Film Production ManagementAs the film production manager, you are the person who needs to make all the moving parts of a film work together, including any special effects shots. Follow the guide below and you will be well on your way to executing successful special shots that audiences will not forget.

How to Find the Right Supplier for Special Shots

1) Know what services you need before researching suppliers.

Knowing precisely what the production of the film needs before looking into suppliers for special shots is essential. Having a clear pre-visual or storyboard plan in place enables the production manager, director, and others to know exactly what they’re looking for from the suppliers.

2) Thoroughly research suppliers to know what services you will be getting.

This step is very important. Special shots often require specialized equipment and the crew operating this equipment needs to be well trained. It is essential to ask them these key questions:

  • What is their reputation and background in the industry?
  • Does their expertise match what the film needs?
  • Have they done similar work in other films?

When watching the supplier’s show reel, ask them what equipment and which techniques they used to produce the special shots, as well as whether any other supplier helped them. You want to avoid using a supplier that has embellished its work in order to book a job.

3) Always focus on safety first.

It goes without saying that the production manager ought to be on the same page with suppliers when it comes to safety. Both parties need to discuss all of the safety precautions of special shots. Everyone else—the regular production crew, actors, etc.—should be well informed about the safety precautions taken in the shots as well. Written safety information should be available to everyone and meetings should be held where safety issues are discussed. The Worker’s Compensation Board and crew unions are usually good sources to get safety information.

4) Give the suppliers enough time to prepare for the shot.

To keep a film on schedule, suppliers are hired towards the beginning of film production. They will need time to develop and practice a scene. For example, crews will need time to test the size of explosions. All special shots require a lot of preparation time so do not hire a supplier who promises a quick set up/practice timeline. Additionally, special shots typically require permits, so it is also important to get those secured early in the production process.

Special Effects Suppliers

Movies nowadays require a lot of highly technical and challenging special effects (SPFX), beyond the usual rain, wind, or explosion effects and the skills and capabilities the regular props department. Such effects call for the hiring of experienced, reputable special effects companies.

The production manager must be in constant contact with the special effects supervisor. The SPFX supervisor has a number of responsibilities. First and foremost, he is the person in charge of safety during the day of shooting.

He directs every aspect of the special effects shot, from its design to its implementation. He makes sure that the shot is going to match what is on the storyboard. If the storyboard is altered, he makes changes accordingly. These changes, along with any problems that arise in the preparation of the special effects, can increase costs. The supervisor keeps track of the costs and does all he can to minimize them.

Postvis (Post-visualization)

Post-visualization work saves a lot of time and money in the filmmaking process. The director, production manager, and others watch footage of a scene once it is shot. They then discuss what CGI (computer generated image) effects they would like to have in the scene.

Screening footage at this point in the process, rather than later in post-production after the entire film is shot, keeps costs down. Sometimes scenes are shown to audiences who then give their feedback to the filmmakers. This valuable information can be incorporated into film production.

Once postvis for a scene is completed, the production manager either receives bids from CGI suppliers to work on the scene or the footage is given to a CGI company already hired.

CGI – Computer Generated Image

Filmmakers have use computer generated images, sometimes also referred to computer generated imagery, in movies for decades. The movie Avatar is perhaps the most recent, visually stunning example of CGI. CGI effects enhance many different parts of a film, from 3D effects, such as a hologram shaped planet, to 2D effects, such as extra smoke in an explosion. 3D effects may attract more attention, but 2D effects are as equally critical.

Not surprisingly, using CGI in a movie is expensive to begin with, but, more often than not, unforeseen and easily avoided expenses can arise. For example, to make shooting easier for themselves, film crews can sometimes be careless on a set and leave it to the CGI technicians to ‘paint out’ animal tethers, sound booms or any other piece of production equipment in post- production.

These are just as expensive to erase as any other CGI effect put in the film. Of course, some of these extra objects in a shot will always be in a scene, but it is imperative to try to avoid this as much as possible. This will help the production stay within budget.

CGI also becomes much more expensive when extra animated footage is made in post-production. Footage with animations are of course carefully pre-visualized and/or drawn up on a storyboard, but sometimes changes need to be made.

The advantage of pre-visualizing scenes with CGI effects, besides getting a visual understanding of the sequence of the scene, is that some of the animation is already put in place for the final stage of animation. CGI is also expensive when there are two different CGI departments, one for 2D and the other for 3D, and when there is more than one CGI supplier working on a film.

As mentioned earlier, the production manager and SPFX supervisor need to communicate on a regular basis to try to avoid extra costs and to stay on the same page. It is the manager’s responsibility to ensure that extra CGI shots are being kept to a minimum. The supervisor, in turn, should be on film sets when CGI scenes are being shot.

Motion Control

How do filmmakers combine film footage and CGI effects? This is where motion control comes in.  Motion control is the process that merges film footage with CGI animations that will be “painted” on later. This technically demanding process requires a great deal of skill and precision. A CGI crew can easily paint effects onto a stationary camera shot but, as one might guess, it is difficult to animate effects on a moving camera shot because of all the coordination that is required.

A computer is connected to the camera to ensure that the camera’s movements are recorded on the computer. This allows for repetitive filming of the same scene when different elements or separate shots are needed.

