Producer's Craft

Syllabus Spring 2012

THE PRODUCER'S CRAFT 

Spring  2012
Instructor:   Andy Bobrow
Email:
 bobrowa@newschool.edu   Phone:  917-284-8705

Course Description

Producing requires a broad expertise encompassing an eclectic web of disciplines. This course provides a hands-on overview with special focus on the producer's leadership within the creative process. It is based on a fundamental assumption that collaboration not only works but is the essential tool of the producer: in idea development, in project execution, and in amassing specific knowledge upon which success depends.

With concrete reference to case studies plus guest lecturers, the course's curriculum tracks the step-by-step development of any large project.

Instructor: Andy Bobrow

I have taught this course for several years, both online and onsite. It is, I hope, a practical look at producing that is rooted in real world experience and industry practice. I have been a producer, writer, and director of video, audio, multimedia, and web projects at my own production company for more than 25 years. I have also worked, in no particular order, as a screenwriter, grip, cameraman, director, lighting director, soundman, editor, gaffer and go-fer. This semester, I am also a visiting lecturer in media studies and film production at Lebanese American University in Beirut, which may  explain the sometimes odd times that I will read and reply to your postings.

Required Books or Course Pack Information

There will heavy reliance upon the Internet for research and reportage. There is no required text. However students are strongly encouraged to purchase reference volumes that mirror their current interests and needs and will become the core of one's professional library. Here are a recommended few:  

  • So You Wanna Be a Producer?, Steve Ecclesine, Menabrea Books 2008, www.menabreabooks.com
  • &νβσπ;The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers, Thomas Crowell, Focal Press, www.focalpress.com
  • &νβσπ;Media Law for Producers, Phillip H. Miller, Focal Press, 4th edition, 2003, www.focalpress.com
  • &νβσπ;The Complete Film Production Handbook, Eve Light Honthaner, Focal Press, 4th edition , 2010, www.focalpress.com
  • &νβσπ;Producing for TV and New Media: A Real-World Approach for Producers , Cathrine Kellison, Focal Press, 2nd edition, 2009  www.focalpress.com
  • Film & Video Budgets, Deke Simon & Michael Wiese, Michael Wiese Productions, 3rd edition, 2001, www.mwp.com
  • &νβσπ;Directing – Film Techniques & Aesthetics, Michael Rabiger, Focal Press, 3rd edition, 2003
  • Swimming Upstream, Sharon Badal, (short film distribution), Focal Press
  • Filmmakers and Financing, Louise Levinson (Blair Witch business plan), Focal Press
  • The Insider’s Guide to Independent Film Distribution, Stacey Parks. Focal Press. 
Assignments

Learning will be activity based with students simultaneously pursing three different, but parallel, assignments:

1.  Project Development (Individual Final Project)
Over the course of the semester, each student will author a number of documents that culminate as a funding/promotional and pre-production package for a specific production of their own selection. No pie-in-the-sky dreaming here. Rather, projects should be selected that could be reasonably undertaken by the proposal's creator/producer. Because coursework centers so deeply on individual projects, it is critically important to have a script draft or a very detailed beat outline/treatment completed no later than week #7 in the semester. This sustained assignment will involve assignments keyed to specific milestones  and the submission of a formal presentation at the end of the semester.

2.  Industry Dossiers  (Collaborative Final Project)
This is a collaborative research project that should be accomplished in an online workspace – either within Blackboard or in another venue. Students will be divided into teams that will build detailed documents about selected domains within the media landscape. For example, a team could research independent features, cable programming, children's media, TV branding/identity, news casting, advertising, internet learning, reality TV, sit-coms, etc. Findings will uploaded into a collaborative, online space where all class members can track and contribute to work of other teams. The cumulative database should provide valuable resource for career development over the next 12 to 18 months.

3.  Career Targeting
Through the semester, each student will maintain a notebook for sustained consideration of what lies ahead in his or her professional life. This will include an inventory of discrete skills that will be required in one’s future as producer/creator/entrepreneur, and charting pathways for self-promotion, self-education and networking. Students will be required to turn in a one page paper with a tactical plan for career development including 5 specific goals or potential employers and how you would implement your plan. Students will also produce a final version of a resume or CV.

Grades

Grading will be based upon (a) posting in online discussions (20%), (b) each team's Industry Dossier (20%), (c) the Project Proposal and Production Package for a real-world project (60%).  Participation is important and any more than two weeks between discussion postings may result in reduction by a full grade level.

 Schedule & Guests 

The online classes meet for 15 sessions.  Lectures, presentations, and lecture notes will be posted. Special readings and resources will be made available online to insure that students receive maximum benefit from the course. The instructor will review discussions and assignments and provide regular feedback to students.

In general, “lectures” and assignments will be posted on Wednesdays. Assignments will be due on Wednesday of the following week unless otherwise specified. Assignments should be posted in the discussion forum provided so that all class members can provide feedback, similar to the way comments would be expressed in a classroom discussion.

When possible, guest presenters will be asked to “address” the class. These guests will be selected to provide insights from a range of age and experience. Every effort will be made to make guests accessible to questions.

The following schedule is subject to revision as the semester progresses

#1 - ORIENTATION
Introductions & Course overview; Individual Projects; Dossiers & Collaborative platform; form Dossier Teams and Project Groups (students who provide feedback on each other’s projects throughout the semester)

#2 - THE BRIEF
3 Pitches; Case Study #1.

#3 – WRITING
Writing & Scripting Technique.

#4 - BUSINESS MODELS
Deal Basics, Development & Funding Strategies, New Developments in Financing, Tax Incentives

#5 – MANAGING CREATIVE TEAMS
Team Building & Management Protocols; Giving and Getting notes

#6 - MEDIA LAW
Legal Considerations, Contracts, Copyright

#7 –THE DIGITAL STUDIO
The equipment rental house, shooting digitally, digital workflow considerations

#8 – SCHEDULING & SCRIPT BREAKDOWN
Anatomy of schedules and how to break a script down. Standard Operating Procedures and Best Practices.

#9 – SCHEDULING & BUDGETING
How your schedule impacts your budget, non-fiction scheduling, budgeting line by line,

#10 – SCHEDULING & BUDGETING CONTINUED
Budgeting line by line continued including budgeting for documentaries and non-fiction, budgeting and scheduling software.

Introduction of group proposal development project: RFP From Educational Foundation

#11- POST-PRODUCTION
Post-production in the digital era from the producer’s perspective, Digital intermediates, finishing Guest: TBD

#12 – GROUP PROPOSAL DEVELOPMENT PROJECT PRESENTATION AND DISCUSSION

#13- DISTRIBUTION, INTERACTIVE AND CROSS MEDIA
Traditional distribution channels for film and video, new models for distributing your property across multiple venues, Cross Media Properties. 

#14 – DOSSIER PRESENTATIONS AND ONLINE DISCUSSION 

#15 – PROJECT PRESENTATION AND ONLINE DISCUSSION

Week 1

posted Apr 25, 2012, 7:00 PM by Priya Nayar

  • Course Overview

    Being a producer requires broad but not necessarily deep expertise in a wide range of disciplines. A producer should know enough to know when to consult with an expert, know which expert to consult, and be able to intelligently vet the expert’s advice.

    In this course, we will deal with the responsibilities of the producer as we see them: developing ideas and concepts, the scriptwriting process, determining production requirements, scheduling, budgeting, managing shoots and post-production, dealing with personnel, clients, funders, or sponsors, determining distribution venues, and pitching the project to potential funders. As we proceed through these steps, we will touch on some of the many areas of knowledge with which the producer must be familiar – production technologies, deal points, copyright law, distribution options, and business structures.

    That is a pretty tall order for a relatively short course. The best way to learn about producing is not to read about it, or listen to lectures but to do it -- with guidance, of course. Think of this course as a kind of “producing laboratory.” You’re not actually going to create a finished program. Instead, we’re going to look at what a producer must do prior to actually going into production. At the end of the course, you will have a complete production package ready to go.

    Our producing laboratory is multi-track. Your assignments will be keyed to three different, but parallel, long-term projects:

    1.  Individual Project Development

    Over the course of the semester, each student will create a number of documents that culminate in a funding and pre-prodiction package for a specific production of their own selection. Be real, though! This is not the place for pie-in-the-sky dreaming. Your project should probably not be the multi-million dollar, effects-laden, 3D sci-fi galactic adventure you’ve been daydreaming about since you were in high school. Rather, you should select a project that could be reasonably undertaken by the proposal’s creator/producer – you – in some reasonable time frame. You needn’t think small, just realistically. There is no reason on earth that anyone in this class could not walk out at the end of the semester and raise the money for their first feature, but the likelihood is considerably less if it’s on the scale of “Avatar.”

    The Production Package project will consist of specific assignments that represent a sustained, 15 week development thrust. Your final proposal should be a highly polished, professional level document that you would be proud to present to a potential funding source.

    All of the following assignments are designed to help you achieve this outcome. Some of these steps may be combined or telescoped into each other, but each of them will have been completed if you follow the sequence. Further details on the project will be forthcoming throughout the semester.

    The first set of assignments will be focused on developing your idea and writing it down. While it is not essential for a producer to be an accomplished screenwriter, it is important to be able to organize your ideas and express them sufficiently clearly and in enough detail to proceed with the rest of the pre-production process. Everything depends on the script or, for a documentary or non-fiction project, the outline. You must have a clear idea of the project before you can develop schedules or budgets. Hence, our initial emphasis is on conceptualization and writing.  The assignments that you will undertake for this stage of the project include:

    • Develop 3 Ideas for a pitch to the class
    • The Project Brief (formal assessment via template)
    • Beat Outline/Treatment
    • Scripting & Researching
    • Final Script or Documentary outline/detailed treatment

    The next set of assignments will involve analyzing your script/outline/ treatment to determine what will be necessary to make it happen. You will review the script/outline, break it down, determine the number of shoot days that will be needed, what crew and/or talent will be required, what additional materials like stock footage or historical material is needed, how long it will take to edit, whether special or visual effects are required, equipment, costumes, props, travel, etc. The assignments that you will undertake for this stage of the project include:

    • Script/Outline breakdown
    • Build Schedule
    • Intellectual Property/Release checklist
    • Creative Team
    • Budget Estimate

    The last set of assignments will be dedicated to creating your final production package. For these assignments, you will use the information you have developed during the earlier assignments to create a set of documents which will present your project to potential funders. This is, in a sense, the culmination of your work in the course. In this stage, you may also develop an informal business plan. The assignments that you will undertake for this stage of the project include:

    • Final Proposal (should be aimed at specific finding target)
    • Deliverable/Format
    • Title
    • Log Line
    • Description/Summary  (Concepts, Themes
    • Audience
    • Competitive Landscape
    • Creative Team
    • Key Talent
    • Production Plan (in general)
    • Roll-out, Distribution & Marketing
    • Contact Info
    • Production Package
    • Script
    • Production Schedule
    • Budget(s)
    • Staffing: key job definitions including yourself
    • Funding Strategy
    • IP Checklist
    • Resumes for Creative Team
    • Deal Points (optional)
    • Project Pitches 

    Because coursework centers so deeply on individual projects, it is critically important to have a script draft or a very detailed beat outline/treatment completed no later than week #7 in the semester. This sustained assignment will involve periodic presentations, assignments keyed to specific milestones, and a formal pitch at the semester’s end.

    2.  Industry Dossiers

    An industry dossier is a detailed report about one domain within the mediascape. It can be about a production genre like independent feature films or long form documentaries, or music videos, an industry segment like cable, or emerging new media technologies.

    Now, production is rarely completed by an individual, but is usually the product of teams of people with different skills. So, think of the dossier project as a “production,” especially since you will be posting your finished project on the web for others to use.

    This project will be completed entirely in an online environment. Students will self-select into teams that will build detailed documents about selected domains within the media landscape. For example, teams could research independent features, cable programming, children’s media, TV branding/identity, news casting, advertising, internet learning, reality TV, sit-coms, etc. Findings will be uploaded into a collaborative, online space where all class members can track and contribute to work of other teams. The cumulative database should provide valuable resource for career development over the next 12 to 18 months.

    The online collaborative environment that will be used to create the dossiers will be a wiki or any other collaborative workspace that the students may choose (with my approval, of course),.

    How many of you are familiar with “wikis?”  A wiki is a web-based tool that allows multiple contributors to collaborate to create a single web document. A wiki can include text, graphics, rich media, and links to other sites. Fortunately, most wikis do not require that a user to know anything about website programming, or at least the wiki that we’re going to use. The wiki allows all of the group members to add and edit material, and will also allow other members of the class – as well as yours truly – to add comments and questions, kind of like a blog.

    There is a wiki tool available through Blackboard, or your group may choose to use PBWorks or another wiki envinonment for this part of the course. WHatever environment is selected, one member of the group should be the “wikimaster.” He/she will be responsible for making sure that your stuff is backed up, that everything is posted in the right place, and for implementing whatever style or formatting decisions are made. The wikimaster will also maintain access permissions.

    I have provided a template that you can follow. I suggest that you create separate pages for major topics; otherwise you’re going to end up with one endless scroll of a webpage. Depending on your topic and the amount of information, one or more topics might fit on a single page.

    Please try to follow the guidelines as you develop your wiki. Obviously, some of the suggested topics will not apply to your chosen domain, or you might need to add others. That is fine. But, try to stick as close to this organization as possible so that there is some continuity between wikis and your fellow students can access the information readily.

    In addition to the overall report, each member of the group will undertake a more specific and detailed report on a single company or aspect of the domain, looking more closely at job opportunities that might exist or entrepreneurial opportunities.

    3.  Career Targeting

    Through the semester, each student will maintain a notebook for sustained consideration of what lies ahead in his or her professional life. This will include an inventory of discrete skills that will be required in one’s future as producer/creator/entrepreneur, and charting pathways for self-promotion, self-education and networking.  At the end of the semester, students will submit a resume and a short final paper that will summarize a tactical plan for career development.


  • Attached Files:
    Take a few minutes and fill out this self-assessment. Combined with your introductions, the information in this survey will help me to better fit the course to your needs as we move forward through the semester. Rest assured, this does NOT count towards your grade.

    • Project Assignment: Develop 3 Pitches

      Each student should "pitch" three different ideas that are his/her candidates for the Individual Project to be worked on for the rest of the semester.  

      Pitches, if they were to be delivered orally, should be around a minute but no longer. This is not an arbitrary length of time. Sometimes pitches are done on a very formal basis. In those circumstances, the person pitching has maybe 60 or 90 seconds to lay out all the basic arguments for the project, plus, of course, a sense of what the thing will look like. But most often, you will be pitching your idea in the flow of an open discussion about programming and production possibilities. One can never be sure when that pitching opportunity -- when the right moment -- will come. But when it does, you will probably have about 30 seconds to get your idea across.

