

The story must be turned into a script. For a novel, that means cutting 20 hours of material down to 90 minutes. That is a lot of cutting!!!. The first step is to analyze the story to find the characters, the dialog, the action, and the parenthetical comments. We do this on page 2 of lesson 1.

The Script Formatting[edit | edit source]

The script is not ready for viewing until it is formatted. It must be typed correctly so everyone quickly understands what is needed. Our story is very simple so typing it into a script takes little time using a script formatting program. You can do this on page 4 of lesson 1.

Production Design[edit | edit source]

The art director, production designer and/or producers decide on the overall feel of the production. This has a huge effect on the script breakdown. All their decisions will be note in Lesson 3.

Script Breakdown[edit | edit source]

The Production Designer and the producers dissect the script to identify how many of everything they need; ie actors, locations, visual and computer effects, props & costumes. This is also part of Lesson 3.

Crewing up[edit | edit source]

The producers design a basic timeline and make initial wish-lists of actors, head crew members (director, director of photography (DP), gaffer, sound, visual effects designer, computer effects designer, editor and musician), locations and equipment as it affects format (b&w or colour film, video or digital video).

We will be making both a live action and an animated version of this movie. For the animated version, we have to locate the models which will be used for the two characters in our movie — the Young Person and the Old Person. We will begin this search in Lesson 9.

Finance[edit | edit source]

This stage runs concurrently with conceptualization but can only really reflect actual needs after the script breakdown and production design stages have finished. We will have completed the animated version before we begin to work on the financing of the live action version. This will be done in Lesson #017.

Budget[edit | edit source]

This tries to take into account all expenses for the entire venture based on results from the script breakdown and production design as well as budgets from similar projects. The line producer (someone familiar with filming in a particular geographical region) usually does the initial budget.

Investors[edit | edit source]

At this stage the project requires a second level of investors to commit to the project to carry it through to completion. The art of deal-making rules this stage. A good producer can raise millions based on how well they understand the distribution and exhibition controls in the industry. Small productions rely on friends and family money or funding from the local dentist.

Market analysis[edit | edit source]

The producers and distributors clearly define the market at this stage.

Pre-production[edit | edit source]

Once the line producer completes the initial script breakdown, supplying the budget and schedule for the production, the initial meetings take place with the people involved and all the producers make all the 'final' decisions for the production. The line producer prepares the final budget and schedule during pre-production. Sometimes the 1st assistant director prepares the schedule with the line producer.

First meetings[edit | edit source]

The producers and crew heads meet to determine if they feel comfortable working together. As each has very different styles of working this meeting stage can make or break the production. Also the director usually meets with the major actors, determining if (s)he feels the actors need rehearsal time, or training (athletic, martial arts, military, medical, etc.) to play their roles.

Locations[edit | edit source]

The production team (in coordination with the art department) secures locations for the shoot. They determine time-frames and iron out all potential problems (seasonal traffic, weather, etc.) If the production shoots on a sound stage, the set design and construction begins.

Props & special effects[edit | edit source]

The special effects team and the art department determine what they need to build, buy or borrow (miniature models, multiple vehicles for stunts and explosions, effects make-up, aged props and building, set dressings, etc.).

Production[edit | edit source]

Live Action Motion Pictures[edit | edit source]

For live action, the executive producer gives the money to the producer to make the motion picture. The producer hires the director who will control the performance of the actors. The producer hires the cinematographer (director of photography) who will capture the performance of the actors on film or digitally. The producer hires a production manager (or line producer) who then hires all the workers (the crew) for the filming of the motion picture. The producer or the production manager will hire the sound recordist (sound mixer) who will capture the dialog of the actors. The producer and the director select the actors for the motion picture with the assistance of a casting director. Each day on the movie set, the actors and crew turn into reality the planning of the production. On the set: Lights, Camera, Action!

Head crew
Directors and assistant directors, script supervisor and location manager.

Camera department
Director of photography, camera operator, camera assistants and focus pullers.

Lighting/electrical department
Gaffer, best boy electric and electricians (sparks).

Grip department
Key grip, dolly grip, best boy grip, rigging grips and grips.

Sound department
Sound mixer, sound assistants and boom.

Art department
Art director, prop manager, painters, set dressers, and construction crew.

Make-up/hair department
Make up artist, hair designer, special effects make-up designer and assistants.

Wardrobe/costume department
Costume designer (not on set), wardrobe manager, and dressers.

Visual effects department
Visual effects supervisor and support crew.

Production department
Production manager (not on set), production coordinator, and production assistants (PAs).

Support crew
Medical, transport, catering, personal assistants, still photography, and behind-the-scenes videographers.

Animation[edit | edit source]

For animation, the procedure is backwards. (To be completed soon...)

