Subject: Film student here! (TL;DR, movies are hard.)
Posted on: 2021-06-20 19:43:48 UTC

...And yeah, a movie would be incredibly difficult to do. Animation takes time, so what about, say, a low-budget live action film featuring human characters, maybe make it an interlude set in HQ so the set could be a generic grey building and we could possibly get away with only filming human agents in the background? If you don't need to do any portals, that also saves on special effects.

My final project for my degree was a three minute short film. Twenty-five unique shots. One actor. Easy costumes.

It still took a total of about six hours to shoot, and that was getting takes good enough to use after two or three attempts. Add in another five hours of editing (yes, five hours for a three minute film!) for a total of eleven hours. Eleven hours for a three minute film.

So forget the idea of a feature-length movie for a moment and consider, instead, the possibility of a short film. A PPC short film would probably need to be around five to ten minutes to get a good idea of what our characters are like. Seems doable enough, right?

Let's take a look at what we would need to do this, assuming we have some actors (hopefully good ones!) and a location (hopefully a safe one!) already available to us for free—unless you want to shell out a few hundred dollars for actors and a location rental right off the bat.

The script would be the easy part. A properly formatted script's rule of thumb is one page equals one minute of screentime.

Then you've got to break the script down. That means identifying all the different elements of the script—the cast members, the extras, the props, the special effects, any animals, any greenery, any costumes, makeup, the music, the sound effects, everything. You have to think about every single element needed to produce a scene, a single shot, even, because when the day comes to film and you don't have what you need, shooting gets delayed.

You need to make a storyboard, and a shot list. A storyboard should be self-explanatory, right? Easy enough to draw up a few rough ideas with stick people, but you also have to consider why you want an extreme closeup, a medium shot, a wide shot, a low-angle shot, and for really detailed storyboards, you're going to be drawing each cut back and forth between actors if you're doing the standard over the shoulder shooting for conversations, each brief cut to show someone setting a prop down—it gets detailed. You have to make notes about the camera angles (especially if your storyboard is just done with stick people; it gets hard to tell with that), about any camera movements (dollies, tracking, panning, etc), transitions between shots (cut, crossfade), all that good stuff.

The shot list breaks the storyboard down and tells you what you need to film. You use it to keep track of which take you want the editor(s) to use in the final product, and make notes about which shots need to be done at the same time to maintain camera positioning. Even with all the accurate measurements in the world, it can be difficult to get it exactly back into the same position. You very, very often don't shoot a script in order.

On the set itself, you have to consider blocking—where are the actors going? How are you going to make sure you get the shot you want without catching the equipment in the frame or getting in the way of the actors' movement? What is the lighting? Is there a place to plug in the lights, or are we using battery-powered lights? Do we have enough fully-charged batteries, and how long does a charge last? How hot will the lights make the set? Is the lighting consistent from shot to shot? Does the lighting make sense for the setting itself, or is the audience going to question why the actor's illuminated from a strange angle? Three-point lighting? Two-point? Or are we just using ambient lighting, and will that be bright enough? Is it too bright? Will the actors look washed-out, or will the shot be too dark to see important details? Do we need reflectors, diffusors, flags? Gels? Coloured lights? Any special lighting, like a strobe effect or fire?

What camera(s) are we using? What lenses? Are we using a single-camera setup, or a multiple camera setup? Tripods? Handheld? Do the camera operators also need focus pullers, or can they get the necessary shots on their own? Do we need any track laid out for dolly shots or tracking shots, or do we need a trackless dolly (expensive, unless we do what I did my first year in school and duct tape a camera to a scooter, which is in and of itself a safety hazard)? Do we have enough batteries for the cameras, or a place to plug them in? Are we risking overloading the sockets if we're also plugging in lights?

How are we getting our hands on these cameras? Are they DSLRs that someone might have because of their photography hobby, or are we renting equipment from somewhere? (That goes for the lights, too—I doubt the average person has any redheads sitting in their supply closet at home.) I got lucky and was able to borrow my equipment for my final project for free from my old boss at the studio I worked for, but equipment rentals are expensive and if something breaks, hoo boy. Even if nothing breaks, what about malfunctions? Do we have backups? It's better to have backups, of course, but sometimes it's just not possible.

