Entertainment, a New Youth-Driven Paradigm

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Adaptation is something species do over many generations, but in the entertainment industry, especially in recent years, advances in viewing technology have been arriving at a speed that seems to outpace many attempts to keep up. If adaptation in this arena is too slow, any such slowly adapting product or service will rapidly find itself in the crosshairs of something beyond simply being forced to change faster, namely the likelihood of a newcomer providing a stand-alone replacement.

In the current booming environment of startups and tech-pioneers, if a solution to a problem doesn’t exist, rather than wait for that product or service to be rolled out by the establishment, people are now far more capable of putting in some effort and sweat to build it themselves, often creating a livelihood providing to others what they originally made for themselves. This is even more true today than in the past as huge segments of the younger population are shaping the discussion by simply ignoring what they are told they can and cannot do and are instead just doing it to a level that would make Nike proud.

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Now how does this tie in to entertainment? We all know that the largest segment of traditional “Hollywood” is still largely run by well-entrenched establishment executives with long track records and huge budgets, but it seems they are often not doing terribly well at keeping up with changes in the market. What they see as “emerging trends” to study and track, I would rather tend to call paradigm shifts in production, distribution, and viewing.

There is now a generation that has never had to watch a full-length commercial. A group who doesn’t watch movies in theaters, but rather on giant home entertainment systems with incredible sound systems. And of course the portable content viewers, for whom watching a video or show on their laptop, tablet, or even cell phone is as natural as walking to class. To them those statements are obvious and self-evident, but to the less bleeding edge execs, what is as plain as day to younger people often needs to be spelled out for the older ones.

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The thing is, much of the content younger audiences are being marketed from main stream sources still comes from those who watch movies in theaters, who grew up on a few dozen channels of TV, and who are reluctant to let go of the old way of thinking that several minute commercials blocks breaking up a show is the natural way to pay for production.

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The marketplace is full of people who have, in their pockets, access 24/7 to a huge variety of content, most of it largely if not entirely commercial free. The commercials they do find themselves forced to sit through are tiny snippets and not 2-4 minute blocks. YouTube, Hulu, Vimeo and the like offer bite-size entertainment with minimal ad interruptions, and much of it is produced by peers rather than out of touch studio heads.

It is likely that for the foreseeable future there will continue to be a solid demand for high-end, high-production value product. Even with home studio technology, you just can’t produce The Avengers or Harry Potter on a C-300 or GoPro, but there are a ton of great films and programs being made for a limited budget which have surprisingly good production value. Conversely, free is not always better, and a lot of really bad filler material is out there as well. While quality sometimes rises to the top, the sheer amount of product out there requires a bit of sifting to discover the hidden gems. Fortunately an active social media network can help steer like-minded people to entertainment they’d likely enjoy. We saw it happen with music, and it is happening more and more with other entertainment as well.

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Anyone with a camera can make a short, shoot a movie, or put out a show, and many of the more talented content creators make a very good living off of viewer donations and views/ad revenue shares. The donation aspect is particularly worth noting. If you produce a product people like, the younger generation has really latched onto something great, namely supporting the content you like directly. I don’t only mean a Go Fund Me or Kickstarter campaign, but just chipping in on a case by case basis. A dollar a month to support a show you enjoy times several thousand supporting viewers can effectively let the viewing audience become the defacto producers of a show. It’s crowd sourcing at its best. No middle men re-directing funds to their pet projects, no great shows canceled by an out of touch executive (ahem, Firefly). The audience speaks with their dollars, and when directly helping those who give them what they enjoy for less than the price of a cup of coffee, many have no qualms about chipping in and supporting shows they enjoy.

Just look at how successful Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion were with their crowdfunded series Con Man.

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Yup, they raised over $3 million on their Indiegogo campaign.

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A final thing to consider is that with GoPro and Blackmagic making amazing and affordable cameras that shoot amazing HD footage and are within reach of a lot of aspiring directors and cinematographers, it is rapidly becoming a time when anyone can become a content creator, and what will set them apart is no longer the ability to somehow afford a great camera but rather the eye and skill of the shooter behind it.

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7 Simple Ways to Cut Film Production Costs

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If you’ve worked on a show, you’ve likely seen financial waste of varying degrees, from minor wobbles to downright trainwrecks. While sometimes sh*t happens and production just has to deal with it and carry on, more often than not a lot of terrible budget-suck can be avoided. Here are a few tips that apply to many situations (keeping in mind there is no one-size-fits-all method). Paying attention to a few key details can help on your quest to make a good product while staying within budget.

  1. Rein in your director.

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Now the director makes the piece what it is, be it a feature film or a 30 second TV spot. Without them you don’t get your project completed, but that doesn’t mean giving them free reign. Everyone who’s worked more than a day in the industry has likely heard the term “Adult Supervision” muttered around an uncontrolled set, and let me tell you, it’s incredibly important if you want to keep runaway production costs from spiraling out of control.

Producers are there to say no. Someone must wear the black hat. Not always mind you, but their job is to look out for the good of the project and play bad cop when need be. At hour 17 when a director is on his 35th take of an insert shot that could be picked up by 2nd unit, that’s an easy example of when a producer must pull the plug. Unfortunately people want to be liked and often are reluctant to be that guy, but if you put on the producer hat, you have to accept that some days you won’t be terribly liked. Suck it up and keep your project (and budget) on track.

