In this post we explore the aspects generally considered the Producer’s territory. At times I found that most break downs of a shoot covered all the cool fun aspects but never the nitty gritty of how things got made. Because I didn’t just want to generate a ramble for this post I got Aliesha, an upcoming Producer and our Production Assistant on the film to write questions for me that other people in her position would be keen to hear the answers to. I hope this helps…
But first a big thank you has to go to Michelle and Nick from Short and Sharp, our Executive Producers and to the NZFC for giving us a chance to make a film with funding!
What challenges unique to Restoration were you presented with in both pre- and post-production? What was your strategy to work through these?
For me the main concerns were the paintings and VFX elements. These were also what was exciting about the project as it gave me the opportunity to explore areas thatI had not had the budget to explore before. Early in pre-production Tim lead a lot of research about how we could achieve the painting. I was involved in discussions about how we could achieve the family turning up in the studio without having to actually have them on set, as that would have effected the budget greatly. Making sure that Duncan (the DOP), Simon (the VFX artist), Tim and Ed (the editor) all discussed this in preproduction allowed us to find a way to achieve this.
In post production managing the visual effects was largely lead by the rest of the team, but I stepped in when
there were issues. Having a basic understanding of post procedures and the workflow is invaluable, as offering other options for your team is very important, as well as understanding where the time-consuming parts of the process are and the level of difficulty to achieve different elemtns. When something isn’t working you need to offer other suggestions for how to approach things, this either comes from experience or research and either way you need to commit the time to know what you are talking about (at least at a basic level) when you are talking to your team. You also need to be on top of what the time commitment of each option is going to be as it will not only affect the budget but your delivery schedule as well.
I recall during production that it became apparent the original shooting schedule would not be achieved as first planned. How did you and the team work through this challenge and still shoot enough content to complete the film on time?
We went horribly over shedule trying to shoot the VFX elements of the film. It was particularly difficult as it meant that there was less time for scenes that I knew Tim wanted more time for. Having a good understanding of the Directors shot list and the elements required for it is important as our proposal became an instance of ‘you don’t have to cut everything, but the CU shots need to be done out of sequence with a smaller crew’. We were going to lose our lighting truck at a certain time and knowing we were going to go over needed to plan the shots around the lights that could be left behind with a much smaller crew.
Luckily Tim is a Director who saw this as both a creative challenge as well as a logistical one and managed to come up with a new shot list which we all feel actually improved the scenes in question. The end result came about from an after wrap meeting involving Tim, myself, Sez the AD and Duncan the DOP.
I feel it is important for me as the Producer to be close to the production and understand the elements required to complete the film. If you are there on set and you can see things going behind, you can start looking through everything that comes next and start devising solutions that allow your Director to achieve the majority of what he wants but more importantly to achieve everything you need to complete the film without everything spiralling out of control. It also allows the opportunity to stop problems before they become problems (i.e. rescheduling days to ensure core crew members availability), allowing the Director to focus on creating the magic of the film.
You were successful in delivering Restoration on/under budget. How did you achieve this? What are your recommendations to maximise resources over budget constraints?
There are a number of elements that go into this. The first piece of advise I would offer to anyone is to make movies. Making low-budget films gives you a very good understanding of what you actually need to achieve things – the thing to watch here is that you should always be trying to improve. For me I had a good understanding of the very basics but our expenditure still differed a fair bit during the course of the production.
There are two main points I live by with budgeting. Firstly there is no such thing as percentages that need to be given to various different areas, when dividing a budget it literally comes down to what you know you can get, be that by quotes or favours or haggling. Secondly you have to be respectful of your cast and crew. Whether they are giving up the time for free or you are paying them you should be transparent in your offering and also think through what is in it for them before making an approach. If everyone is on the same page and they are all working towards something they are excited about it is much easier to deliver to budget. If everyone wants the film to succeed and feel like they share ownership you get much less strange requests or demands. That and everyone works harder. Film is a collaborative art and even though it is a job I still believe if your not enjoying it the majority of the time you are doing something wrong. This attitude needs to come from the top and be unanimous for it to be successful.
In terms of maximising resources, making content is the greatest way to know how to achieve this. Building your own kit, and knowing where things are actually necessary is crucial. You will also rely a lot on what your crew can pull for you. This is where the above comes in very important. At the end of the day if your not passionate about the project no one else will be and passion will be the one thing that delivers the film. How many people are passionate about it will be the difference between on budget and under budget, at least thats my experience.
What do you believe were the key strengths in your proposal to the NZ Film Commission? In your opinion, what do upcoming film makers need in their proposals to be successful in the funding application process?