      Obviously, you’re not pitching face to face, so we’ll have an arbitrary limit of 100 words for each pitch – no more.

      Give each of your ideas a short name that is easy to remember and post it to the Pitches discussion forum. Once you have posted your idea, you should read each of your fellow student’s pitches and comment on which one you like best, which one you dislike, and why. These do not need to be highly detailed exegeses, but rather concise statements. You will have quite a few of these to read through and comment on, so don’t spend too much time on them.

      You should post your three pitches no later than Monday (1/30) to give everyone time to read through them and comment by Wednesday. Most weeks, assignments will be posted by Wednesday and will be due the following Wednesday. This allows time for posting of videos of guests who will be visiting the onsite class. Lecture notes and other materials will be posted by Wednesday of any given week. Changes to the schedule will be noted in announcements.

    • Week 1 Dossier Assignment

      By Wednesday (2/4), students should have self-selected first, second, and third choice topics on the Dossier Topics listed below.  Please note your selections in the Dossier Topics discussion forum
       
      I will review your selections and attempt to divide the group into teams. Please check back on Thursday for my comments/assignments/suggestions for group assignments. Once we have finalized the dossier groups, each group can determine what collaborative working environment they would like to use -- a wiki within Blackboard, an email tree, Google Docs, etc.

      Industry Dossiers – The Producer’s Craft

       

       

      Please review these topics and make three selections, in order of preference. If you do not see a topic that is close to your interests, you may create one, but only one, and note that in your discussion posting, but make sure to read the other postings before you do so, since someone else may have had the same idea. The purpose of this exercise is to self-select into groups with approximately the same interests. Once your group has been established, you can modify the topic as you choose to more closely mirror your actual interests. To make your selections, please create a post in the Dossiers discussion forum.

       

      Production Genres

      Narrative

      Studio Feature Films (distribution, #/yr, marketing, producer deals)

      Independent Feature Film ($5 to $20 Million)    

      Low Budget Features ($1 to $5 million

                  No-Budget Features (under $1,000,000)

      Shoe String DV Features (self-financed)

      Shorts (Student Films, distribution, budgets, festivals, all types)

                  Music Videos

      Sponsored Film & Video (Corporate/Industrial, Governmental, Exhibitions, Imax)

      Animation  (Features, Series, Broadcast Design, Advertising & Identity)

      Documentary

                  Features

                  Series (Half Hours & Hours)

                  Shorts

      Radio & Music  (NPR, Conservative & Liberal talk, satellite, pod casting, Garage Band,  etc.)

      Gaming (hand-held, Sony X box, networked games)

      Internet

                  DIY & User Generated Content (UBC, blogging, collaborative data, social networks)

                  Site Design, Development apps, Infrastructure, Governance, Economics

                  Newscasting  (Network, local, PBS, radio,)

                  Education/Learning

                  Interactive (DVD authoring, “enriched” features, Kiosks)

      Emerging Media (Metaworlds like second life, 3-D web, Web 3.0,

      Mobiles (original content, formats, production entities, production genres, etc.)

       

       

      Broadcast & Networked Media: Programming Categories

      Webisodes (created for Web, genres, distribution, sponsorship, advertising)

      Dramatic Series (hour and half-hour shows, cop, doctor, PI, etc.)

      Made-for-TV Movies (also Direct to Video)

      Soap Operas (aka Daytime)

      Comedy Series (sitcoms, serials, repertory (like SNL), improvised)

      Advertising/Commercials

      On Air Promotion/Branding/Broadcast Design

      Reality TV (competitions, life styles, events, sub-cultures, etc.)

      Children’s TV & Features

      Sports

      Variety/Magazines/Talk/ Late Night/Game Shows

      News Casting & Public Affairs

       

       

      Industry Domains

      Film Festivals

      Agents & Representation

      TV Programming / Scheduling (Development, Talent, Acquisitions)

      On-Line Learning

      Audience Measurement Research (Testing, Ratings, Demographics, etc.)

      Public TV (Programming & Devel & Organization)

      Marketing & Advertising (for film, TV, web, via new media)

      Cable Networks & VOD

      Broadband Networks

      Web Development (see above under Internet)

      Secondary & Ancillary Products (publishing, licensing, foreign, DVD)

      Art Projects/Programming (Foundations, Corps, Museums, Festivals)

      Advertising (Account, Creative, Media Planning)

      Media Criticism (Daily, Entertainment Press, Journals, web sites)

      Crafts Guilds, Unions and Training Institutions

Week 2: Case Study

posted Apr 25, 2012, 6:57 PM by Priya Nayar

  • Case Study: New York Road Runners Foundation

    At several points during this course, we will present actual “case studies” which will, we hope, illustrate some of the key issues that face producers. These will be drawn from actual experience. In this case, it is my experience.

    Our first case study is an example of sponsored, purpose-created media that was developed for a specific audience – a kind of limited distribution narrowcasting. This approach is utilized by organizations, corporations, political groups, and advocacy organizations, among others. The project being presented was created for the New York Roadrunners Foundation. Part of the largest running club in the United States, sponsors of the world-famous New York Marathon, the foundation is dedicated to starting and supporting running programs in urban schools which have a large proportion of disadvantaged children.

    The Foundation wanted to achieve several goals, all equally important. First, they needed a vehicle to introduce their two programs to school administrators and parents to get their buy-in. Second, they wanted a short video program to help create excitement among the elementary school students who were a target audience for one the programs. And finally, they needed to translate their large, unwieldy coaching manuals for the two programs into a readily accessible digital form. They needed continuity of design for a web-accessible database which would be used to track participation and results. 

    For this project, my company partnered with a communications design firm that already had a relationship with the NYRRF for a number of years. We were brought in as part of a team to provide expertise in interactive architecture and production, CD-ROM and web development, and video production.

    The first step for this project, or for that matter, any project with a specific purpose, is to meet with all stakeholders and sponsors to determine their goals and assess their needs. This meeting should occur prior to developing  a proposal, bid, or estimate for the project; otherwise, as a producer, you’re flying blind. It is important to insist on this meeting. Clients and sponsors often look upon the production process as a product that is made out of standardized parts, like a car; the request goes in one side of the factory and the final product rolls out the other end. Or, they may have a little knowledge, and that is dangerous. In that case, they’ll ask for a menu of services and rates --  shooting, editing, programming – without any real understanding of what those services will entail. Of course, they will also want a fixed-price bid.

    In my experience, it is impossible to develop a creative concept, understand the scale of a project, make a schedule, or come up with a budget estimate until everyone agrees on goals and message. It is important to lock down as many parameters as possible as early as possible – deadlines, participants, approvals, etc – at this initial stage. Time spent here is more than paid back later in the project. And, if a client pushed back too much, or doesn’t have a clear idea of what they want to accomplish, then you are in for trouble. It may be a good time to rethink whether or not you want to undertake the project, no matter how much you may need the business.

    We met with our potential client to assess their needs in early April. The executive director and several members of the senior staff were in attendance. At this initial meeting, we learned that the project was being funded by a grant from an outside foundation. Part of the grant would require that an examiner evaluate our proposal and capabilities to insure that we could meet the specified goals, as well as specific funding targets that would need to be met.

    As it turned out, more information was needed before we could get a handle on the scope of the project, so we scheduled a second meeting to further explore needs and meet additional members of the team about two weeks after our initial discussions. The final outcome was a proposal for fairly large scale, multiformat project which encompassed multiple elements including print, packaging, video and interactive media. Our proposal was submitted the last week in April, about a week after the second meeting. A copy of our proposal can be found the resources section of Blackboard.

    As it turned out, our team won the project (surprise!), and a start-up meeting was scheduled for May 10. During this meeting, we worked out the basic elements of the project: contract provisions, timeline, scope of work, contact persons, approval authorities, who will provide what materials.

    The start-up meeting was also the kick off for several weeks of preproduction and development. This was a fairly intensive period during which we would get an immersion course in the work of the New York Roadrunners Foundation in general, and, more specifically, their educational outreach programs for urban youth. We would have multiple meetings with executives and staff personnel during the month of May during which we would interview them about their work and their specific involvement with the school programs. Additionally, since there was a significant video element to the project, our research field trips would double as location scouting for the video shoots. We began an extensive review of existing marketing and training materials, manuals, etc.

    On May 11, one day after being awarded the project, we visited the first of several schools that already participate in the program to interview teachers and students to give us a sense of the program and what information the teachers will need. We also met with some parents to find out their impressions of the program – what was important to them and what they wanted to know about it before permitting their children to register. This material was important for developing the informational CD and video, both of which were targeted at administrators and parents.

    While we researched the project and reviewed existing documents, we were also finalizing the contract, specifically step payment terms, approval process, and final scope of work. The contract was officially signed May 15 as we continued visits to select locations and obtain necessary permits and releases from parents for students to appear in the video. Because we had to shoot prior to the end of the school year in June, it was necessary to complete site visits and make decisions on what schools, teachers and students were going to be included in the video by May 30. This would allow time for scheduling as well as obtaining necessary releases and clearances. As this was happening, the writers were working on creating the content for the two interactive elements.

    The project was funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The specific purpose of the grant was to broaden the reach of the program beyond the NYC metro area into other urban areas across the country. One of the two interactive elements and the motivational DVD were to be part of a box which would contain everything a school would need to get started with the program.

    What we called, for lack of a better word, the “marketing” CD-ROM, was designed to create interest in the program. It would be handed out at various meetings or personally delivered to a highly targeted group.

    As we were shooting and editing the video elements, the graphic and text content for the interactive components was being developed.

    The first step for was to clearly define the intended audience. This was important because it actually determines two key factors – the choice of distribution medium, and the way the content is organized and presented. That is because different audiences digest information in different ways – teachers and educators are not the same kind of audience as, say, corporate middle managers, or graduate media studies students. Part of what we call Information Architecture is to analyze and break down content to fit the needs of the project and audience, and the way the audience receives information.

    Now the second part of this equation was the choice of distribution medium. Even in 2006, when we started development, all of the content we were planning to create could have been distributed on the web. There might have been issues with the video, but they were minor. So why did we choose to go with a “hard copy” if you will, with CDs and DVDs?

    Let’s take a look at the reasoning.  At the risk of repetition, there were three major parts of this project: an “instructional” manual, a “marketing” piece, and a “motivational” video. The original concept for what we called the “instructional” CD, or the coaching handbook, included far more video and multimedia elements than the final version. This was a client choice that was made midway through the process. So, it would have been a pretty “heavy” website and important parts would have been lost to people without broadband web access.

    Now, look at our target audience – teachers and administrators in inner city schools. Ghetto schools. Poor schools. Schools which, in many cases, have limited internet access, and when they do have access, it is overloaded and often not available except in the computer lab. A lot of these folks don’t even have official email addresses.

    We wanted the materials to be easily accessible to the teacher/coaches and administrators so we chose to distribute them on CD-ROM instead of the web. That way, coaches could refer to them on laptops in the field, or print out pages that were specifically designed for that purpose to use during activities, and would not be dependent on web access in the school.

    There was a web component that was developed for this project for reporting back participation (required for the grant) but that information could be compiled “offline” and reported later.

    Same deal for the “marketing” CD. We did not know where those would be used – at home, in school, at meetings, etc. Making the presentation dependent on web access would be a problem. especially for the video component. And finally, the DVD was designed as a standalone piece to be used as part of an assembly program in elementary schools. It was supposed to excite and motivate the students, to make them think that the program was fun, not running drudgery

    Hence, our choice of media. This was the first important step in the process, because it would determine our production techniques for the interactive component. Both disks has to play on either Mac or Windows. Now, we were thinking about a pretty media heavy “handbook” CD, so we needed an authoring environment that could handle a lot of video and audio elements without choking. It also needed to be consistent and handle illustrated content while maintaining specific formatting.  HTML would have been a problem, especially with formatting and graphic. Again, pages would weigh in as heavyweights. For ease of porting the whole thing to the web, we thought about Flash, but, in’06, the self-contained Flash player was not robust enough to handle a lot of external media. We would have ended up with a less flexible environment and a huge file that wouldn’t play on a lot of the older computers that were likely to be in the schools.

    Even though it was not our first choice, we ended up authoring in Macromedia Director. With plug-ins, it provided robust handling of pdf files, external media files, graphics, and text. Formatting remained consistent across platforms. We could use a technique in which only a small “stub” projector was loaded into memory, calling up additional modules as needed. It was a sturdy and proven technology that would work across multiple operating systems. And finally, there was a technique for creating hybrid disks with Director that allowed us to use a single copy of the elements for both Mac and Windows executables.

    This is where knowing your audience is important. With that decided, we began to develop the content – no design, yet, just content and structure for the two discs. I wrote one of them and my partner at the design firm worked on copy for the other.  Once we were happy, we created a draft “script” and “project map” and submitted it to the client. Actually, we presented the scripts in person the first time to walk them through the way the papers were organized so that they would understand our technique and terms.

    Again, before design began, we went through multiple iterations of the “scripts.” In the process, the overall parameters of both projects began to change. This is where things get tricky.

    Our budgets and schedules were developed based on an overall concept that was presented in the proposal. We had made certain assumptions based on the information we got from our meetings with the Road Runners as well as existing training and marketing materials that we reviewed.

    This is one of the pitfalls and problems of “fixed-cost” bidding. You need to have some idea of what you’re going to do in order to develop a reasonable cost estimate. In many cases, that is relatively simple – you know ho many shoot days you will need for a scripted show because you have a script. You can make a guess about how many days you’ll need to shoot a documentary because you have researched the subject. Or you have some control over the content.

    However, some projects do have a tendency to evolve, or maybe mutate is a better word, as they go along. This was one of those projects. Why?

    1.    Client inexperience – they had never done anything like this and really weren’t sure what they needed or wanted.

    2.    Money. At first, the client wanted to add more and more to the project until we were way beyond the initial parameters. As projects evolve over time, it is common for some elements to disappear and be replaced by other content. In some cases, shifting budget allocations will cover those changes and keep the project within the initial budget. In other cases, there will be incremental costs. A procedure for notification and approval of incremental costs should be built into your agreement with the client. They must be informed about additional costs and given the opportunity to sign off on them --- or, in this case, back away.

    3.    Client education – as we proceeded, we made it clear to the Road Runners that what they really wanted to do was create a simpler, less comprehensive document. Including everything that they requested would have made it too complex to use. It wasn’t easy because the executive director had a stubborn streak and didn’t like to look like he was “backing down,” but eventually, the combination of reason and a vastly inflated estimate for doing the additional work did the trick.

    The first shoot days for the video elements were scheduled for June 13 and 15 in at schools in the Bronx and Manhattan in New York City. We needed to shoot program during the school day, before school, starting at around 6:00AM, as well as after school, beginning at about 4:00PM.  We planned to shoot at 2 to 3 locations per day, allowing for about 3 hours per location as well as travel time  between locations.

    Even though the video was going to be compressed for digital distribution, we elected to shoot with a Sony HVR-Z1U HDV camera at 1440 x 1080 resolution as a hedge for future use. We would downconvert the dailies and edit in SD, then compress the final completed programs for DVD, CD-ROM, and the web

    For reasons of budget and to be able to move quickly we shot with an extremely small crew: producer/director/interviewer/driver/grip (me), Director of Photography, soundman, production assistant, and also the principal from our partner agency as well as at least one person from NYRRF who already knew the schools and teachers. Additional NYRRF people were on location to help wrangle the kids, but it was mainly the teachers and coaches who handled that.

    Unless you have a big production and dedicated parking “guards,” dealing with vehicles in New York is a problem. We didn’t want to have someone dedicated to holding parking spaces, or being with the vehicles at all times, so we kept our “fleet” to an bare minimum. Everyone fit into two vehicles – the cameraman drove an SUV with some of the equipment. All the rest of the gear, the soundman, PA, and agency person fit into a second SUV with me driving. Very compact.

    At each location, we would shoot footage of the running activities, exercises, whatever routines they used, plus interviews with each of the coach/teachers and the principal if available. We shot many sequences two ways – one for effects using variable shutter speed to create blur and emphasize motion, and another straight.

    While obtaining a shooting permit in New York City does not cost anything, the permit I only really valid for shooting on public property. It also prvoides certain parking privileges for production vehicles. However, the permit does not cover private property, school property, or parks. And that is where we ran into some problems. We were ultimately able to work through them, but it emphasizes the importance of knowing exactly where you’re going to shoot, what you’re gong to be doing, and for how long.

    Now, usually, we get permission to shoot and make all arrangements during the location scout, or right afterward, as soon as the location has been chosen. Ideally, you want to have this locked down well before scheduling the shoot. The last thing you want to happen is to show up with a crew, equipment, and talent only to find out that the location is closed, unavailable, or that you have never been cleared to shoot. Well, we thought we had done that.

    The location was a public school in Chinatown. We had the permission of the school principal to shoot in the school and adjacent yard. We had a release from the teacher and all the students in the class. What we didn’t know, though, was that the “schoolyard” was not really school property, it was a New York City park. There was a small sign, but we missed during the scout, and nobody at the school thought it was of sufficient importance to mention.

    So, we show up at the school in the morning, as scheduled, meet the teacher, offload our gear, and walk to the back of the school. But, on that day, there are two workers from the Parks Department at the yard. They won’t let us bring in our cameras without a Parks permit, despite our New York City Mayor’s Film Office permit. It took about a half-hour to get everything sorted out as the crew hung around waiting, but I ended up speaking with the Assistant Commissioner of Parks on a cell phone, who gave us permission to shoot.

    The third shoot day for the project was in July. Initially, it was to get some interviews to fill holes in the story and add specific content that wasn’t available during the previous shoots but was necessary for the story. A medal ceremony sequence was staged with a real coach and a real team. We also had our second permit adventure at a park, but this time, it was Central Park. 

     Unlike the vest-pocket park that served as the school yard in Chinatown, Central Park is operated by a private organization, The Central Park Conservancy. Yes, that’s right; a private organization is in charge of Central Park! So, we need to get permission from them to shoot before we can obtain the necessary permit from the Mayor’s office.  It is a tedious process, which took about a week, requiring that we produce insurance forms, and agree to onerous restrictions that, if followed to the letter, would make it essentially impossible to shoot– no tripods, no vehicles, no heavy equipment, etc.

    Of course, these restrictions do not apply to large-scale feature film projects, only to small producers without the wherewithal to exert political clout at the highest levels. So what were we to do? I made the decision to go ahead and shoot as planned – with tripods, mics, reflectors, and everything else we needed. For that day, we planned to shoot several interviews in the morning, break for lunch, shoot a series of activities with a group of about 30 children who normally run in the park, and finally a series of exercise demonstrations. So we did. We had a small crew with ENG equipment; there are probably a hundred similar crews on the streets at any given moment.  I had a permit just in case someone came by, but we were passed by numerous Parks enforcement officers, park workers, and police. Nobody even looked twice.  If we hadn’t had a permit, I’m sure that we would all have been run out within a minute.

    Let’s turn to video post-production. We dealt with this project just as if it were a documentary. All interviews were transcribed and footage was logged prior to starting the edit. We were contracted to produce two complete videos, each with a different purpose. Both videos would also live on the NYRRF website. A 5-10 minute program for the “promotional” CD and a short “music video” about running to motivate elementary school kids were cut simultaneously by two different editors from the same footage base.

    Neither program was scripted, nor was professional voiceover used in either one. So, in a sense, they were classical documentaries, even though each one had a specific purpose and needed to convey particular bits of information.  Before starting the shoot, we knew what the “feel” and the basic content was going to be, but the precise story was grew organically out of the footage we shot. A few of the running sequences were staged specifically for the camera, although we usually were only asking the runners to repeat or slightly modify what they would be doing anyway. For example, for we used walkie-talkies in the park to cue the runners and the cameraman, although this was only for co-ordination.

    During post-production, once we had a rough cut with a storyline that made sense, we began a series of screenings with the client, who went through the video scene by scene. For the most part, the programs seemed to be on track, but, the executive director would occasionally have a strong objections to certain images we selected for reasons that I still don’t understand; totally subjective and totally irrational. Fortunately, he usually fixated on something that was unimportant to anyone else, and that did not impact the overall flow of the program. In those cases, making the change was easy, we simply took notes and did it. Unfortunately, there were other times when making the requested change would have required significant re-editing, or restructuring of the story because we didn’t have an alternative to communicate the same information. In those cases, we did not “follow orders.” That is when we had to “work it out.”

    But the videos were only a part, and not even the largest part, of the total project. The videos were elements – they would end up on one or more website. The running “music video” would be distributed as a standalone DVD for use at school assemblies; the longer video was to be the centerpiece of a CD-ROM which would be distributed at conventions, to principals, administrators, parents, and other potential adopters for the program.

    Post-production and development of the interactive elements took considerable time, especially since there was a continuing back-and-forth about the content and scope. We finally had an alpha version of the interactive components November 18. We began the project on May 10. The alpha version is not complete; all elements are in place but design is not necessarily complete and they may not demonstrate full functionality. The video elements have not been locked down in their final version. It was clear from this alpha version that the content that had been approved needed revision; the client undertook a review and provided detailed notes as well as edited content.

    A beta of the interactive components with substantial revisions to content was submitted for review on December 21. This version included final approved compressed versions of the videos, all client-supplied revised content, proofreader’s corrections, and full functionality. It was reviewed by the client over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday and they got back to us with further (minor) revisions at the end of the first week of January. A release candidate, which is a final version that may require minor debugging was submitted on January 25. It was accepted and sent out for duplication. The final accounting and invoice, including additional charges incurred due to agreed-upon changes, was submitted at the end of February.

    WEBSITE: In the end, the website concept underwent such major revisions that we had to submit a new, separate budget. Originally, we had proposed creating approximately 4 pages using content pulled from the “marketing” CD. Now, the client decided that our work would entail designing and building the front-end to a database-driven site where the coaches and administrators could enter statistics about the progress of their students. This required integration with a back-end database which was programmed by a separate developer. Such data collection was mandated by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant; the original plan had been to continue to use the manual system that had been in place.

    However, the NYRRF was able to secure additional funding earlier than anticipated to develop a comprehensive database to track this information. Therefore, our role changed. Naturally, the client wanted a front-end that was graphically related to the other materials we had developed, but also included database entry and content management that would allow them to make changes and updates to the site themselves. And they wanted all of that functionality without significantly changing the original look.

    That turned out to be impossible. Design compromises had to be made in order to accommodate the limited visual presentation capabilities of the back-end database environment that was selected. A lot of time was spent in back and forth between our developers, who were creating stylesheets to drive the visuals, and the database programmers, who were building the forms and framework we had to work within.

    Additionally, the content management piece needed to be dynamic, which meant that it could accommodate elements of varying sizes, without changing the layout and design, altering page size, or impinging on the space needed for the database window. Again, since the content management piece was also driven by the same back-end, we had to work within the limitations of an environment that was designed to display large amounts of data with minimal formatting. The website was not completed until April of the following year, and was, naturally, estimated and invoiced separately.

    So, the total time spent on this project was about one year from proposal to final billing.

    What did I learn from this?

    I learned that:

    • you have to know what you want to say – your content.
    • who you want to say it to – your audience
    • what outcome you want - -you goal or call to action
    • BEFORE YOU START!

    I learned that you need a well-defined, comprehensive process for dealing with changes, preferably detailed in the contract, BEFORE YOU START.

    I learned that you must carefully document every potential overage and get the client to sign off on them AS YOU PROCEED.

    And finally, I learned, yet again, that clients can have strange ideas – if you can’t win the argument, let it go. There is always another project.

  • Proposal

    Attached Files:
    Here is the proposal that I and my partners propared for NYRRF.
  • Budget Estimates

    Attached Files:
    This is the nitty-gritty. Review these. Note that there are revised versions of several of the estimates. After the break, we're going to go over the process by which budget estimates are developed. It is an art, yes, but there is also a science to it.
  • Scripts, Program Maps & Misc Documents

    Attached Files:
    Follow the development of the various components of this project here. See how the script/program maps evolve with client input, second guesses, re-thinking, etc.

  • Individual Projects: The Brief

    It is now time to choose which of your three ideas you will work on for the remainder of the semester. You may want to consider the feedback you got from your pitch. 

    PLEASE MAKE SURE TO READ THE PITCHES AND PROVIDE CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK!

    Consider the twin dangers of "scale" (choosing something either too big or to small) and "viability" (referring to the real-world chances of getting your project made.)   

    Our goal is that the project you undertake will be fully planned and laid out by the end of this course and that you will be ready to pitch it or start production as of June 1, 2010.

    Weigh your decision carefully. Choose a project you are really interested in; you may want to build off something you have already done, or something you are currently involved with. It is probably not a good idea to choose a project that for which you have already developed a proposal or parts of the production plan; you should really start with a relatively clean slate to determine how the process we'll be using works for you. At the conclusion of the course, you may want to develop your own variations on the process, and that is best done if you have started anew.

    The assignment at hand, The Brief, is your first attempt to frame the overall project. We do not anticipate that you will be able to fill in all the sections fully. Drafting the brief is the step in the process dring which you will discover what you know and - more importantly -- what you don't know about your project.

    Please maintain the section titles (in italics) as you fill in the template. This will make it easier for your instructors and peer readers to follow it.  When you come to developing a funding proposal later in the semester, such categories can be disregarded.  The funding proposal will have additional topics and concerns to address.

    Please post your completed brief on the Project Briefs discussion forum. Once the briefs have been posted, students who have similar projects should form smaller groups who will work together, reviewing and commenting on each other's projects for the rest of the semester. We'll create a place for this in the "Groups" area -- so read the briefs and then let me know via email which one you would feel most comfortable with as well as a second choice. We'll try to organize this somewhat intelligently. Wherever you end up, please take this assignment seriously; your feedback to your classmates, and theirs to you, are valuable "reality checks" as you proceed with this project.

    Use this template for your brief. Please be sure to read the rest of the assignment for hints and tips on what is expected. Completed templates should be submitted by 16 February 2012.

     

    PROJECT BRIEF TEMPLATE

    (This should be no longer than two pages)

    Title :

    Always give your piece a short, catchy title.  Naming is often a key element in selling the pitch.   

    Log Line :  (aka "Tag Line or "Blurb?)  

    Producer  

    Your name here.  

    Narrative Summary  

    A simple description of what the project is about. Place it into a category of media types and genres.  Eliminate all self-promoting adjectives. Just say what it is. Limit to 2 sentences, max.

    Intent  

    What is the goal that you are attempting to achieve? What is the take-away you hope your production will engender in those who see it.

    Audience  

    Identify as specifically as you can your primary audience. Don't say "general" audience, even if you are hoping that everyone in the world will want to watch it. Tell us the primary audience you are aiming for.

    Structure:  

    Identify in very broad strokes the large parts of your project. If it is a narrative, describe the act structure or, at least, the opening, the story development and the ending.  If your project is documentary or discursive, describe the 4 to 6 major subjects or sections.

    Approach:

    Prove detail about any special treatment you foresee. For the visual realm, this might include sources of footage/materials, types of interaction, special effects, shooting techniques, significant art production and art direction. For the audio realm, you might want to comment on music, voice over or other elements.

    Miscellaneous:

    Please invent other categories to this brief, as you see fit. What distinguishes your concept from projects that might seem like it?  Consider…. key on-screen talent … source materials proved in other media forms… audience research… technological breakthroughs… etc.

     

    Project Brief Writing Tips:  

    1. In terms of written style, bulleted points or an outline work as well as (or better than) prose. This brief ought to be readable in 5 minutes or less.  Remember, you are providing just a snapshot of the overall project.

    2. Avoid using too many adjectives, especially ones that describe the quality or effect of the project you are pitching.

    3. Its often useful to highlight a key words or phrases.  This helps your reader skim through the treatment.  And such key phrases assist you in simplifying the movie into beats around which you can focus your creative work.

    4.  Leave lots of white space. You can reduce margins or you can use smaller type fonts if you need, but you should not go beyond the equivalent of two printed pages.

    We'd like each of you to comment on the single area of the project you feel represents the greatest challenge.

    Again, we do not expect you to be able complete all the categories in the assessment at this time. Think of what you turn in next class as the initial draft of a work-in-progress that you will be refining in weeks ahead.  

    Where you do not yet have information, make the best guess that you can. Over the course of the semester our curriculum is designed to methodically work through the information requested in all the categories probed here. Hence one useful goal in this assignment is for you to gauge which dimensions of the project are foggiest. Those are the ones that you must attack with special gusto.

    The first and biggest value of this assessment comes in helping you confirm that your choice of projects is a good one. Sit back and try to take measure of whether your project fits well with your time and energies in the 13 weeks ahead.

  • Dossiers: Defining Scope & Setting up Categories

    We are a bit behind my intended schedule for the dossiers, but not to worry.  This week, we will finalize the group assignments. Then, tthe groups should begin to determine how to define the scope of their research and refine their approach.  It is almost always necessary to delimit in some way the large swath of media industry each team has selected.

    Each group should finalize the scope of the project and complete the Domain Definition section of their wiki so that research can begin in earnest. You might also want to begin jotting down thoughts and ideas for some of the other categories, and begin to organize your wiki into separate pages to accommodate the material you will be gathering.

