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Producing and Directing the Short Film and Video, Second Edition illustrates all of the steps involved in preproduction, production, postproduction, and distribution. Its unique two-fold approach looks at filmmaking from the perspectives of both producer and director, and explains how their separate energies must combine to create a successful short film or video - all the way from script to final product. This guide offers extensive examples from two award-wining short narrative films (Lunch Date and Truman) and one short documentary (Mirror Mirror), and includes insightful quotes from the filmmakers themselves describing the problems they encountered and how they solved them." "This edition expands on the director's role in pre-visualizing a project, aided by the addition of more than 50 new photos and illustrations. Issues such as storyboarding, lighting, and composition are addressed in detail. Other additions and enhancements include a discussion of the evolving role of digital technology on all aspects of production from script to screen.

Audience: Advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in Short Film, Film and Video Production, Directing, Filmmaking. Beginning and practicing filmmakers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This how-to book provides you with beneficial information, even if you aren't looking to make professional films or videos. The book breaks down the entire process. The authors have created an indespensable tool for any producer, regardless of experience level." - Videomaker Magazine, May 2001

"A thoughtful and comprehensive guide to all aspects of making a short film. I wish a practical, nuts-and-bolts guide like this had existed when I was a film student."-Susan Seidelman, director, Desperately Seeking Susan, Smithereens, and Sex in the City

"A veritable bible, valuable for both the short and feature filmmaker. It's as good as a year in most film schools."-Jon Davison, producer, Airplane, Robocop, and Starship Troopers

"Without question, the definitive book on the film production. A long-awaited, necessary map to the young filmmaker in his journey through the mine fields of movie making. I would keep it next to the viewfinder."-Michael Pressman, film director, producer of The Practice, Chicago Hope, and Picket Fences

"This volume will easily become an indispensable source book for both students and practicing filmmakers. The wealth of information on all aspects of film production is truly impressive. The quoted filmmakers' notes and the practical examples of their production problems illustrate very well the ideas and recommendations of this book."-Kris Malkiewicz, film professor, California Institute of the Arts, author of Cinematography
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780240803944
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 11/28/2000
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 8.42 (w) x 10.90 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

David K. Irving is an Associate Professor of the Undergraduate Film and Television Department at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts. He has directed six feature films, fifteen award-winning short documentaries, three short narrative films, and has written and produced three feature films.

Peter Rea is an Associate Professor of the Undergraduate Film and Television Department at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts. He has been a producer, cinematographer, editor, production manager, and postproduction supervisor on numerous short films, TV movies, and features.

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Table of Contents

Art Direction
Set Procedures
Picture Postproduction
Sound Postproduction
Appendices: Genres
Screening List
Case Study Scripts
Film and Video Festivals
Film Schools
Grants and Financing Sources
Film Versus Video
Insurance and Legal Matters
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First Chapter

Producing and Directing the Short Film and Video

Fourth Edition
By Peter W. Rea David K. Irving

Focal Press

Copyright © 2010 ELSEVIER Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-08-089002-9

Chapter One


The script is everything. The importance of script is: it has to be on the page. Be' Garrett

It all starts with an idea. For that idea to become a film; it must be fleshed out and developed into a script or screenplay. The script represents the vision of the filmmaker in practical form. It is also your guide through production. From it, you know the story, the characters, the locations, the approximate budget, the final length, and your target audience. With a script, you can finance the production and attract the creative team that will transform the script into a final product. The first member of that team is the director. Her job is to bring a personal vision to the material by either rewriting the script herself or collaborating with the writer until the script best suits a production based on her design.

This is the model we are following in this book. There are other scenarios as well. The director and producer can develop an idea with a writer, or a director/ writer can develop the idea and bring on a producer (most film school situations). In the latter case, the producer serves as more of a production manager than a creative force. This scenario can lead to certain complications. For example, even if the director is a good writer, the process may reach a point when the producer feels that the script needs a fresh set of eyes. Negotiating this and other issues can be sticky unless the director is able to put her ego aside and focus on what is best for the project.

We believe that a productive synergy develops through checks and balances. The give-and-take over all creative and financial decisions from script to screen is not only healthy but essential in creating the best film from the material. Keep this in mind. However, whatever approach is taken, there is one fact that cannot be disputed—without a well-crafted script, you cannot have a good film.

