Marty Lang is a screenwriter, filmmaker, journalist and educator. His feature writing/directing debut, RISING STAR, won Best Premiere at the 2012 Seattle True Independent Film Festival, and was acquired for worldwide distribution by Content Film in 2013. His producing credits include the 2016 Independent Spirit Award-nominated OUT OF MY HAND, and BEING MICHAEL MADSEN, starring Michael Madsen, Virginia Madsen and Daryl Hannah. Twitter: @marty_lang.
Of the many positions on a film set, the production manager doesn’t seem like the most creative. Some consider them nothing more than bean-counters, who have little regard for the artistic process. As you get more into the industry, though, you quickly learn how vital production managers are in film and television production. They’re responsible for making a film cost-effectively, and because of that, they look closely at some things you may not think about when you’re writing. As you create your next script, thinking like a production manager may help it stand out among the pack.
A production manager is very worried about the locations a film is shot in, for two major reasons: how much they cost, and how much time they can take away from a shooting day. As a general rule, the more locations there are in a film, the more that film will cost to shoot. So as you write, keep that in mind, and see if there are opportunities to consolidate multiple locations into one.
You may have heard the term “contained” batted around – a producer may be looking for a contained thriller or horror script, for example. That means they want a film that is shot in one location. A writer might think that’s just so the crew can have an easy shoot, but there are serious financial ramifications to making a film this way. The more locations a film has, the more “company moves” they will have to make. A company move is just what it sounds like – moving every truck, car, piece of equipment and person from one location to another. If the film has to do this during a shoot day, it can eat up hours of time – time the film should be shooting.
Locations play a major role in the way a film is scheduled as well. And if you haven’t been on a film set before, you might be surprised how many factors go into a shooting schedule. Day shoots, night shoots, interior and exterior locations, actor scheduling, location availability, and specialty equipment use are just some of the variables that can affect a film’s schedule. It could be almost anything; I once acted in a short film where I had to have two different hair colors over the course of the film. That became the major scheduling issue of the film; all my scenes with my first hair color had to be shot first, I needed time to change hair color during the shooting week (when we filmed scenes with other actors), and then scenes in my second hair color were shot last.
So being mindful of your film’s schedule can make your script much more attractive to a production manager – and a producer. As you write, try and limit, if possible, the amount of night exterior scenes you have. Night exteriors require much more lighting than interior scenes do, which costs money. Of course, if you have a script that takes place entirely outside at night, there isn’t much you can do. But paying attention to what costs money can make your script more affordable – and therefore more attractive.
You also want to think about the page count of your film’s shoot days. For independent films, I’ve found that a successful shooting day is when you film four or five script pages. Take a look at how many pages you shoot in each location; if you can, work it so each location shoots a number of pages that’s a multiple of four or five. Why? If you can shoot full days at your location, you won’t have to company move in the middle of a shooting day to another one. You’ll just show up at the next location on the following shoot day. That will allow the production to spend the whole day shooting, instead of breaking the day up with a time-sucking company move.
MINORS AS ACTORS
You might not know this, but labor laws limit the amount of hours child actors can work on set. If you have one, they can be limited to much less than the twelve hours in a standard film set work day. (That’s why you often see twins working as the same character in a project; think the Olsen twins when they were younger, on the show FULL HOUSE.) If you have a minor as a major character in your script, know that it may take much longer for a producer to film that script, which will cost much more money, since the rest of the crew needs to be paid for the additional days it will take to film.
Do you have a song in your head that just has to be in your movie? Keep in mind that the producer will be responsible for getting the rights to that song before it can be in it. And there are actually two types of rights they need to secure: the publishing rights (from the person who wrote the song) and the master rights (from the person who recorded it). To use a piece of music, you need permission from both people/entities, and they’re not always the same.
This also holds true for any mention or usage of copyrighted material in your script. Any character wearing a New York Yankee hat, drinking a Pepsi, or riding an Uber must have those images cleared before they can be used in your movie. There are people on film sets whose entire jobs revolve around obtaining clearance for items in a film. If you don’t present any clearance issues in your script, a producer might need to hire one less person – making your story that much more enticing.
Production managers handle many logistical issues that screenwriters may never think about. But by being cognizant of what they worry about, you can make your script much more producible. Which could give you the edge that might be the difference between being produced and ending in the slush pile.
Get advice to what production is really like in
Film Production Management 101