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Key Issues when Producing a Feature Film

Updated on June 19, 2017

When producing a film the development process often takes a lot longer than the production or editing of the product. There are many pre-production processes to cover that are extremely important such as acquiring a script, audience testing and market research, getting the green light, raising funds, finding a budget, researching tax breaks and incentives, taking into account product placement and very importantly keeping in mind the BBFC and the rating the film will be given.

Acquiring a script is often a long process where the producer and the scriptwriter agree a legal obligation to each other via a binding, mutually beneficial contract. It is the producer’s responsibility to secure the rights to a script and agree with the scriptwriter any financial issues such as percentages they will receive if the film makes any money. Another path the producer can go down is acquiring the rights of adapting a book or stage play. If the product is in the public domain this often means the rights have expired for whoever initially had the copyright: “In the UK copyright expires 70 years after the death of the creator for written, artistic, musical and film work.” However, adapting an adaption is a different story - if a writer adapts Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare, the adaption will qualify for its own copyright, therefore filmmakers can follow up by adapting the original, but not the adaption. An example is Romeo and Juliet (1996­) by Baz Luhrmann – a creator can adapt Shakespeare’s original play, but in order to adapt Luhrmann’s version they would have to obtain copyright permissions or wait until 70 years after Luhrmann dies so the film goes into the public domain. When acquiring a script the producer has to take a lot of things into account, one of the most important being marketing and advertising. They have to establish that the script has a clear target audience in order to ensure reaching them successfully and essentially making a profit.

The rise of the blockbuster film coincided with the rise of national marketing campaigns. Studios launched nationwide marketing blitzes, which bombarded the public with ads in newspapers, magazines, television and radio.” (Pramaggiore and Wallis, 2011).

The marketing budget with larger productions is often a lot more than the production budget. This is possibly due to the massive media intake each person receives every day, including social media, television, internet ads, billboards, bus posters and the list goes on; if the marketing budget is big enough, the producer can ensure that the target audience has successfully been reached and that there is attention around the upcoming film. The Hypodermic Needle Theory suggests that due to the power and constant presence of the media “the receiver or audience is powerless to resist the impact of the message”. Essentially, this is what marketing does to a passive audience – the ever present advertising of a film inevitably makes them very aware of the new film which in turn hopefully makes them want to go and see what all the popularity is about.

Saturation marketing led to the expansion of advertising budgets for most Hollywood Productions: the advertising budget for Austin Powers: The Spy who Shagged Me (Jay Roach, 1999), for example, outweighed it’s production budget.” (Pramaggiore and Wallis, 2011).

Market saturation is another reason for increased marketing and advertising budgets. The definition for market saturation is the “Point at which a market is no longer generating new demand for a firm's products, due to competition, decreased need, obsolescence, or some other factor.” In terms of filmmaking, this means that there have been so many films produced and reproduced, made and remade, so many sequels of the same film that the market is flooded by the same thing. There are many genres of which actors are ‘type cast’ in certain roles of the same type of film, so the competition is extremely high. In order for a film to stand out from this busy market there needs to be a high budget and a strong social profile so that viewers know about the new film and are sure to go and see it. The marketing team need to think of something totally different audiences haven’t seen before in order for a marketing campaign to be successful – this is why as of recently there have been many interesting videos going viral: this gets people talking and intrigued when they eventually find out what the viral video is advertising. An example of this is the recordings that went viral for Eli Roth’s film The Last Exorcism (2010). The marketing team came up with an interesting way to get audiences talking: they used Chat Roulette, a webcam-based social media platform, and scared innocent men into thinking they were chatting to an attractive girl, until her face changed into something terrifying. However, there is a positive side to the saturated market: with films being so much of the same, every style is tried and tested and there is a lot of secondary research out there for filmmakers to access. Filmmakers can see what works and what doesn’t, and what can potentially gain there film financial profit. This is why genre is so important to a film and to an audience; audiences have expectations when they choose a film to go and see, there are codes and conventions films must fit in order to make viewers happy and filmmakers today are very aware of this.

