Recently, on a brisk winter night in St. Petersburg, Florida (if a Florida “winter” can really qualify as winter) I sat with a member of my family, who shall remain nameless. I was describing to this person, whom we will refer to as Beth, what I do for a living, that being, of course, video production. Beth is also well aware of my intent to one day be a screenwriter and possibly direct, and she was adamant that I should utilize my access to the equipment we have at the studio and “just make a movie.” Just slap some of that equipment together, make a movie, sell it to a studio or distribute it myself, and, in the words of the late David Bowie, wham, bam, thank you mam, I’m suddenly the newest and hottest filmmaker in the industry. What followed was an epic verbal duel about how “easy” production is perceived, and how easy it actually is.
Now, I certainly don’t mean to make Beth sound foolish or put myself on a pedestal (although if I did, I may finally be a respectable height), but this conversation is the proverbial poster-child of the common myth that production, whether it be film, television, commercial video, whichever, is as easy a process as a hop, skip, and jump. We at Trove often get comments like “Wow, this must be a great job, there can’t be that much to do!” or, on the opposite ends of the spectrum, genuine surprise with comments like “Wow, I didn’t realize how much actually went into this.” That, my friends, is what I want all of your reactions to be after reading this; your best Owen Wilson “Wow” (seriously, this man’s “wow” delivery is a gift from above), followed by “I didn’t know how much went into this.” Unless of course you do already, in which case I apologize for wasting your time, God forgive me.
In order to really break down production myths, I think it’s important to assess the three fronts of it that are the most misunderstood -- the time, process, and budget.
Put the Time in the Coconut -- The Realities of Shoot Duration
So, in what we will call the Great Beth Battle (to which we will refer often throughout the blog), as I stated, Beth had recommended I just take some equipment and go make a movie. No problem, just set a few weeks aside and that’s that.
Except not many people realize how long it truly takes to shoot a production. Take one of my favorite Christmas movies, Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.” The movie clocks in at about two and a half hours, and took 400 days to shoot. Kubrick began shooting it in 1996, and in 1999 showed the crew a near-final cut of the movie. At risk of stating the obvious, that’s three freaking years. To shoot and edit one movie.
Now, granted, that is a freakishly long shoot -- the longest of all time, according to the folks over at the Guiness Book of World Records -- but if you were to Google “average film shoot” it’ll tell you that it takes about 12 weeks, if you’re lucky (and this is just for filming, not editing!); but most end up taking longer. For those of you who watched the Golden Globes Sunday night, Allison Janney thanked her director, Craig Gillespie, and noted how impressive it was that he shot the film in forty days, and she’s right; that is extremely impressive. That and he kept his cool around the breathtakingly beautiful Margot Robbie for forty days, a truly Herculean task.
When making a production, typically one page of a script equates to about one minute of footage. So here’s a stat that may baffle you; films aim to shoot at most five pages of a script a day. AT MOST. That is actually an insanely ambitious amount, typically it hovers more in the 2 or 3 page range. It’s difficult to really think about, but next time you watch a movie, look at how many different angles it appears the camera is shooting from. On most production sets, there’s only one camera, meaning that if you’re watching a scene and it looks like there’s four different camera angles, they ran through that scene in its entirety at least four times. But, obviously, bloopers run amok; hell may freeze over if you have a spectacular, slam-dunk, perfect take on all four of those. So you’re talking at least two or three takes… per angle… per scene. It adds up.
And the scale of the production really doesn’t matter, unless you’re just making some scrub YouTube video i.e. my hero, the Numa Numa guy -- although if he nailed that on the first try, I’d be all the more impressed. Myself and the Trove crew drove to Michigan a few months ago, we shot from about 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. The result will be about a five minute video. Twenty hours for five minutes. Mull that over.
And shooting is just one step of…
The Pilgrim’s Process -- The Process of Production
So I just took you through the hellish roller coaster that is actually executing an actual shoot, but what about organizing that shoot? And then actually doing something with the endless hours, days, or weeks of footage you just attained?
