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Production Blueprint

Contributed By Michelle Christensen

The prospective producer must first obtain the rights to the script. Then the script is shopped around to directors and actors for the principle roles. Needless to say, selection of a good director is essential. Once a director and a producer have agreed to work on a project, they will be spending a long and strenuous amount of time together. They should be able to get along or the experience promises to be unpleasant. Finding a name actor for your film is not essential but if you wish to raise sufficient funds for a professional production, it is important to attach name talent to your project. The producer tries to persuade a director and/or actor(s) to sign letters of intent stating that they are interested in the project. This is not a contract. It is merely a letter indicating interest in a project.

Whether or not you are able to interest a talented director or name actor will revolve around the quality of your script. Once you have a letter of intent from a good director, it's easier to get a letter of intent from a good actor and vice versa. It's a catch-22 and that's why successful producers are well versed in the gentle art of persuasion. A producer should be able to sell ice cream to an Eskimo, have a black book six inches thick and know how to say no five different ways. Novice producers seldom have access to OPM (Other People's Money) but it is the most important quality to cultivate.

Once letters of intent are signed, the Unit Production Manager is hired. The UPM must be assertive as well as organized to oversee the details of the production. The UPM is involved in every aspect of pre-production with the exception of casting. A producer may need to know how to say no five different ways but the UPM only needs one. It is the duty of the UPM to hire the 1st Assistant Director. The 1st AD must be a well organized jack of all trades. They must be aware of all that is going on and be able to work under extreme pressure. The 1st AD works very closely with the UPM during pre-production, breaking everything down into the smallest detail and hiring the crew.

The first priority of the UPM and 1st AD is to break down the script. The script should be broken down into scenes (whenever time of day, interior or exterior is changed) and those scenes should be numbered. At this point, the number of locations is determined and which scenes take place at which locations. Many independent producers use Movie Magic software to accomplish this.

After the script is broken down, the production board is put together. The production board is an invaluable tool. Cardboard strips (white, 1/4" X 16") are cut and labeled with scene numbers, characters, location, interior or exterior, day or night and any other pertinent information. Once the production board is completed, the shooting schedule is put together.

The shooting schedule is also commonly put together by the UPM and the 1st AD. The schedule includes everything you need to know about the scene ranging from talent to props to special effects. The day out of days is drafted next. The day out of days is essentially like a shooting schedule except that it is mainly for the actors and the director(s). The day out of days contains what actors are needed on any given day and what they are needed for ( rehearsal, travel, work, etc.). The day out of days should be clear and concise so that there is no confusion.

Budget and Scheduling
The basic steps in pre-production are outlined, including hiring a unit publicist, drafting the budget and bringing associate producers onboard.
Finding the Right Producer
Once you've written your query letter (see previous column), where do you send it? There are two ways to approach an answer to this question, and I recommend both. First, do some research to find producers who have shown an interest in material similar t
The Elevator Pitch
How to get your verbal pitched honed to perfection and succinct enough to get your foot in the door.
The Producer's Unit
A definition of roles in the Producer's Unit, as well as a description of duties.
Reducing your Attack Surface
How to protect yourself against legal liability and ensure that your film is insurable for E&O.