Making A Movie Making A Movie Imagine a young child, eye level with a floor full of miniature toys, concentrating intently on building a make-believe world. To the child, the toys are not miniature figures made of plastic or wood. They are real characters with real adventures. The child frames the action, crafting scenes that unfold in a world of imagination. Looking through the lens of a camera as actors bring to life a writer’s story, the filmmaker is also peering into a world of imagination.
The director, producer, actors, screenwriter, and film editor are all essential players in the journey from concept to finished film. In this remarkable process, thousands of small details-and often hundreds of people-come together to create a Hollywood film. In the Beginning The year is 1890. Directors, editors, and cameramen are making silent films with the help of a “scenarist,” usually an ex-vaudeville actor who invents humorous situations. But where are the screenwriters? These early films don’t need them. Without sound, there is no need for dialogue.
( Motion Picture Association of America [MPAA], 1999) The Storytellers All of that changed with the advent of sound for film in the 1920s. Suddenly, actors needed something to say. Writers flocked to Hollywood in droves from Broadway and from the worlds of literature and journalism. For a brief time in the 1930s, some of the world’s most famous writers wrote Hollywood scripts: William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bertolt, and Thomas Mann.
In 1932, William Faulkner earned $6,000 in salary and rights for a story, a substantial of money at the time. Just five years later, F. Scott Fitzgerald earned $1,250 per week, more money than he had ever earned in his life (Brady, 1981, 26) , and enough to get him out of the serious debt he had fallen into. Despite generous pay, the conditions under which these world-renowned writers labored were anything but ideal. Hollywood was a factory system, churning out movies at a furious pace. Screenwriters found themselves at the bottom rung of the studio ladder.
By the end of World War II, screenwriters were complaining about their place in the Hollywood machine. Leonard Spigelgass, editor of Who Wrote the Movie and What Else Did He Write (Brady 1981, 50), summed up the situation: “Over the years we have been called hacks, high-priced secretaries, creatures of the director or producer, pulp writers, craftsmen, sell-outs, cop-outs, mechanical robots.No Pulitzer Prizes for us, no Noble’s, no mention of our names…” (Brady, 1981, 51) Screenwriters continued to earn little prestige for their hard work, until the filmmaking system experienced some important shifts. The status of movie stars began to increase, and writers often found to be powerful allies. Occasionally, stars would request a script by particular writer, as happened with Katherine Hepburn and the movie of the Year. Hepburn brought the script to the attention of studio head Louis B.
Mayer, and the script’s writers, Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin, received $100,000 for its use (indieWire, 1999). A few writers also managed to obtain creative control over their work. John Huston, a well-known filmmaker who began as a writer, demanded a clause in his contract with the studio that would give him the opportunity to direct. A screenwriter gained more respect if he demonstrated a real talent for directing. Increasingly, writers became more important players within the studio system.
Even so, some left the security and good pay of the studio to freelance for whoever held the reins-studios, stars, or other players. By the late 1940s, screenwriting was a lucrative occupation. Screenwriters today are important and often powerful players in the filmmaking process. They are paid as well as directors and producers are, and their work is considered an art. Screenplays are often published and sold to the general public in bookstores just like novels and plays. (Malkiewicz, 1992, 33). Chernin 3 Though rare in the 1930s and 1940s, many screenwriters today are asking to direct in order to guide their script through the filmmaking process.
The number of writers who turn to directing steadily increases year after year. Even if they do not direct, screenwriters often have a say in the project from script through production, collaborating closely with actors and directors to advance their ideas through to finished film. The Director’s Vision The director’s vision shapes the look and feel of a film. He or she is the creative force that pulls a film together, responsible for turning the words of a script into images on the screen. Actors, cinematographers, writers, and editors orbit around the director like planets around the Sun. Despite the director’s pivotal role, most Hollywood movies are designed to pull you into the story without being aware of the director’s hand. Many talented film directors with long lists of feature film credits are so skilled at being “invisible” that they are little known by the movie-going public.
(Goldman, 1989, 17) Imagine you’re being considered to direct a Hollywood film. You’re handed a screenplay has been “greenlighted” (given approval for production) by a major studio (Wordplay, 1999). As you read through it, you begin to imagine how it might play out on screen. You see the characters coming to life. You envision the lighting and hear the sound.
