Compositors

These people are the magic makers of the film world. They can make five people look like a crowd. They are life savers. There is now never a reason for a blank firing pistol. We should never have another accident like we did with Brandon Lee. They can add blow back; the muzzle flash; The sound of the explosion. 

They are generally pretty nice but a little strange. They literally make people fly off the screen in an explosion that they created. They kill more people than Jeffery Dahmer. And they love it. They will frequently giggle like a six year old girl at a unicorn convention. They love their jobs. They especially love it when they get to kill or maim someone with fame. 

They usually work in the dark corners of the office and you will occasionally hear screams of “Damn you, track that object” because tracking is the usually the one task that every compositor hates. And by hate, I mean they abhor that task. And its usually because a director hasn’t worked with a film that has requires a lot of compositing and don’t do things that will help the CGI makers. Tracking points should always be included on things that are going to be flying across the screen. 

They are pretty helpful if you want to learn but I highly recommend getting some education in that particular area. At the very least, go check out videocopilot.net They have lots of handy videos which will teach you some of the basics. 

Cinematographers

Cinematographers are generally the most chill people on set. They don’t care about the fight with your significant other, they don’t care about what is on the craft table, they are only concerned about what the camera sees. Now if you are affecting that picture, you can damn sure be they are suddenly concerned with why you are ruining their shot. 

If you ever hear the words “Make a hole and make it wide”– Move!! That cinematographer is coming in to fix something and don’t be in their way. They are going to come in and fix a light, move a camera, or kill someone. They will. They don’t care about anything else than what the camera is picking up.

If you are working with a cinematographer, wait to the end of the day to ask questions, because they won’t during the day. Again… They are only concerned with what happens on the camera.  The only way you matter is if you are bringing them coffee. 

Once you’ve gotten on the bad side of the cinematographer, you will live in a special ring of hell for the rest of your film, especially if you are an actor. They will delight in not featuring you prominently unless its specifically called for. They are ultimate professionals but they are not above being slightly petty.

The only people more attuned to their job than the cinematographer is the sound guy. These guys are even more anal retentive than cinematographers because they have to be able to hear everything, even when someone a mile away passes gas.

The Rest of the Cast

The rest of the cast. Films are not a single handed idea or formation. This is the only art form that takes a family to create, nurture and grow. The writers give birth, the director watches as it grows and goes through phases. The editors, compositors, and composers get it all dressed up for its prom and then it is sent off to the distributors and film festivals.

So this week, we’ll look at some of the other people who help raise this child.

  • Cinematographers. They can either put lipstick on a pig or they can make a beautiful film look like crap.
  • Editors: These people work tirelessly with incredibly deadlines forgoing any concept of a life and sustenance.
  • Compositors: They are literal life and time savers. They can give you a crowd of extras, make people fall thousands of feet, etc.
  • Production Assistants: The bitches of the set.
  • Camera Ops: The Cinematographers best friends, these persons are invaluable
  • Sound people: Perfect ear and imperfect pitch. Just remember that it doesn’t matter what people see, if they can’t hear it, your movie will suck.

Any discord in your family will show up on the film. Discord like happiness has a way of invading everyone on the set and creating an air. Yes, fights occur but if there is huge personality problems, it seeps into the footage. And when no one is happy, it is absolutely soils the film. It will be felt by every member of the audience.

So keep an eye out this week for our next exciting series.

 

The Prepared One

This is going to be a short post because I’m absolutely brain dead after events across my state. Finding the right producer for you is something that I cannot stress enough. Producers have to be able to leave their egos at the door, remember their strengths, your strengths, what problems they have run into before, what problems they might run into, anticipate someone else’s stupidity, anticipate something breaking, anticipate Mother Nature, etc.

Finding someone who can be prepared, and calm, and works with your personality is amazing gift on both sides of the desk. Remember that this producer is never going to be known as the person behind the camera. They are never going to get the credit for what they do because most people don’t realize how bad a set can be until they run into a great producer.

Producers remove flack from the set. They cannot remove all problems. They can keep your set from racking up union fees but they can also sabotage the entire process. You need to be able to trust them most of all. They need to be able to make small mistakes which will not be assumed to be the tip of the iceberg. Just as you have to trust them, they have to be able to trust you to not lose your shit when they have to present a problem and seek counsel. They want your opinion but if you blow them off, you no longer have the room to bitch.

Many independent directors like to “produce from the chair”, meaning they want to be informed, checked with, consulted with when its stuff they¬†want to deal with. But when it comes to a point where they can throw the producer on the bus to make themselves look good, they will. They don’t want to accept their part in producing when its tough. They only want to make the decisions when it fits their world view.

Work with them. Get to know them. Talk about stuff other than the project. Find out what makes each other tick. Finding the right producer for your project is like finding a spouse. You need to be able to click and argue, and make up without all that nasty exchange of saliva.

