Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day #3: A Few Fried Vegetables for $1,000

So I promised you costuming pictures and advice... and they're not ready yet. I took a meeting this afternoon and learned that this line from my script could cost me $1,000:

Scott fries vegetables in the pan -- oil HISSES and POPS --
How could a 15-second shot of frying vegetables cost the production $1,000? The answer to that leads me to...

Film Prep Lesson #5
Know your logistics! Plan out every moment of every day of the principle photography schedule. Coordinate every minor technical detail until an hour-by-hour day is planned out in the most minute detail. Safety and timeliness are of the utmost concern -- and when filmmakers are rushing without a plan, they often make very unsafe decisions.

This afternoon I took a meeting with Joe, a higher-up at USC School of Cinematic Arts who broke down the script for me in terms of saving time and money as well as stressing the importance of careful production planning and safety. He pointed out the most time-consuming and challenging aspects of the production:
  • every time a prop gun is used in a public location for a film shoot, within view of any civilian outside the film crew, an on-site police officer must be present. Their discounted student rate runs around $1,000/day.
  • special permits have to be applied for and purchased for the use of a prop gun in a public location. This includes apartments with windows where civilians can see the prop gun being used and mistake it as criminal activity. Flyers have to be posted all over the area that notify filming is taking place. Authorities must be notified.
  • If the story demands that a prop gun have moving parts -- the audience sees the gun recoiling and the muzzle flashing -- a "non-gun" is a recommended rental. However, the filmmaker must keep in mind that the actors must be trained in the use of the non-guns and that every charge fired by the non-gun costs $8 a pop. Which can get quite expensive take after take.
  • A certified stunt coordinator must be present for all use of prop weapons.
  • If the story demands we see a character get "hit" by a bullet and blood gushes out at that moment, a film prop called a "squib" must be purchased, an electric charge the detonates a small packet of fake blood underneath the actor's costume. Also, the services of a Class A Powder Certified Squib Technician. And they are not cheap either.
  • A note on squibs: the use of a squib destroys a costume. For every take in which the squibs go off, a new and identical costume must be produced. Which can get quite expensive take after take.
  • For the use of any of the props mentioned above with moving parts -- guns, squibs, etc. -- a plexi-glass shield must be rented to guard the camera just in case. Ear plugs must be purchased for the entire crew for non-gun noises, which can be deafening in close quarters.
  • A production assisstant must be hired who's sole responsibility is to guard the prop guns. Actors get bored between takes. Prop guns are fun to play with. Actors will naturally be inclined to play with the prop guns between takes. But prop guns are not toys. They can hurt people. They can also make the cops show up to a set who think your fictional bank robbery is an actual bank robbery. They can also make the police open fire on the actors if they do not drop the "weapon" immediately (this scenario has actually happened to a USC film crew!)
  • A child actor will be playing Kaylie. Six-year olds actors in the state of California can only work so many hours in a day before it becomes child slave labor. A Studio Teacher must be hired at a daily rate to supervise the child actor's legal rights. The child actor's state-certified credentials as a legitimated minor with a working permit must also be on file.
  • Actors cannot actually cut up vegetables on film with a sharp knife. An actor will be concentrating on his performance and the director's notes and not on his or her physical safety. The vegetables can be "scored" or pre-cut so that a dull prop knife could easily be used by the actor to cut the vegetables.
And the moment of truth:
  • the use of any fire, on or off screen, for the dramatic purposes of filmmaking requires the purchase of an on-set fire extinguisher and the presence of a certified Fire Marshal. This includes (especially) the use of fire in candles for a romantic candlelit dinner scene... as well as off-screen flames cooking vegetables in a pan. The average student film discounted rate for a Fire Marshal on set for one day is $1,000.
I'm sure to a lot of you, all of this sounds tedious and obnoxiously overbearing. I'm just trying to make a movie! Why are you making everything so difficult for me! Let me create! But no one deserves to get hurt in the name of "your vision." In any filmmaking experience, the cast and crew is intensely focused on making the best film possible... or a perfect cast and crew at least. Whether you want to admit it or not, there are plenty of people on your crew just waiting to get this over with and go home. But my point is this: no one on set is actively thinking, "How can I make this safer?" That's why all the safety aspects of a film production must be predetermined to the point of meticulous, scaredy-cat insanity. That way, in case there are any accidents, minimal or no damage takes place to equipment or cast and crew members.

So after 17 or so drafts of rewriting the script from the writer-director's perspective, I have spent most of today working on another draft from the budget-conscious producer's perspective... Until today, I thought cooking vegetables would be one of the easier things to film.

Oh yeah, and I have to stay up late tonight drafting up notes, pictures, and sketches for potential costume designers. There may be art in Hollywood, but there is no sleep for directors.

But tomorrow it all hangs in the balance -- find out this time how my producer Liz and I will successfully interview and woo a costume designer to join our crew on a limited budget!

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