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Techniques for Independent Production
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Old February 10th, 2006, 11:48 PM   #1
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Tips/insight specific to 24 or 48 hour contests?

Been looking at how many of these are cropping up around my area. Seems like everybody has a film festival these days. I'm looking for hints/tips/insights that are unique for getting one of these types of films done.

Thanks!
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Old February 12th, 2006, 06:20 AM   #2
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I'm not exactly sure what you are asking, but I guess knowing a bunch of
people who can jump in at any time helps. Having some locations, gear and
a lot of energy as you will not be sleeping for 24 - 48 hours, basically.
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Old February 12th, 2006, 12:34 PM   #3
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From my meagre experience I'd suggest.

Keep it simple - Do not be over ambitious.

STORY STORY STORY - Make sure you have at least a reasonable story structure. Doesn't have to be a master piece, but a simple 3 act story will work.

Shoot what's on the page - trying to improvise and rewrite can be a time waster.

Get good audio - this will set you apart from 90% of the crud that's submitted ;)
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Old February 12th, 2006, 09:07 PM   #4
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Thanks Rob and Aaron. To be more specific, does everybody stay up? Could you split the team, writers work all night banging out the story. Morning comes and the cast and crew work all day and night. That night the editor and composer work together for a finished project. Next morning you shoot any missed coverage or 2nd unit stuff.

Seems logical to me to split it up but I've never done one so I don't really know so I thought I'd ask before I make a huge a mistake.
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Old February 12th, 2006, 11:30 PM   #5
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I'd suggest splitting for sure. I didn't really split and I suffered. I stayed writing til about 1 am with the writers, then tried to sleep (couldn't, too stressed) got their script about 5, directed all day sat, and edited all day sunday and delivered. Mental I tell you.

I would say have a separate writing team, or at least let the director just spend a couple hours at most and then get a good sleep.

Have a separate editor and music guys there for the Sunday, or even better, editing during the shoot on a laptop if you can. I will most certainly do this if I can next time. The music guys can then be looking at the rough cut and thinking about music. Director can look at stuff that doesn't work or things to add. I'd say it'd be a much better way to go.

But don't let all the actors take looksees cause they'll get all neurotic and want to redo bits (I'm an actor so I can say this :) )
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Old February 13th, 2006, 01:02 AM   #6
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With Instant Films we have separate writers and directors (you get your script handed to you at random on Sat. morning) so I can't speak to that part of it, but I have my editor start digitizing by Sat. afternoon and start to cut on a Powerbook at the location until we wrap. He then generally cuts overnight (what's left of it) while I catch a few hours sleep, then I take over for the morning, then we work together fine-tuning in the afternoon. No matter how early we get a good cut going, we still end up thrashing to get it done by the screening though--the trick is pacing yourself throughout the weekend, don't get cocky about how much time you have left because you won't have any at the end no matter what...!
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Old February 15th, 2006, 06:35 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dennis Khaye
Seems logical to me to split it up but I've never done one so I don't really know so I thought I'd ask before I make a huge a mistake.
These are fun to get the juices flowing - but I find that it's hard to get anything really epic out of it. Do it for the experience -- not to make a masterpiece.

As far as advice goes, make sure your writer doesn't write anything the actors aren't comfortable doing. Last year, the writer (who was also the lead actor) wrote a proposal scene where he had to kiss the female lead. When it came time to kiss her, he said he wouldn't kiss her and walked off the set. Don't ask me why I really don't know.

Splitting the team definitely makes sense. I'd also suggest having two or more editors working shifts. One rests while the other cuts. The end product will be much better if you have fresh eyes taking turns cutting.

Speaking of editing, I'd work out some sort of archiving/backup workflow beforehand. Continually label/version your NLE files - hard drives have a way of crashing at the worst times.

Lastly, try to get a VX2000/2100 or a PD150/170 for the shoot. It makes things go quicker when you don't have to pump tons of light into the locations when you're using less sensitive cameras.
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Old February 16th, 2006, 12:32 AM   #8
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I just finished DPing a 48 hour contest and it was a blast. Organization is probably the most important aspect. Depending on your crew size dividing up responsibilities is vital. We only had 6 crew and 3 of us were also actors in the piece. Another thing, try not to get fancy in post. We planned on using Magic Bullit, but it ended up not rendering in time so we basically wasted 5 hours of valuable editing time that we couldn't get back. I would have much rather been able to work on the story more than making it look glossy. As soon as I get some space online I'll throw a copy of it up, it's definitely not a masterpiece, but it's not bad for 5 college kids with no sleep...
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Old February 16th, 2006, 10:45 AM   #9
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I've done a lot of those (around 12 shorts shot in those conditions in 2005), so I can offer a few tips.