Post Production[edit | edit source]

After 20 to 60 days of filming, you are finished shooting your motion picture. After all that effort, the only thing you have to show for your work is about 100 reels of film, 60 rolls of audio tape, and a well-worn copy of the script which has been marked up by the script supervisor. That's it! Other than publicity stills and maybe a documentaries and perhaps some effects shots being done at effects houses around town, this is all you get for your 40 million dollars. So now, what do you do?

Now you start Post Production. Now you turn the developed film and audio reels into a motion picture for viewing at a film festival. (Much later, you worry about getting the movie ready for distribution.)

Once the dailies are prepared for editing, film editor begins to edit the picture and the dialog. The sound department will get busy creating an infinite number of sound effects and the film composer will create beautiful music for your movie. If any visual effects are needed, they will get done too at special effects houses... along with the titles and credits.

Finally, when everyone is happy, the negative will be cut to match the edit of the movie and a print will be made for showing a Sundance.

Let's look at these steps individually.

Dailies/Workprint/Telecine/Capture/Syncing Audio[edit | edit source]

Each day during production of a feature film shot on motion picture film, dailies are prepared for viewing by the director, the crew and the studio executives. To save money, the same dailies can be used by the editor to edit the movie... or at least they can be created at the same time.

Preparing the dailies for editing seems like a trivial task but can be a major headache if not done very carefully. This is just as true for digital video as for film. Some people think that just because they use a digital camcorder, they do not have to process the film dailies. Dailies still have to be captured into the computer so they can be edited. And if you using a separate sound system for recording the dialog, you will still have all the problems of syncing audio to picture for your digital dailies.

For more information on preparing film dailies for editing and the telecine process, see the section on Telecine in the Movie Making Manual.

Logging[edit | edit source]

If you film and edit only one scene (or a short), you can easily keep track in your head of all the raw footage. But for a feature film, keeping track of all the different shots is not easy. Walter Murch uses Apple's FileMaker Pro. At Macworld Expo, there is usually at least one lecture on how he uses this database for during the editing process.

Picture and Dialog Editing[edit | edit source]

When the movie is edited, the editor must think about more than just the picture and the dialog. The sound effects and the music work together with the pictures and the dialog to tell the story. The sound effects, music, picture and dialog all interact. The editor must figure out how all these elements work together to tell the story.

In Hollywood, there are special teams what do the visual effects, music, and sound effects. But if you are just one person doing the edit of low-budget motion picture, you might have to do everything yourself as you edit the movie.

Narrative Films Only
This manual covers dramatic movies with scripted dialog. Be aware that editing a documentary, corporate video, multimedia or event video is totally different from editing narrative dramas. For more information about the process of film editing for narrative motion pictures and televison drama see the section What is Editing in the Movie Making Manual.

For narrative feature films, there are two different kinds of scenes - Action sequences and Conversation. When you edit a conversation, there are lots of constraints... special the script which dictates the spoken dialog. Action sequences have few constraints.

There are two kinds of music - Background music and Narrative music. Background music means very soft music while narrative music is music that gets in your face. At this stage, a temp track is acceptable for background music but for music which tells part of the story, you really need to use something which will be close to the final music.

While there are many kinds of sound effects, at this stage you are only worried about the sound effects that help tell a story, not the sound effects which make the scenery seem realistic such as Ambience, Walla and Foley. These can be done when the editing is finished. For now, just worry about the sound effects that help narrate the story.

For more instructions on how to edit a dramatic scene with scripted dialog, see the section How To Edit a Dramatic Scene in the Movie Making Manual.

ADR (Automatic Dialog Replacement)[edit | edit source]

Once you have edited the movie, you might need to replace some of the spoken dialog. For more information on ADR, see the section ADR in the Movie Making Manual.

Sound Effects[edit | edit source]

Once all the scenes are edited, you begin to add all the little sounds which makes the movie seem real. If a scene does not seem realistic, you have not added enough sound effects such as:

Ambience[edit | edit source]

The background sounds of the environment.

Walla[edit | edit source]

This is the indistinguishable sounds of people talking in the background.

Foley[edit | edit source]

The footsteps and the rustling of clothing make your scene seem real. which are so numerous that it is faster to record these sound effects live while watching the movie. If you have only a few footsteps, you can do this from sound effects libraries in your editing program. But in general, when you need hundreds of tiny sound effects, it is easier to do them with Foley

For more information on Sound for motion pictures, see Sound Design in the Movie Making Manual. For more information on Foley, see the section Foley in the Movie Making Manual. (Note: "Foley" stands for Jack Foley who pioneered this kind of sound effects creating.)

Visual Effects[edit | edit source]

When doing the basic edit, blank frames or storyboard frames are used in place of visual elements. Once the effects shots are finished, they must be inserted into the edit.

