Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Scripted Projects

When considering to pitch a script or idea for a TV show that would be scripted (Sitcom, Movie, Drama Series, Mini-Series) its important to understand the process that an executive or TV Producer undertakes in getting a television show produced. Knowing this process will help you bring the most valuable elements within your ability and resources to any Producer that would consider purchasing your screenplay or treatment.
Producing is a largely collaborative process that requires a broad ability to exercise and facilitate all aspects of the industry. One must have the sensibility and creative instinct of a writer and director, while having a polarizing view of material that you often find with Network executives... and eventually the viewer. A Producer will first focus on identifying or creating material that falls within any mandate given by any of their executive buyers at a variety of Network of distribution outlets. That material may come in the form of a hi-concept short pitch, a spec screenplay, a manuscript or novel for adaptation, a news article that will become the subject of a story to be developed, and treatments or synopsis' of original concepts for development.
Before a Producer brings their script to a network or studio, there is a process of development and packaging that may or may not come into play depending on the property the producer is selling. If the Producer has acquired the rights to a bestselling autobiography, they may only need to attach a top notch writer or star to the property to make a sale to a network or studio who will then finance the writing of the screenplay and other elements leading to production. However, the majority of producers are seeking that next great idea that can translate into a hit television show.
When scouting screenplays and TV scripts for purchase and development, a producer or development executive is looking for that core creative idea that is not only great in theory, but will be great in reality and can be physically produced in a way that brings true entertainment value. When a great project is found, it may only be in treatment form. That is, the creator has detailed a brief, but descriptive outline of the show, usually 2 pages or less for reality-based, and 5 pages or less for scripted programming. The show has a great title, a very marketable logline, and a treatment that shows all of the elements involved in the show as it plays out with a great hook, twist, or payoff in the end.
The producer then "options" the script from the creator/writer and is entitled to the exclusive rights to sell the story to a Network or Studio for production. During that option period they will pull together other key elements that may be required for presentation to a buyer. This may involve commissioning an established writer to write a script adapted from the treatment, or finding a show runner (Executive Producer/Writer) who the buyer likes that will oversee the creative and physical production of the show.
There may also be on-air talent attached to the project such as a Host or key principal who is appropriate for the concept of the show and/or currently valuable in the market place. They will also be monitoring and strategizing the various outlets who may buy the project while tailoring the package to fit each. Keep in mind that an active production company usually has in total 40 to 60 projects in development at the company, all in various stages; early development, pre-production, production, turn-around from a studio, revised for new packaging or set to pitch at a slate of networks and studios.
The process is long, but this illustrates the need for new and original projects to fit an ever changing mandate from the networks and advertisers.
In addition to understanding the producer's role, every creator should have in mind the basic fundamentals of each scripted genre produced for television: 
  Sit-Coms:  The situation comedy- A 30-minute format that centers on a central group of characters living together within a unique situation. A treatment for a sitcom will include the premise of the situation describing how the characters came together, the circumstances that hold them together, a description of that world, and an outline of the characters describing their specific agendas, attitudes, peculiar habits, and how they relate to one another. A bullet-point list of sample episodes described in very short paragraph for each will illustrate the story arc that a season will have, and prove longevity for the series.
If you are a skilled and/or established Writer, the best sales tool for a sitcom is a sample script for the pilot episode. This will be 22-24 page TV script. If script writing isn't your forte, you may consider finding a partner who has experience in this area and will write the script to become your partner in the project as it sales. 

