Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Tales of a Student Producer, Part 1

This year I'm coproducing a senior honors thesis, titled "Grace," for one of my friends. Not going to lie, having two other producers makes the work load pretty light (even if having three coproducers might be a bit excessive), but this is still the major cause of stress in my life right now. The senior honors thesis films are supposed to be the most advanced, well done films our department produces. Our ability to produce will be reflected in the finished product - very clearly.

Since none of the producers have ever produced anything of this caliber, I sorta feel like the first month our meetings consisted mostly of, "Soo... what now?" We're not doing too badly, though, and now we're much more in the full swing of preproduction, with our first shooting weekend in a week and a half.

So this is what's happened so far and what I've learned:

- You can't produce until you have a locked copy of the script from the director. I got a draft of the script as soon as I signed onto the project (I'm just trying to sound professional. I didn't actually sign anything). However, we knew upfront that this was not a final draft. Since we didn't know how much the script was going to change, we found it difficult to pursue elements like casting and locations since we didn't know if they were going to stay in the script or not. The director gave us some pointers about which elements were stone (like the main character), and we went after those. And having seen a more recently draft this weekend, I was relieved to see that most of the changes made the script simpler, with fewer locations and characters, not more complex. Which made me glad that I hadn't pulled up my old undertaker's assistant contact to try to secure a funeral home location.

- Ask for help. One of the things I did a couple of weeks ago was set up a meeting for all of "Grace's" producers with a recent grad from our school who was the producing guru when he was a student. He gave us a lot of information and a few challenges, but it's better to be overwhelmed with information about things you have to consider and watch out for and plan around than get caught in the moment wondering what the crap you do now.

- Budget and schedule are paramount. I know our production designer is concerned about how much of the budget can go toward set dressings and props. The producers want to know if we'll have enough money to keep plenty of good food and coffee around. Because the honors thesis films operate on grants, we don't know how much money we'll get yet. We'll start shooting before we have any real ideas. Because of our meeting with our producer friend, we have some idea of what to expect when it comes to the grants, and some ideas of how to raise some more money. Scheduling is tricky for a student production because it comes down to the talent and the locations. Our crew is either large enough or well trained enough so that if someone can't be there, it will still function. However, we might have talent coming in from out of state. And we're looking to shoot in a department store and a coffee shop. We'll only be able to shoot when these elements say it's ok. I'm in charge of location scouting, and I'm finding it to be one of the most stressful parts. Maybe it's because I don't have a car. I don't feel like I can approach a location until we have a date set of when we want to shoot, or at least a few dates, but I don't feel like I can ballpark a range until I know what sort of schedule the director and cinematographer want, how long they think they want at each location, how much time, etc. etc. And we'll probably be shooting around the hours of the businesses. Shooting day-for-night is possible. But can you shoot night for early morning, even if it's indoors?

- Auditions. We held our first auditions on Saturday. Our casting process is going pretty well. Two of our producers posted casting calls on a few websites, got a ton of responses back, and we went through the headshots and resumes with the director during one of our meetings. She picked out who she was interested in, and we called them in for auditions. Ok, I'm not going to lie, it was fun being a producer in the auditions. First of all, producer in the real world carries a whole lot more weight than in the student world. In the real world, they're actually running the show (with their money). In the student world, they're running errands for the director. But at auditions, I got to introduce myself as a coproducer, then sit there not saying anything as I operated the camera, looking good in my blazer - but not like I was trying too hard (oh yes. You have to look like the part you are playing). Auditions are actually pretty tolling on those who are auditioning, which the director expressed to me afterwards. We have to hear the same scene fifty times.

Something I found remarkably interesting was the fact that most actors played the scene the same way. On one hand, this reflects well on the writer, that their intentions are so clear that most every actor can pick it up to a general degree. But I saw very few actors taking risks. Maybe it wasn't the fact that it was the intent and character were clear but that it was just the easiest, safest take on the character. One of the activities I always did with my drama classes up at camp was to have them say the same sentence over and over again with different intentions (yeah, Stanislovsky). I kept thinking about David Lynche's Mulholland Drive, which I saw recently for class, and the two different ways Betty plays the audition. The first time, when she's rehearsing, she plays it the way most people probably would have played it. But the second time she totally changes the character and, essentially, the scene, and makes it three times more engaging. It's an interesting thing to note if you want to write or direct (or even act). Is every scene predestined to play a certain way if it's written clearly enough? Or is every scene just a template onto which an actor or director force their own vision?

No comments: