Updated: Dec 12, 2019
The movie business is one of the most powerful industries in the modern world. It builds images, creates role-models and turns make-believe into reality. But how it is run? How do you put a film project together? And who makes the money?
If hell had a kitchen it would look very much like the special effects lot at Pinewood Studios. Red, boiled limbs stick out from torn cardboard boxes, grey clay heads stand on scrubbed wood tables, monstrous pink masks hang from the wall and the floor is caked in dusty plaster as white as flour.
It's the perfect place to introduce a series about the movie-making business. Although the majority of horror and fantasy films are made in Los Angeles, USA, it's for special effects that Americans come to Britain We're second-to-none in that department, and Pinewood, with its massive sound stages, is still the place to be for directors such as Ron Howard - - who has just completed ''Solo: A Star War's Story'' here - - - and J.A. Bayona --- Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom's director --- and Simon P Thorp, writer and producer is in the middle of the Pre-production of a horror film project called ''Anomalous: The Birth'' in these hallowed premises.
But in the beginning of every movie there is the money --- the effects come in the middle of the project --- and it's still the USA which controls most of that.
A movie can get off its butt in several, flukish, ways, but most originate with a writer whose agent or publisher thinks their new short story or novel has filmic possibilities. It's sent out to independent producers or major studios who are the decision-, and money makers. In turn, they read the author's property' and decide whether to put an option on it or, in the case of a hot property, buy the movie rights.
If the option's bought, we're still a long way from getting the film made. An option, for which the writer is paid as little as £200 - 15,000 is a 'maybe' contract: 'maybe we'll make a film out of your book, but I wouldn't bank on it'. Later, if the book does well in the bestseller charts, the producer my 'take up' on the option and buy the rights, in which case you're moving but still aren't much closer to getting the movie made.
THE MONEY MOGULS
Those myths the independent movie moguls are to some extent untrue. The bosses of major film studios may have money to flaunt but they are business men and don't usually go around with camera lenses bouncing against their pink t-shirts.
No the image of the mogul comes mainly from independent producers who are not tied down to one particular studio and, as a result, rely on either a contract with a studio or a complex deal with a number of film production companies; who then go to the biggies, such as Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, or Dreamworks, for distribution through cinemas.
Such deals are often fraught with monetary landmines and sometimes an unscrupulous distributor can take all the rights to your product as well all the money. If that happens you could end up with your option money, your advance rights money --- usually amounting to little more than £99,000 - and a very deflated ego.
There's nothing nefarious about the production companies' ruthless ways of working contracts. If you're fool enough not check the wording of an all important document you're certainly not much of a businessman in which case the film world -- which is just another business community, after all -- will show no pitty.
WELCOME TO THE HOTHOUSE
Once the producer and business assistants have done all the financial donkeywork, it's time to start hiring production stuff. At the start there are three main screen credit jobs to be filled: director, with a fourth -- production accountant -- who is usually employed by the production company. The production accountant works with the producer on the budget which will determine who they can hire for the lead roles, the amount of time they can take for the production schedule and the amount of the money that can be spent on sets, costume, and location, not to forget visual and make-up effects. If a film's on a £1 - £10 million low-budget you can forget Ewan McGregor, Jude Law or Jason Statham for the starring role, a three-month filming schedule off the coast of Miami and a screen world full of monsters. Even when you're working with £100 million --- on the set of next superhero movie --- you will still have to cut corners; artistic vision and reality rarely mix.
While the production budget is being fixed the producer and director may have asked the scriptwriter, or the original author, for a treatment of the novel. The treatment's little more than a synopsis of the plot, showing the way in which the script will move away from the novel and how the characters will develop. If satisfactory, it is soon followed by a story breakdown which takes each scene and develops it, though still in short-story format.
From the breakdown, the writer, if he or she hasn't been fired, produces a shooting script which is for the director's rather than an actor's benefit. It details, in a highly systematic manner, the types of camera shot/angle which will make up each scene -- in terms of wide angle shot, close-up, or birds' eye. It is, however, ultimately the director's job to interpret the way in which a particular camera shot should be made and he even has the power to alter the way in which the camera views each scene.
While the script's being prepared, the producer, with the help of the director, also has to devise a shooting schedule, a running order of scenes, special effects, and locations into which the cast must fit. The schedule can be anything from six weeks to two months with at least another months with at least another month added for post production work such as special visual effects and editing Factors to consider in the schedule are that members of the cast may have other commitments on certain days, some locations may only be available for a limited period and some special visual effects may be more complex than others. Members of the press also have to be accommodated with set visits and photo sessions.
As you can see, it's unlikely that the movie will be shot in script sequence and that's why each scene is numbered and each shot indexed, often with a letter of the alphabet. Scene 53, for instance, may contain a close-up profile shot of Dracula which comes second in the running order. It might therefore, be labelled 53.b, or 53.2.