The key strength was the script. As with anything in film the idea and how well it is executed on paper is king. Spending the time to get the script right is a must. After that a good logline and synopsis are essential. There are a couple of links to be helpful in terms of building blocks for synopsis and logline – I have listed these below. Save the Cat also has a great chapter on developing loglines and The Complete Independent Film Marketing Handbook provides good exercises for getting to the core of your film and making it sellable.
Good directors notes are also critical. There needs to be a clear communicatable idea of what the vision for the film is and how this will be achieved. Using references to aid in the understanding of what you (or the Director) wants can be beneficial. Regrettably there aren’t really any good examples of these online (or at least not that I could find, if you know of some then let me know), so you need to reply on putting them together yourself on instinct or asking other people very nicely for examples.
For the Producer the most important element is the budget and accompanying budget notes. You need to show that making this film is feasible for what you were asking and how you will achieve it. If there are any expensive elements in your film (i.e. a prop of a painting that needs to be created and VFX) make sure you can explain how you will achieve these and have quotes to back it up.
Along with the budget having a breakdown of how long it will take to achieve is important. Of course the schedule won’t be very detailed but generally allowing enough lead in time to ensure you can research and plan out any difficult areas is important. Also ensure that you have enough time in your post schedule to deliver.
Lastly our key strength was us, the team. Having worked together on ‘Crackheads’ and also having extensive experience individually made us an attractive proposition in terms of people to support. To achieve this you really just need to keep making stuff, and don’t allow the fact that your not getting funding stop you. Competitions like 48hours and Tropfest are great for this because it gives you a tangible goal that you can present to your team when trying to get them to help you.
What did Restoration and the Premiere Shorts scheme teach you about productions working in conjunction with the NZ Film Commission? Do you have any systems or tools you use to manage productions from the Script stage right through to Screen phase? How do you stay on track?
With all of us having come from a self-funding background there were times where having to wait was frustrating. Of course this is to be expected, as when your taking someone else money there needs to be a system in place for them to check through what is happening. I learnt a lot about how helpful it is to have more experienced people to guide you, Nick and Michelle were (and still are) invaluable assets to us in making the film. They were particularly helpful in how to deal with the NZFC and helping to ensure that we were ticking all the required boxes. Sometimes the way you present your information makes all the difference!
I can’t say I really have any systems for managing things expect that I live by my to do list. Call me old fashioned, but I still have a notebook that goes with me everywhere in my handbag outlining everything that has to be done and every time I think of something I write it down, it is too easy to forget when you are holding so many things in your head. Of course my first few propductions my checklist was pulled out of books on filmmaking to ensure I covered all the elements. When I first graduated film school I read every filmmaking book I could get my hands on and I would highly recommend researching everything in order to find a system to help you structure productions when you are starting out.
Every production brings new issues that need to be managed. On Restoration I was nervous about both the paintings and the VFX elements so we had extensive time in pre-production mapping out how we were going to achieve these things and planned our shoot dates after working out how long it would take to create the paintings. This to me is always the key. Breakdown your script and stay on top of the things that you are concerned about. It also helps to speak with your HOD’s to see if there is anything that concerns them, cause if they haave concerns you really need to know about them.
With the special locations that we had, James Wallace’s house, Highwic House and the Art Gallery, extra planning had to be done to ensure that locations were well looked after and that every precaution was taken against damage. Again these were highlighted as problem areas in pre-production and the planning process and lots of questions and clarifications between both the crew and the location liaisons were done both in pre and on the day to ensure that everything went smoothly. There is a funny story about a knob, but maybe another time…
How do you believe marketing and distribution will contribute to Restoration’s success? At a minimum, what do you believe film makers should be doing to promote their films?
From all of the research I have done it seems that it is important for filmmakers to not only promote their films but themselves as well, particularly in the early stages of your career. Instead of creating new social pages for each and every short film created, having everything go through one hub, a production company or filmmaker page, seems to be the most sensible.
For Restoration I am concentrating everything through Red Tree Creative as a platform to grow. That way when we move onto the next project I don’t need to try and transfer the audience to new pages. In terms of marketing I have also learnt that it is valuable to share your experiences and knowledge with others. That is what I am hoping to achieve with these blog posts, our main marketing activity for Restoration – sharing what we learnt and how we achieved some of the aspects in the hopes that other filmmakers will gain insights and learn from our experiences…
Aliesha Norcross worked as a Production Assistant on Restoration. Aliesha’s experience spans film, television, commercial and web content. Most recently, Aliesha worked in the production team on the TV series Power Rangers: Dino Charge.