TV Movies: A  two-hour filmed program, usually focusing on a current issue in society, or subject that is highly marketable.
For the sake of pitching a script to be developed as a TV Movie the important factors are the following: A strong protagonist involved in a dramatic story that explores a theme, social issue, current (or historical) event that would have the broad appeal of a Network audience, or the very specific taste of a cable network producing that particular genre of story. Anything "brand" oriented can find success if you are delivering a unique angle to the story. "Brand" relates to the subject of the story holding identity or intrigue within the public conscience. The writers job is to bring to light a perspective on the subject that hasn't been told before, and that is both entertaining and informative. The most important marketing angle for a Television film is that is fact-based.
The sub-genres within the arena of TV Movies are as follows, but not limited to: Suspense Thriller, Western, Family Drama, Comedy, Coming-of-Age, True Crime, Historical, Fantasy, Bio-pic or Drama based on true events.
There are three key elements that are very important to any development executive or producer considering your project; the story, the key character, and the commercial viability of the project:
          Event or Story :  There are always moments or dramatic events in our lives that are so incredible one could think "this should be a movie!". However, one event does not make a dramatic story unto itself, and many times a dramatic story does not suit well for a televised or filmed adaptation. However, such specific events can become the focal point by which a larger dramatic story is told that a producer or network may take an interest in. How has that event changed someone's life? What led to the event or events, and what new course were the people or persons involved set on? What is the point of social relevance within this story? What does the main character overcome or accomplish that brings redemption or irony to their life? As you will always see, it is never just about an event. It's always about the person.
First, identify the protagonist (Hero, or main character) from whose point of view the story is told. This is perhaps the most important choice when adapting a story to be dramatized. It may not always be the most obvious or centralized character when first looking at the story that is being covered, but it should be the most unique. And it is that person's story arc that we will witness as the movie unfolds.
          What makes a unique protagonist?:  People love inspirational stories of the underdog who survives against all odds. It more often gives the viewer something to relate to and root for. It is an example of a choice in Protagonist that brings an emotional experience to the audience.
When exploring the development of a unique protagonist or main character in your story, there are some very important choices to make when illustrating this person within a screenplay, and more importantly, when giving limited information in a three to seven page treatment that you will submit to producers. If you look at all the great character-driven pieces you will see that what is explored in each protagonist is not just the obvious, but sometimes the opposite. In a hero, don't just focus on the great qualities, but find his weaknesses and downfalls. This gives him a human quality. Conversely, in a main character who is primarily bad or of criminal persuasion, find his qualities that are good and explore his struggle within his poor choice making in life . This helps an audience care or sympathize with someone whose plight may be clearly with ill intent, but brings truth to the story by "humanizing it". Not everything or person is black and white. To bring a three dimensional illustration to any main character of a story, one needs to approach that character unassuming and ready to discover all sides of the person and what makes them tick.
          Commercial Viability: An important aspect of any dramatized story is that audiences love stories that are based on true events. The important thing for any writer or producer to understand in trying to sell a true life story for adaptation is knowing or discovering what issue or subject within the story has social relevance at this time. These "issues" of social relevance can be anything, eg. How a family copes with a son or daughter fighting a war, same sex couples fighting for adoption, or an athlete who overcomes certain death by cancer and survives to come back and win the most grueling athletic event in the world. All of these stories have issues that impact society heavily or in a unique way. If you believe that your personal story, or the story of a person whose life you are writing into a treatment for adaptation could have the same impact of relevance it is important to find that key issue and point of view that an audience will be enthralled by. The audience wants an emotional experience that they can relate to on some level. Find that message in your story and you may garner the attention of producers who want to develop it into a movie or series.

Mini-Series: Most Mini-Series are based on historical events or biographical narratives that take place within a unique time period. The Old West, Ancient Rome, 18th century America or even the Far East. However, there is a great spectrum of stories that have been adapted into "two-part" mini-series that can be classified as "Fantasy" and "Holiday" event programs. Some are based on best-selling literary properties, and some are original screenplays.
If you do not hold the rights to a novel for adaptation, or a fully developed screenplay that is ripe for adaptation as a mini-series, the best approach is to pitch the story in treatment form. A producer who believes that is holds value for development will make a deal on the story and then hire a writer to pen the script, or sell the project to a network who will then package that project with appropriate writers and producers. Again, the key for the creator is STORY. Build a unique narrative that has wide public appeal and may fall within the current mandates of production companies and networks.