Aaron had the most important tip: KEEP IT SIMPLE. Out of the hundreds of movies I've seen in these kind of events, the best ones were always the simpler ones. A lot of people tried to do complex stories and many of them crashed and burned (myself included). The rest ended up just ok. There is just no time to write a complex story that is solid and engaging, and there is no time to shoot it right, so you end up compromising on everything. The best movies I've seen in these events had only one or two locations, and often no more than 3 characters. The simpler it is, the more time you can spend on setting up great shots, on tuning the actor's performances, on trying out different things and on the editing.

While it's good to have a separate writing team, the director should always start the process with them in order to get the basics of the story down. Then you can sleep while they keep going at it. But would you want to wake up in the morning having no idea what it is you're going to shoot?

Consider doing a movie with no dialog. That way, you don't need to do as many takes, it's easier on the actors and you don't need a boom operator. Essentially visual stories work very well in this short format.

If the movie is dialog heavy, get a script-person to write down all the takes. This will be very useful during editing, especially if the editor was not on the shoot. That person is also responsible for pointing out continuity problems. But honestly, keep dialog to the minimum, because that's what takes the most time to get right during the shoot.

Get a minimal crew for the shoot. You need to move fast, and the bigger the crew, the more sluggish the pace. A good crew for a semi-complex shoot is: Director, DP, boom operator, script-person, and an extra all around helper (can hold reflector, help with the lights, etc.). The DP also operates the camera. If you need make-up or costumes, the person doing that doesn't need to stick around for the whole shoot. But if the movie is really simple you can easily get away with a 2-people crew: with the director also acting as DP/camera operator, and the other crewmember being the boom operator.

In the morning of the shoot, think about how you want to shoot it, and if you have time quickly draw storyboards for all the scenes. This will be a very helpful reminder of the coverage you need to get, even if you only use it as a loose guide. Sometimes, I draw my quick storyboard on the set, as the actors repeat their lines. Nothing is more frustrating than realising in the edit phase that you forgot to get an important insert or reaction shot.

How much coverage? Normally, the more you get the better, but in this situation, because there is little time for capturing and editing, you should minimise the footage. But again, if the movie is simple, you can shoot more and still finish in time. Ok, all this being said, I've been known to shoot over 3 hours of footage for a 5 minute short, but that's just me, and I don't recommend it if you have someone else editing.

Unless you're a very fast editor, get someone else to edit: that way you can sleep while he does the rough cut, and then you can join him to tune the final edit. Now, I always edit my own movies, because I can do it faster than most. As soon as I've started editing, I don't stop, except for 15-minute breaks once in a while. COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE. Gallons of it. It keeps you more alert and you'll work better. I never sleep on the last night before a screening. Sometimes I'll get a 3 hour nap in the morning.

Forget about complex colour-correction: that time is better spent on improving the flow of the movie. I generally do Levels adjustments and that's it.

Do spend the time to mix the sound properly. It's extremely important.

As for music, the composer should start before you've shot anything. If you know what kind of movie you're going to shoot, you should know what kind of music you want. After the shoot, listen to what the composer has so far. Give him extra directions and off to the edit. As soon as you have a rough cut, give the composer a copy so he can tune the music to the action.
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Old February 17th, 2006, 12:36 PM   #10
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Ah thank you all very much. Terrific stuff.

Jean-Francois, I was wondering if you could elaborate on how to start composing music before you know what genre the movie is going to be. Your suggestion is wonderful and when I told my music man he asked me, "How?" I had to shrug my shoulders. His conern is making music for a comedy when the writers come up with noir tragedy.

Originally I was going to have him on the set while we shoot as a PA so he could get a good feel.
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Old February 17th, 2006, 01:18 PM   #11
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If you're about to shoot, you should have a pretty solid idea of what the movie is going to be like. If you can describe the movie in terms of style, structure and rythm, the composer should be able to start working. On 2 occasions in October I had my composers start work on the music while as was shooting.

On the first instance, the shoot was split in two: one scene in the morning and the rest in the evening. I had briefed my musicians the night before. In between the 2 shoots I went to see my musicians and listened to what they had so far. I gave them some feedback and we worked on it for a few hours and then I recorded the music right there (it was live piano, accordeon and violin). In the evening I shot the last scenes. The first time the musicians saw anything from the movie was at the screening.