 

The What Else Can I do

This producer is more annoying than destructive. Give them a job, and they’ll do a wonderful job. Hand them a clip board, and the glasses comes off and they are Superman of paperwork. The problem is they are Superman with ADHD and they are also a small child. Unfortunately force feeding them Ritalin is against the law.

Eventually they wander off and they get IN YOUR WAY. They repeatedly ask “What else can I do? Does wardrobe need someone? Does makeup?” You’ll reach into your pocket to get money out to run to Pizza Hut (Or more like Little Caesars) and they’ll be all “Please don’t make me go get pizza. I just want to be here.” They never say “I just want to learn” because we all know those producers are scum, but they want to be there to see what all is going on. They have yet to be harden by miserable directors and artistes. They have yet to sit through a premiere thinking to yourself, Wow, I’m really glad that this theater has a bar…. because this film needs alcohol on the level of Jon Bonaham drinking.

They are generally dewy eyed at the end of the day. They can’t wait to get back the next day. The plus of the What Else Can I Do producer (which is usually a production assistant who has been so hard working that they have been told that they will have an associate producer credit) is that they do everything. They help put stuff away. They’ll help with traffic control. They clean. They careful load trucks.

I love these producers because I remember being that producer. Now, I’m tainted by awful productions and directors who need to get bent. I’m jaded by producers who have stabbed me my back and then smiled at me after they did it. I hope these producers still remain wonderfully optimistic because even on an indie production, they feel like its a Star Wars production.

I just want to learn producer

This is perhaps the most dangerous producer of all time; emotional, manipulative, and sweet as sugar. They just want to learn the ins and outs of the business but education… How dare you? They always have an excuse about why something is screwed up, but it was never their fault. It was yours for not teaching them. They’ll cry crocodile tears to you but as soon as your back is turned, not only the knife is impaled, the entire set of Ginzu knives plus steak knives is strategically placed for anyone else to see. 

They will tell you how much they are learning. They will praise you from the highest of heavens but like snakes, they just slither onto the next project. They seem sincere, but they have a way of subtlety undermining those who have power. They don’t want to learn, they are on a power trip. They have usually worked their way onto their first project with either money or ties in the community. The ties will be loose, but these producers are affable and affectionate until they have gotten what they want. 

Once they have moved on from the project you know them from, they will ride on your coat tails. They’ll run through your facebook, using your reputation to gain friends to manipulate. For them, each connection is a chance to manipulate higher up the food chain. 

From the beginning they choose looks of haughty derision at the idea of starting at the bottom. They aren’t PAs. They don’t get their hands dirty. They are producers, dontcha you know. They have dreams… They are going to be directors… they are going to have a career in the movies. Before their first film has heard its final “That’s a wrap. Go home people”, they are forming their own production company. They are getting business cards with their name and fake production company. 

Eventually, they screw enough people that their name becomes mud. Whenever you meet someone eager who wants more credit when they are done, politely turn them down. They are people who do want to learn. In fact, I was one of them. I just never asked for more credit. I was humble when I got my first producing credit. I was also in school, and I was taking the hard road to learn how to behave on set. I did not expect to be given special stature because of who I know. I worked hard for my reputation.

Don’t get down to their level. Always hold your head high and be able to say “I did that” even if its terrible because someone somewhere will enjoy it. Movies are a business but they are the business of experience. Always remember what matters is inside the box. 

This is my Film

These are the know it alls. Sometimes they have been to film school and dropped out. Sometimes they even graduate. Sometimes they are just so excited by a project that they lay claim to every important aspect of it. 

They want to sit behind the director and like a masochist, they want to be in charge of the scene despite having no inkling of control whatsoever. They’ll agree with the director, they’ll suddenly become useful. They’ll rebark the director’s order as if they are an echo. 

They take credit for everything good in the film and one unkind word falls at someone else’s feet. They are persecuted. They are the behind the scenes savior. If only they had been listened to, this would be a blockbuster despite its $300 budget. 

They never do anything wrong.

Let me repeat that. They. Never. Do. Anything. Wrong. 

Their enthusiasm is infectious and suddenly your 5 minute short is as long as Ten Commandments, Titanic, and Braveheart put together. They will put their friends, their children, their dogs, their dogs children in any scene that asks for some extras. They always know someone who is trying to break into the business. They know someone who will do nude scenes (FYI, you don’t want to see their nude actors nude. Really, like crack–just say no). They believe everything is awesome when the reality is everything is polished, sometimes it’s a polished turd. 

They like to become the enforcer for the micromanager director. These two usually becomes thick as thieves because they both think the Micromanager as some sort of Film God and won’t accept any demotion. 

A good producer tells you it’s right when it is. A great producer does not blow smoke up your ass and tell you it’s a kiss. 

