Monday, December 11, 2006

How I learned to schedule - Or Movies for Mormons

One of the people I met through United Productions was an attorney named Bill. Bill was a decent guy who worked for one of the first law firms in the area to put ads on TV. You know the type. Anyway Bill was a Mormon who wanted to make a film about the teachings if the Mormon Church. It was all well and good and he wanted someone to manage the preproduction and to get some writers to put together a script. He then wanted a schedule and a budget out of all this. Now I had never done this but I was not afraid of a challenge. We hired Mark and Nancy to write a script based on a treatment provided by Bill. I went and attended a couple of seminars on the business of Hollywood. One of which was put on by Mark Litwak. It was basically how, as a writer to pitch a story and how to deal with and what to expect from the studios after you may have garnered some interest in your story. I also researched the teachings and the beginnings of the Mormon Church. For those of you non Mormons that may not know, The book of Mormon teaches that after the Passion, Christ came to the new world to save one of the lost tribes of Israel aka the Mayans. This is why the Mormons take such an interest in converting Native Americans. But I digress. The story to be told ala a 1950s Bible extravaganza, was that of a young Shamoni or Lamoni or something come to drive the wickedness out of the Nephites or the Laminites or something. He found himself called to do so. Needless to say Prophets are never appreciated and I think this one gets the usual Martyr treatment.
So Nancy and Mark take this story and put together a pretty good script and we pay then 100 bucks each for their troubles. But Bill hates it because they are not reverent enough with the material and one of the characters is this jolly old Falstaff. Bill accuses them of making him a drunkard. So they take his notes and move a barely pitch able story to the world of “This will never get made”. The script is done.
Now in the meantime I was researching how to budget and schedule a film. I found a great book by Ralph Singleton. This is a great book for those who are interested in the process. Granted this was back around 1986 or 1987and it was the days before computers were as prevalent as now. So the process was all manual.
It goes something like this. Read the script once just to enjoy it. Read it again breaking it down into scenes giving them scene numbers. In this context a scene is defined as the same people in the same place at the same time. Scene 1 Day Interior Kitchen. Now if the story has the actors move into the living room adjacent to the kitchen, you would have a new scene. Scene 2 Day Interior Living Room. This is because in the context of the scheduling, they are separate places and need to be lit and so forth separately. Now it is kind of a black art because what if the script calls for a steady cam shot following the action into the living room. There is no clear break in the action and it is really all one big scene and should be scheduled that way. But you get the point.
After you have defined all of the scenes you need to figure out how long each scene is in terms of pages and 1/8ths of pages. Given a well formatted script of double spaced courier font an 8th of a page comes out to the width of the standard wooden ruler you would get in school. So you measure out ruler widths of each scene and note how many Pages & 1/8ths next to the scene. I would mark the scenes out with a pencil line across the entire page and measure from line to line. This is not exact but it is close enough for government work.
Now you get some colored pencils or highlighters and with the red underline or otherwise mark every Speaking character in when first encountered in each scene. Then repeat with different colors for Bit roles (Script calls for a juggler to be doing something) and another color for Extras/Atmosphere (A crowded bar). Proceed through each scene using different colors to mark Animals, specific props mentioned, stunts alluded to vehicles mentioned. Essentially you are noting all of the elements that must be present to shoot the scene according to the script.
Then what you do is capture each scene on a separate sheet of colored paper that has squares or sections for each element type as noted above. The colors relate to the time of day and interior or exterior. Day Exterior is Yellow, Day Interior is red Night exterior green and Night interior is blue. I think that is right but frankly I’m not sure if those re precisely the colors. The point is you have a color code for these things.
Then you get what is known as a production or strip board. Now in the days before computers this were literally colored strips of cardboard with room to write down the high level details of the scene, having then sheets of paper to refer to for more details. Along the left side of the board is the header strip which lists name of show Producer / director and other high level show details. Below this is a listing of all the actors / Characters that have speaking parts in the show numbered 1 – n. Where number 1 is the actor in the most scenes and 2 the next most and so on.
Now as can be seen in the image of the strip board the strips are lined so they appear like columns in an excel spreadsheet. So where the actors are listed in the left, you enter the number of the actors playing in a particular scene in their corresponding cell on the strip. Then you start to assemble the board as the script is written. Then you move the strips around so that all the same locations are adjacent to each other. Then you arrange them by Time of day. Then you look at the actors and how they align. Then you user your own experience to break down each days work based on how many pages of script you want to get done. Realistically 5-9 pages is really ambitious. First day less maybe one page should be scheduled as the crew is getting the kinks out. Also maybe you have a couple of crane shots. Schedule them early cause you have money then. The bottom line is you separate each days worth of work that you schedule with black and white strips and viola. You know how many days you will be shooting. Now you have the information to make a budget. And you can twiddle with it. Using SAG actors you have 3 types of contracts. (Or at least back then) 1 day, 3 day, week or run of the show. Now the run of the show is usually a flat rate and reserved for key actors that will be there every day of close enough. I never had to deal with that. But in my day a Day rate was 350, A 3 Day rate was 575 and a week was 1200. The idea being that the more you worked the actors the more money they made but you also got a break. So you are looking at your strip board and you see Jane is in three scenes and they are scheduled out over say a week. You may want to adjust the schedule to make those 3 days contiguous so you get a better rate for Jane’s work. This is really a black art but it is a great tool for helping you as the production manager make the best decision for the show.
So I put together the production board for Bill and came up with a budget of something like 250 K for a 28 day shooting schedule. Of course the film was never made but I learned a valuable skill that I was able to parlay into some paying gigs and it gave me an entrée into the production department. Next I will write about Lessie’s Rainbow where I actually did this on a show that got made. Pretty much.


At 2:42 PM, Anonymous grish said...

Interesting. Do you still own the script? just curious...

At 6:14 PM, Blogger Eric said...

Honestly I dont know. It may be up in the attic

At 12:21 AM, Blogger Grish said...

That's pretty cool. :)

At 2:53 PM, Blogger barista brat said...

wow, that is an insane amount of work.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Iwanski said...

You know ten million things I ought to know but don't.

At 10:34 PM, Blogger Eric said...

Grish - next time I am up there I will look for the script and scan it in. I think I kept all the scripts I worked on.

Brat - Hey welcome. Yes it is and there is software out there nowadays that does the scut work but it still takes experience to know the subtlties. Especially if the script calls for A. PARTICULAR. COLOR. ATMOSPHERE. lol I still giggle at that post.

Iwanski - It really is about methodology. It is part of the DGA career path and not all that sexy when you get right down to it. I'll write up Lessie in the next couple of days. That show was a fun ride. BTW I saw a great presentation on script writing tonight at the Indie club meeting. Really clarified where I want to go with the story. Lucy needs to have more at stake in the outcome. Like Mom leaving if she gets the job. This can provide her with more character arc as she decides to do the right thing with knowledge only she posesses. I hammer out some note over the weekend.

At 10:07 AM, Blogger Morris said...

Thank you. This is good stuff.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Dom said...

I did this for Plight, both with software and without. Yuck.


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