For example, the motion control supervisor, who often takes the place of the director to direct the scene if it is highly complex, may want footage of only the actors and performers, then he will want to shoot the scene without the actors and performers, and then he may want another shot of them against a blue or green background. All of these shots are combined later in post-production and then the CGI effects are painted on. It is important for the SPFX supervisor to understand that this technically heavy process may decrease the quality of the actors’ performances.

The Background Screen

The blue or green background screen has been used in the film industry for decades. It allows actors and performers to seem as if they are in a different environment. The process to achieve this effect is called “chroma key” and it uses chroma key blue or chroma key green colors. These screens are integral to making science fiction movies.

These screens work because of the huge difference between skin color and blue or green color used. So it is fairly simple in post-production to “key-out” the green or blue background and put a different background in its place. In the earlier days of chroma key backgrounds, halos used to form around the performers but technological advancements have eliminated this problem.

Cast members cannot wear anything that is green or blue, depending on the screen color. The wardrobe designer, therefore, must be actively involved in chroma key shots to coordinate the color of costumes, otherwise parts of an actor’s body will look like the image in the background. Blue or green screens are also used interchangeably, so it is important that the designer receive accurate filming schedules to know which days the blue or green screens will be used.

Professionals must paint the green or blue screen backgrounds. Properly keying out the color in post-production depends on uniformly painted surfaces. The painters must have enough time to repaint a screen if any unevenness or streaking is present. Proper lighting is also essential. It is recommended to schedule a time where the production crew can set up the lighting arrangements correctly.

Animals

Audiences love movies with animals in them, but some may not realize the time, training, and preparation required to successfully use animals in films. As with the other suppliers already discussed, the production manager is in charge of hiring an animal trainer (or wrangler or handler, as they are also known) and a trained animal.

Filmmakers use a whole host of animals in movies. The obvious ones are dogs, cats, and horses, but foxes, rats, owls, chickens, and squirrels are also often used.

Before shooting the scene, the production manager goes over the storyboard or previs plan with the trainer and they discuss all of the aspects of the scene. The trainer will inform the manager what the animal can or cannot do, how much time will be needed to train the animal for the scene, and which kinds of animals and breeds will be suitable for the scene. It is important to keep in mind that animals are animals: they work on their own time and tire easily.

They do not care about the film. Usually, animals require many weeks of training before the scene is shot, so the production manager needs to hire the trainer early enough to allow enough training time as well as to let the animal adjust to potentially frightening new surroundings on the set.

Since animals can be unpredictable, a smaller film crew, called a reduced second unit or animal unit, should be available to take other shots of the animal after the main crew captures the primary shots of the scene. The shots the smaller crew takes can then be added to the others later in production. Also, animals may get scared and hurt someone on set. So it is vital that the trainer, crew and director understand and discuss all of the safety issues regarding the animal.

Stunts

Safety is always a top priority on any set, but the emphasis is even greater when it comes to stunts.

The production manager and the stunt coordinator discuss all aspects of the stunts, including how many times they may need to be performed and the level of danger they entail. All of these factors dictate the price of the stunt fee. As one might assume, the stunt coordinator walks through the set locations so he can see them for himself and make the necessary preparations.

Stunts can be unpredictable. Using two or more cameras is wise because no two stunts are ever the same and the cameras can capture different angles of the same shot. Other factors such as weather can affect the shot as well. Stunt preparation and planning, as well as constant communication between everyone involved in the process, are essential to filming successful stunts.

Children

Child actors and performers simply do not have the stamina or attention span that older people do, so it is not fair to expect them to be able to perform for hours on end. Children will behave as children and tire fairly easily. The entire film crew, including the director, must keep this in mind and be patient with them.

Obviously, it goes without saying that the production manager must meet with the child’s parents before filming begins to discuss the logistics and process of making a film, the child’s role in the film, and safety issues. The safety and well-being of the child is paramount because film sets are not at all child-friendly; they are quite hazardous, in fact. It is, therefore, crucial that parents feel that all of their concerns are addressed. This includes hiring a tutor for the child during the school days. Parents should also be allowed to be with their child at all times.

Performer unions have strict, specific guidelines regarding child actors. These define how long a child can work per day, the amount of tutoring the child must receive per day, and the number of rest periods the child must have. They also ban overtime work. These rules and regulations must be clear to everyone participating in the production of a film.

Additionally, though child labor laws are firmly in place in the United States, many other countries do not have these types of child labor regulations. When filming on location in another country, the best option is to follow the rules of the performer union to maintain a standard.  Verify with local authorities that the children are safe. Being aware of the differences in child labor laws, and the requirements of different governments, can be problematic, but will not be a stumbling block if resolved early in production.

Other Special Departments and Final Suggestions

Shots from boats, helicopter shots, and television sync are just some the other departments involved in filming special shots. As with the other departments described above, it is necessary to carefully plan the shot, thoroughly research the suppliers, and always follow the proper safety procedures.

Filmmaking is a creative industry so one can always try to shoot a scene as simply as possible. For example, the “poor man’s process,” which is a technique that mimics outdoor movement in a studio, is often used. Television shows do this all the time when characters sit in a car and appear to be driving somewhere. Keeping things simple like this can save money for the really important special effects.