The Silent One

This producer has no reason to help you other than they need a tax write off. If you are lucky enough to find your sugar baby, don’t take advantage of it because you should not burn that bridge. There will come a project that you are desperate to do. That is when you need The Silent One most. 

The Silent One has been down the fame road once or twice and knows that it’s paved with good intentions. They can get flustered when not told the truth but a quick explanation resolves any problems even if the Momager has bent their ear. They realize truth lies in the middle. 

They are trusting to a point and once you’ve lost that confidence, you’ll never get it back. They will never stab you in the back but they’ll make sure you never eat lunch in this town again. 

The Momager Producer 

S/he always wanted to be in pictures. Always wanted to be in front of the camera but either listened to their parents and got a safe degree which would put food on the table, or had some sort of tragedy that kept them off of set. Now, they live vicariously through their children. 

They just want to help, dontcha understand. Whether it’s through money, money raising, pimping out the project (and therefore their progeny), or making cookies for set. 

They work their way in and at first they are just sweet as the pie they bring to set. One piece is okay but that second piece is full of broken glass. They get an inch, they take a mile. They will turn on you like the snake did with Eve. 

When their child isn’t featured enough in the trailer, they will inform you of this. Time and time again until you give in just this one time. The next trailer, the dance begins again. When you finally stand up to Momager, she’ll talk to you like you were 8 years old and the principal just called to report you for calling Mrs. Whipple a fat butt. 

S/He is always older and wiser even if this their first set. Beware, like the snake in the Garden of Eden, they will betwixt and charm those around them and against anyone who has shown backbone to them. They turn against people. They use whatever situation to their best advantage and dance better than Ginger Rogers. They are never wrong.  And don’t forget about that, young’un. 

They constantly remind you that you work for them when you are persona non grata. They refuse to accept any truth other than the one they’ve created. By the way, their children usually see through this and are awesome to work with. 

Be certain before taking anything they offer that you can afford it. Your sanity is worth so much more than the pennies they offer. 

Producers: Either make it or break it

Producers are an odd bunch because no one, not even other producers, actually know what a producer does. We are the money raisers, publicity whores, arrangers of time and time travel, the figurers of what to do when the crap rolls down hill, the stand ins, the momentary boom operators, the extra hands, the craft table managers, the wardrobe cleaners, etc.

Me, personally, I’m what is usually known as a UPM/Line Producer. I generally have one project in pre-production, one in production, and one in post production. I’m the fixer. When there is a question about who goes where, who is doing what, who needs to be doing something in five minutes, I’m the one with the answers. If a crew member gets sick, I can jump in and take over their position with no notice. If the director is having a meltdown *as in the case of the Yeller Director that I wrote about before*, I either have to bolster the crew and cast or I have to find the screw up. If I have to find the screw up, I’m usually the one who has to fire him/her. I will spend months in pre production working with 1AD to come up with a schedule as well as produce the bible.

The script bible is a spreadsheet with every scene broken down with every item in it. Actors, crew, props, music, make up, wardrobe, etc… Then I give each scene its own page with this list in chronological order. Then I meet with the cinematographer, and get the story boards and include those. Then I also produce the schedule as well as contact list.

Associate producers are usually a title given to someone who was exceptionally helpful, going beyond their call of duty as a small thank you. Associate producers can also be people that the film is somehow being forced to acknowledge for one reason or another, whether it is some sort of donation of food or product, or someone’s cousin who needs an imdb credit.

In the end, producers are either a film’s greatest unknown asset or the biggest pain in the ass. Here are some of the types that you will probably meet

  • The Momager: their kid is somehow involved. They managed to stick their nose into production, acting like the Queen of Sheba, and believe they cannot be questioned.
  • The Silent One: Quiet, only interjecting opinion when asked. Will help when asked. Will do what they can but generally speaks little and carries a big stick
  • The This is My Film: Believes they know everything despite not being the director, nor the cinematographer, nor the editor, nor the writer. They see themselves as some sort of savior. No one else does.
  • The I want to Learn: They just want to learn something new. They have no desire to go to film school or even a class at the local county extension office, because they believe they can learn more on set. They usually don’t want to learn, they just want to bitch about something. They will also cry at the drop of the hat because they have no clue about set etiquette.
  • The What Else Can I do: Always in the way because they want to help. They do what they are told and then extrapolate that into extra work. Sometimes they make more work for themselves and sometimes they make more problems for everyone else.
  • The controlled one: rarely flustered, rarely emotional. Know when to work, when to rest, when to speak up and when to shut up. Has the entire day planned out and is already anticipating problems and figuring out how to skip that or mitigate those problems. Knows how to do everything on the set, probably not the best but passable.

Producers will either make or break your set. Having a good one is hard to find. When you do, do whatever you can to keep them on your project.