Titles and Credits[edit | edit source]

Titles can be done any way that you wish. Determining which people to include in the credits can be complicated. This is a good place to make a lot of people angry. Therefore, you must be very careful to list all the people who deserve credit for making the movie. Sometimes, the unions decide this. Sometimes your contracts with the cast and crew decide this. Doing the credits is not as easy as it looks.

Film Scoring[edit | edit source]

Music creates the mood. Once the edit is complete (with a temp score), the temp score must be replace by the final score. For more information on film scoring, see the section Music/Film Scoring in the Movie Making Manual.

Breakdown into reels[edit | edit source]

A motion picture must be in manageable pieces for distribution and projection. In the break between reels, there must be no sound or picture.

Conform the Negative[edit | edit source]

Most of the time, it is not possible to edit at the highest possible resolution. In these cases, up until now, editing is off-line. If there is no digital intermediary, you need to conform the negative.

Prep for Distribution[edit | edit source]

This should be in the marketing section because it is done after you have a distributor but before the distributor accepts delivery of the motion picture and all its elements. Therefore, only after you have sold the movie, do you learn what film formats are required. This is a hidden expense can be rather nasty. If you have not planned ahead, this can cost you a fortune. Read Robert Rodriguez' Rebel without a Crew which is about the making "El Mariachi" This book should be required reading in all film schools.

Animated Feature Films[edit | edit source]

Note that if you are making an animated feature-length motion picture, the procedures above are done in a slightly different order.

Post Production[edit | edit source]

(To be combine with above.) On completion of filming (and even while it still continues) the editing team goes to work to start cutting the project together. If you are interested in learning how to do these steps using your personal computer, see the Teach Yourself Filmmaking section.

Developing /Dailies/Logging[edit | edit source]

Every night during shooting of the motion picture, the film reels and the sound reels are sent to the lab. The film is developed and circle takes printed onto film or telecined onto video tape. Then the audio is synced with the picture to create the dailies. Or to explain it another way: The dailies are created by combining the visual image (from the motion picture camera or from the DV Camcorder) with the audio (the dialog) from the sound recorder. To begin post production, a copy of these dailies are converted into the formatted required by the film editor and logged. On film, this is known as the work print. The editor never works with the original negative which scratches too easily. For digital films, this is called the off-line edit which is lower resolution than the original images which saves disk space and speeds up playback. For bigger films, logging means that information about every piece of film and every bit of audio must be entered into a huge database which is accessible by the entire post production staff.

Editing[edit | edit source]

Building the scenes to tell a story. Nowadays, non-linear editing using computers has become the norm (Avid, Final Cut Pro, ...) The editor works closely with the sound effects department and the film scoring person to bring the maximum impact to the movie. For action sequence, the scene will be edited based on the visual images, the music and the sound effects. For conversations, the editor must cut to get the best quality dialog... as well as to worry how the music and sound effects will effect the scene.

ADR[edit | edit source]

Editors must re-record dialogue that cannot be salvaged from production in a process called looping, dubbing, or ADR. ADR stands for either Additional Dialogue Recording, or Automated Dialogue Replacement, depending on whom you ask. But don't ask why the A sometimes stands for Automated, because there's nothing particularly automatic about the process. An actor watches the image repeatedly while listening to the original production track on headphones as a guide. The actor then re-performs each line to match the wording and lip movements.

Actors vary in their ability to achieve sync and to recapture the emotional tone of their performance. Marlon Brando, for example, was said to enjoy looping because he didn't like to freeze a performance until he knew its final context. (People have said that he mumbled during his on-camera performances to make the production sound unusable, so that he can make adjustments in looping.)

ADR is a necessary evil when production sound is unusable, but directors can also use it to add new character or interpretation to a shot. By altering a few key words or phrases an actor can change the emotional bent on a scene.

Sound Effects[edit | edit source]

The sound effects (including the Foley, Walla, & Ambiance) make a scene seem real. Without the addition of sound effects, a scene would feel like it was filmed on a studio sound stage... which it probably was. Sound effects recorded by a sound effects person are rarely used as is. Instead, sound effects are "sweetened" and enhanced.

Foley[edit | edit source]

A sound effects technique for synchronous effects or live effects. Foleying supplies the subtle sounds that production mikes often miss. The rustling of clothing and a squeak of a saddle when a rider mounts his horse give a scene a touch of realism that filmmakers find difficult to provide using other effects methods. Sounds for a steamy sex scene probably come from a foley artist making dispassionate love to his or her own wrist. The good Foley artist must "become" the actor with whom they sync effects or the sounds lack the necessary realism to convince the audience. Most successful Foley artists are audiles; they can look at an object and imagine what type of sound it can be made to produce. The foley crew include the artist or "walker," who makes the sound, and a technician or two to record and mix it. A foley stage often appears as a storage area for the studio's unwanted junk. Metal laundry tubes filled to the brim with metal trays, tin pie plates, empty soda cans, hubcaps, bedpans, knives, forks and broken staple guns. They use these crash tubes for anything from comedy crashes to adding presence (brightness and naturalness) to something as serious as a car crash.

