How dabbling in movie making changed how I watch movies.

This post originally appeared on 8/22/2015 on my other blog.

I worked on an independent film once. I even got paid. Before that I’d volunteered on some productions and also been very involved in my college’s film club. I still miss the acting and writing–even the costume design–and think about ways to get back into it.

However, this post isn’t about that.

The summer between my Junior and Senior year I worked as a Script Supervisor on an indi production. (I even have a page on IMDB. It’s basically nothing but my name…but hey, it’s there.) Between that and some experiences writing and working on student films, I don’t watch movies the way other people do.

I’m the person hunched over a pile of papers

I learned a lot that summer. I can’t say I’m running to L.A. to be a script supervisor, but it was a good experience. There is usually one “scripty” per film–sometimes two if there is a second unit. The scripty is the right side of the director’s brain. I was responsible for keeping track of each and every shot the director wanted, and making sure he got each shot he wanted. I was responsible for recording the technical details for each shot (like, the lens, the zoom, the height of the camera, its distance from the object, etc) and also the time stamp of each take (we didn’t have a real digital clapper). I was also responsible for continuity photos (pictures taken of the set before and after a take). Was the glass half full, or three quarters full at that particular spot on the actor’s line?

Yeah. Mind boggling details. You have all caught mistakes in movies. Forgive the scripty, please.

The nice thing was that I was the only person who got to tell the director what to do. The bad thing was that there was only one of me so I had to be on set the entire time. I could only take a break if everyone was.

running through my camera logs

Let’s just say chocolate covered espresso beans were essential to my lucidity. Buckets of vitamins and supplements are probably the only reason I didn’t die of the plague halfway through production.

In the film club I wrote, directed, produced, and acted. (I like the writing and acting best). My senior year I also tried my hand at writing an adaptation (book to radio drama). My entire view of movie-making and the book-to-movie process changed.

-As an art, movie making is collaborative. One person can wear many hats, but most of the time you need a lot of people from just about every skill-set you can imagine; attorney, accountant, business manager, mastermind, artist, writer, carpenter, make up artist, talent scout, actor, camera man, lighting specialist, event planner, caterer…the list only goes on. Artists often dream of the silver screen, but I wonder how many business managers set out to navigate the massively risky and varied waters of movie production?

low budget teleprompter

Movies are stressful. There is a lot on the line, and there are a lot of artsy people trying to share a vision. This is why chains of command are wildly important.

Movies fail for thousands of reasons. Movies succeed for thousands of reasons. Most movies don’t pay for themselves and studios are kept afloat by the blockbusters than knock it out of the park.

Every film shoots a lot of scenes that will not make it into the movie. The extras on the DVD? Just a sampling. Most of them are cut for a good reason. Some are cut just for time constraints. You wouldn’t believe what we do for time constraints.

Timing is everything. The Wizard of Oz and The Princess Bride bombed in the box office. They became cult classics after they were released on home video. The TV show Firefly is another example of late blooming success.

Adaptations are freaking hard to do. When I watch a movie that came from a book, I judge it as a two hour summary of a 300 page book. I do not judge the movie by the book, nor the book by the movie. The only exception to this is The Princess Bride. Having seen the movie and read the book, I can say I love both for basically the same reasons.

Medium matters, pacing and suspense techniques that work in the book will necessarily look different when translated to a visual production.

Part of what makes adaptations so hard is the perspective of the book–IE, the first person limited knowledge of The Hunger Games posed an extreme challenge to the film makers. They probably could have made a better movie (or one that conveyed more of the facts of the story) if they had treated it more like a third person omniscient. I think they figured that out and the rest of the films in the series were much better. I think I may even prefer them to the books. Most stories are written in limited omniscient or first person, and most movies are told in omniscient or limited omniscient. However, you can get a heck of a lot more detail and character development in a book than you can in a movie. Witness the 6 hour BBC Pride and Prejudice vs. the 2 hour Focus Features Pride and Prejudice. I think both films are excellent adaptations given the time restraints.

Yes, movie making is a ton of fun. Most people do it because they like it. Despite the crazy-go-nuts hours and conditions. Believe me, the crew doesn’t do it for the money.

Basically, having an understanding of how it’s done, how much money things cost, and how much effort goes into a production, I have a lot more grace for the movies I watch. That doesn’t mean that I think they should get away with laziness or sloppiness or weak stories…it just means that I get it.

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