Week 3: Writing + Scripting

posted Apr 25, 2012, 6:50 PM by Priya Nayar

This week, we look at writing, which is the basis for everything that we do as producers. Herein, we look at narrative scripting, dramatic structure, and non-fiction scripting. Please review the lecture notes, accompanying PowerPoint, video of the class lecture, and then attend to this week's assignment. Also provided are links to various scripting templates and software (some free) that you might find helpful in your endeavors. 
  • Writing and Scripting for Producers

    Writing & Scripting

       I suppose if you weigh the pages that have been devoted to writing about scriptwriting, they would weigh far more than the pages that have actually been devoted to scripts. Everybody has an opinion and, being writers, they express them in as many words as possible. Not only does everyone have an opinion but, in the tradition of Talmudic scholarship that seems to be the foundation for writing about writing, they rarely agree with each other. And, even if they do, they take a long time getting around to it. So, we are entering the fray, with trepidation and fear, but we march stalwartly ahead into the smoke and mirrors of the world of writing for the screen.

       This week, we look at writing, which is the basis for everything that we do as producers. In addition to my contribution to the confusion that follows, I would like you to read an article by Marilyn Horowitz, a writing coach and teacher who was kind enough to address our class in the past. She has also provided a workbook for scriptwriters. Marilyn’s approach is aimed squarely at narrative scriptwriting; she does not discuss non-fiction writing.  However, there is a detailed look at approaches to the non-fiction script and treatment in the verbiage that follows.

       In addition to that, please find a PowerPoint presentation in which I review some other approaches to scriptwriting and storyboarding. There are no lecture notes for this presentation, which is pretty much self-explanatory. And, of course, we will post a video of this week’s class for reference and amusement.

       You can’t do much production planning until you have a strong sense of what you will need to shoot. So, regardless of the ultimate form of the script, it must first serve as the basis for the “breakdown” of the production into scenes, locations, subjects or actors, and other elements. The script or treatment must provide the producer the information necessary to estimate the number of shooting days, sets, studios or locations, crew and equipment, costumes and props, talent, transportation, etc.

       The script or treatment doesn’t need to be finalized in order for the producer to proceed with his or her job. But, before anything much can be accomplished, writing must be well underway so that you can figure out what resources are going to be required.

    The Elements of Storytelling

    As you are committing your story to paper, it may be useful to review classic dramatic structure. There are many variants, but, ultimately, almost any narrative project will follow this basic structure. Without sounding too obvious, a formal dramatic structure does not necessarily apply to documentaries, but many of these elements can be found (or should be found) in non-fiction endeavors.

    • SET-UP
      • establish the “world” of your story
      • identify your protagonist (who is he/she, what does the character want?
      • learn the protagonist’s “plan” (How will the character get what he/she wants?)
    • OBSTACLES
      • meet the antagonist (who and why)
      • see how the protagonist’s plan can be thwarted
    • COMPLICATION /REVERSION
      • protagonist’s response to obstacles
      • introduction of new plan
    • CRISIS & CLIMAX
      • protagonist/antagonist confrontation
      • Outcome for protagonist (win or lose – what is learned?)
    • RESOLUTION
      • dénouement

    What is the Writer’s Palette?

    A producer need not be a writer but, at a minimum, a producer must be able to tell good writing from bad. You should understand the writer’s craft well enough to recognize the different stages that a script must go through before it is “finished.”  Your conceptual skills must include a nuanced vocabulary that will help you speak clearly to your writer(s). Think of the writer as a painter who has deft skills at mixing endless combinations of the primary colors he or she has squeezed onto the palette. What are those colors?

    • CHARACTER
      • who is antagonist and who is protagonist?
      • what are most incisive elements of each character?
        • significant details:
          • costume & props
          • language or speaking voice
          • physical attributes & defects
        • character triangles can be useful
      • consider character “arc” – starts one place and ends in another
    • VOICE (of script, not of characters)
      • Is the story told by:
        • omniscient observer (story seen in now)
        • dramatic first person account (VO or sync-to-camera)
        • voice of filmmaker (narrator VO)
        • voice of reporter (or off-camera producer)
        • “unreliable” reporter (participant or actor)
        • conventions of TV news & docs (“ objective” POV in theory if not fact)
      • What is your native “ voice” as a producer?
      • comedy or drama?
      • reality or fantasy?
      • “art directed” or gritty realism?
      • theme driven or indirect/elliptical?
      • sympathetic or neutral or unsympathetic?
      • happy & optimistic or troubled & skeptical?
      • Your “voice” will reflect, in large part, your personality and approach to life.
    •  PLACE & LOOK
      • ambience gives overtones (menace, pastoral, edgy, modern, hip, cheesy)
      • How important will your cinematography be? Is there a look you are after?
      • Are you using visual symbols or motifs to communicate meaning?
    • THEME
      • underlying idea that audience can sense or consciously apprehend
      • extended metaphors (parables)
      • there can be big satisfaction via a “ take-away” insight/idea
    • DIALOGUE
      • in scripted narrative, every line should advance the action or the story
      • consider vocabulary and vernacular to express class, education, occupation, origins 
    • TIME STRUCTURE
      • flash back
      • slow-motion/compressed time
      • period piece
      • “real” time (like 24)
      • linear narrative
    • UNFOLDING STORIES
      • unfolding action = watch; don’t tell.
    There are many styles of writing. At different times you may find that one of these is most appropriate:
    • academic
    • discursive
    • colloquial
    • technical
    • sales/advertising
    • bulleted, PowerPoint style

       It is perhaps ironic that academic writing, the style in which you have had the most training and experience, is the one writing style that you will rarely if ever use once you have departed these hallowed ivy-covered halls, although it can come in handy for nonfiction projects on academic, scientific or technical subjects.

       As a producer, you should be sensitive to the fact that individual writers will have strengths and weaknesses. You will need to appreciate the elements of the writer’s craft to precisely identify script “problems” or missing elements. More often than not, the missing elements are one of the primary elements in the writer’s palette discussed above.

       As the producer, whether you want to be or not, you are almost always part of the writing team. The producer gets enough credit as it is, so I recommend you never ask or take screen credit for writing, even though you may have made as large a contribution as any writer (unless you are a writer-producer who is the main creator of the script). Like all the “rules” of producing, this is not carved in stone so much as etched in plasticine, and, particularly on smaller scale non-fiction or documentary projects, the writer and producer may well be one and the same person.  Toward your goal of producing well, become aware of your own writing strengths and weaknesses.

    Five Writing Formats

    The ScreenplayThere is one established format for TV and film scripts (with small variations between episodic TV and feature film). To find out about the general format requirements, read the delightful and accurate template prepared Lydia Antonini, by a graduate of the Media Studies program, entitled “Standard Screenplay Template: The Rulz.” As you will see, she is something of an expert on the subject of proper formatting for the screenplay standard that is used in both TV and feature films. Read this document with care. Thanks to Lydia for these detailed and engaging notes. If you use Microsoft Word, you can search their free online template library for “script” or “ screenplay” to obtain stylesheets that you can use to format your document. If you’re collaborating with someone using GoogleDocs, there are a few templates available. Search “script” to locate them, since they change often. Not all of them will be useful to you, but I have found a few that work in a recent search.

    Other templates are available from:

    Scriptsmart MSWord templates from the BBC
    Snoozeletter MSWord 2002 + 97 + 2007 templates
    OpenOffice.org 2.x/3.x Screenwright(R) screenplay formatting template (FREE!)

    Screenplay formatting/writing software (some free) is available from:
    Final Draft Screenwriting software
    Movie Magic Screenwriter
    Movie Outline Scriptwriting Software
    Montage Screenwriting Software
    Writer's Cafe
    Celtx screenwriting software (FREE!)
    Wikimedia screenplay extension
    Cinergy Script Editor (FREE!)
    Plotbot Online Script Editor (FREE!)
    Zhura - Features online collaboration. (FREE!)
    http://scripped.com/

    http://www.scriptbuddy.com/

    http://www.page2stage.com/

    http://www.fivesprockets.com/fs-portal/

    Reviews and links:

    http://www.online-communicator.com/swsoftin.html

    I won’t vouch for everything here. Final Draft and Movie Magic are industry standards. The Celtx system is an online collaborative system that also includes scheduling and budgeting, sort of a specialized wiki environment for filmmaking. I’� � � � � � ve seen the Cinergy script editor and it is good as well. A lot of the free stuff works on Windows and is not available for Mac. Open Office.org is a free office productivity suite that runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux. It is full-featured, and read and writes Word format files, and can use those templates. Whatever you use is up to you.



    The Beat Outline (narrative treatment)It can take months or even years to write and polish the screenplay for a feature film. Teams of seasoned Hollywood sit-com writers need weeks to hammer out the screenplay for a half-hour series that already has established characters and a show formula that is formalized in a “bible.” So it’s a bit unrealistic for those of you who are working on an original narrative project to think that you will have a completed draft of your script done within the first 5 or 6 weeks of the semester. (Unless, of course, you are using a script that you have already been working on for some time.) However, it is possible to write a “ treatment” or “beat outline” that gives enough detail about the story so that, as a producer, you will be able to figure out how to make it (particularly, how to build a schedule and budget.)

    The StoryboardThere are some kinds of writing/designing tasks that do not lend themselves to spoken words or written words either. They require a more precisely detailed kind of visual notation. This is the “storyboard,” of which there are many varieties ranging from extremely complex and detailed to extremely informal and simple. Television commercials are traditionally storyboarded because the visual elements are so essential to the message. Animation, graphic, and special effect sequences are also best expressed in a storyboard. Some examples of storyboards can be found in the Writing & Scripting folder in the Resources section of Blackboard.

    The BibleIn episodic television in particular, there is a huge store of background with which a writer must be familiar before starting to script an episode. Producers (usually the show runner) -- along other members of production teams – usually develop a set of definitive notes about a broad range of elements related to a show: character notes, art direction, production technique and much, much more.

    The Treatment (for documentaries)While the tradition of “scripted” documentaries goes all the way back to Flaherty, contemporary documentary films are rarely, if ever, scripted in the same way as a narrative. Almost by definition, it is impossible to know the story that will be told until after it has been captured onto stills, film or videotape. Other forms of non-fiction filmmaking, particularly educational, scientific, or industrial, are often scripted in advance of production. With that in mind, it can be useful to look at the process of writing a documentary concept as requiring two phases.

    • Research and Positioning Phase
      • kinds of research (5)
        • competitive analysis;
        • quantitative metrics (the ratings, the budget, the sponsorship interest)
        • informal polling people in the field
        • citation of hard data from professional organizations, government, etc. (cite your source)
        • content research
          • written materials
          • subject matter experts
          • fact checking
      • ways to do research:
      • web scouring
      • meeting with industry insiders/experts
      • libraries & repositories.
    • Segment Treatment / Pre-Production Phase
    • write overall positioning statement
      • “goals”
      • “intent”
      • “theme”
    • break into “segments”
    • estimate duration of each segment
    • consider choices of formatting devices
      • hosts,
      • reporters
      • blind VO,
      • screen graphics

       Non-fiction projects are inherently difficult to script or even accurately anticipate. After all, much of the magic comes as things unfold during the production. Yet, a producer needs to plan a documentary to schedule, budget it, and sell it. Therefore, the producer needs some sense of what kinds of sequences will be shot and an idea of how these will fit together in the final project. Usually, this begins to come together during the research phase, although it will inevitably continue to evolve throughout the course of the production.

       A “treatment” is the document that maps a documentary/reality based production before it is actually recorded on film or tape (or disc or chip). There is no single standard format for treatments, such as there is for theatrical screenplays. Depending on the style of production, a treatment might include “ scripted” elements like the on-camera comments of a host, or voice-over narration. Or, you may be planning a classic “cinema verité” production where the entire story is told without comment from the filmmaker. Whatever the style of the production will be, the heart of a good treatment comes in the form of discrete “scene” descriptions.

       Scenes or sequences in non-fiction can not be fleshed out in the same way as those in a narrative. You may only know some part of what is going to be recorded – perhaps a person to be interviewed, or an event, or simply a location. But, even if you are working in the “cinema verité” style, a documentary producer should have some vision for where the project will go, and a sense of what elements will be needed to tell the story. That compelling sense or vision, along with your rationale for exploring the subject, should be clearly expressed in the treatment, with the understanding that it is likely to be revised as production progresses

       Here is a template designed to help you break out the essentials of each segment you intent to undertake. Remember, though, that your treatment should express your overarching vision, the main themes you wish to touch, and the reason that you find the story worthy of exploration. The sequence or scene descriptions outlined below are part of the process, but should not be the sole component of your treatment. They are, however, essential for the rest of the producer’s work – scheduling, budgeting, and working out the logistics of the production.

       With that understood, go ahead and start thinking about the way your non-fiction story will unfold. The notes in blue are just guides and you should not copy these into your project’s scene-by-scene breakout.

    1. SCENE #: (This is a useful shorthand ID for scheduling and budgeting.)
    2. SCENE NAME: (a name or title for each scene is a big help in planning and editing)
    3. LOCATION:(include a very short description of place you will be shooting)
    4. LENGTH: (this is estimated length when scene cut and positioned in production)
    5. ACTION: (describe basic activity taking place in front of the camera. If you have too many interviews, look for additional scenes that “show” the information/emotion you which to convey.)
    6. CONTENT: (list for yourself elements of intellectual fare being covered in this scene)
    7. DIRECTION: (optional, depending on your need)
      (notes for director. How you want to cover the scene. This could include lighting information, or explain how you plan to use multiple cameras, or give guidance on another important production element that will shape the scene. These notes would be particularly important in, say, a music documentary which includes large performance scenes.)
    8. CAST: (optional, depending on your need)
      (who is in the scene? Maybe notes about scheduling or logistics required to make sure this “talent” is there when the cameras start shooting, and knows what is expected.) 
    Early in the process of researching and pre-visualizing a documentary project, you will most likely have only some part of the information you will eventually need. Perhaps you can identify a subject you wish to interview and know what you want to talk about, but don’t yet know the location. In such a case, leave the location blank for it will remind you that, before you shoot, you will need to find out (or, better, to scout) the place where you will be shooting the interview.

    Try to fill out the first 5 topics for every single scene (“ sequence”) in your project. Then add up the times to see if you are close to the length you need. Of course you will always want to produce more scenes than you can use in the final project. During the editing process, you will inevitably eliminate or combine scenes in ways you could not have anticipated. But you want to be sure you have enough material for your show, and that there is contrast and variety between scenes.

    Here are some specialized kinds of scenes that you may choose to work into your treatment. Each will require a variation of the information above.

    SHOW OPENING TITLES(Show titles should be short – around 20 sec – and often involve sophisticated motion graphics)

    END CREDITS(Keep them short. On TV, networks often start running promos for the next show while your end credits are running. Do not overproduce these.)

    GRAPHICS SCENES(where you may want to use tables, charts, animation, titles, etc.)

    ARCHIVAL STILLS OR FOOTAGE SEQUENCES(Yes, I know that Ken Burns has done these to death and iMovie does them automatically, but they can still some in handy. You can often find existing photographs or even existing video/film footage that can be built into a scene themselves or used within other scenes (for example, during interviews). The pacing and visual style of such montages is often a useful contrast to other kinds of shooting in the project.)