Walla[edit | edit source]

Walla is the indistinguishable mutterings of people in a crowd. It takes a special skill to create a series of intelligible words with no clear meaning. wal

Ambiance[edit | edit source]

Unlike sound for television dramas, a motion picture normally records only the dialog (the spoken words) during production. All the other sounds are created in post production. This gives greater freedom when editing the dialog. Therefore, the natural sounds of the environment need to be added. This is especially true if the scene was recorded on a sound stage at the motion picture studio where the background sounds are never natural or realistic. The sound of the environment is the ambiance and must be recorded in a real location. Even though ambiance is very soft in the background, a scene will feel flat without it.

Ambiance is also sometimes referred to as "room tone."

Musical Scoring[edit | edit source]

The musical score and the musical sound effects create the mood for each scene. Writing the music for film and TV requires special skills from the composers, musicians and sound engineers; they all need a flair for the dramatic and the ability to envision sound. Even though the actors' voices adds a kind of music to a scene as they speak, adding additional music is often necessary to create the proper mood. It is often the director who tells the film's composer what what moods he wants the audience to feel during the action and the dialog in the motion picture.

Visual Effects[edit | edit source]

Visual effects are any element which was not captured during filming that must be created later. This can be done by computers (CGI) or by matte paintings. When two or more elements must be combined (such as live actor shots with computer generated effects), the images are composited.

CGI[edit | edit source]

CGI stands for Computer Generated Imagery. This term refers to any element created within a computer and encompasses anything from adding digital fog to a scene, to generating a crowd at a stadium, to creating whole characters, completely animated, such as Gollum from the Lord of the Rings films.

Matte Painting[edit | edit source]

Matte Paintings were originally hand-painted scenery on glass which was photographed along with the live action. When using a matte painting which has been painted on clear glass, the matte painting sits in front of the camera while the actors perform on a partial movie set which can be seen through a clear spot on the matte painting. The rest of the movie set is simply the painting. Now Matte Paintings are created with hand painting, paintings using computer software, still image manipulation, and/or 3D models which have been rendered, and then the matte painting is combined with the live action by compositing in post production, rather than during the filming of the movie.

Titling[edit | edit source]

Filmmakers consider designing the opening and closing credits to a film or TV piece as an art and skill in itself. Nowadays people's whole careers can consist only of designing titles for major motion pictures and television series.

Composting[edit | edit source]

When separate visual elements on film are combined, this is called opticals. With computers and digital images, this is called compositing which is just like combining pictures with Photoshop.

Conforming the Negative[edit | edit source]

Once all the post production is finished and a working edit of the movie is completed and approved, the negative must be cut to match the working edit of the movie. Only after the negative is conformed is the movie is ready for viewing in a theater (usually at a film festival) where the motion picture will be seen by the public (and potential distributors) for the first time. If the motion picture was made with digital images, the movie must be rendered at full resolution (the on-line edit) and transfered to film. If there will be an digital intermediary, the digital version or a digitized version of the conformed negative is color corrected and then rendered onto film.

Sales & Marketing[edit | edit source]

Distribution[edit | edit source]

If the project has distributors on-board from the beginning, this process requires little more than sitting back on the part of the producers and investors, as the distributors practice their trade. However if the producers have not pre-sold the distribution rights, this can entail going to film festivals and/or door-to-door selling to TV, cable stations or video/DVD distributors.

Delivery[edit | edit source]

Once the motion picture has been sold to a distributor, the distributor will spell out exactly the elements that the distributor requires for the distributor to accept the film. Then the filmmaker goes back and prepares all these elements. For very low budget movies, this can cost more than the entire production and includes such odd things as insurance policies for errors and omissions and a sound track for the motion picture which has been divided into three separate parts - Dialog, Music and Effects. It is the distributor who will create all the foreign language versions of the motion picture and make all the necessary cuts and reedits to the motion picture to get it acceptable for foreign markets.

Publicity material[edit | edit source]

Marketing also requires the design of posters, audio & visual trailers and merchandise. Special staff, like graphic artists and voice-over characters, work to produce these invaluable tools. It is the distributor who creates the DVD-Video disk so the distributor must create the special features and publicity for the DVD-Video disk. Hopefully, the production company has created and saved the necessary items need for the publicity such as production stills and documentaries for the DVD-Video disk.

Getting Started[edit | edit source]

If all of this sounds exciting, you can get started by reading the section called Teach Yourself Filmmaking. This section of the Movie Making Manual shows you simple ways to begin learning how you can make your own motion pictures.