On the 2nd occasion, the composer worked as I was shooting and I went to see him in during a break. I gave him some feedback on his preliminary work and went back to shoot. I spent the whole night editing. In the morning I gave him a rough cut so he could tweak the music to it. A few hours later he gave me his final track. Because my edit had changed a bit I had to reedit his music so that it would fit but that was no big deal.

The composer might feel more comfortable to start after seeing a rough cut or at least being at part of the shoot, but there isn't that much time. I think it's better to have the composer start early so he can spend more time on it.
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Old February 20th, 2006, 09:40 AM   #12
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Got it, thanks for the tips.
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Old February 23rd, 2006, 02:09 AM   #13
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Here's some input from my experiences:

- Have some locations or potential locations scouted. Depending on what/where you have acess to, they are they can provide some context for a story independant of what you draw for subject/person/etc.

- Our schedule seems to go liked this (for 48hr): friday night - brainstorm, organize, story development, and maybe 1-2 shots. sat - shoot all day / start post on early shot stuff; wrap up shooting by midnight. sun - editors pull all nighter and come through in the 11th hr on sunday.

- I agree splitting the teams up is a good idea, but make sure to have someone co-ordinating the entire project. Understand what is critical path for each element.

They are a blast and a good learning experience with the process, and with working with others under pressure.
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Old February 23rd, 2006, 10:37 AM   #14
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Another thing:

You never have as much time as you think you do for post-production, so always plan to finish a few hours before the deadline. Make sure you don't delay important details until the end. For instance, as soon as you have a rough cut of the movie you should make the credit sequence, even if it's a rough version.

Your post workflow should be iterative. Don't wait for the edit to be complete before touching the sound mix. You should adjust sound levels roughly as you go. If you want to do some Color correction, don't wait for the end either. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE RENDERING TIMES! Forget about Magic Bullet. Limit you color correction to things that render quickly like levels or color balance. Do not wait till the last minute to output the movie to tape; you don't want to be troubleshooting why it's not working as the deadline looms. In these events there are always a few who are late or don't show up at all because they couldn't get the movie out to tape for some reason.

I always try to have a complete and "watchable" version of my movie about 5 hours in advance. Then I keep polishing it for the rest of the time allowed.
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 07:12 PM   #15
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These things can be brutal. I've done the 48 Hour Film Project twice now and will do it again this summer. On the last one I was the writer, director, star, and editor. I think I got 5 hours of sleep in 2 days. I will hopefully have much more help this year than last. My recomendations echo everyone else's:

1. Scout and secure locations well ahead of time. Don't assume you can just shoot wherever because you may get a ticket or at least run off.

2. Focus on story. Most of the best are simple but very clever. If you try to get to complicated and it could easily backfire. Make sure the people writing it have some knowledge of how to actually shoot a film. Otherwise you may get a fantastic story that isn't feaseable to shoot in 48 hours. Make sure you have enough help to get the job done but not too many people with creative input. Too many people debating every plot point, or every shot angle, or every line of dialog will prevent anything from getting done quickly.

3. Get good audio. Have someone who knows what they are doing and knows the material operating the boom. Or just use a hidden lapel mic (or both).

4. Test all of your equipment, especially the camera and editing computer for reliability. Several people missed the deadline because their computers crashed on them.

5. Generally speaking, have the story written by sunrise Saturday morning. Shoot all day Saturday. Edit all Saturday night. Be cautious of heavy green screen shots or composites, as they can be time intensive. Only shoot retakes or additional scenes if absolutely necessary. If you are shooting footage Sunday afternoon you are likely screwed. Have a solid rough cut by Noon or so Sunday. Get it onto tape so you know you have something to turn in. Many people screw up and don't get it turned in on time. Turn in 2 copies if possible in case there is a glitch on one copy.

6. Shoot 24p (Panasonic DVX100 or Canon XL2) or render 60i to 24p unless a completely video-ish look is preferred. I know this has been discussed to death but let me assure you that if all other things are equal, the general audience will think 24p looks more like a real movie, more expensive, or more professional. I have heard many people, including my own friends state as much. I own an FX1 and this year I assure you I will render to 24p in post. The DVX100 or Canon XL2 are by far the best cameras for these contests as everything must be turned in in SD not HDV. Both 48 Contests I competed in accepted 16/9 anamorphic footage and I believe projected that way.

I hope this helps some. I made most of the errors I warned about above, so I'm speaking from personal experience. As brutal as they can be, they really are a lot of fun. They are one of the few ways that you can have your work shown in a full sized theater to sold out audiences.
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