Following is a rundown for the uninitiated on the process by whiuch films get made in the independent production universe:
The Development Phase: The process of creating film packages which are complete and ready to go into production is known as ‘Development’. The process is essentially the same (except for financing aspects) whether undertaken under the aegis of a studio, or as an ‘independent’. It is skill in this process which generally tends to separate successful producers from those who are not so successful. Steps in the process include:• Literary Rights Acquisition: If a film is based on previously published material of any type, the producer must acquire the literary rights to develop a film based on that material. This is normally done through the purchase by the producer of an ‘option’ which entitles the producer to have sole rights to attempt to bring the project to fruition within a given period of time. Although the amounts involved in securing an option are usually not high when measured against overall cost of film investment, this is high risk capital since statistically most projects for which options are taken out never get into production.Screenplay Development: Working either from previously published material, or from an original idea by a writer or producer, the producer usually works with a writer or writers to transform the underlying material into a properly formatted and well designed screenplay. The end result of this process is a screenplay which follows established formats and can be submitted to directors, agents, and actors for the purpose of assembling talent for the project.
Talent Attachments: Although it is possible for a producer to obtain a production deal for a screenplay only, more typically the producer will attempt to ‘attach’ elements that will make the package more attractive to production financiers. This is particularly true because—all other items being equal—it is the talent attachments which define a film and allow reasonable predictions of income to be prepared. Thus once a viable screenplay has been developed, producers submit the screenplay to directors (who are considered talent although are to some extent a part of the film management team), agents, and actors.
Financing Attachments: Independent producers also work to create financing attachments for films which they have developed. These come in the form of bankable distribution guarantees, pre-sale contracts with foreign distributors, equity financing from private sources, and other elements in the financing equation.
The Production Phase: The actual process of production begins when a film has been given a ‘green light’ by the financing entity. Elements of the production process include:
Pre-Production: This is the period during which every aspect of the film is prepared. A full staff working full time during this period breaks down the intended film into its detailed elements (locations, sets, set dressing, wardrobe, lighting/tech requirements, etc) and prepares a shooting plan that will allow all aspects of the film to be completed as efficiently as possible. A shooting schedule is developed; contracts for suppliers ranging from camera rental to catering are finalized, staff and crew are hired, and the film is in all respects prepared and made ready for shooting to begin. Typically pre-production lasts from 4 weeks on lower budgeted films to as much as 20 weeks or more on higher budgeted films.
Principal Photography/Production: This is the period of actual filming. During this period the film company carries out the actual filming of the picture based upon the detailed plans prepared during the pre-production period. The production period ranges from a low of 3 weeks on low budgeted films or TV Movies, to six months or more for major studio films.
Post Production: Upon completion of principal photography, a typical feature will have exposed between 100,000 and 1,000,000 feet of negative which now must be edited into a finished film that typically does not exceed 12,000 feet in length. The first phase of post production thus concerns the editing of the exposed footage to its finished length. The second phase, which is usually undertaken after the editing of the picture is ‘locked’ (i.e. completed), involves the preparation of a soundtrack including refinement and re-recording (where necessary) of dialogue; recreation of sound effects; adding of computer generated special effects; adding of music; and finally mixing all of these elements into a single unified soundtrack. Other elements of post production include the physical cutting of the negative, the preparation of a carefully ‘timed’ answer print (meaning a print where the exposures have been calibrated shot by shot for maximum visual effect), and finally preparation of ‘delivery elements’ required by the distributor including video masters, internegatives and interpositives (which perform the function of duplicate negatives), and other elements necessary to ‘deliver’ the film to distributors. The production cycle is generally considered complete when all aspects of post production are complete and all delivery items are under the control of the distributor.
The Sales and Marketing Cycle: The sales and marketing cycle for a film begins quite early and overlaps both the Development and the Production Phase, and continues on after the completion of post production with the release or exploitation phase.
Development: During the development phase it is normal for a producer to enhance the attractiveness of the package by ‘attaching’ commitments from U.S. and Foreign distributors, some of which may contain bankable minimum guarantees. In its least formal manifestation, this is accomplished via presentation packages presented by a credible producer containing synopsis, script, letters of intent from actors and director, plus background material on all involved in the project. Presentation material at this stage may also include posters, flyers, and other artwork designed to convey how the film is intended to be presented in the marketplace.•
Production: During the production period (which includes pre-production, principal photography, and post production), the film is actively presented to prospective licensees and distributors worldwide via a variety of mechanisms. A ‘Unit Publicist’ attached to the filming unit prepares written and video press releases about the film which are released to the media; production stills and flyers and posters are prepared and presented to buyer/distributors either directly, or at film –markets. A website is prepared and maintained, with links provided to and from related sites which are of interest to film distribution professionals and the public. “Promo reels” and trailers are prepared and used to support the growing awareness of the film.• Release: The final phase is the actual release phase during which a final promotional push is made prior to the release of the film in a given territory. Publicity and advertising efforts are coordinated under a centralized campaign, with the end result being that by the time a film is released into theaters (or when it appears as a cable “World Premiere” or otherwise reaches the marketplace), the intended audience has been made thoroughly aware of the product and —if the promotion has been successful—has become motivated to view the film when it is presented.