You are absorbed in the world of the story until you see the script’s final words: Fade Out. When you’re done reading the script, you ask yourself some key questions. What is the main idea or theme of the screenplay? What does the story say about the human condition in general? You also think about the script cinematically. How will the script translate to the visual language of the screen? Who is the audience? As the director, you must feel passionate about this soon-to-be film. Feeling connected and committed to the story will help you do your best work, and there’s an enormous amount of work ahead (Movie Maker Magazine [MMM], 1999). If you are hired as the director of this film, you may need to help shape the script for the screen. A good script is the foundation for a good film, but even the best one may need to be developed or molded to work well on the big screen.
Sometimes the producer will develop a script and then hand it over to the director. In other cases, the director may work with the writer early on to help develop a script from its beginning stages. Chernin 4 Nowadays, the planning for a film is often underway before there is a script. A director or producer purchases the rights to a story and then hires a screenwriter. Whatever the route from script to screen, the director plays an important role in shaping the way the story is told. Assembling the Cast and Crew The people you work with, both the actors and the crew who will make things work behind the scenes, are crucial to the film’s success.
The right people will understand and respect your vision, work well with one another, and bring their own unique gifts to the filmmaking process. The film’s producer normally hires the crew, but the director will have input into crucial hires such as lead actors. A production designer is responsible for the believability of a film’s scenery and sets. In essence, the production designer is the architect of the film, working to make your vision, as director, a reality. The production designer also works closely with the art director and set decorator, making certain all the visual details are accurate and the style and period of the film reflect your wishes. (Bone, 1996, 62) The cinematographer, or director of photography, helps to translate your vision to film, scene by scene, planning shots and supervising camera operators.
Often, cinematographers are artists with experience in painting and photography. Their job is to create and capture the images that best tell the story. (Malkiewicz, 1992, 56) The actors you choose will bring your story to life. Your casting decisions will be based on such factors as availability and whether or not an actor is suitable for lead or ensemble acting, as well as on a healthy dose of intuition. Often a casting director or producer will help you select the cast. Filming: Pre-production After months or even years of development, delays, and rewrites, the final script is set and the film goes into pre-production.
During this phase, budgets are detailed, scenes are planned and designed, and a shooting schedule is prepared. Storyboards-visual representations of every shot-are prepared by a storyboard artist in consultation with the director, director of photography, and designer. Before a single frame is shot, the Chernin 5 film is planned from beginning to end on paper. The final stages of pre-production include weeks of rehearsal, set construction, and location scouting. Once shooting begins, you’ll need to continue to communicate your vision of the film to the actors and crew. You’ll also need to be able to improvise on the set and troubleshoot if necessary.
This flexibility can make the difference between an acceptable production and an excellent one. On average, you will be able to complete filming for about three script pages per day, or the equivalent of about three minutes of screen time. Once the shoot is over, hundreds of thousands of feet of film need to be assembled into a suitable story (Murch, 1995, 27). Days or weeks of shooting result in only a few minutes of screen time. In the editing room, your vision will either come to life or perish.
With your guidance, the film and sound editor will complete the detailed technical work required at this stage. Your “director’s cut” of the film (the one you work with the editor to create) may not be the final one the audience sees. The film’s producers may decide to cut certain scenes or use a different film clip for a certain effect. Editing is a mutual process, the final step in the difficult work of bringing your vision to life. Your stature as a director (as well as the terms of your contract with the studio) determines how much say you have in determining what version of the film is released to the public. Occasionally, a director dislikes the final cut and decides not to be listed in the credits. If this happens, the credits list Alan Smithee as the director.
Alan Smithee is not a real person, but an alias used as a substitute when a director refuses to be linked to a film. (Murch, 1995, 63) Filming: Camera Angles As a director, you have many tools and techniques that can shape the look and feel of a film. You can vary a shot’s perspective, lighting, location, or other qualities to achieve certain effects. One powerful way to communicate your vision is through camera angles. During the planning stages of a film, the director and possibly the director of photography may meet with a storyboard artist to illustrate the flow of shots that will best tell the story.
There are a number of camera angles that a director has at his or her disposal. The most common of these are the establishing shot, long shot, medium-shot, over-the-shoulder shot, and close-up. (Wordplay, 1999) The establishing shot is normally taken from a great distance or from a “bird’s eye view,” that establishes where the action is about to occur. The long shot shows a scene from a distance (but not as great a distance as the establishing shot). A long shot is used to stress the environment or setting of a scene. The medium shot frames actors, normally from the waist up. The medium shot can be used to focus attention on an interaction between two actors, such as a struggle, debate, or embrace.
The Over-the-shoulder shot is of one actor taken from over the shoulder of another actor. An over-the-shoul …