Assembling Your Filmmaking Team : The Roles of the Production Team
Did you know there are Oscars for student filmmakers, too. Winners who went on to fame include Robert Zemeckis, Spike Lee, Trey Parker, and John Lasseter. They began by working with others on a production team. They also understood that in order to understand film as an art form, it is important to consider the jobs of the numerous individuals who work together to make the film a reality.
If you are an educator and filming in the classroom, consider teams of no more than 5 students. All the roles listed below can be shared by multiple students, thus making the learning all the more well rounded. Or, if you are making a film on your own, consider how you can combine the following roles throughout the filmmaking process, and think about who can assist you when you need help.
Producer: This person is essentially the group leader. They are responsible for managing the production from start to finish. The producer develops the project from the initial idea, makes sure the script is finalized, arranges the financing, and manages the production team making the film. The producer also coordinates the filmmaking process to ensure that everyone involved in the project is working on schedule and on budget. Without the producer at the helm, films do not get made.
Director: The director is primarily responsible for overseeing the shooting and assembly of a film. While the director might be compared to a novel’s author as a film’s primary visionary, he or she would not be able to make the film without the help of numerous other artists and technicians. In fact, the notion of the director as author is misleading because it assumes the director does everything—just like an author writes an entire book—which is not the case. A director works at the center of film production, but is inextricably linked with dozens of other people to get the job done.
Screenwriter: While the dialogue in a film may seem natural to the viewer, a writer carefully crafts it; however, the screenwriter does far more than provide dialogue for the actors. He or she also shapes the sequence of events in a film to ensure that one scene leads logically to the next, so that the story will unfold logically and in an interesting way. Like the producer, the screenwriter’s role is generally overlooked by the movie-going public, yet is essential to the completion of any film. If there is no script, there is no movie.
Production Designer: Before one inch of film is shot, the production designer is the first artist to translate the script into visual form. He or she creates a series of storyboards that serve as the film’s first draft.
A storyboard is a series of sketches on panels to show the visual progression of the story from one scene to the next. Creating this sketch of the film on storyboards also ensures the visual continuity of the film from start to finish. Storyboards serve as the director’s visual guide throughout the production and will be a template to follow during the editing process.
Art Director: The art director is responsible for the film’s settings: the buildings, landscapes and interiors that provide the physical context for the characters. This person is responsible for acquiring props, decorating sets, and making the setting believable.
Costume Designer: Costumes convey a great deal about the film’s time period and the characters who wear them—their economic status, occupation and attitude toward themselves. Be sure to think about how costuming can show something about the character visually.
Cinematographer: The director of photography, or DP, is responsible for capturing the script on film or video. The DP must pay attention to lighting and the camera’s technical capabilities. When the director wants a shot to achieve certain visual or atmospheric qualities, the DP achieves it through his or her choice of lighting, film stock and careful manipulation of the camera. This craft is referred to as cinematography.
Editor: Shortly after shooting begins, the editor begins to organize the footage, and arranges individual shots into one continuous sequence. Even in a single scene, dozens of different shots have to be chosen and assembled from hundreds of feet of film. The editor’s choices about which shots to use, and the order in which to place them, have a profound effect on the appearance of the final film.
Actors: Responsible for portraying the characters in a film, actors work closely with the director and cinematographer. Considering an actor’s role within this larger context also suggests that his or her job is much more difficult than just appearing on the set and reciting lines.
Music: Music has been an integral part of movies since cinema’s earliest days in the 1890s. A piano or organ player accompanied even the simplest silent films. The silent movie palaces of the 1920s were equipped with elaborate organs and orchestra pits to accommodate large groups of live musicians. Today selecting just the right music for the film will intensify the story for the audience.
When everyone works together, the filmmaking process can be fun and simplified. Using these real production team roles will make the act of creating a film all the more authentic. Assign your roles at the beginning of the project, and above all make sure you stick to the Producer’s schedule. Depending on how long the film is going to be, plan that your project time will be between 2 to 3 weeks long. Reserve your last week for your editing and post-production. For additional, helpful resources, check out the American Film Institute’s Screen Education Series. They further break down the film making process and guide new filmmakers with best practices and ideas.
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