FILM FACTS: FILM SCHOOLS – HISTORY I

Posted on March 27th, 2012 - Written by: Trebas Toronto

Trebas Shoot - On location Carter House

On location at Carter House

Which Film School will bring you closer to your goals?

First of all, filmmaking is considered a new art and craft of the twentieth century and in a state of constant development and change. When I went to film school at a university in the late eighties, the film department was in a dark, cold basement where the editing rooms were next to the furnace. There was very little money invested in the program and most, if not all of the film/video equipment never worked properly. I had to rent my own equipment for my final major film project because the cameras they had did not sync up properly, so sound issues were a constant concern. It is true that for most of the twentieth century, film schools were campus jokes! The faculty and administration did not really understand or support the idea and saw the whole film school concept as pretentious. They treated us in general as film director wannabes, that had no hope in creating commercially successful films. I believe that this attitude that professors had was, for the most part, due to the fact that they had no success with their own work, so why or how could their new, inexperienced students ever become successful? This was a position taken my most film schools at the time.

There was also the issue of faculty – The saying, ‘Those that can’t do, teach.’ So you had an influx of those that could not make it in the industry simply bitter about their experiences influencing the way new students thought about the possibility of their future success. Film faculty would negatively critique good narrative work without true justification or actual hands-on knowledge of how a film was to be properly structured. Back then, most film schools could get away with having faculty that had never actually made a film, but yet they could criticize your work like crazy. Strange isn’t it? Now most of the respected film schools have finally figured out that you need to hire successful filmmakers to run actually run the film program. This is necessary to produce successful student films and, in turn, successful young filmmakers. Despite the negative environment at some of earlier schools, the students proved the faculty wrong by succeeding as great producers and directors. There were a few directors working in Hollywood in the early 1970’s that attended film school in the sixties such as Martin Scorsese (studied at NYU) and Francis Ford Coppola (studied at UCLA). They were making small independent films and their careers began to blossom. This was also a time when many young filmmakers were getting a chance to work with producers of low-budget exploitation films such as Roger Corman or William Castle and were not necessarily taking the film school route.

But then came a pack of graduates from Southern California film schools who got the chance to make some movies such a Steven Speilberg (Cal State, Long Beach) and George Lucas (USC) that would change Hollywood and the perception of film schools.

 Stay tuned for more in Film Schools – History II….

 by Kalman Szegvary, Producer & Head of Film/TV, Trebas Institute

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FILMMAKER FACTS #2: CASTING A FILM (PART ONE)

Posted on March 16th, 2012 - Written by: Trebas Toronto

Call SheetWho Does It & Why Is It Necessary?
by Kalman Szegvary

Once a detailed budget, based upon a production board and schedule are completed, the producer of the film now has a very accurate idea as to how much money is available to spend on the actors and for how many days or weeks he/she will need each one. Many inexperienced filmmakers make the mistake of believing that their budget is accurate however a proper breakdown of the script, board and schedule is absolutely necessary in order to create a budget and to make it believable to financiers.  (You can find more about that in the Film Facts Blog under Budgeting.) At this time, the script should be very close to a polished draft with perhaps one more to go. This along with a tentative date for the commencement of principle photography (the shooting phase), is everything a producer needs to begin casting.

It is very important that the film’s director be intimately involved in the casting process. The director will of course guide the actors and their performances throughout the making of the film so it is crucial that the casting be consistent with his/her overall vision of the film. I and many directors personally believe that their job is half over if the picture is well cast.

The Casting Director

Usually, the very first thing that a producer does when they are casting a film is to hire a casting director. This is someone who specializes in finding and recommending the most appropriate actors for each speaking role in the film. His/her recommendations are naturally subject to the approval of the producer and/or director. Casting directors handle negotiations on behalf of the producer and work with agents regarding actors’ contracts including salary and screen credit. Some agents request that the actor in question have a ‘single card’ credit, which means that their name would be the only one seen on the screen without other actors listed, which must be negotiated with the producer. Some casting directors will break down a total budget figure for an entire cast into detailed allotment for each character in the script, which is extremely helpful to the producer.

Because of his/her experience and knowledge, a good casting director can save a producer both time and money as they have accumulated a vast file of actors and actresses, and have devoted a tremendous amount of time to studying actors’ abilities. Casting directors also tend to have their feelers out for fresh new talent, have a rough idea as to how much a certain actor costs, have insider information about which sort of roles certain actors are looking for, the approximate schedule and availability of the actor and a thorough working knowledge of ACTRA (Canada) or SAG (US) union rules and regulations. They have a great deal of experience dealing with actors’ agents as they have set up a working rapport with many of them. Agents realize that they cannot lie to an experienced casting director about an actor’s price as they probably have enough connections to find out what a particular actor received for his/her last picture.  Now, the actual casting process is tricky and something I will discuss next time. Stay tuned….

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Film Budgeting (Part One): Under-Budgeting & Over-Scheduled

Posted on March 7th, 2012 - Written by: Trebas Toronto

Production Stripboard

Production Stripboard

By Kalman Szegvary,
Producer & Film Program Department Head

We often hear about feature films going over-budget and over-schedule. The studio in most cases blames the producer, who then passes the blame over to the director, the stars or the cinematographer. There are without question, cases in which these individuals do contribute to the problem, but that doesn’t come close to explaining why most pictures go over-budget and over-schedule.

The truth is that most films are under-budgeted and under-scheduled to begin with. This is easily understood by anyone who has ever attempted to get a film ‘off the ground’ or in other words, financed. If you can convince investors or a studio that you can make a picture for less money, in less time, it will be much easier to finance. Consequently, producers often find themselves in the uncomfortable position of whittling down their budgets unrealistically, or rationalizing that they can really do it for less to make their project more appealing to potential sources of financing; but, they suffer for in the long run. The producer who made those budget compromises on paper will do everything in his power to make the production as good as possible, and he’ll find himself torn. Either the project goes over-budget or the quality deteriorates below the level of excellence that he advertised to the investors. The difficulty of financing films is the principal cause of this painful dilemma.

As a filmmaker, it is important to remember that every single element in the production hinges on the budget. If you rationalize too optimistically when writing the final budget, the problems you will create will haunt you throughout the making of your film. This is especially true on a modestly budgeted independent film with little protection for over-budget costs.

If you had, let’s say, what should be a $500,000 independent film project that you’ve managed to squeeze into a $450,000 budget and everyone involved does his/her upmost to stay within budget, even making some painful compromises, your project may still be $25,000 over-budget when you enter the post-production phase. If the production phase of the budget is any indication of how tightly post-production is budgeted, you’re in real trouble. Where does the money come from? Do you start to cut an already meager sound effects budget in half and now worry about whether or not your sound effects track will meet European buyers’ strict quality control standards? Do you cut the music budget by a third and go with cheap soundtrack? Maybe eliminate dialogue looping (ADR)? Well what if your scenes are missing a few words of dialogue here and there? Do you go to a second-rate mixing facility that does not have surround-sound capability? Maybe go with a cheap title sequence? And you may do all the above and still not fall within your $450,000 budget. Don’t even think about going back to your investors for additional funds as they will tell you that the financing of your film is a done deal – they will never want to produce another film with you.  Chances are that you will ultimately spend $500,000 on the picture and will have created an enormous headache for yourself by not facing that reality in the first place.

Remember that if you stick adamantly to an unrealistic budget, you will be forced to make compromises, and cutbacks in the quality of any portion of your film will drag down the quality of everything else in the film. You must strive for the highest level of quality attainable within your budget throughout every aspect of production.

To be continued…

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