Audience testing is crucial to marketing and advertising a film – the producer and marketing team have to ensure that they reach the correct audience via the best platforms. They also have to ensure that the script and storyline are viable for making money and in order to do that the audience has to be attracted by the films narrative. For example, in 28 Days Later (2002) the test audiences informed the filmmakers that the end of the film was not appealing to them because the main character almost dies, which in turn pushed the filmmakers to change the ending so it was the zombies that were dying off instead, which gave the audiences a much better pay off at the end and left them leaving cinemas much happier. This obviously proved as an excellent decision as the film went on to gain $82.7 million in the Box Office, proving audience testing is a vital part of film development.

Product placement is another great way producers can add money to the film budget. Companies pay films, TV shows, documentaries and other types of video to include their brand, or wear their clothes for example. It’s a discrete way of advertising their products, and association with famous actors and high end films also benefits the company by reaching out to audiences, even though they are paying for it. “Appearing in nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of all box office No. 1s, or 9 of the 39 No. 1 films last year, Budweiser and Apple were 2013’s most frequently-appearing products on the big screen.” Budweiser is one of the biggest brands that is product placed across all types of film and shows, however, one of the rules of Product Placement is for it to have editorial justification – no brand or product can be used where it isn’t necessary, it must be relevant to the scene, and it mustn’t seem like an advertisement for the product, as reported by Ofcom (2015). “Product Placement strengthens the program's union / link to real life. Product Placement also adds realism and authenticity to scenery.” It is often a positive if a company approaches filmmakers asking for their brand to be shown in their production. As stated above, product placement enhances the realism of the production, as audience members could possibly relate if they see a famous actor drinking the same beer that they do, or wearing the same jeans that they have on. It connects the audience with the film even more, so product placement is not only useful for the companies to advertise their brands, but for the filmmakers in regards to connecting with their audiences. Audiences also notice when a product has been hidden to protect the brand name – using covered beer cans or cans with brand labels turned away from the camera is very noticeable, so when popular products are featured it gives the impression that the film or show has a larger budget or production value.

After the producers have secured a spec script and the financial side of the film including production budget, a green light needs to be given before starting pre-production. The ‘green light’ is basically being given the go ahead from the executive people above producers. For example, at Universal Studios, a team goes through the whole marketing plan, anticipating the DVD sales and estimating the gross profit of a film before giving them the green light, as reported by The Wrap (2013). They are essentially making sure a film is distributable to a relevant target audience. With films being so easily produced nowadays, as opposed to years ago when it was a lot more expensive to make a professional, visually appealing film, large studios and production companies have a lot of things to consider before they agree to allow the film to go into production; the main thing being whether it is a financially viable product – profit and audience is the main thing executives take into account.

During the development process of a film it is important to take into account the role of the BBFC. “Examiners look at issues such as discrimination, drugs, horror, imitable behaviour, language, nudity, sex, sexual violence, theme and violence when making decisions.” (BBFC, 2015) In order for a film to be distributable to a wide audience and to make profit, it is important for producers to think about the classification they would need the film to achieve in order to gain viewers. The BBFC reviews it’s classification rules every 4-5 years and takes into account what the people’s views are, relevant issues and events, and how times and attitudes towards film are changing, as reported by BBFC (2015). For example, Island of Lost Souls (1932) was originally refused any classification, then refused once again in 1957, however, in 1996 the film gained a 12 classification, then was resubmitted for DVD in 2012 and was given a PG rating, as reported by the BBC (2012). This proves that public attitudes change over the years and the BBFC has an important role to play in taking the people’s views into account and classifying accordingly. If a producer wants a film to be viewed by a wide public, an 18 classification would be disappointing as that limits the amount people who would view the film. Considering classification is an important part of the development and distribution process, and producers must analyse the rules of each rating, cutting out or appealing anything that won’t allow them the classification they need.

When part of the management team of the production of a film, it is vital to have great team working, communication and leadership skills. The management roles mean being responsible for the happiness and productivity of the cast and crew, controlling the budget, ensuring everyone is working to their best standards and that everything is kept on schedule. It is essential that the whole team runs like a well-oiled machine, because when on a film set time equals money – it is the manager’s responsibility, especially the first AD, to motivate and encourage the team to get their jobs done as quickly as possible, whilst keeping the morale high within the team.

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    • ReincePhillip profile image

      Reince Phillip 2 months ago from Houston

      Well said. Indie producing is a constant challenge.