How to Choose the Best Production House for your Needs
Updated: May 12, 2022
Film Production houses deals in all facets of filmmaking from pre-production, principal photography, post-production, marketing and distribution. When you are starting out in this business of films people adhere to many misconceptions about these media houses. We should put out bluntly that filmmaking is all about business and potentially earning a vast amount of money. This statement might sound harsh to the aspiring filmmaker but this is the reality of show business. But is this the reality? Why filmmakers like Lav Diaz, Agnes Warda and Patricia Romeza are still pushing the form? Why is it that films like Drive my Car by Ryusuke Hamaguchi are still awarded the best international feature film academy award?
A still from Hugo (2011), © GK Films © Infinitum Nihil
These are not the most grossing directors or the most entertaining flicks you would like to see on the big screen. The simple answer to it is that every art form gets a space, a podium where it can be reflected and admired. Some films never saw the screen because they were not pushed enough by the visionaries or due to the anchor of power which resides in the hands of the studios. This article addresses all these elements; proposes a detailed look at how things work in a studio and how you should choose them.
A Still from Drive My Car (2021), © C&I Entertainment ©Culture Entertainment
This process sounds quite simple for the independent filmmaker but let’s take a closer look. First, the producer is in search of material that could be turned into a successful feature film. An inspiring filmmaker with a vision in his head and dreams on paper should understand that in studios thousands of scripts arrive each day by post or mail. Most often than not the first five pages decide the fate of the screenplay either it will go into the bin or will become the next hoarding at Mahim, Mumbai or MG Road Bangalore. These are things to understand even before writing the first words on the page. A production house should definitely screen screenplays thoroughly. Any good script with a little bit of supervision can turn into a wonderful screenplay.
The flourishes and rushes which sometimes lacking in an indie screenplay can be adjusted quite easily.
A Still from Adaptation (2002), ©Columbia Pictures ©Intermedia Films ©Magnet Productions ©Clinica Estetico Productions
The important thing is that both the visionary and the production house should incorporate and understand the business aspects of the scripts. Inspiration for a script should come from an original screenplay, novel, stage play, short story, book, periodical, real-life story, pop song, or another motion picture. The exploitation rights of intellectual property may vary depending upon the type of material. But the easiest way to start pitching is to buy an existing screenplay – that is for presenting, packaging and trying to sell it.
If the producer initiates he should have a development deal with a studio or should advance the money himself. The Author may grant the rights of his work, without financial compensation and agree to get paid once the production is green-lighted. The time needed from adaptation rights to a complete screenplay may vary from 3 months to two years and even more. It involves re-writes and other legalities. The process is slightly different from a real-life story. If the topic is ‘hot’ and all the producers want to embark on the story they would have to secure the rights from the people involved. If you want to work on an existing film or a sequel of it the legalities are again different. Especially when it comes to making a sequel with the existing cast and team the negotiations could be quite expensive until it was specified in the original contract between the parties. A seasoned entertainment lawyer must be by the side of the production manager at all times to work around such negotiations.
When it comes to finances the producer's must lookout for a studio willing to provide the money. The package must be attractive and producers must take care to cast actors with a success label around their name. I mean everyone wants to see Ajay Devgan working in a Rohit Shetty Picture. Actors and directors will work in a film if the distribution is guaranteed. When dealing with talents’ one would have to deal with their associate's Makeup artists, managers, Personal advisors, friends and even astrologers. A good production house knows how to deal with them and even avoid them to a certain extent.
A Still from The Artist (2011), La Petite Reine ©ARP Sélection ©Studio 37© La Classe Américaine France 3 Cinema © U Film © Jouror Productions © JD Prod
This is the prime responsibility of Assistant directors on Set and Production managers in the studio’s office. Once the talent is defined the producers can approach studios for development. Again, nothing is certain even if you have chosen the right talent and right director the film might be a box office bummer. A thing that you can always reiterate in script discussions with producers. The Producer should have a Production manager for his assistance if he does not want to handle the discrepancies of production altogether. Financiers' favours may end up in film credits for example a producer’s nephew might want to be part of the project without knowing a thing about filmmaking. These favours might end up in the name tag of Associate producers. Please beware of these people on set!!