Drama Series:   Similar to the sitcom, but a world apart in terms of story and content, the dramatic series is built heavily on strong main characters that live and work together within a specific situation. When considering creating a dramatic series, concentrate heavily on character development and the direction of story development that would evolve over the course of a season (22 episodes). Having a written pilot script is critical for garnering the attention of producers who would be able to package the project for development so that it would be presentable to a network. This is the arena for serious writers who are willing to break down preexisting genres to find new areas of story, and develop three-dimensional characters that are strong enough to support an ever changing and evolving story line.
It's also worth mentioning that some Made-for-TV-Movies are "back-doors" to a pilot for series. Meaning, it is possible that a drama series be developed from a movie. So consider cross-development if you feel it has the wheels.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Piracy and Profits

This video explains how google is one of the main beneficiaries of on line piracy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Psychology of Viral Advertising

In an article from the  Harvard Business Review written by Thales Teixeira.  Teixeria an assistant professor at Harvard Business School.  Used infrared eye-tracking scanners to determine where people look  when watching video ads, along with analysing their facial expressions.
These technologies make it possible to isolate elements that cause people to stop watching and to find ones that keep them engaged. In addition, they make it possible to determine what kinds of ads are most likely to be shared and what types of people are most likely to share them.
From the research, five large problems that online advertisers might face surfaced. They are as follows:
Problem 1: Prominent Branding Puts Off Viewers.
Eye-tracking showed that people focus on a few things, such as the actors’ mouths and eyes. Also, logos. But, they found out that the more prominent or intrusive the logo, the more likely viewers are to stop watching (even if they know and like the brand).
Teixeira offers an explanation for the phenomenon, 
“people seem to have an unconscious aversion to being persuaded, so when they see a logo, they resist.”
Solution: Through something that Teixeira calls “brand pulsing”, ie, unobtrusively weaving the brand image throughout the ad – which can increase viewership by as much as 20%.
A good example is Coca-Cola’s “Happiness Factory"

Problem 2: People Get Bored Right Away
This research found that keeping viewers engaged with an ad depends on two emotions:

 joy and surprise. If you want your video to be spread, then you need  to be able to convey at least one of these reactions and early on in the video – or else people will move on to the next one.

That’s what happens with big ads that escalate to the finish and leave the best to the end. If you don’t engage the viewers early on, by the end they may all be gone.

Solution: it’s rather obvious, create joy or surprise on the first moments of the ad. The example given here is Bud Light’s “Swear Jar”:
Problem 3: People Watch for a While but Then Stop.
This one goes hand in hand with the 2nd one: if people are not interested or engaged in the first moments, then they will stop watching and move to the next thing on their browser. They found that “ads that produce stable emotional states generally aren’t effective at engaging viewers for very long.”
Solution: “Build an emotional roller coaster. Viewers are most likely to continue watching a video ad if they experience emotional ups and downs. This fits with psychological-research findings about human adaptability. When we come into a warm home on a cold winter day, or when we receive a pay raise, we experience pleasure, but the feeling is transitory; the novelty soon wears off. So advertisers need to briefly terminate viewers’ feelings of joy or surprise and then quickly restore them, creating an emotional roller coaster—much the way a movie generates suspense by alternating tension and relief.”
Problem 4: People Like an Ad but Won’t Share It.
Another interesting bit coming from this research is that getting many people to watch a video doesn’t mean they will necessarily make it viral or share it. Experiments from Teixeira show that “even though people may enjoy an ad themselves, they won’t always send it to others. In particular, I found that although shock may get people to watch an ad privately, it often works against their desire to share the spot.”
The author states that with this problem, Bud Light’s “Clothing Drive” is a good example, as it was similar in viewing with “Swear Jar”, but not as much shared as the previous Bud ad – “The nudity was too shocking.”
That is  a good point to keep in mind when producing  a viral ad. 
Solution; Surprise but don't shock, "Roller Babies" an add
that uses all three strategies mentioned above;
unobtrusive brand;
strong hook in first seconds;
several non-continuous emotional sequences.

Problem 5: People Still Won’t Share the Ad.
As much as people like the ad, only a small ammount of people who watch the ad will share it. Teixeira’s research shows that “whether or not an ad is shared depends as much on the personality types of viewers as on the ad itself.”
Solution: Would be to target the viewers who will share the ad.  By  identifying  “two attributes of people who frequently share ads: Extroversion and egocentricity“!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Hobbit Production Logistics

3D Production

Lately, I have been asked by a number of productions about the feasibility of shooting in 3D. 
Below is a Q & A, I have put together on the subject.

