My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink
The breaking down of a script into a shooting schedule is probably the most arduous and painstaking chore in preproduction planning. It is in this stage that a successful conclusion and budget compliance are actually determined. Script breakdown requires scheduling each and every scene called for in the shooting script. It needs an expert hand, and if improperly done, it is impossible to maintain a schedule or calculate costs. To get the most out of your production dollars, you must make certain that actors who are on weekly contract or limited time availability complete all their scenes within the time allotted. Carrying over an actor with a very high daily per scale can be most costly, even budget-busting. Similarly, the moving of cast and crew must be held to a minimum since the cost of those moves in time and money is a big factor in the final production expense. Therefore, there must be a perfect intertwining of the location siting with the use of the actors.
I learned all this only too well in the making of FINGER ON THE TRIGGER, and our crew and production department were well aware of my feelings about the waste caused by lack of planning. Calling extras back for unfinished scenes can destroy the most carefully planned budgets, and with so many films on our production plan requiring so many varied locations, we could be ruined by just a couple of such errors.
THE TALL WOMEN was a big picture in every sense of the word, and it required a major effort to impart that size onto the screen. Its cast would do justice to many multimillion dollar projects, and its battle scenes with hundreds of extras amounted to almost a military operation and demanded complete and close supervision. Although our gypsy Indians were not the demanding Hollywood types, they had now become sufficiently experienced to demand the best available foot and lodging for them and their animals.
The script called for a huge wagon train with three dozen Conestoga wagons and six buckboards. We had to photograph these in peaceful procession, as well as in two complete circles under Indian attack. This meant rehearsal after rehearsal and the right location selection that would enable us to shoot the action from highup, wide angle, and, of course, close up. These kinds of shots were not easily repeated and had to be planned with complete precision to avoid second takes.
There is a reason that movies are not shot in the order of the script, starting at the beginning and moving in progression to the end. It is entirely possible that the size of a budget and the need for cost control require that production start at the very end of the script. This throws actors into their final dramatic scenes without having begun the development or understanding of the characters. This is very demanding on actors as well as the director, since they must jointly portray a set of circumstances and reactions to which they have not yet been exposed. I firmly believe that aside from the necessity of memorizing lines, a movie is much more difficult for the actor and director than a stage play. Like the birth of a child, there are so many inherent and potential dangers in creating a movie that it is truly a miracle so many are born with everything complete.