What about sound? Do we have someone to operate a boom? Can we trust the camera operator(s) to notice if the boom or its shadow dips into frame? Do we have a shotgun mic? Are we clipping mics into the actors' costumes? Are we sure the mics are properly hidden? Is the sound quality we're getting from the mics fairly consistent, or is the sound quality from the boom noticeably better/worse than the mics on our actors?

Let's say we're going to have to rent a DSLR, and we're not going to worry about lights or microphones. Great! That's another $150 to rent a DSLR for a week. Hope your shooting schedule works with that, and you don't mind the sound quality being inconsistent and overall just bad.

What about in post-production? (Disclaimer, I specialised in cinematography, so most of my editing knowledge is either self-taught or learned from my old boss, who is also self-taught. I had a few editing classes in school, but nothing super in-depth.) Do we have someone who knows how to do sound mixing? What music are we using? Do we have the rights to it? (I hope we have the rights to it!) What about colour correction? Do we even have access to a good editing programme? (Slight tangent, whoever designed Final Cut Pro X deserves to be beaten over the head with a clapperboard.) I love Adobe Premiere Pro, but it costs an arm and a leg to use, so I guess we'll use DaVinci Resolve instead. Do we need any greenscreen or special effects done? Hope you know someone with access to Adobe After Effects, because that's $21/month to use, and it'll take longer than a month to learn how to make anything look halfway convincing and not at all greenscreened.

Or maybe a shot doesn't actually work when put with the others. Do we need to do reshoots? Or does the script need to be tweaked a little bit, or shots moved around from the planned order to make it make better sense or just plain look better? What about any voiceovers? Will the lines recorded have consistent quality with the rest of the sound? What about sound effects? Do we need to bring in a Foley artist?

On the shoot itself, do we have a place for the cast and crew to rest? Food, drinks? How much will that cost, and who is preparing the food, or taking orders? Any allergies or dietary restrictions to worry about? How long is filming going to take? Transportation to/from the set for cast, crew, and equipment? Are there any particularly difficult shots (eg long takes) that will require extensive rehearsing from the actors and camera operator(s) beforehand? What is the plan if reshoots do become necessary? What if a shot ends up taking longer to get a good take than expected? What's the shooting schedule look like? What costumes do we need? (Those would have to be planned long before the day of filming, even if it's just street clothes.) Do the actors need makeup, even if it's just a bit of powder on the forehead/nose to reduce sweat sheen? How many actors do we need? What about crew? Do we need a designated clapper loader for handheld shots where the camera operator can't do it themselves? Filming is stressful, what happens if drama breaks out on the set? What hazards are there on the set (yes, cables are a hazard!) that we need to be aware of? What happens if there is an injury on the set?

There's so, so much more that goes into it, but yeah—producing even a short film is a ton of work.

We would need to find actors and crew who wouldn't mind this film not being legally able to become part of their showreels—because the PPC would be a huge copyright issue that nobody would want to risk attaching their professional name to, so this would be a huge amount of time and effort on everyone's parts for what would be a vanity project.

I would absolutely love to do a short PPC film as a fun side project, but it would be exhausting, especially since I would likely end up doing most of the behind-the-scenes work. (And I hate editing with a burning passion. It's dull, and consists of replaying the same handful of seconds over and over to make sure everything looks and sounds right.)

And while I'm sure there are PPCers who wouldn't mind getting in front of a camera, the fact is (distances aside, which is yet another issue here) acting is hard. Anyone can get in front of a camera and recite a few lines, but it becomes painfully obvious when people aren't professionals, and amateurs very often don't respond well to being directed on a set. See the bit about on-set drama above.

So, thanks, but no thanks. The logistics would be a nightmare to deal with—too much work for a result I doubt I would ever be happy with, and wouldn't be able to show off to potential future employers, either.

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