Q; How much will it cost to shoot in 3D?
The short answer is that 3D will add approximately 35% to your production budget .

Q: How does 3D filmmaking work?
A: Most of us humans see life in 3D.  That’s because we have two separate, distinct eyes that naturally create two, slightly different perspectives.  In the brain, this small variance in image perspectives is interpreted as depth and dimension.  In the world of 3D filmmaking, we replicate this process by using two cameras.  One camera to represent the left eye and a second camera for the right eye.  Then we sync, place the cameras on a 3D rig, align and offset the two cameras.  We’re then able to film a subject, deriving two images with a slight perspective shift. When these images are overlaid in post, the perspective shift produces the illusion of dimension, or 3D.  What’s miraculous about our human eyes is the ease, speed and accuracy at which they’re able to re-focus, converge, and shift from one object to another, delivering a 3D picture all in under a millisecond.  It’s much more difficult to re-create these precise actions in a 3D filmmaking environment. But human eyes, although amazing, do have a few setbacks when it comes to stereo viewing. 

Since the distance between our eyes is ‘fixed’ on our faces, as the distance to objects increases or decreases from us, our eyes can’t change their position, or perspective.  For example, notice that mountains in the distance appears flat. This is because the perspective shift (distance) between your two eyes is fixed and slight, so that at such distances you see virtually the same image and therefore no discernible dimension.  In such an instance, 3D filmmaking has an advantage over human eyes.  Filmmakers are able to increase the IO (inter-ocular) distance.   In this context IO refers to the distance from the center of one camera lens, or eye, to another.  An increase in IO creates a greater shift in the image perspectives and thus accentuates the 3D effect.  So when filming mountains at a great distance (miles away) in 3D, your two cameras may be 10-20 feet apart or more, depending on your shooting ratio and/or desired 3D effect.   This ability to change the IO is the 3D filmmaker’s primary tool for manipulating dimension – depth and pop.  Conversely, pushing two cameras closer together (decreasing the IO), diminishes the perspective shift, thus reducing the 3D effect.  Beyond IO manipulation, stereographers (3D experts) can incorporate secondary tools like convergence (tow-in) and image alignment (xyz axis) to achieve a comfortable, eye-catching 3D images that ultimately serve the story.  As a side note, when filming mountains in 3D at a distance, typically NO convergence (tow-in) would be used, but rather the cameras would be fixed straight ahead.
Q: Why do I need a beam-splitter (mirror) rig to film 3D, can’t we just mount two cameras side-by-side?
A: The short answer is – you CAN shoot 3D using two cameras mounted side-by-side.  As a matter of fact, this is the preferred method for filming scenic 3D landscapes, wide shots and any longer focal lengths.  But unfortunately, for shots where the focal length is about 25 feet, or less (medium and close-up shots), you need a beam-splitter, or mirror box rig.  Why?  Because objects filmed at closer proximities require only a slight or small perspective shift between both cameras to achieve comfortable 3D images.  Put simply, your 2 cameras must literally share part, or most of the image area being filmed.  Unfortunately, with a side-by-side setup the camera bodies “get in the way” and won’t allow your lenses to get any closer than about 5 or 6 inches, making 3D uncomfortable.  Conversely, a beam-splitter rig allows the cameras to actually get on top of each other, sharing the same image area.  In the simplest terms, beam-splitter rigs let one camera typically positioned horizontally shoot “through” a piece of optical-grade mirror glass -- while a second camera set perpendicular and vertical, films “off the reflection” on the front side of the mirror glass.  In this posture the shift in perspective between the two cameras can be very, very slight.  We highly recommend that your beam-splitter mirror glass be an optical-grade, very flat, very clear variety with highest-grade 50/50 coating.  If your glass quality is in the least bit substandard (and most inexpensive mirror glass is) – your images will be unsatisfactory and your 3D images unusable as professional 3D.
Q: Why not use a dual lens camcorder to shoot stereoscopic 3D, like the Panasonic 3DA1?
A: The “fixed lens” nature of a dual lens 3D camcorder restricts the IO distance (it’s fixed) and therefore the control over the 3D effect.  Rather 3D camcorders rely completely on camera convergence (tow-in) to manipulate the 3D effect.  Convergence is typically set after the stereographer sets his or her IO.  Convergence is the icing on the cake, so to speak, not the main course.  So using a dual lens camcorder, limits the types of 3D scenes you can capture – no medium or close-ups, flat landscapes and doesn’t allow for things like polarizing filters or lens choices.  So with camcorders like the Panasonic 3DA1, with a lens separation of about 3.5″ (70mm), you’re restricted (for comfortable 3D) to subjects between approximately 12ft (4m) to 40ft (12m). Beam-splitter rigs don’t have this same limitation as the camera separation can be adjusted all the way down to zero if necessary for objects directly in front of the rig.  This is of major importance when you consider that most theatrical stereoscopic 3D productions use inter-ocular (IO) distances of between 1″ to 2″ (25-50mm) and shoot using high-grade lenses – something only attainable on a beam-splitter rig.