    MAN ON THE STREET INTERVIEWS (aka “VOX POP”) (not as easy to get what you want as you may think.)

    HOST SCENES(Many documentaries don’t have hosts, of course. But some will, and it helps to maintain continuity between segments in a magazine format.)

    BREAKS TO COMMERCIALS(If you’re making the show for cable or broadcast, you can anticipate the act structures in your treatment. In a TV half hour, there can be either a 3 act (2 breaks for commercials) or 3 act formats, depending on the channel. Helpful to make a stab at where these will occur because you may want to create…)

    BUMPERS - both in and out of commercial breaks
    (An “out” bumper could be a “coming up” preview to hold viewers over the break. An “ in” bumper might just be the show title card and musical sting)

    COLD OPENS(Many documentaries as well as narrative shows will begin with a sampling of action/emotion from the show that follows. This takes place before the Show Open and is designed to lure viewers with a promise of what is ahead.)

  • Software

    Attached Files:
    Here are two free scriptwriting programs: ScreenForge and ScriptMaker. Unfortunatel, they only run on Windows. If anyone knows of a good Mac freeware script processor, please email Andy and I'll post it here
  • Writing a Treatment

    Attached Files:
    Marilyn Horowitz is a well-known script doctor and teacher of screenwriting in New York. She was kind enough to visit our class a few years ago, and provided this article and workbook on writing a narrative treatment. While this material is primarily aimed at those who are creating fictional narratives, it is certainly worthwhile for students who are planning non-fiction projects, or even websites or events.
  • Story Structure & Scripting

    Attached Files:
    This is a copy of the PowerPoint presentation that we used for the class lecture.
  • More Guides and References

    Attached Files:
    Here's the place for additional guides and reference material about scriptwriting and formatting. There are some examples here, templates for Word, storyboard forms, and much more. Hope this stuff helps.
  • More Guides and References

    Attached Files:
    Here's the place for additional guides and reference material about scriptwriting and formatting. There are some examples here, templates for Word, storyboard forms, and much more. Hope this stuff helps.
  • Project : Scripting/Treatments (Beat Outline )

    We suggest that you review notes from the talk on "Writing & Scripting.” This document describes 5 formats that offer different ways to approach writing your project. It is essential that you begin this task immediately, for much of your work of producing your project requires that you have enough detail about what you plan to shoot to be able to develop concrete production plans. 

    The 5 formats that were described include:

    •  Screenplay
    • Beat Outline
    • Treatment
    • Storyboards
    • Bible

    These are formats that work well for traditional linear fiction or non-fiction media forms. If you are planning an interactive or non-linear form like a website, a video game, or a project that will be distributed on wireless, these formats may be limiting or even useless. Even if you are thinking of a project within one of the traditional linear forms, these formats may not quite work for you. Therefore, if none of these formats works for the project you have in mind, then feel free to invent a hybrid format, or even an original format of your own as you put to paper the details about your project.

    Whatever the final outcome you envision, the assignment for this week is to see how far you can take writing process in two weeks (2/24).  We want to help you jump start the writing process. Towards that end please develop a Beat Outline for your project. This consists of a simple listing of the major chunks of your project (lets not identify them yet as segments or scenes).Check out the PDF of the beat outline for the feature film Witness for an idea of the form of a beat outline.

    This may be a difficult task. We are less interested in how completely you can envision the finished project than in forcing you to start sketching the component parts and overall structure and of the project you are undertaking. We believe it will help to give specific names and assign tentative lengths to each segment. However, we realize that may not be possible at this point.

    Please post your beat outline to the discussion “Beat Outlines” by Week 5 (2/24) but sooner if possible. We will not be providing specific notes. We will be checking to see that you are underway. If the beat outline is too sketchy, then it may mean that the reach of the project is too great to undertake in the remaining time. Should this be the case, we recommend you scale back ASAP – perhaps the hour long project can be a half-hour, perhaps you will be writing and pre-producing a significant portion of the project, just not the whole thing.

    Note that scripts for narrative projects (in the standard screenplay format) and treatments for non-fiction projects (all segments described) are due by class # 8. Short narratives (15 minutes or under) should be fully scripted. Feature length narrative projects should have 20 pages (roughly 20 minutes) of script, plus a beat outline of the entire show. It is critical that everyone make these deadlines because we begin our work on budgeting and scheduling in that class.

  • Industry Dossiers: Defining Scope & Setting up Template Categories

    I hope that we will be able to get the dossier groups together in short order. Once we have settled on a group, you will need to decide how you wish to collaborate: using the Blackboard wiki, using Googledocs, a wiki using pbworks (www.pbworks.com) or another format. I have no preference; you need to choose a tool that will provide you with the most flexibility but is also familiar and easy to use. All I ask is that I be able to view and comment on your wiki.

    By Week #6 , I would like to see a draft in which all of the categories have some input, not necessarily a full draft, but the beginning of an organized collection of data which begins to structure that data. It should also show evidence of research, including links to sources.

    Again, I’d like to remind you that the template should be used as a guide for structuring your dossier. Some categories may not be relevant to your specific segment, and that additional categories may be called for as you analyze your data. Please contact me before making significant changes to the template categories or structure.


Week 4: Deal Basics + Business Models

posted Apr 25, 2012, 6:44 PM by Priya Nayar   [ updated Apr 25, 2012, 6:58 PM ]

This week, you will be directed to a PowerPoint presentation prepared by Paul Hardart, with whom I co-taught this course onsite last year, discussing business models as well as some additional information on overall business models in the film and video industry. Once you have reviewed the presentation and lecture, I'm sure that you will have questions. Head over to the discussion forum so that we can explore those questions.
There are almost as many business models as there are producers. For this week, I have included three Powerpoint presentations, one from Paul Hardart, who teaches this course onsite at The New School and is a former Hollywood producer, and one each from graduate programs in Australia and Great Britain. All three of them provide overviews and insight into feature film business models. In other words, how do films make money? How do you obtain financing? Where do you market? Here are links to two relevant articles from The New York TImes.

States Weigh Cuts in Subsidies for Hollywood - NYTimes.pdf 

With Studios Wary, Investors Come to Hollywood - NYTimes.pdf 

But not all of you are planning to make a feature film. Some are proposing web-based projects. Others are thinking about reality TV,or series, or even documentaries. So what do all of these have in common? How do we answer the important questions:
  • What kind of business structure should I use?
  • Where do I obtain financing and how?
  • Where and how do I market my project?

There are no simple answers to any of these questions,but we can find some starting points. So, with that caveat, here are some of my thoughts. Let's start with the first one, since that is, in some ways, the easiest to deal with.

You can, in fact,  produce a project using any business model you want. If you are wealthy, you can pay for it out of pocket as an individual. If you like to take risks, finance it on your Mastercard, again as an individual. Or write a check. There is no need to form a business entity to make a film or develop a website. But, most people don't do it that way. Why not? After all, if the project is a success, you get to keep all the profits? And your project IS going to be a success, right?

Well, yeah, that is true. If it makes a boatload of cash, you do get to keep it, but you have to share it with the government, at least in the US. Those profits are taxed at the individual tax rate, and you are limited in what you can deduct as an individual, so you will likely be handing a lot of it over to Uncle Sam and various other state and local tax authorities. So, unless you are feeling very generous, you will want to somehow limit your tax liability. Of course, you are the employer of record for the people who work for you, so there are all those employment and payroll taxes. Union P&W. Residuals for actors. And so on.

And speaking of liability, if something should not go according to plan - now or sometime in the future --  and, say, you are sued for copyright infringement, or someone has an accident on the job,or someone decides to go after you for defamation, or using their image without permissions, or using a trademark, or ruining their lawn, or spooking their pet. You get the picture. You are liable. Just you. And they can sue you for everything you own, or will own. Not a pretty picture in a litigious society. Especially now, with so many lawyers out of work looking for a payday.

So, for those and a host of other practical reasons, most producers create a business entity. There are a number of forms, some provide more protection than others, and all have their advantages and disadvantages. First of all, since producing is rarely an individual undertaking, you will probably have one or more producing partners. The simplest business forms are either sole proprietorships or partnerships. These are exactly what they say -- you own the thing outright or you and one or more partners have shares in it, generally equal. These are essentially the same as doing it yourself; the liabilities fall on the partners personally, and your assets are at risk. Income, if there is any, is allocated as individual income each year and taxed accordingly. It is not possible to bring in outside investors, only more partners, all of whom have equal claim on any profits. There are also limitations to deducting losses and other business related deductions. So, from a liability standpoint, there are not ideal. From a tax standpoint, ask your accountant.

There are models that allow the owners or shareholders to limit their liability (and sometimes tax) exposure. For our purposes, we will discuss two basic types of them, the LLC (Limited Liability Company)  and the corporation (Sub-S or C-Corp). I'm not going to go into all the details of each, but will simply paint a broad brush picture of these options. You should really discuss this with your lawyer and your accountant before making a decision. And, if you are planning to raise money with a public offering, you should also discuss this with an investment underwriter as well. a book on our recommended reading list, Thomas Crowell's The Pocket Lawyer for FIlmmakers provides more details for those of you who care to delve into this area.

In brief, both LLC and corporation provide a means for producers to shield their personal assets and limit their liability exposure to the assets of the business. This means that a creditor can't come and repossess your car and house if the film doesn't make money and they stand to lose their investment. It also means that you can't be sued by the irate homeowner whose lawn was torn up by the grip truck, etc. LLCs are like sole proprietorships and partnerships in that they are relatively easy to form, and can include other business entities as well as individuals.

According to the Wikipedia, which is relatively accureate in this case, an LLC 

is a hybrid business entity having certain characteristics of both a corporation and a partnership or sole proprietorship (depending on how many owners there are). An LLC, although a business entity, is a type ofunincorporated association and is not a corporation. The primary characteristic an LLC shares with a corporation is limited liability, and the primary characteristic it shares with a partnership is the availability of pass-throughincome taxation. It is often more flexible than a corporation, and it is well-suited for companies with a single owner.

Membership interests in LLCs and partnership interests are also afforded a significant level of protection through the charging order mechanism. The charging order limits the creditor of a debtor-partner or a debtor-member to the debtor’s share of distributions, without conferring on the creditor any voting or management rights. Limited liability company members may, in certain circumstances, also incur a personal liability in cases where distributions to members render the LLC insolvent.

The phrase "unless otherwise provided for in the operating agreement" (or its equivalent) is found throughout all existing LLC statutes and is responsible for the flexibility the members of the LLC have in deciding how their LLC will be governed (provided it does not go outside legal bounds). State statutes typically provide automatic or "default" rules for how an LLC will be governed unless the operating agreement provides otherwise. Similarly, the phrase "unless otherwise provided for in the by laws" is also found in all corporation law statutes but often refers only to a narrower range of matters.

For U.S. Federal income tax purposes, an LLC is treated by default as a pass-through entity. If there is only one member in the company, the LLC is treated as a "disregarded entity" for tax purposes, and an individual owner would report the LLC's income or loss on Schedule C of his or her individual tax return. The default tax status for LLCs with multiple members is as a partnership, which is required to report income and loss on IRS Form 1065. Under partnership tax treatment, each member of the LLC, as is the case for all partners of a partnership, annually receives a Form K-1 reporting the member's distributive share of the LLC's income or loss that is then reported on the member's individual income tax return.

An LLC with either single or multiple members may elect to be taxed as a corporation through the filing of IRS Form 8832.[5] After electing corporate tax status, an LLC may further elect to be treated as a regular C corporation (taxation of the entity's income prior to any dividends or distributions to the members and then taxation of the dividends or distributions once received as income by the members) or as an S corporation (entity level income and loss passes through to the members). Some commentators have recommended an LLC taxed as an S-corporation as the best possible small business structure. It combines the simplicity and flexibility of an LLC with the tax benefits of an S-corporation (self-employment tax savings).

That is a lot of information, but it provides a good overview of why LLCs are the form of choice for many production entities. They are simpler than a corporation and do not have as many reporting or governance requirements, yet they do provide a liability shield. The other advantage of any business entity is that it can be dissolved at any time. Most productions are established as a stand-alone LLC for the duration of the production, and are then dissolved after a period of time. Shares of any profits are distributed based on other agreements made with investors and the distributing entities. While an LLC is a US entity,  similar forms of business structure can be found elsewhere in the world.

A corporate structure provides another layer of protection, since, as Mitt Romney has so famously said, "...corporations are people, my friend." At least they are in the eyes of the law in most places. The advantage of a standard or C corporation is that stock can be issued, which makes it a good vehicle for involving outside investors. In general, a corporation is only liable to the extent of the assets of the corporation. Profits are taxed prior to distribution of dividends to shareholders, but there are many ways to shield profits, more deductions for business expenses, as well as more options for dealing with business losses. An S-corp is a corporate structure whose income is disributed to the shareholders and taxed at individual tax rates. Again, your choice of business form is something that should be made on the basis of discussions with your partners, lawyers, accountants, and investment underwriters if you choose to go that rate. Options may be more or less attractive depending on your state or country.

If you're planning to make a feature film or television show, you will also probably work with at least one other producing entities. Look at the opening titles of most feature films, or the closing titles of most television shows, and you will rarely see one company name.LLCs and corporations can enter into contracts with other entities just as individual can (see Romney above)

.Your choice of business model also determines your options in terms of raising money. In many cases, investors in an LLC cannot be passive; they have to be partners in the business. On the other hand, corporations can sell stock. There are strict laws about public offerings and the required documentation, including who is considered a qualified investor. Again, this is a quite specialized area and one that I an certainly not qualified to discus. Talk to a lawyer who is knowledgeable in this area.

There are other ways to obtain financial backing that are less onerous. You can, of course, get money from family and friends. You can borrow money from a bank. Use a credit card. Save. Companies that provide equipment and facilities will occasionally "invest" in projects if you are a known quantity, providing their services for participation in the back end. Cast and crew will work for "deferred" payment or a percentage. Product placement, in which companies will either pay (of you are known) or provide products if they are featured in the production. Some states still provide tax deferments or refunds (see article above). Outside of the US, there is often government participation in feature films and high visibility television projects through specific funding mechanisms.

For documentaries, there are grants as well as sponsorships. While it is beyond the scope of this course to go through all the potential grant providers, there are guides and organizations that provide that information. In most cases, the filmmaker will have to participate financially, as well as putting up "sweat equity" in the form of labor and sometimes facilities.

It is a little trickier with web-based projects, but there is a certain amount of venture capital available.