Enter the production process. It’s not like some guy went up to Steven Spielberg, handed him a script and said “Here, it’s called ‘E.T.’ Wanna’ make it?” and he went “Yeah buddy!” and they made “E.T.” Both preproduction and postproduction are monstrous beasts to take on as well. You can shoot all you want, but without those two, all you have is a veritable mother-load of useless footage.
So, before you even shoot, you have to carry out prepoduction or else you… have no idea what to do. It’s that whole “look before you leap” thing. Before you can even begin shooting, you need may need to do most of if not all of the following; figure out cost (more on that later), hire crew (could end up being hundreds of people), organize any applicable paperwork (this gets ludicrous on movie sets, like “Infinite Jest” levels of paperwork), storyboard, actually have a written script, then use that script to make a call sheet, which is essentially an extremely specific daily schedule for shooting. And, for the record, none of that stuff takes just a few minutes; we’re talking months, half a year. For Trove and in commercial video production, it won’t take as long, but it certainly could take us several weeks to organize a video that may only last a couple minutes.
And then you get to do the cool stuff -- actual filming! Yaaaay movie stars, explosions, romance, intrigue, car chases, yada yada yada. Which, as we spoke about before, isn’t the walk in the park that it seems.
And once you’re rewarded with having finished shooting, now you train your sights on postproduction. This is where you get all of your editing (just … so much editing), sound mixing and designing, all the stuff that shapes the formless mass that is the shoot into a toned and honed audio-visual feast. Again, not a walk in the park; we’re talking months yet again. Think about what our own editor, little baby twenty year old Addisohn Jones, has to go through; sifting through twenty hours of shooting to find usable footage that will eventually be whittled down to just five minutes. Sounds like a technological purgatory the likes of which could be in an episode of “Black Mirror.”
So, going back to the Great Beth Battle, while I must admire her ambition, there is just so many steps to a production that a casual, nearly improvised shoot is ripe for chaos. And then there’s the matter of …
Hootin’ and Dollarin’ -- The Actual Cost of Production
Think of the cheapest-looking, grungiest, seemingly barest of bones movie you can think of. Many will site the first “The Blair Witch Project,” and for good reason; it seems like it’s a bunch of kids that did exactly what Beth was barking at me to do. Grabbed a camera, some camping gear, put together some half-ass story, and ran off into the woods for a couple nights. In reality, preproduction took about 3 weeks, shooting lasted eight days, followed by eight months of postproduction and a release several months later. Compared to everything I’ve told you, doesn’t seem that much, right? Can’t be too expensive, right?
I suppose it was fairly inexpensive … when you compare it to a Marvel movie. “The Blair Witch Project” clocks in at a cool $60,000 budget. This gritty, shoddily-made movie shot on what appears to be the most affordable camera the film’s creators could possibly find was made for what qualifies as a fairly solid year’s salary.
Again, this is something that people don’t often consider when pondering making a movie. But remember all of those processes we just talked about? From preproduction through shooting to postproduction? Those all, uh … cost money. Unless you’re working with a veritable army of the most charitable people of all time, chances are you’re going to have to pay everybody you work with. Even in a smaller production company like Trove, for one shoot you may have to pay a producer, an editor or two, a camera man or two, as well as the actual director of the shoot, and it costs a pretty penny. Compound that with having to actually pay for or rent equipment and you could be in the tens of thousands already. Even if you were to buy all of your equipment so that you never had to rent it, you’re still paying thousands of dollars for it. And if you end up having to deal with paid actors? Sweet fancy Moses, you can watch your budget fly through the ceiling like that glass elevator in Willy Wonka -- does that thing have a parachute or what? HOW DO THEY SURVIVE?! Bottom line, anything that you’re going to want in your production is going to cost money.
So there you have it guys, the grim behind the scenes of what it’s like to actually shoot a video project. Having said that, it is our passion, and we do actually adore doing it, as the finished product is (typically) always worth the journey. We just want to make sure you know that that journey isn’t a lazy stroll down the beach; it’s an uphill both ways in the snow kind of journey. But, of course, a fun one!
That’s it for this week’s blog! If you guys dug what you read, check out our other blogs on our website. And if you didn’t, I challenge you to read those very same blogs until we gradually wear you down and you have no choice but to like us. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next week!