Friday, 20 March 2015

The virtual production office

Increasingly filmmaking practitioners are relying on online public networks to raise funds, distribute media, and auction off their work to a wider audience. So what about the back end of production? Has this also, for indie filmmakers pointed the way towards using online applications to enable their production methodology a more dynamic approach to the process of creativity?

It is absolutely essential to keep on top of scheduling any production, good scheduling habits pay off and that is why in industry they are depended upon so rigorously for the benefit of seeing a project through. Many indie filmmakers suffer from letting this side of production slide, they depend on random phone calls, last minute notices, and habitual changes to see their work get made. That may be fine for a few trial short films, but a filmmaker will not survive a continuous body of work prescribing to this anti-formula. At the end of the day scheduling is like preparing and serving a meal at a restaurant on time and with everything ordered on the plate. Keep this standard and you will have returning clientele, on the other hand, be late serving your meals, forget key ingredients, and you'll end up hanging the 'closed for business' sign on the door.

Some Online resources that may assist the filmmaker with organising production are calendar, reminder, and document sharing sites. Sites like TodoRemember the MilkDipity, and Google Docs can assist your team in meeting the needs of scheduling a video production. The question is how many filmmakers are using sites like this for pre-production? Or do indie filmmakers still rely on spreadsheets shared by individual email addresses to schedule their work? Can an indie filmmaker have an entirely virtual and connective production process?

A little tip for budget filmmakers when scheduling, whilst I'm on the subject, don't just wait for other team members to tell you what to do. Take initiative and ask what tasks you can fulfil to help out your team pals. Equally so, don't take on board work you may not be able to complete just for the sake of wanting to help out. Be realistic with your goals and schedule. Use a Check-List to tick off tasks involved in the pre-production process - this will help in guiding you through what needs to be completed and to keep track of details in a visually linear fashion. Work out daily and weekly time constraints. How much time do you actually have. Make a list of the time you spend sleeping, grooming, preparing meals, outdoor activities, socialising, entertaining, cleaning, travelling, working, studying, relaxing etcetera ... total these for each day of the week so you can determine what time you realistically do have to devote to the production process.

Keeping this advice in mind can applications like Dot Project (Open Source) or iTeamwork assist in managing the above in a group production scenario? The more covered, the better everyone feels about working on the project. From storyboards to budgets, knowing is empowerment when it comes to operating as a group or team. The easier it is to access and share this information, surely equates to a more productive production team, or do we just end up forgetting to sign in and check what's needed. Do production teams benefit more from being handed a piece of paper at a group meeting?

Celtx is an excellent management tool for  creative productions but also creating a group space using a network like Ning may also be useful. How many filmmakers are using FaceBook or Twitter to run their production teams? Celtx provide a range of 'How to' videos to show how this process works using their application.

What about keeping an online scrapbook to assist with managing the pre-production process? Why Scrapbook? Why have an online portfolio showing the production stages? As a creator of digital content, being global opens doors that through 'traditional' modes of communication may never have been possible. Productions teams can share tips and contribute live, concept art, costume design etc.

Scheduling keeps you on track with projects, can quickly let others know how you are going, and at glance can tell you how and when a project is going to fit into your "life" with all its other aspects competing for your attention also. When working in video the production schedule grows out to a number of other more finite documents which allow the team and individuals to follow a process through to the end without meandering in clouds of heedlessness. Gantt Charts allow you to map out production process in the form of a time-line, it is especially useful if you are working in groups as you can allocate tasks per person and enable a visual calendar of when tasks begin, finish and the duration required or intended. There is plenty free software out there for producing Gantt Charts.

So what features typify a Gantt Chart? A Gantt Chart will typically have a series of tasks listed in a column down the left end of the chart. The horizontal column on the top of the chart will usually show dates. You may include other columns such as start dates, end dates, and duration. The other important element within a Gantt Chart is some sort of colour key. This you will use to represent who is handling that task and if any tasks are handed over you can align a second coloured bar next to the prior one for over-lapping responsibilities.

So hopefully this post will help maverick, underground indie filmmakers start to think about how they can streamline their pre-production process using online tools, but also to imply that no matter how low budget your production is, an efficient schedule will mean that the turn around between projects is faster, allowing a greater body of work, and more underground content available for us, the viewing public. 

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