Television shows are a little different, since the network will put up a large percentage, but not necessarily all, of the cost of production. But, they rarely will do this for an unknown quantity. If they like the idea that you propose, they may want you to partner with a known producer. Or, you can try to present your idea to a producer with network connections, but you will often not be able to retain future rights. All networks have development executives whose job it is to keep their eyes out for possible new shows, so they will review your proposal. They are accessible. They may pass on the idea, but that doesn't mean that it is bad, just that it isn't a good fit for their programming mix. If you choose to go this route, study the network's programming carefully and submit only to those you feel ara good fit. Submission practices differ. DIscovery, for instance, has a web-based "Producer's Portal" for new and existing producers with a well documented, highly structured  submission procedure. Other networks are less formal.

We will look at the marketing aspect a little later in the semester, but, suffice it to say for now, that producers are being given inclreasing responsibility for following through on marketing, no matter what the form of the project.

ASSIGNMENTS: 

This week, you should continue working on the assignments from Week 3, the Beat Outline/Treatment which should be posted by 2/24 next week. Dossier groups have a little longer, but the dossiers should really be taking shape now. Look inside the folder for a suggested reading assignment and a new approach to writing your resume which I would like you to undertake.

  • Reading Assignment

    This assignment is optional, but strongly suggested. Last semester, we had a guest speaker who focused on the legal dimensions of producing. This is a very important area, since it covers how you can protect your intellectual property, your business, yourself, and avoid potential pitfalls that can cripple your production. Thomas Crowell, Esq of the law firm of Saperstein & Crowell was our guest speaker. In order to orient yourself to this presentation, we strongly recommend that you purchase (and review) his book entitled “The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers”, Focal Press. It is available online at Amazon or other sources as well as online from Showbiz Software or, for those of you who can make it into New York City, at The Showbiz Store & Café on 21st St between 5th and 6th Ave.

    This presentation was recorded and links will be available in the Lecture Notes section as well as the announcments. If you have questions, please post them to the discussin forum and we can hopefully shed some light on them.
  • Industry Dossier Projects

    This is actually the same assignment you were given last week. Consider this a reminder:

    By the end of week #7 (Friday March 9), all dossier teams should post a draft in which most of the categories have some input. The dossier should contain an organized collection of data in a rough draft form. It should be divided up to correspond to the template categories. If the members of a group agree that a particular category does not apply to their domain, the rationale for this decision should be stated. All data should be structured and organized into the appropriate categories and show evidence of research, including links to sources.  It is understood that the dossiers are a work in progress; I'm not expecting polished prose or tight editing, but must see some evidence that you have started moving forward with your research.

  • Skill-Based Resume

     (due 3/1)

    Please build what may be an unfamiliar form of resume that is organized around the skills groupings required for producing and doing creative works. This probably means you will be refocusing your current resume into a form that amps up the specific skills you have acquired via the work and study you've done to date

    The basic idea is to pull your skill sets out of their original context, to identify them as gained skills that can be applied to other projects.Of course you must determine those areas that represent both your strengths and also youraspirations.

    Remember that the goal here is to provide the person looking over your resume with specific, production-relevant skills that you already have.  We’re not necessarily talking about technical skills like camera assistant or software skills like After Effects, but rather sets of specific skills that you have that can be applied to the task at hand, immediately. Of course, if you’re an After Effects wizard, please make it clear.

    Examples:

    Instead of the usual "worked on" or "was PA" on a specific show or project, write:

    - Production:   booked crews, handled petty cash, logged footage, corralled releases, built schedule, developed contact and call sheets, etc.

    This tells the producer that you already know what to do and have the skills to handle the task at hand. You’re not a trainee.

    Instead of "created internet pages" be specific:

    Internet : html hand coding, Dreamweaver, Java, site architecture(flow-charts), design layout, page construction, image research & rights, usability testing, proofing

    Instead of "Researcher" tell us what kind of research you did:

    Research:   fact checking, locating consultants, stock footage research, cue sheets, data base   development.  It seems that "web scouring" is too generic. If you did online research, at least describe specifically what you were trying to find out and any specialized databases or sites that you used.

    This is not an exhaustive listing, but some suggested categories you might want to use:

    Production

    Directing  

    Creative

    Business & Finance (scheduling, budgeting, deal making)

    Software Development

    Administration

    Language

    Management (organizing, scheduling, travel, etc.)

    Production (functions done on set or location)

    Writing

    Directing

    Events Planning

    Booking Talent (aka "handling", "babysitting", "corralling" talent)

    Research

    Post-Production

    Animation

    Graphic Design

    Music

    Audio  (sound effects, mixes, location recording)

    Internet

    It’s always hard to figure out how to state one's level of competency/expertise in a specific production area (say, lighting or camera). The same is true for software & hardware. If you overstate your skills, it becomes painfully obvious really quickly. Here's how I recommend you "grade" the level of your competencies:

    - basic knowledge of ..... (introductory level)

    - proficiency within ..... (working knowledge, but not polished skill)

    - advanced knowledge of...... (professional level)

    We are not asking you to develop a full-up Skills Based Resume, although you are encouraged to do so. If you want to try out the full thing, my advice is to lead with the skills - put them front and center - and then to continue on with a more standard chronology of where you have worked along with the employment durations. Your resume should always cite names of specific productions you have worked on. I also recommend that you find a very quick way to characterize such jobs with a brief description, including a log line so that the reader will know what genre of show you worked on.

    Of course, different job opportunities will require you to custom tailor your resume, choosing those categories that show off your skills to the best advantage for the job you are after.

    YOU ARE WHO YOU ARE!  Don’t use a resume to mislead others (or yourself) about what it is you are best at and enjoy most. Resume padding is really obvious. I mean REALLY.

    Know how you learn; identify your professional values; try to determine where you belong in the professional world and to envision what your contributions will be.

    It is not easy to gain such knowledge. The first step is to cite expectations of yourself - write them down somewhere so you can come back and evaluate your progress.

    Pay attention to the design and layout of your resume. I recommend that you use a small type font, so that there can be clear headings and lots of white space.  Please limit this resume to 2 pages or less. 

    Please email me a copy of this new resume by the due date (3/1). I will get back to you with comments over the next couple of weeks, depending, of course, on my internet access situation.

Week 5: Managing Creative Teams

posted Apr 25, 2012, 6:40 PM by Priya Nayar

We have been concentrating on the role of the producer as creative spark, the person who spawns the idea for the project and helps turn that idea into something that can actually become tangible. Now, it is time to begin looking at some of the more practical aspects of producing, the stuff you need to do in order to begin turning your idea into reality. This week, we're going to discuss some of the management strategies that a producer may need to deploy in order to build your production team, keep them working together toward your goal, and even to deal with clients and funders. After you review the materials for this week, please join the discussion. Think about how the approaches described in the lecture notes applied to our case study. How do they apply to your own work -- professionally and the production you would like to create?
LECTURE NOTES: 
  • Managing Creative Projects

    Adapted by Andy Bobrow from Kit Laybourne’s MediaChops

     

    Introduction

    Managing creative people is not easy. If you micromanage your team, you run the risk of stifling the very creativity that you hired them for, alienating them, and even outright rebellion or sabotage. Not unheard of. On the other hand, too little direction risks chaos. Your project will take off every which way; the result will be an incoherent mess at the end. We’ve all seen that.

    So, what do you do? How does a producer rein in the strong egos and willfulness that are common characteristics of creative people whilst encouraging their best instincts and fostering creativity and originality? How do you motivate your team while herding them gently in the direction you would like to go? Particularly on larger projects, union rules often determine what you can ask someone to do. Be familiar with them. On smaller productions, the rules are probably less formal. But, whatever the scope of the production or the applicable rules, the challenge remains the same for a producer.

    Managing your team is what we call managing “down,” that is, dealing with people who are, at least theoretically, under your supervision. But there is another group of people who the producer must also manage — sponsors, clients, distributors and investors. They all have expectations and opinions that must be heard, but are not necessarily always useful or constructive. So, the producer must also manage “up,” balancing what is best for the project with the occasionally unreasonable demands of those folks who put up the cold hard cash to get things underway. Unfortunately, this often means going against the “Golden Rule” of production: He who puts up the gold, makes the rules. It ain’t going to be easy.

    Not all creative projects are the same, therefore the collected insights that we present here are necessarily general.  We don’ t pretend to have all the answers, but there are some ways — tested by time and fire — to help you keep things under control and on an even keel. It starts, logically enough, at the beginning — assembling the team.

    Building a Creative Team
    Think of each production as an individual company, in which you have to find the best people in the best positions to do their best work.  Getting these decisions right from the outset can be the difference between a smooth production and an acrimonious, smoldering train wreck.

    Who are your "key" hires?

    ·         Each project will require a unique mix of professionals for the production team.

    ·         The producer is the person who must determine what jobs must be filled, which are the most important, which slots must be filled first, and who should fill these jobs at what cost.

    ·         Review The Production Team. This list follows a fairly typical sequence of production steps and identifies many (but by no means all) of the job categories you may need to consider at each step. Some of these positions may be “outsourced” to consultants or contractors, while you might want others as members of your team. In some cases, important specialists may be provided to you by a funder, client, or sponsor. Ideally, you will sort out which specialists you will need early in the production process, regardless of who pays for them.

    ·         As producer, you may know from the start precisely which key roles most be filled. ON a film or video production, these probably include writer, director, cameraman, editor, lawyer, and production manager/accountant.  On an interactive project, they are defined differently, but most likely include programmers, designers, interactive architects, and writers. Do you already know who you want to fill any of these positions? If so, get a copy of their bio and resume (both).

    ·         Every producer has areas of interest and experience that are strong and which he/she can provide to the team. Know your strengths. But know your limits.

    ·         Your goal is to hire the best available people, given the production's resources and allure. It is generally a good idea to hire people who are "better" at what they do than you, the producer, even if you possess a high level of specific expertise.

    ·         In the long run, the quality, the experience and passion of those with whom you work defines your opportunities for learning more about the producer's craft.

    ·         So, how do you accomplish this difficult task?

     

    Vetting potential hires

    ·         Acquire and screen reels (if possible, check the production credits)

    ·         Evaluate resumes (you will want to determine what the applicant’s skills are, not just his/her past employment, vis-à-vis the needs of your project)

    ·         Check them out on IMDB and Google (not 100% accurate or always applicable but useful nonetheless)

    ·         Follow up on references (when contacting someone, you should have very specific questions or else you will generally get generic positive blather)

    ·         Find a way to spot passion and commitment. That’s the good stuff. Also, learn to spot a hack, or someone who hypes or over-sells themselves. You don’ t need that.

    ·         Always be mindful that your various hires must come together into a cohesive team. When the team works well together, it almost invariably is apparent in the final product. Primadonnas and egotrippers will inevitably cause problems. Weed them out early.

    Interviewing candidates for a specific job

    • Interview several candidates for a given position if at all possible. This is the only way to get a visceral feeling for who will work out for you and who will not.
    • Before you start interviewing, prepare a detailed job definition so you (and the candidate) are clear about what needs to be done and what skills need to be in place (as opposed to those that can or must be learned on the job).
    • Consider the questions you want to ask before the interview begins. Listen carefully to the answers. Don't look ahead to the next question; you can easily miss responses that may answer (or lead to) subsequent questions.
    • Ask specific questions about projects and/or contributions. The candidate should be able to answer these questions concisely and without hesitation. This is not the time for vague or general answers. That can mean that someone is “polishing” their resume. Experience needn’t be directly applicable to your project; it isn’t whether or not they have worked on the same kind of project in the past, but whether their skill set fits and approach to the job with your needs.
    • Determine the candidate's network of creative contacts. Has he or she worked on high quality projects (whatever the budget)?
    • Don't oversell the fun parts. Accentuate the hard and routine parts of the job.
    • Don’t make an immediate decision. Always sleep on your choice.

     

    Managing Down

    The Job Definition

    • Every person on a production, no matter what their job, should be provided with a clear description of their responsibilities. The key items in the job description should include who they report to, their general responsibilities, their specific duties, their direct reports (people who answer to them), and the qualifications required for the job. This is often (and best) included in a comprehensive job definition. It is rare for a producer to prepare a detailed job description on small-scale productions or for freelancers hired to do a specific job for a short term. It is unnecessary for technical and crew people — the job definitions for “gaffer” or “sound mixer” are pretty obvious.  Union rules generally specify the responsibilities for crafts.
    • In some cases, it is valuable for you, as producer, to make an informal (but conscious) "contract" with an employee (they say what they want, you say what you want). This becomes a personal deal, a mutual understanding that will be the beginning (we hope) of a long and mutually beneficial working relationship. It can be “formalized” as a deal memo.
    • Determine in advance the terms of evaluation which you will be using in measure performance.
    • If you are working in a larger organization, it may be useful to refer to the Human Resources department or organization chart when you are working out a job definition. The HR departments of larger organizations will probably have performance evaluation protocols that can help you (and the person working for you).
    • Unions and union rules often determine the job definition, particularly in the crafts. If you are working with union personnel, become familiar with those definitions — who can do what, use which piece of gear, etc.

     

    Giving Assignments (providing "direction" while not "micromanaging")

    ·        Always refer to project goals and conceptual documents ("Mission Statement" and "Vision"). If you don’t have one, be able to define the goals of the project succinctly and with as much precision as possible.

    • Sometimes it is useful to distinguish between what you hold as fixed ("what we know") and where you see need for invention ("what we don't know"). This helps those working for you determine where you are seeking input, and where there is less room to rewrite the rules. (Stay away from the Rumsfeldian categories of “what we know we know” and “what we know we don’t know” and “what we don’t know we don’t know,” etc.)
    • Different people require different amounts of detail. Some people will need and want a lot of specific direction while others prefer only the most basic, essential information. Which kind are you? Which kind is the person reporting to you? Is this a topic you can openly discuss?
    • A team is more effective if everyone knows what the other team members are supposed to be doing. Hence, you may want to make information about the role each team member is playing available to all. Include your own job in this matrix of who does what.

     

    Managing Up

    Identify Your "Client"

    • The “client” (or “suit”) is the person from whom you get approval (and usually money as well). Outside of the world of advertising and corporate communications, the term "client" is rarely used. Yet, it remains a useful concept and it helps you be clear about your job.
    • A key to the success of any endeavor is to manage expectations — both positive and negative. This must be an ongoing process throughout the duration of the project. Clear communication throughout the process will help to keep expectations and reality in sync, helping to avoid surprises and the unpleasantness that result when things don’t go as expected.
    • Always try to give your client a heads up before important (or rushed) decisions/approvals are needed. This is particularly important if those decisions have financial consequences.
    • Don't sandbag them with a tough call and no time to think about the decision. Things will not necessarily go your way.
    • Your client (or funder) should think of you as a collaborator, as an equal, rather than as a subordinate. It is essential to keep the relationship with your client as “horizontal” as possible to avoid potentially ugly conflicts. While production is not necessarily a democracy, those with control must not feel that they have “divine right.”