Q: Do the cameras need to be gen-locked (synchronized)?
A: Yes - you will need to have at least one gen-locked camera to sync it to another camera, or use LANC equipped cameras with a 3D LANC controller.  If you don’t gen-lock your cameras, it’s very likely that some of your frames may be out of phase with each other.  Please understand that you CAN NOT correct this phenomenon in post and it may render all, or some of your footage useless in 3D.  In such a case, you’d have to use the 2D version. The bottom line is, if you’re shooting a professional 3D you need to use two identical cameras that gen-lock. 

Q: What is the light loss?
A: With a true 50/50 beam-splitter mirror each camera only gets half the light.   Therefore the light reaching each camera is reduced by approximately 1 f-stop. It is impossible to design a mirror rig with less loss, the light is after all being divided by half. Be wary of any rig with anything other than a 1 f-stop per camera loss.
Q: Can I zoom my cameras?
A: Yes, but you might not want to.  First you will need to find a way to synchronize the two zoom lenses. This can be done with most newer 2/3” digital broadcast zooms. Fujinon now has special matched pairs of lenses available for 3D applications. But it’s difficult to use with smaller compact camcorders, as lenses do not normally zoom in sync.  You should be aware that as a zoom lens changes focal length, the center point shifts slightly which will misalign both cameras.  Even more importantly, is that zooming “in and out” in 3D, is not a pleasurable effect for the viewer.   A zoom foreshortens the image, while the 3D depth increases.  In reality, it’s a funky visual effect that takes the rattles the viewer out of the picture.  It’s best avoided, if at all possible. It’s best to shoot your master shots, then push in, re-frame and shoot your medium and close-ups.  It is recommend shooting “in zones”, where the camera remains equidistant from the subject, but moves in a variety of side-to-side fashions.
Q: Is the mirror glass delicate?
A: No more than any other piece of 3mm glass.  The mirror is an optical-grade, clear glass, so drop it and it will break. When filming 3D - always have a spare piece of mirror glassine your set.  If your single piece of glass breaks, without an extra - your shoot comes to a halt.

Q: Should I use a 3D monitor when shooting 3D?
A: Yes, you should be monitoring (watching) everything your shooting in real-time, stereoscopic 3D.  Filming in 3D without using a 3D monitor – is like driving blindfolded.  A multiplexor is a device that combines the signal from 2 cameras in real-time, then translates them into a single 3D image – usually anaglyph or polarized. The monitor you select is dependent on several factors.  Are you shooting in the field without a 120V power source, or in studio?  In the field, a fully contained 12V 3D viewer system is recommend. In the studio, a multiplexor and large screen HD monitor is preferred.
Q: Can I make my own 3D rig?
A: It's not a good idea in any case. Cost savings verses catastrophic failure are not warranted. If you are shooting a micro-budget film stick with native 3D cameras.