  1. Rein in rampaging actors (when possible).

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Ok, actors are a unique bunch. Folks make fun of them, but when you really consider what they must do to put on a good performance, a bit of flexibility is warranted. I mean let’s not forget Lawrence Fishburn and Hugo Weaving’s epic fight in The Matrix. Even after 16+ hours, bangs & bruises, and horrible allergies from all the dust, they acted like pros and made the fight look amazing.

Here’s the but. BUT, everything is on a schedule and every extra minute spent on something that should be otherwise completed is costing the production money. Be it demanding frivolous alternate takes, or refusing to come out of the trailer while the whole crew is standing around waiting, once again it is the producer’s job to play bad cop, albeit with kid gloves more often than not. I should also mention that I wholeheartedly support shooting extra takes when an actor has interpretations of scenes they want to try, so long as it really may add to the scene and won’t cost the production tens of thousands in overages in the process..

One notable exception to this is when the actor is also the financier. I once worked on a ridiculous film where come shooting call we were looking for the lead. “Ready to shoot” the AD said. “Oh, he went to Texas to do a concert.” Yep, the talent/financier left and didn’t tell anyone. “Ok, we’ll shoot the other parts of the scenes.” “Um, those were all his posse… they went with him.” A quandry, but not insurmountable. “Ok, we’ll shoot the actor who isn’t in his crew.” “Yeah, about that, he heard they were going to Texas, so he flew to Ohio.”

It was the only time I got paid to sit and play Scrabble on set for 8 hours as production tried to figure out literally anything they could shoot. In the end it was one POV shot of someone’s boots… worn by the producer.

  1. Plan ahead. For real, DO THIS.

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Showing up and winging it may work on a student film, but if every minute costs hundreds or thousands of dollars, you’d better damn well know what you’re doing next. This is where pre-production is vital, as is location scouting with the director and their keys. A little forethought can save you literally hours of paying a crew to stand twiddling their thumbs on the clock while ideas are bounced around.

The time for brainstorming is before you have the crew on the clock. I’ve worked with directors who will change their shots for that day’s work, but there are two types. There’s the type who torpedoes the schedule and budget in doing so, and there’s the type who knows that they want to make changes and shows up early, walking the sets and planning their changes before the crew is even ready. The latter is a sign of professionalism, and trust me the crew notices these things.

Remember the 6 P’s: Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.”

  1. Find ways to reduce needless complexity.

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A lengthy scene with 6 people can eat up your whole day, but can some of those characters not be in the scene? Can their dialogue be spoken by another character, thus reducing the number of shots and coverage needed? Can they be out of the room, perhaps even answering from off screen? What can you do to keep the integrity of the scene while reducing its complexity and schedule demands?

Coverage can be death in crowded scenes. If you start doing multiple coverage angles at multiple sizes for multiple characters, pretty soon you’ll not only burn through most of the day shooting the same scene over and over, but you’ll also eventually start to burn your actors out as well. Now sometimes it must be done, and everyone appreciates and understands that, but when it is frivolous, all it does is burn time, money, and patience.

  1. Do not shoot multiple masters.

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Want to piss off your actors and crew, waste time, and look like an amateur? Shoot hours of multiple masters from multiple angles before moving in to coverage. The master should be just that, a master, from which you then get into the meat of the scene with coverage. Shooting multiple masters screams out “I didn’t plan this and am winging it!” Don’t be that person. If you’re truly making it up as you go, the crew and actors will know, and they will lose respect for you eventually. Even if the end result is amazing, you can’t do it often. It is morale killing to spend a 15 hour day on set that could have been 10 just because someone was indecisive and unprepared.

  1. Keep dolly and crane shots within reason.

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Giving a director toys to play with can produce some amazing shots, but it can also cost the production tens of thousands in overages. This comes back to the idea of planning out your day. If you have a dolly shot planned for the morning and a crane shot for the afternoon, great, but if you have those tools and just start making things up it is going to derail your schedule faster than an Amtrak (sorry Amtrak).

This is where dialogue between the “Adults” (remember the term “Adult Supervision”?) and the director. Sometimes for a great bit of inspiration you have to suck it up and get the shot if it is truly worth it. A lot of amazing material has been filmed because of inspiration on the day. The key is knowing when to let them run with it and when to reign it in. Toys are fun to play with, but every dolly, crane, or drone shot requires a lot of time to set up. It’s tough, but this is where the producer must make judgment calls and hope their decision was the right one.

  1. Storyboard if you can afford it.

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Ok, I may be a bit biased, my cousin, Tony Liberatore, (not his board shown above) is an amazing storyboard artist who comes up with brilliant shots and transitions on the fly for some of the biggest films out there (Fast and Furious, Captain America, and many more). The thing is, a good storyboard artist will help a director approach the day with a concrete plan. A course of action. A visual map of what they MUST get that day. If they can get more, fantastic, but the storyboard really helps keep the production on track.

Paul Hunter is a music video director whose shoots I’ve worked on in the past, and let me tell you that man is meticulous in his storyboarding. Now we all know music video shoots are almost always ridiculously long days, but Paul is a rarity in that he not only gets every single shot on his boards, but once he has them he then gets additional shots he’s come up with if reasonable given the schedule. His work ethic is impressive, and it shows in the smoothness of his shoots. It’s also a big reason so many of us loved working with him, it’s always a pleasure working with a pro.

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Even if you forget everything you’ve just read, try to keep this one thought in your head: Whether you work on tiny productions or massive projects, every minute wasted is money wasted, and boy does it add up. Strive to make every minute count and you’ll not only save money, but will also most likely find your project will go smoother in nearly all respects.

Be sure to check out my Pulse articles on LinkedIn

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