This chapter introduces you to some necessary guidelines for writing a short film script. It does not, however, explore in depth the nuts and bolts of writing technique. We recommend that you consult books written specifically about screenwriting for the short form. You'll find suggestions in the Bibliography.

The guidelines in this chapter are not absolutes. Violating some of these narrative principles should not keep you from moving ahead if you feel strongly about the idea. You will be living with this project for quite a while, so it is important that you feel passionate about the material and its message. Remember, though, that film and video are art forms that communicate via visual images. If the script cannot convey a message visually, it might not engage an audience.


Developing the Script

The first step in producing a short film is securing a script. There are many ways you can do this:

You can write one yourself.

You can develop an original idea with a writer or director.

You can adapt a script from another genre (a play or short story) or true story.

You can find a script that is already written.

The producer supervises the development of an idea until a director is brought on board to supervise the rewrites and prepare the script for production. What starts out as a simple notion might go through many evolutions before it is ready to go before the cameras. The goal is to end up with the best script possible from your original idea. No magic on the set will correct any unresolved story or structure problems. The old axiom holds true: if it isn't on the page, it won't be on the screen. Be prepared to work and rework the material.

Producing a documentary script involves a different process than generating a narrative text. The specific nature of developing documentary idea is addressed later in this chapter. There may be those wishing to develop an experimental or avant-garde short. "Experimental" is not even considered a specific genre because the range of ideas for experimental projects is so enormous—from abstract images to installations to nontraditional narratives (see Appendix B for more information of genres).

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Student Academy Awards has a specific category named "Alternative." If you want to understand what "alternative" can represent, it's best to review past winners of this award. Compilations of student Academy Awards are now available on DVD. We will reference a number of filmmakers and films to view to sample a little of what can be done. (Appendix A on short films includes a list of important experimental films and filmmakers)

Whatever the genre, it is important to be able to create a written representation of your idea, the script. Writing a good short script is difficult. The most common mistake novices make is trying to explore complicated or grandiose ideas that are more suited for the feature film format. They want to say it all in 10 minutes. The short film idea doesn't have the time to explore more than one topic. It needs to be focused and specific. Simple is best. The six examples provided in this book are good scripts because they are simple stories told well. (See Appendix C and the web site for each film for the complete scripts.)

Do Your Homework

Before embarking on a production, see and study as many shorts as possible to get a feel for the form and what can be accomplished in its time frame. The length for shorts varies from 2 minutes (Bambi Meets Godzilla, United States, 1969) to 34 minutes (The Red Balloon, France, 1956). Novices often struggle to develop stories for shorts because they are not familiar enough with the kinds of ideas that translate well into smaller packages. Shorts and features have dramatic principles in common, but in the same way that short stories are different from novels, there are specific limits to the dramatic scope and range of stories. A character can fall in and out of love, discover the meaning of life, or conquer a nation in two hours. In 10 minutes, a character may only be able to get up the courage to ask someone for a date.

Because television offers very little product in the short form other than half-hour sitcoms, commercials, or music videos, it doesn't come as a surprise that many ideas developed by first-time filmmakers are better suited for the big screen. It may seem that the short form is limiting in its creative and/or thematic possibilities, but after you study many short films and videos, it should become apparent that ideas expressed in this form are limited only by the imagination. All the short films selected for this book touch on serious issues and themes.

Finding and viewing short films is much easier than it ever has been. Students and beginners have access to YouTube, ITunes, Facebook, and the massive amount of product on the behemoth called the Internet. Anyone with an audience of one can post something on YouTube. The challenge is to sift through it all to separate the wheat from the chaff. Appendix B will be expanded to include links to web sites for shorts as well as excellent short film collections. It also contains recommendations for classic shorts of all genres and how to find them. In addition, the web site for this book will be updated to include recommendations for what we consider excellent examples.

Make sure to explore the range of genres—comedy, farce, drama, tragedy, or melodrama—to learn what is best suited to the short film. Comedies, for example, lend themselves to the short form more comfortably than melodrama (film noir, Western, murder mysteries, sci-fi), which usually requires the development of a more complex plot.