A Still from Contempt (1963), ©Rome Paris Films ©Les Films Concordia ©Compagnia ©Cinematografica ©Champion
This includes screenplay breakdown, shooting schedule, location, scouting, budget, casting and unions, permits, hiring staff and crew, unit supervision, permit clearance, equipment rental and stock, lab supervision, payroll service, insurance, and post-production preparation, and so on. One can easily judge a studio from its time associated with pre-production. Major studios with wonderful filmography profiles assign a minimum of six months to one year to a feature film in stages of pre-production. It should be a hefty task and everything should be decided at this most important stage of filmmaking.
A sneak peek at BTS of Blade Runner 2049 (2017), ©Alcon Media Group ©Columbia Pictures ©Yorkin ©Torridon Films ©16:14 Entertainment ©Thunderbird Entertainment
Scott Free Productions
Production (Principal Photography)
At this stage, the action gets shifted from the production office to the set. Assistant directors are responsible for a smooth flow of work on set. They are liable to communicate with the production office and Production manager on a daily basis to communicate the whereabouts on the set. The four major elements of the production stage are Blocking, lighting, final rehearsals and shooting.
A sneak peek at BTS of Little Women (2019), © Columbia Pictures ©Regency Enterprises ©Pascal Pictures
During blocking, the director sets up the shot, determining the look of the scene and the film. This is the time for creative decisions and works with actors. Cast members must repeat their actions several times until perfect compositions and movements are found.
A sneak peek at BTS of Orphan Flowers (2015), ©NTC Media
During this phase, the director of photography (DP), gaffers and grips, and electrical and camera crews begin to establish the technical structure within which the scene will be shot. This is possible only after blocking has been completed, positions have been marked, and the DP understands what the director wants. Stand-ins, usually extras, may take the actors’ places during lighting. The special effects supervisor should be on set to advise on any decisions related to SFX and VFX for a smooth workflow on set. The DP estimates when the set will be ready, and the AD communicates this information to the wardrobe and makeup so that the actors will be available when needed.
A shot from Mank (2020), © Netflix International Pictures
The extent of the final rehearsals varies from scene to scene, from director to director, and from actor to actor. These rehearsals involve all units working on the scene. Actor–camera–sound relations are fine-tuned to perfection. The actors must be completely ready to perform before final rehearsals begin. No further wardrobe or makeup alterations—except slight touch-ups—are permitted.
A Still from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), ©Columbia Pictures ©Bona Film Group ©Heyday Films © Visiona Romantica
Shooting commences immediately after final rehearsals when everyone is ready and knows exactly what to do. Absolute silence is mandatory once these commands are given: “Sound rolling, Camera rolling, Slate number x & Action”. Crew members not directly involved should remain absolutely still to avoid making disturbing background noises. The shooting stops when the director calls it “Cut”. Make sure no other crew member bothers while the actual shooting anybody who is adding costs to the production should not be present on the set. These things should be defined by the client to the production house beforehand. Once the scene is completed the second assistant director should be prepared for the next schedule and he should make sure that the shooting commences in a fluid manner.
A sneak peek at BTS of Crazy Rich Asians (2018), ©SK Global Entertainment ©Starlight Culture Entertainment ©Color Force ©Ivanhoe Pictures ©Electric Somewhere
Once all the sequences in a day are completed the Assistant directors and Directors fill up the call sheets for the next day. This information should be communicated to the production manager in the office. The Assistant directors are further responsible for the actor’s production time report and daily production report. Both these reports are to be submitted to the studio the actor’s production time report will define his salary, overtime, premiums and fines. The latter report is for the studio to learn the progress of the shoot but is also a report for the insurance company.
A sneak peek at BTS of Gemini Man (2019), ©Skydance Media ©Jerry Bruckheimer Films ©Fosun Pictures ©Alibaba Pictures
Generally, the studio organizes the editing phase in advance, including sound effects, music production, optical, and mixing. Despite marketing and distribution, other legalities are to be fulfilled like communication with the SAG, rental houses, lab, insurance, payroll, accounting, and book-keeping. Careful preproduction-planning, on-the-set execution and often time-consuming computer-guided work have created a new profession called the SFX supervisor. Overall supervision may be handled by the production secretary, or specific aspects may be guided by a postproduction producer or supervisor.
This text highlights the major elements involved in working with a production house. Further, it details the important nitty-gritty involved in filmmaking. Starting out as an independent filmmaker one should be aware of these elements involved in filmmaking so that their vision is nurtured in good hands. As one gains experience in this field of entertainment, it makes one realizes that the vision is the most important element of filmmaking. So nurture your vision invest time in it and change the form of Cinema as never before.