     

    Anticipate Key Milestones

    • You should identify the key "milestones" or "critical points" in the project schedule as early as possible in the production process.
    • Remind your client ("the suits") what kind of response you need each time you ask. For instance, early in a project you might be looking for broad comments on the overall direction of the project, while, at a later stage, you need “sign-off” on a screening or another decision.
    • If you are unclear about what kind of feedback you are asking for, you may get a level of commentary that you are not looking for and that could potentially hinder your work.
    • Try to anticipate the possible outcome(s) if there are scheduling dislocations prior and unanticipated budget items prior to a specific “milestone.”
    • Try hard to get the “sign-offs” you need within the time window anticipated in the budget and/or schedule. If you can't get the attention of your client, try giving them "the negative option plan": if I don't hear from you by xx time, I shall assume that you are approving and we will move ahead. Put this in writing, or at least in an email. If you can, get an electronic “receipt” so that you are not vulnerable to the classic cry, “I never got the email.”< /li>
    • Delays in “sign-offs” will inevitably throw a monkey wrench into the works, wreck the production schedule, and will usually cost money. It may be necessary to warn those who delay approvals of the potential cost that will be incurred.

     

    CYA

    • Covering your ass does not mean using “weasel words” or trying to avoid responsibility. Leave that to politicians. CYA is simply good production discipline.
    • If there is any chance (however remote you may think it could be) of a lawsuit or disputes about who approved what and when, then covering your ass can mean avoiding a whole lot of trouble — and expense.
    • Here are two major CYA techniques:
      • If you still send memos the old-fashioned way, always them. Be clear about to whom they have been sent. Try to get a receipt.  Save them in a file. All of them.
      • In our increasingly internet connected world, a lot of people don’t read memos, or even answer the phone, for that matter. Key decisions are communicated via email. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that you save all job-related emails in a file where they will not be lost or automatically erased. You may want to send yourself bcc's of emails just to make sure that there is a time-stamped copy in the file. Request a read receipt. It doesn’t necessarily indicate that someone has read the email, only that they have received it.
      • Really, we’re not paranoid here. Someone may indeed be out to get you. So, be prepared.

    Animal Cunning

    • Get to know your “suits” and, especially, your client: Do they have any pet peeves? Anything that really rubs them the wrong way? When will the decision maker be most receptive to your "problems"?
    • Bring up any "problems" in private (so your suits can respond directly to you, not be on the record and not paint themselves into a corner)
    • Share good news quickly. Your clients should be the very first to know. Let them tell others. This is so simple to do and it makes them deeply allied with your production.
    • Do not go over your boss’ (or your clients’) head (without supreme provocation).
    • Always remember to spread credit upward (as well as to those working for you)
    • Give the boss (suit, client) opportunities to make a real creative contribution (that's why they are in this game, after all).
    • Any producer has at least one experience when a client or “suit”< made a really important observation or suggestion that had not and probably would not have occurred to any of the rest of the team. In fact, it is your client’s distance from the daily problems of your production - plus their understanding of the studio, TV network or other funding institution's interests — that makes them a potentially powerful ally. So, work hard to keep them on your side.

     

    Status Report Technique

    • Meet the "Status Report", a management tool that can easily be set up using the table’s tool within MS word. The following format is one approach. Some larger organizations already have formal status report procedures. Smaller productions may not have a formal process, but the producer should be kept up-to-date with regular reports on the status of the project. Whatever approach or format you employ, you should use this method to keep track of the myriad details of any production.
    • There are three columns on the horizontal axis:
    Milestones/Tasks      Notes      Action /Deadlines
     

    • and there are three broad categories along the vertical axis:

    -      New Tasks

    -      Continuing Tasks

    -      Completed Task

    • Underline a deadline and underscore or put into bold the name of the person handling each action/responsibility.
    • The value of the Status Report is:

    (a) People reporting to the producer (you) have a framework that encompasses your expectations of their jobs;

    (b) Staffers reporting to you can exhibit initiative in exploring what their job involves (pro-active, not just reactive);

    (c) the format highlights the name of the person responsible - the "neck in noose" (people inevitably scan the document quickly to see what they are responsible for);

     (d) Deadlines are be specified wherever possible; and

     (e) Some people (not everyone, fortunately) find that moving an item into the "completed" category is as good as sex.

     

    Dealing with Crisis

    Bruises are good teachers

    • Over time, you will be able to anticipate where difficulties will occur with the kinds of projects you are producing.
    • In general, you can expect things to get hairy
      • during shoots (when there is greatest velocity of events)
      • with talent (the prima donna syndrome, and this is as true – or more true -- of non-professionals as professionals),
      • at key milestones or approval points.
    • Whenever you go over budget, there will be a crisis.
    • The likelihood of a crisis rises in direct proportion (or a multiple of) to your distance from the resources that would be needed to prevent it.
    • The severity of a crisis is determined by the cost it imposes on the production – usually in time which quickly translates to money.

     

    Move quickly

    • It is often enough for the producer simply to identify the problem and label it. Shining a light on a tricky, problematic or difficult issue goes a long way toward getting it solved.
    • Try to find a neutral time and place "to talk" with those involved. It is sometimes, but not always, a good idea to get everyone involved in a dispute into the same room.
    • Try to separate "fact" (this is what I observe) from "interpretation" (this is what it makes me think).
    • Often, especially during shoots, the problem is caused by changes in circumstances, or unanticipated exigencies (the guy with the leaf blower outside the window where you’re shooting the love scene. Here, the producer must become a diplomat (with a handful of cash at the ready).

     

    Firing people

    • It is not fair to fire someone if you have never given them a specific job definition. But, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ever do it, or won’t do it, or that it is never the right thing to do. After all, life isn’t fair. Just don’t add unnecessarily to the unfairness bank. You already know about karma.
    • Build a record of problems you have encountered.
    • Firing is often "counseling" a person out of job that is wrong for them, and, if it’s wrong for them, it’s wrong for the production.
    • Move quickly once you know that the person needs to go. Don't keep someone around once they know they are leaving, or once you know they need to go.
    • Be as generous as possible with money and benefits.
    • Talk with the person about how they would like you to word the separation. Or propose how you intend to explain this action to others. Often the “perception” is more important to the person being let go than anything else.
    • If you are firing someone "for cause", be fast and maybe not so nice. It is important for everyone on the project to know how you will handle inappropriate behavior and performance.  It also provides some protection from liability that may have been incurred by this behavior, although it is not an “invisible shield” from that liability.
    • Many people working on a production will be freelance, and they understand that their assignments are only temporary. In those cases, it is often enough to simply let them know that their services are no longer required.

     

    Giving & Taking “Notes”

    Whether given casually or formally, a few words can become powerful levers that change what you are working on. Coming from your boss, such comments can be ironclad directives. (Change your work or else!) Coming from a colleague or a friend, observations can be helpful, inspirational,  distracting, or worse.

    People proffer their opinions about your work quite regularly, without the slightest pause, thoughtful analysis, or consideration of the effect their comments might have. And most of the time this is fine because we all tend to take such casual opinions with that proverbial a grain of salt.

    However in the context of production, words can become hugely powerful when they are directed toward a project that is under construction. This is especially true when the words convey requests or commands that will be difficult to achieve within the often quite limited parameters within which you are (not always reasonably) expected to accomplish great things.

    Without thinking much about it, even so-called professionals will give and receive notes with casualness and imprecision. This can bring unwarranted chaos to the creative process, — a matrix of ideas, personalities, tasks and logistics that is complicated enough to navigate in the best of circumstances. Maybe sloppiness is so prevalent because there is so little consensus about what notes are and how they should work.

     

    Origins of "notes"                                                             

    The phrase “giving notes” originated in the theater. During a show’s rehearsal period, the director, cast members, or others involved in the production are able to stop the working out of a scene to offer a critique, give suggestions, ask questions or whatever. But, once the audience shows up and the house is filled, it is no longer possible to stop the show to give feedback in the moment. Instead, those who have something to say must jot down observations. When the performance has concluded and the audience has left the theater, the cast will assemble on the stage and the director, producer, choreographer, etc. will go over his or her notes on the performance that just concluded.

    While we don’t know when this tradition began, it has continued because it works: the entire cast and crew are present; comments are timely and specific; actors are expected to integrate suggestions into their performance, but they must do this themselves. There is a shared sense that the entire company can work together in refining and polishing their show. Notes are about making the work better.

    However, the work of producing is very different than the work of performing. In production, notes tend to come at odd moments — often when other things are going on. Notes come from above and from below. In production, notes can have significant implications on schedule and major financial impact. There are more people involved in most media productions than in theatrical ones. The organizational structure is different from one kind of production to another. As a result, the producer can easily find himself or herself in a quagmire of conflicting comments, opinions, expectations, and demands. There is pressure to move quickly and respond fast. However with a little care, the process need not be as anxiety provoking and destructive as it so often is.

    Always announce that a note is a note. If you simply make an observation or suggestion, without identifying it as a serious "note" for consideration, the receiver can miss the significance of your note, or simply not realize that you are giving a note. So be conscious, alert those involved that you are offering a considered, carefully formulated comment intended to make the production better. You’re not just making idle conversation.

    Good notes refer back to the deepest goals of the project. They should be based on an awareness of the intent of the overall enterprise. Good notes anticipate their impact on the production budget and people resources. It is unreasonable to ask for something that simply is not feasible, or not feasible within the schedule or available budget. Yet that often precisely what happens. It is not helpful.

    Notes come in two sizes. There are “line” notes or little notes. These relate to small items, specific scenes or cuts, aspects of a performance, a camera move, lines of copy, graphics, etc. Then, there are “big” notes. These can impact the overall merit of the production. You should flag such big notes and give them at a time and place where they can best be heard and understood. “Big” notes should never be given in a large group or in times of crisis.

    Now, it may be inevitable that a crisis will elicit a “big” note from someone with overall authority or a significant financial interest in the outcome of the production. Even if that is the case, the “note” should not be given in a way that would undermine the authority and position of the producer, director, or other personnel to whom the note might be directed. Find a place off set, or out of the production office, for the meeting. If you can, explain that retooling a production is a little like turning around an oil tanker — it can be done but it will take some time to execute the turn.

    Notes come from two directions. They can come from "below" – that is from someone who reports to you or is on the same level. You should listen and acknowledge these notes, but you don’t necessarily have any responsibility to respond, and certainly not to act on the suggestion. Notes from “above” are an entirely different matter. These notes come from someone who has authority over the production and the expectation that you will not only listen to their comments, but that you have the obligation to consider them and respond, whether or not you feel that the comments have merit.

    When you are being given notes, wherever they may originate, your first job is to hear the notes in an objective way. Don’t get defensive. In most cases, you don’t have to answer notes immediately. Simply say, “Thank you. I will get back to you.” Buy yourself the time you need to carefully consider the note from different perspectives. You may well find that the person offering the note -– usually in a rushed moment and with less analysis and background than you have —has a valid point.

     

    Clarity of listening and responding

    If you know you are entering a meeting where notes will be given, take a pad, or laptop, or iPad, or whatever you will use to write down (record) what you are told. Listen carefully. Make sure you understand what the note giver means. Ask for clarification if you’re not sure.

    $        As receiver of notes, you should take care to record and/or log them (date, note, from whom)

    $        If there is time, it is preferable that the note giver write out his or her notes. This lets receiver study comments in a neutral moment. But it takes time and discipline and a facility with writing clearly to deliver good notes.

    $         Emailing notes before or after the meeting is good. Notes given remotely by email without any interpersonal communication are not necessarily the best approach, although that is becoming more common, especially now that digital post-production makes it easier to send a link to an online edit.

    $        When you have received notes, inform the person giving them to you that you have or will be considering each of them carefully. Buy yourself a few days to evaluate, if you can.

     

    Say "yes" as often as possible

    If you want those working with you to continue offering their ideas or entrusting you with more creative responsibility, then you need to respond clearly and within a reasonable time frame. This actually becomes more important the higher you get in the food chain. If those “in the trenches” feel that their ideas are being ignored, they will cease to offer them, and, as they do, will tend to invest less of their own personal creativity into the project. You do not want that to happen. On the other hand, production is not a democratic process by which ideas with the most votes win out — you need to retain overall creative control.

    If you have time and resources, try out the most promising ideas, even if your hunch is that they will not work. Sometimes you are pleasantly surprised, and the note-giver always appreciates that you are taking him or her seriously.

    Give credit for good ideas. People who have ownership of their ideas work harder at them.

     

    Be clear about saying "no"

    “No” can be a beautiful word even if it is difficult to say, for such a short sound.

    You should be prepared to own the decision that says “no” to some option or request.

    “No” can come from several different rationales: aesthetic; financial; time; experience (already tried it), or that the idea is simply not applicable to the project at hand.

     

    When does a note become a change order?

    It is not always easy to figure out when you are obliged to follow a note and make the requested change. When in doubt, try the change and, if it clearly doesn’t work,  seek out the person who gave the note to show them that it didn't work (if you are rejecting the note). Of course, if the note does work, it is an even better idea to seek out the note giver to show him/her that it did work, especially if they are in a position to provide financial support in the future.

    If your boss (client, funder) makes the wrong choice and sticks with it even when given clear information about other (right) choices, then you are probably stuck. Even the most creative person can make a bad choice. Suck it up. Move on. Maybe it can be reversed later.

    When possible, create a process for giving notes

    In giving notes or getting notes, it is generally a good idea to create a process to synthesize all the notes into a single message or document. As mentioned above, notes can range from serious concerns to off-handed, incidental comments.  If you and your team are giving notes, discuss them and try to get everyone on same page so you can provide a single set of notes. Similarly, if you are on the receiving end,  try to manage the note-taking process by requesting that they be presented in a unified fashion or at a single meeting, so that they can be addressed at once (and contradictory notes can be discussed and vetted).

    This is particularly important during the post-production phase, when it is relatively simple for several people to view an online cut and provide notes via email.  When this happens, there are often contradictory notes, or people working at cross-purposes. It is essential to resolve those contradictions before proceeding, whether it is via conference call, online meeting, or another “ real-time” interaction. In the privacy of their own thoughts, without direct exposure to other ideas, people tend to stick more stubbornly to their own position. There are times when real face-to-face communication, or some simulacra, is the only way to get things done.

    The Deadlock

    If you are partnering with someone and you have equal voices, then it is good to know in advance how you will handle a terminal deadlock. They way I do it is to say that if logic and passion cannot solve a dispute, the "no" prevails (if it is a go or not go situation). But watch out – this arbitrary way to end an argument can also end the project — and the partnership.

    Moguls will be moguls. Because they control the money, many media executives feel they should control the creative process as well. Their power to approve or disapprove means that they get listened to more attentively than others, and that those who depend on them for financial support are less likely to disagree. This kind of power easily corrupts. That is when the process of giving notes dies. Notes have become demands.

    But in enlightened media production, notes are feedback and suggestion mechanisms, not hard edicts. It is understood that in the case of all “major” notes offered (from above or below), the production’s leadership (usually a producer) will gather input from the appropriate craftspeople, creatives,  and executives. The note is thus attended to in a considered and full way. The production gets better.

    By the way, this is most certainly the case vis-à-vis this course, where you have the sole responsibility of shaping your project however you wish. You should know that in grading, our concern is for thoroughness and rigor, not for what may or may not be the "best" choices.

  • Managing Creative Projects

    Attached Files:
    Here is a link to the PowerPoint presentation and lecture notes that I used for the onsite class. It essentially covers the same ground as the notes, but in bullet point form.
  • Giving & Getting Notes

    Attached Files:
    This is the lecture notes version of the Powerpoint that I used for the onsite class. It covers the same content as the Notes section in the lecture notes but in classic PPT bullet points. Good for review..

Week 5 Assignment: Individual Projects: Researching and Writing Scripts and Treatments

(due week #8 – 22 March )

Based on your Beat Outline, each student should create at least 20 pages of Full Script in standard screenplay format if you are working on a narrative project or develop complete segment Treatments for at least 15 to 20 minutes of documentary material, if you are working on a documentary project.  Other projects should develop a similar chunk of detailed “paper proxy”. It is critical that everyone make these deadlines so that we can begin Budgeting and Scheduling.



Week 6: Legal Issues

posted Apr 25, 2012, 6:37 PM by Priya Nayar


The Thomas A Crowell and David Morrison presentation from week six of the onsite class last semester have been uploaded to blip.tv. 
There are six parts in all: 
Week 6, Part 1 http://blip.tv/producers-craft-at-the-new-school/week-6-part-1-of-6-4860106
Week 6, Part 2 http://blip.tv/producers-craft-at-the-new-school/week-6-part-2-of-6-4860129
Week 6, Part 3 http://blip.tv/producers-craft-at-the-new-school/week-6-part-3-of-6-4860151
Week 6, Part 4 http://blip.tv/producers-craft-at-the-new-school/week-6-part-4-of-6-4860223
Week 6, Part 5 http://blip.tv/producers-craft-at-the-new-school/week-6-part-5-of-6-4860169
Week 6, Part 6 http://blip.tv/producers-craft-at-the-new-school/week-6-part-6-of-6-4860205

  • Sample Releases

    Attached Files:
    • File Sample Releases (696.387 KB)
    Included in this zipped folder is a selection of personal and property releases that you might find useful
  • Some More About Rights and Clearances

    Attached Files:
    • File ACSILgrid_021508.pdf (65.742 KB)
    • File Best_Practices_in_Fair_Use.pdf (156.894 KB)
    • File Rights+Acquisition+Checklist.doc (54 KB)
    • File Rights and Clearances Grid.pdf (26.962 KB)
    • File Legal_Issues_Guide_Kelley_Drukker.pdf (309.299 KB)
    Here are some articles that offer information about fair use as well as a guide to legal issues by Kelley Drukker, who is an expert on rights and clearances. Also included here are some checklists that you will find useful as you prepare your projects. Part of the final project will include an intellectual property checklist, so you might want to start keeping track of releases, clearances, and third-party material that may become part of your project.

Week 7: Production Insurance

posted Apr 25, 2012, 6:34 PM by Priya Nayar

This is a follow-up to the lecture on Legal Issues. While insurance is not glamorous, it is an essential part of the production process. This video features a team from D.R. Reiff & Associates,  an insurance brokerage specializing in the entertainment industry. They discuss the types of insurance that you recommended for production and distribution, as well as how to estimate the cost.

Here are links to the lecture by the team at D.R. Reiff & Associates on production insurance requirements.
Part 1:  http://blip.tv/file/4874000
Part 2:  http://blip.tv/file/4874005 
Part 3:  http://blip.tv/file/4874009
Part 4:  http://blip.tv/file/4874010
Part 5:  http://blip.tv/file/4874012

Week 8: Script Breakdown

posted Apr 25, 2012, 6:24 PM by Priya Nayar   [ updated Apr 25, 2012, 6:30 PM ]

Breaking down the script or treatment is the first, and most critical step, in developing a preliminary production schedule and budget estimate, which are essential for funding and production. The breakdown and schedule that is created at this stage is not a final production schedule, since you may not have final locations, talent, or even a final script. But, to put it simply, you can't create a schedule without a breakdown, and can't develop a budget without both. So, this week, we begin breaking down the script or outline.

For a narrative project, you start with the script. For a documentary, you will need the detailed outline. And for a web project, it is essential here to have at least a site flow chart and wireframe of the pages so that you will know what will be necessary to make them work -- programming, design, database development, writing, etc. For an event or live production, you will need a detailed rundown.

Part 1: http://blip.tv/file/4975293
Part 2: http://blip.tv/file/4975307
Part 3: http://blip.tv/file/4975332
Part 4: http://blip.tv/file/4975337

Script Breakdown and Scheduling Lecture Notes

Attached Files:
  • File Script Breakdown and Scheduling.pptx (2.445 MB)
  • File Script Breakdown and Scheduling.pdf (17.591 MB)
  • File AUSTIN POWERS p1 markup.pdf (47.427 KB)
  • File AUSTIN POWERS p2 markup.pdf (52.26 KB)
I am attaching two versions of the PowerPoint presentation that I used in the onsite class as a guide for the discussion of Script Breakdown and Scheduling. However, in this version I have included extremely detailed notes which expand on the points in the slide presentation. Essentially, they are the content of the accompanying talk. So, here are versions as both a native PowerPoint file and a pdf printout which includes the slides and the notes. Take your pick.

The lecture references several pages from the original "Austin Powers" script as examples of how to break down a script. I realize that the images used in the slides are not very clear, so you will find these pages in a higher quality format as links to this as well.

Scheduling and Script Breakdown

Attached Files:
  • File BREAKDOWN SHEET.doc (57 KB)
  • File Blank Call Sheet.doc (87.5 KB)
  • File BREAKDOWN SHEET.pdf (9.835 KB)
  • File Scheduling Template.pdf (16.009 KB)
  • File Call Sheet.docx (24.863 KB)

Scheduling is the prerequisite to budgeting


This is only a brief review of what is necessary. Please make sure to go through the Script Breakdown and Scheduling Lecture notes, which provide a detailed description of the process. The script pages that are used as examples in the presentation are not clear, so I have also included higher quality versions of them to use as references. There are links to all the forms that are discussed as well so that you can use them in your own project.


  • You will need a  Script/treatment with enough detail to answer all questions asked by the budgeting process. 
    • producer must often talk with writer or director to clarify issues.
    • production managers (aka unit managers and line producers) are experts in budgeting and in managing production funds 
  • Script Breakdown
  • For feature film production, there is a formal “breakdown” process wherein the shooting script is “broken-down” into scenes (or even parts of scenes).
  • A breakdown includes pretty much everything that is mentioned, suggested, implied, or even remotely possible in the script.
  • The breakdown for a scene should include set or location, all characters, props, business, effects, costumes, extras, special makeup and effects, etc.
  • The breakdown should specify where everything came from, where it was before they had it and where it’s going when they’re done with it. You need to know who made it or where to get it, who is going to get it to the set and who takes it away after the scene is shot.
  •  It’k s impossible to know how much your film will cost, how long it will take to shoot, who works when, or what you need without a complete breakdown of every element.
  • What tools do you need to start breaking down a script? You don’t need anything high tech or complicated, just a box of color highlighters, a ruler and a couple of Sharpies. Use the highlighters to mark each element in the script. Some people don’t like to work with colors, but they make it way easier to spot elements when you’re scanning through the script.
    • Give each element a color. There are no specific rules here, unlike strip boards. It is your choice and probably depends at least in part on what’s in the box of highlighters that you bought.
    • Make a list on the cover page for reference In this script, sets are yellow, locations green and so on. When you run out of colors, use colored Sharpies to circle other elements. Bold strokes make it easier to see.
  • Here are some of the things you need to think about when breaking down a scene and developing a schedule. Not everything, of course, just some things. But it should give you an idea of the level of detail and granularity you need to do a good job of breakdown and scheduling. Review the script until you are sure that you have covered every detail that could possibly rise up to bite you. Then, for each scene, you list all the stated, implied, and even remotely possible “elements.”
    •  Cast
    •  Crew
    • Construction
    • Set dressing
    • Equipment
    • Locations
    • Studios
    • Special effects
    • Music
    • Sound
    • Rigging
    • Stunts
    • Drivers
    • Vehicles
    • 2nd unit
    • Travel
    • Pre-light
    • Stand-ins
    • Wardrobe
    • Props
    • Holidays
    • Hiatus
    • Meal penalties
    • Overtime
    • Shipping
    • Editorial
    • Voiceover
    • ???
  • Once the scenes have been numbered by whoever is detailed to do that – production manager, AD, producer – they should never be changed. This is especially true once breakdown and scheduling begin. The confusion that this would engender would be earthshaking. Think about it.
    • Yes, I know that the script will continue to mutate and evolve. There is a system to deal with that. If a page is added between 1 and 2, it MUST be called 1a. If a scene is added between 2 and 3, it must be called X2 so everyone knows it’s a new, inserted scene. 
    • Think about what would happen if that’s not done. The production department and crew use the script as reference to get everything they need ready for the day’s hoot. Now, in your mind, you can see the crew all prepared for scene 3 only to discover that it’s not the scene 3 they thought, but a newly inserted scene with different characters and maybe another location….
  • So, put yourself in the position of an AD. How would you number the scenes in your script? First, look at the way the scenes are already broken down in the script. Did the writer (or you, if you’re the writer) have it right?
    • Let’o s start with page 1 scene 1, the very beginning of your script.
      • Where does the action start in that first scene? Does it stay in the same location? Does the POV change significantly? Number this scene.
      • Get out your markers. Mark the 1st time each character appears with the proper color marker. Now, go back and indicate sets, props, effects, etc. Mark the 1st time each one appears with a highlighter.
      • Find the end of the scene. Remember, this is not necessarily where the writer broke the scene, but where you, as producer thinking like a director, think the action or scene changes. Go to the next one. Give it the next sequential number. Start again.
      • You get the idea. Go through the script and mark out everything in every scene. Break scenes logically, by location or set, time of day, different action, etc.
By class number 9, next week, you should have a fairly complete breakdown of everything that will be necessary for your production.

We want to remind you that, as you work on and refine your schedule and budget, you will also be preparing a set of accompanying documents including a formal Funding Proposal and a Production Package, which are detailed in this week's assignment. At the conclusion of the semester, you will be expected to turn in the complete production proposal in electronic form (pdf or Word document). 


Week 8 Assignments

Script Breakdown and Schedule 

The underlying goal of your completed scripts and treatments is getting to a detailed understanding of what you will need to shoot. Thus, you need to

(a) Identify each segment (a location, can include a number of different “set-ups”, even “scenes”),

(b) Determine the principal and secondary actors for each segment;

(c) Foresee the kind of “action” that will take place within each segment. It helps tremendously if you

(d) Estimate how much screen time you project each segment to have in the final edit of your project.

You will accomplish this by starting to break down your script and develop a schedule. By class number 9, next week, you should have a fairly complete breakdown of everything that will be necessary for your production. You can use breakdown sheets, legal pads, or software to accomplish this. If you are doing a documentary, you should have a clear idea of where you’re going to shoot, what you’re going to shoot, who you’re going to shoot, and who will be on your crew. At this time, this does not need to be a formal document, but it should have all the information that you need. You can use one of the scene breakdown forms, or, if you choose, scheduling software

This breakdown will be used to begin developing your schedule and, ultimately, the budget. We will begin discussing scheduling and budgeting next week.

The core competencies of the producer’s craft come together in the interrelated acts of scheduling and budgeting. Hence it is extremely important that you are able to successfully develop for your project both a rational schedule and its corresponding budget.

That process is now beginning as you use either software or a spreadsheet application to begin breaking down your script. This will necessarily be an iterative process, with multiple versions over the next few weeks. We know you will need to make many assumptions and quite a few rough estimates in setting up your project in the extremely concrete and precise terms of a schedule timeline and its related budget.

We want to remind you that, as you work on and refine your schedule and budget, you will also be preparing a set of accompanying documents including a formal Funding Proposal and a Production Package, which are detailed below.

In each of the last two classes of the semester, half the combined sections of The Producer’s Craft will make formal presentations for their respective projects. Each student will have 5 minutes. The first part of this will be the “pitch” -- 2 to 3 minutes of words and, possibly, of images or short clips. The remainder of the 5 minutes will be given over to Q&A with the instructors and the rest of the class.

At the conclusion of the semester, you will be expected to turn in a complete production proposal, preferably in electronic form (pdf or Word document). The Production Package for your individual project should include the following:

One Pager: This is a one page document that you can use as a leave-behind after making your pitch to a potential funder, or that you can provide to a potential funder to interest them in learning more about your project. Think of it as a cross between an advertisement and a proposal. As with a proposal, there is no specific format or style for a one-pager, but, at the least it should have the following information:

 Project Title

 Your name, phone, email address, snail mail address

 Length & genre (e.g. a half-hour comedy pilot)

 Premise/Project Description (two short paragraphs at most)

 Tone (sensibility, intent. Here is the place for a comparison to known works = "Sex in the City' meets 'Young Frankenstein' ". Draw parallels to something that is currently on TV or the Internet.)

 Target Audience (Why do you think your project is well suited to the audience.)

 Creative Team (yourself, any other major player on team)

 Talent: (assuming they are big assets in your project)

 Production Plan (very simple: state of pre-production completion, when you'd be ready to shoot, how long the overall production will run.

 At bottom of page: Copyright notice (your name, copyright, 2010)

Proposal: This should be a tightly written, beautifully formatted, professionally presented document of 5 to 7 pages at most. The project title, a logo for the project or your company, your name, and relevant contact information should be on the front page. This should be written as a proposal to a potential buyer or funder, not as an academic paper.

Each proposal is different. There is no definitive format or style – no surprise here. You will need to shape your own proposal form to match the project itself. But, whatever format or style you finally choose; your proposal should have visual appeal. Take some time to design the layout for the document. You may want to consider including a logo for the project (even if just a simple display text for your title), a production company logo, illustrations, charts, photographs, sample frames. Eye candy is not a bad thing. The goal is make your proposal easy to read and memorable. Fair or not, your ability to produce the project may well be judged by the way the proposal is presented.

 Here is a check list of information your proposal should cover (although not necessarily in this order):

 Title

 Contact Info (name, address, email, phone)

 Log line

 Description / Executive Summary

 Goals & Rationale (why should this project be done)

 Type and Length of show

 Audience

 Competitive Landscape

 Creative Team & Key Talent

 Production Plan (very general)

 Next step(s) in production and time frame for execution

 Production platform (DV, HD, IMAX, etc.)

 Shooting style, sets, special needs