Production work can best be explained by looking at the root of the word. Produce. Whether it's in pre-production as a development executive giving notes on re-write after re-write or in the production office as a production assistant making copies of the shooting script to gopher to set, those working in production, are doing just that: producing the product of entertainment.
A good way to overview production work is breaking down the main stages in the process of making a finished film, series or even live show, whose production cycle is just compressed into a shorter period of time. The three main stages of production are: pre-production, production and post-production.Pre-Production
Pre-production generally starts when a project has been greenlit. At this stage, a lot of casting has been finalized, and usually the director and director of photography are attached. While casting is not integrally involved once the project is underway, it is a big part of development and pre-production. Like production, casting is a fast-paced, sometimes stressful environment and requires a knowledge and love of acting and storytelling. Casting associates which directly assist casting directors usually start as assistants and those assistants often get their jobs through word of mouth or via industry resources such as Greenlightjobs.
The flurry in pre-production related to the whole project begins with script breakdown and storyboarding. In this process, directors and producers will identify what their overall needs are in terms of locations, props, wardrobe/costuming, special effects and visual effects. Producers work on a detailed schedule and budget and furiously make tweaks as necessary. They then make offers to craftsmen in their various fields such as location managers, makeup artists, and costumers. As the schedule is confirmed with all cast and crew, a start date to begin principal photography is confirmed. At some point in this process, there is often a table read in which the cast, the director, department heads, financiers, publicists and producers are in attendance.
As pre-production continues, set designers are building necessary flats and sets and also coordinating with the location managers and producers. Costumers are sourcing wardrobe or arranging for costume creation. Make-up artists are meeting with the director to go over exactly the look to be portrayed on each of the cast members. The director of photography is toiling away on the shot list. All these department heads rely on a team of hard-working associates and assistants to make the vision of the director come to life.
This part of the process is akin to an NFL team watching game footage and reviewing the playbook in preparation for an upcoming opponent. Even though it's all on the page, when it comes down to production, it can play out very differently once the word action is uttered. So working in production isn't just a love for working in the high energy adrenaline pumping environment of set life, it's also a love for preparation and craft.Production This is the part everyone signed up for right? The bustling of grips carrying heavy equipment while the art department transforms a room and an AD darts around telling everyone how behind schedule they are. In the trailers, makeup artists are turning actors into characters and the wardrobe department is giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to a throng of extras.
The length of a day can be determined by several factors such as how many pages production has scheduled, the types of shots they're aiming for, and if lighting and sound behave (hopefully it's the actual ambiance and not the people in charge of them.)
Throughout this process, you will see a handful of production assistants who are either assigned to a specific department or generally support the producers and AD's with whatever they need. Some of their responsibilities can be escorting cast to set, blocking foot traffic from ruining a scene and of course fetching coffee. But while this seems like underappreciated, grueling work, this is also where many successful filmmakers get their start. Production assistants don't enjoy a substantial hourly rate but usually do get paid time-and-a-half for overtime and take in their full day rate after six hours. If you're talking about independent production, those rules vary quite substantially.
For union jobs, rules are in place to ensure the crew is not working around the clock without proper breaks, meals and sleep. The 12 hour mark is a standard incorporated in production work in a variety of ways. It's after 12 hours, a crew is entitled to a second meal. And if production goes 12 hours, the crew is entitled to 12 hours before the next day's start to, you know, sleep.Post-Production
So production has wrapped! Great. But hold up, there's a lot of work to be done. Post-production takes place in a production office that often for a company producing ongoing projects, is an art-forward, unconventional space designed around edit and visual effects bays. And if you're on the producing team (producer, associate producer, production assistant) you're overseeing and supporting this process. If you're the director you're also actively involved.
The post team consists of: editors, responsible for assembling the rough cut of the footage, the visual effects artists, there to create worlds, props, and set pieces not captured in live action and colorists, specialists in giving a specific color and tonality to the edited sequence. Workers in these roles generally report to a post-production supervisor who coordinates with the production team and the director.
The editors are the first stop. They take in all of the footage and transform it into a working story. Key programs to be proficient in for editing are Final Cut, Avid, and Adobe Premiere. Depending on the type of work, one program is preferred over another. Once the rough cut of a sequence is established by the editor, visual effects step in.
The term larger than life couldn't be more applicable then when talking about virtual reality, visual effects and special effects. These artists make skylines appear that were never filmed in the original shot, an explosion happen in an otherwise static scene and a 3d world akin to a video game.
The programs you should be knowledgeable of to pursue a career in visual effects are Nuke, Maya, Flame, Smoke and Fusion. Often people learn some of these programs on the job, working as an assistant to existing vfx artists or producers. Nuke is often preferred for film and television and Flame, which works in more real time, is used more often in commercial post-production.
Visual effects teams are their own amalgamations of specialists. Under the umbrella of visual effects are the following specialized positions: the visual effects supervisor, which does just that, oversees the visual effects post-production work, the visual effects creative director, working in tandem with the director makes creative and aesthetic choices for anything visual effects related, visual effects artists, the people adding in what was not captured in live action, compositors who are responsible for creating a final image with all the layers of previously created material, Rotoscope artists, who paint on frame by frame an element not originally filmed and matte artists who create an environment that was not initially filmed due to location and budget constraints.
Some more specific examples: A Roto painter may go in and add lightening to a scene. A vfx artist could go in and fill in the horse that was filmed as a motorized mock-up horse that a stunt man rode, such as in the film The Revenant. If a greenscreen was used, a compositor extracts what was in front of the greenscreen and places it in the story's actual background. Matte painting, which is now usually executed in tandem with digital compositing, is what created the Carpathia rescue ship in Titanic.
After a project is picture locked, meaning all the visual elements of the edited sequence including coloring and visual effects are set, the sound editor and accompanying team steps in.
Once the sound is finished, the project is ready to be sent out to a finishing house that gets the filmed sequence ready to be screened.
And that's it - well for all stages of production. Marketing, publicity and distribution take it from there. Ready to get on that call sheet?
Here's a look at Hot Jobs in Production for 2016, according to Mandy.com:
- Feature Line Producer
- Director of Photography
- Television Producer
- Production Designer
- Production Manager
- 1st Assistant Director
- Wardrobe Designer
- Media Producer/Coordinator
- Sound Mixer/Recorder
- Makeup Artist
- Steadicam Operator
*For more on hot jobs in production, see our sections on film production and television production.
**For a breakdown of specific roles in production, see our sections on film production and television production.
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