Many of the great filmmakers were influenced by existing material. Orson Welles saw and studied John Ford's famous Western Stagecoach more than 50 times while preparing to shoot Citizen Kane.

What Is a Script?

A script is to filmmaking as a blueprint is to shipbuilding or as a score is to a symphony performance. Imagine the ensuing difficulties of a shipbuilder who begins construction on a boat with only a few sketches to work from, or the cacophony of a full orchestra trying to play a concert from a sketchy musical score. Just as the drawings tell the shipbuilder exactly where to place the mast and the notes on the score tell the musicians what and when and how loudly to play, so a script dictates how each member of the production team is to go about fulfilling his or her job.

A script depicts the moment-to-moment progression of events by indicating what the audience will see and hear. Unlike a novel or a poem, the script is an unfinished work; it is only a part of the media-making process. It has no inherent literary value other than as a guide from which a film is wrought.

What Does a Script Look Like?

The scripts of The Lunch Date and Citizen in Appendix C are presented in Writers Guild of America (WGA) standard screenplay format. This format is an industry convention that has a direct relationship to how the script is photographed. (See Chapter 3 for more about screenplay format.) Writing a script in proper format has become simplified with the availability of software systems. Some of the current scriptwriting programs are Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, and Celtx Studios. (Both Movie Magic and Celtx link to a scheduling and budgeting software). Most can format your script as you type it and include every genre, including TV. They can be found where computer programs are sold, and some companies will send you a free demo disk.

However, a story doesn't have to be presented originally in screenplay format to make dramatic sense. You can work from a step outline or a treatment. A step outline is, as the term implies, the story told in steps or story beats of one or two sentences describing the action and the dramatic tension in each scene. A treatment, similar to a synopsis, is the bare bones of a story told in narrative prose rather than in descriptions of individual scenes. A treatment reads like a short story and can be as straightforward as the way the case studies are described later in this chapter. A step outline also represents the bare bones of the story, but is not concerned with dialogue, details, set dressing, or minor characters, just the action of the scene, who does what to whom. Whatever method you use, it is imperative that the idea eventually conform to the standard script format.

A common format for documentary scriptwriting is a two-column page: one side lists the visuals, and the other side lists the audio. The reader will get an idea of the show by imagining these two elements together. However, unlike the script in a narrative production, this is a form that evolves after much of the footage has already been shot. Documentarians learn to be especially responsive to their material. By the time the documentary gels, the story might have changed, taking a direction very different from the original outline.

For example, in Errol Morris's Academy Award-winning documentary The Thin Blue Line, his original intent was to interview inmates on death row in Texas. In the course of conducting the interviews, he met and interviewed a man who was to become the sole subject of his film. Believing the man on death row to be innocent, Morris took his case to the film audience. The argument was so compelling the man was retried and eventually freed from prison. This example demonstrates not only the adjustments documentary filmmakers undergo in the discovery process of their topic, but also the power of cinema to make a change, to affect the world.

Where Do Scripts Come From?

Scripts are developed from whatever might inspire you to express and communicate something in visual and dramatic terms. All the following sources can serve as the basis for a dramatic or documentary project:

Ideas Dreams Images Real events Characters Fantasies Concepts Memories Historical events Real-life experiences Places Social issues Adaptations from short stories News stories Magazine articles

You might be inspired by a single event that occurred on a bus or train, an interaction between two people that strikes you as funny or poignant, an uncle who told you wonderful stories as a child, or a favorite teacher who was a memorable character. You might have a compelling need to express something about the social conditions in your neighborhood. The best scripts are written from the heart. They are based on subjects the writer knows on a first-hand basis.

Truman focuses on conquering feelings of inadequacy in public. Most of us can empathize with Truman's transcendental moment when his perception of himself in the world undergoes a major shift, a spurt of personal growth.

The woman in The Lunch Date also has a personal revelation. She and a homeless man share an unusual moment together, and then she escapes back to the suburbs (see Figure 1.1). This moment probably does not have the same impact on her life as the events in Truman do on the boy because she is older. We see her experience the unexpected, which then affords her the ability to know the homeless in a new way. Both characters are changed in some way by the events of their stories.


Excerpted from Producing and Directing the Short Film and Video by Peter W. Rea David K. Irving Copyright © 2010 by ELSEVIER Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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