Men O’ War: Pre-Production

Men O’ War began with a script. It was a very simple three page screenplay, written in a very short time. It was re-written four or five times, and most of the re-writes involved cutting things out. The original story ideas was much more complicated, but we had some serious time constraints to work around, so the island expedition got cut, and so did several characters. However, we knew that a simple story not much longer than three minutes was possible if our pre-production planning was good enough to take all the aspects of production into account.

So next, I drew up the storyboards. Every dramatic film should rely on storyboards, and even though it’s somewhat more important for animated projects than live action, I’m a firm believe in planning shots out on paper ahead of time. This enables the director to more precisely plan his cutting, and provides a much clearer description to the crew than verbal instruction. Not only does this provide a better editing process, but faster and more efficient shooting.

click to enlarge

Storyboards can be simple. These are not much more than stick figure scribbles, and the entire film fits on four pieces of 8.5″x11″ paper. The director should do his own storyboards. If he hires an illustrator to make them for him, without instruction, that illustrator is choosing the camera angles as cuts and basically directing the movie, and has now become the director of the film. Do your own storyboards. If the director can’t direct on paper, he can’t direct on set.

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Men O’ War

I have finally found time to post this short film. It was made by myself and my brothers and sisters over the course of 5 weeks as a teaching tool for this year’s San Antonio Film Academy. It was created using Lightwave 3D, the Adobe Production Studio bundle, and Cubase for the music. You can download it here in a number of formats:

Large 30mb Xvid AVI – Mirror 1
Small 7mb Xvid AVI – Mirror 1
Quicktime 10mb h264 – Mirror 1

You can also see it on Youtube. More posts about how it was made are coming soon. For now, you can read about:

Sound Effects

LEGO, the minifigure and the brick configuration are trademarks
of the LEGO Group which does not sponsor this film.

Production Scheduling

Ok, one more diagram from this year’s San Antonio Film Academy. I gave a lecture on pre-production planning as it relates to live TV, documentary production, and feature films by describing the logistics needed for a number of hypothetical projects. Since most of the attendees were primarily interested in feature films (74% according to audience polling), we spent the most time on this chart:

If I was given the funds to greenlight a pre-existing script, and we planned to make a medium-budget, average film, the schedule would probably look something like this. Obviously, for simpler projects, less time would be needed; a smaller budget would mean less legal and financial work; a smaller cast would mean less time casting and rehearsing, and fewer locations would mean less scouting and set construction.

However, the 4:1 ratio of pre-production to principle photography is what I feel comfortable with for dramatic (feature or short) productions. In my experience, it usually gives enough time to plan out everything needed. Of course, we could compress the pre-production schedule drastically, and then take a longer, very loose, improvisational, unscheduled approach to actual production, but this inevitably ends up being far more expensive in the long run and produces an inferior product. Always plan us much as you can as far ahead as possible.

The Post-Production Process

Since I’ve talked a lot about pipelines and workflow on this site, I’d like to post a diagram I put together for this year’s San Antonio Film Academy. I’ll be putting up a few more of my lecture materials later on, but keep watching the SAICFF website for CDs of all the lectures, not just mine. Anyhow, here’s a quick layout of the five main departments involved in post-production of a film:

The double lines represent image data, solid lines; audio, and the dotted lines are timecode, shotlists, or EDLs. Assuming that we shoot on 35mm film, the camera and audio recorder are timecode-synced, and the film can be developed and telecine’d to get our dailies throughout production. As soon as post-production begins, we begin our first off-line edit using the dailies (with timecode embedded).

Ideally, our film has been heavily storyboarded before shooting began, so the editing itself has largely been worked out on paper. Once we get the first edit down, we know which takes we’re using and how much film we need to develop and scan for our full DI. We also have a rough cut to give our composer so he can begin working on the music.

By the time our second edit is finished, we’ve polished things a bit more, and we can give shot lengths to our VFX division. They might be adding in dinosaurs, or just doing simple sky replacements, but now they have the data scans and timecode that they need to start work. By now we can also see what lines will need to be looped, and we keep updating our composer.

Website Fixed

Ok, as far as I can tell, all original posts are back up now. I’ve back-dated everything to the proper dates, so any old links should work again. Whew. Look for new content next week. Apologies to the RSS readers whose feeds got swamped by all the “new” posts.

Server Issues

Dear Readers,

I apologize for the server outages over the last few weeks. There have been some pretty signifigant issues, but we’re using a new web provider now, so things should be a little more stable. WordPress is behaving itself and things look like they once did, but I’ll need to repost all of my articles, which I won’t have time to do for another week or so, since I’m busy with the San Antonio Christian Film Academy.

Until I get things back up and start posting new content, check out, where Alex and Brett Harris are live-blogging the event. If all goes well with the reconstruction of this site, I will be posting some of my lecture materials here soon.