The shooting schedule may be shaping up well, but while it's being put together, the casting director must also have a share of the producer's and director's time. Most casting directors work as freelances for agencies. They not only have the phone numbers for the stars' agents they might need but the most successful also have an almost inborn talent at matching a part to a particular actor's face and personality.
Casting can, of course, happen almost haphazardly if the producer or director have a friend or relative who could fit a part. These acquaintances still have to read -- auditioned -- for the par, in front of the director and a camera, to make sure that all three creative forces can work together. If an actor can't work with a director you aren't going to have a film.
CAST OF THOUSANDS
As the main cast and shooting schedule are being put together, the production company is also hiring the hundreds of production people whose names whizz by on the post-film credits. They include assistant directors, director of photography, cameramen, sound technicians, designers, editors, props men, hairdressers, and special/visual effects teams -- all of whom you will meet later in the series.
The managers of each department have their turns with the producer and director showing plans for sets, costumes and special effects. In theory the director has creative control over all those aspects of film making but, unless you're someone like Danny Boyle, who has a very singular vision or doesn't care about the production teams' egos, you'te likely to go with most of their ideas. After all, you've already briefed them about the film's central concepts and if you don't like what you see you are partly to blame.
Some aspects of fantasy film making require more attention than others. The special effects, for instance, may determine whether a production is over budget or runs over its production schedule. If, during initial screenings, the director doesn't like the effects, time can be wasted reshooting them.
The shooting schedule can make actors' and actress' lives hell. As the scenes are not in sequence they often have to play very different emotions within a short space of time.
For instance, one morning --- which can start as early as six o'clock on set, and that's after you've had your make-up applied - you may have to do two scenes, one at party the other a deathbed scene in hospital. Not only that, but most of those scenes were shot yesterday and all the director now requires are reaction shoots.
During the first, which lasts all of three seconds, the actress may be asked to leer at the camera while dancing with a friend. That would then be linked to a shot of her steady boyfriend reacting -- which was filmed yesterday because he was on that set while she was doing something else.
She could be asked to do that leer ten or 11 times until the director, director of photography and sound man are sure that they've got at least one piece of film they can use. Then she crosses to the other set ready to go into sad mode.
Further problems can pile up for the director if the producer decides to save time and shoot some scenes simultaneously. On those occasions you might have one group of actors doing a special effects sequence on one sound stage while another films another sequence out on location This sort of time-saving can be costly but necessary if your lead is contracted for another job halfway through the filming schedule.
When shooting is finished it's time for the visual effects team and editors to get in on the action.
Today, thanks to our modern technology, directors are doing more and more visual effects during the main film schedule, straight to camera and on location using special lenses; explained later in the series. But if the budget is low forget all of the new modern technology with sensible and move capturing cameras, and also new kind of innovations like 3-D, ultra 4K visual effects, smart creative systems etc... But some of filmmakers still, the majority are added during post production. While make-up effects comprise prosthetic (add-on) limbs and animatronic models (which are animated using a stop-frame camera), the visual effects include strange lights, camera angles, size, and even weight, illusions All are added by manipulating the images on the film which are then set in order and cut by the editor.
The movie's editor is handed all the film and makes sure that each shot is put into a smooth running sequence. Getting a flow from one shot to another, one scene to another, without jarring the viewers' senses is an art-form only learnt through long application.
The job is made more difficult because the editor has to work to a time limit the finished film must not exceed. Most movie times hover around the 90-minute mark because the average viewer's attention starts to flag after that -- even though they might want to get their money's worth. They can, however, afford to be a little over, especially if the movie is going in front of a ratings panel and is likely to be cut. That said, though, the ratings board might offer a rating with which the production company is not happy and the editor consequently get the movie back in order to cut some more.
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
The British and US rating systems are very different from each other. In Britain you have to submit a film, which is intended for the countrywide distribution, to the British Board of Film Classification.
In the United States, however, you can release a movie to the independent cinemas without going to The Hays Office -- the US version of the BBFC. If you want your movie to be a blockbuster, though, you will submit.
The tow systems -- British and US -- also differ in approach. The British views a movie as a whole and attaches a rating on what is very much a value-judgement by the members of the Board. The American, however, analyses a picture and award points for bad language, violence or sex. It's a sliding scale so, for instance, you might score more points for a stabbing and five points for a decapitation. As you've guesses, the more points you score the bigger the rating prize you get.
Once you're over the censorship hurdle the distributor -- be it Rank, Warner Bros, Paramount etc -- can make a number of prints, usually around 200 to 500, and start targeting cinemas. If your film's a success in the first few weeks you can expect to make a sequel - and why not? If it flops you may find it more difficult to get a job, let alone financing another film. It's that though, and not just in Tinsel Town.