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Producing "The Guild" – Prep Work

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I had a lot of requests for information on producing “The Guild” and since I’m in the thick of it for the next week, I thought I’d go ahead and invite you guys into the process!

There are several factors in determining when we shoot an episode. Number one, of course, is money. We are lucky to have generous donors that fund us, so the minute we accumulate enough budget, we shoot. The producers and I take no money personally, and almost everyone works for free or close to it, so expenses are equipment, location fees, props, food and miscellaneous things that pop up, and they always do, believe me. Long-term, we really need to get a regular source of financing, to be able to write and shoot many episodes at once. This story arc has 4 more episodes and we will reevaluate our strategy from there. Hopefully the strike will be over in a few months, so we can find a means to film and get everyone paid appropriately. But that’s not today!

Next is schedule. If you’ve ever had to coordinate the schedules of a bunch of people, without financial incentive to show up, you know it’s like herding cats. This is how producing “The Guild” is. Not only are there 6 actors that HAVE to be there or we have no show, but there are at least four to eight crew members and the director and the producers. It’s a lot to coordinate. And that’s just coming up with shoot dates. We always have to shoot on the weekends due to people’s work/school, and this shoot was complicated by a few actors not being available for a month starting late Jan, so we had to rush our plans a little. On top of that, our director, Jane, is off shooting a real commercial (yay Jane, but sad for us!) so we have someone else directing (who we’re very happy to have on board) and one less producer for this shoot. Yikes! So we came up with next weekend, and with that looming date on our heads, we have to pray personal stuff doesn’t pop up and interfere like jobs and stuff, and get 10,000,000 other things set up in less than a week. Fun times!
After we get dates down, then comes the equipment. effin’ funny, Sandeep’s(Zaboo’s) stand-up comedy website, lets us use it’s cameras, which is a BIG financial help, but sometimes those camera aren’t available. Luckily, it’s not an issue this shoot, our producer Kim has a camera that we’re using, but the DP (camera-holder person) still needs some equipment like lights, and flags and other movie-making stuff, that we make a list of and rent for her/him. Minimum for a shoot we have the DP, a sound person and a person to help make the sets look pretty so the harried producers don’t have to be slinging props and breaking things. Ideally there is another person there to help out with the camera and lighting, but we learned on the first shoot that the fewer people on set the better for breaking things/annoying landlords and neighbors and, of course, hungry mouths to feed, LOL.

Every shoot has it’s individual challenges. Last shoot was filming on location at a restaurant with noisy traffic and getting extras to fill the seats and make it look like a real restaurant. That was a lot to bite off on so small a budget. This one is scheduling and casting a role that we don’t know an actor for personally. Casting is very difficult for a free webisode. You have to bank on the actor liking the material and needing a piece of film on them for their acting demo reel, and enjoying the work. We have been very luck thus far to get great actors, mostly due to my friend Helen Geier who is a casting director, but she is off working on a movie, so that’s another thing me and Kim Evey, the producer, are having to deal with.

Oh, yes. And the script. That old thing. 🙂 It all starts with the script. Without a script, there is no show. A lot of the script is already written, from the 1/2 hour version I did initially, but by no means is it the complete webisode episode version. Another storyline had to be added, and believe me, I am not facile when it comes to putting words on the page. I have to go through serious angst with every piece of dialogue. Luckily, I have great people who give good notes, so I was able to come up with something that made me laugh, and at the end of the day, that’s all I can do to make the show I want to make.

So, we have our tasks laid out for us, but having these elements in place is a green light to shoot: Until something unexpected shows up. 🙂

  • Ah, the joys of film making. The biggest problem I have is usually to do with anyone who isn’t cast or crew – i.e. anyone we need who isn’t closely involved with the production…

    I had a shoot last year in a warehouse and the manager was incredibly helpful in letting us organising things, arranging it with the owner and so on. The day of the shoot the owner arrived and point blank refused to let us shoot there, saying that he had no knowledge of the arrangements. I spent half an hour with him and the lead actress trying to persuade him and eventually he told us we could shoot there at the weekend. I said, “I’ll try to organise the cast and crew for that date,” to which he replied, “if they’re committed to film making, they should turn up when you tell them.”

    Then after claiming that he used to work in the industry and telling us to get used to things like this happening, he told us to liaise with his manager, to which I retorted, “I’d rather deal directly with you, as my last dealings with him have left us in this situation. If what you said before is true, it would seem he can’t be trusted.” Funnily enough, he relented after that, although he took advantage of our tight schedule to get some free floor-cleaning. I can’t mention here the word we all used for him when we left, but at least we got the scenes shot.

    And don’t even ask about the set-builder I hired for the same short…

  • edgar

    FD, just give me a reason to fly to LA for a weekend and I’m there 😛

    Since my trip this summer, I’ve been wanting to go back sans-family. I’m sure I can find a Friday afternoon flight…

    Heck, I’f I’m lucky, I can kill two birds with one stone by catching an effin’ funny show.

  • Soma

    anyone else read spiderman? im so disgusted
    that i almost ripped the damd thing in half..

    no?

    yeh.. i thought not..

    i think it all really started when marvel let them do that
    incestuous story arc of quicksilver and his sister scarlet witch
    in ultimates..

    it was pointless and only provided as a means to shock..

    i dare say we are coming back to the days of being able
    to kill off chars like colossus ..

    thanks God for Joss..

  • Ben

    Soma–you must have loved the JMS arc with the retcon flashback putting Gwen and Norman Osborn in the same bed.

    Felicia–That doesn’t sound exciting or mysterious or romantic. honestly, it sounds like work. I think I may attempt to reset the flash RAM in my brain so I can go back to picturing the “in my head, behind the scenes” shots from Singin’ In the Rain. (Tell me the director at least has one of those old-time megaphones—“CUT!”)

    I think the main reason it would be cool to be a director, is to have one of those viewfinders worn around my neck. And the megaphone, of course.

  • Stefano

    Hi Felicia. I’m an Italian viewer of “the guild” and, since that, reader of your blog. I work more or less in the same field as yours… Infotainment, Tv production, strugling with budgetary problems.

    So I found this last post very very interesting.
    Can I make you a question? What exatly do you, in the Usa, mean for a “producer”? Obviously is not the financing men. Maybe it’s a kind of organizer? Or maybe is a Jack-of-all-trades, capable of filming, scripting, bringing the coffé…?

    Thank for your attention and keep on with the guild!
    Stefano

  • Courtney

    Hey Stefano,

    Don’t mind me for stepping in for Felicia, but in the US, a producer is someone who does the organizing. They arrange the places they shoot, the people they hire, what time people show up, that people get hired, paid and fed, etc. There’s various types of producers (executive, line, associate, etc) and they fill various roles. While it ultimately becomes the director’s vision, the producers get it to that point.

    The best shoots I’ve been on have a good producer. The worst are the ones with asshole producers.

    I probably have a few stories to share when I was working as a PA (production assistant). But in general, I really enjoyed the experience. I kinda miss the whole experience, really.

  • Soma

    ben,

    there was that thing in the ultimates story line
    where they made nick fury to be the bad guy behind
    the scenes the whole time.. i thought it was cheesey..

    and yet ..

    ive bought all of them..

    it seems like no matter the absurdity.. i keep reading..

    is it loyalty or boredom? .. a part of me just cant stand
    to NOT know what is happening in the story..

    *sigh..

    Sandworms of Dune has a tba status for mass market paperback..

    i need a distraction..

    ive already knocked out my two latest vampire hunter D books..

    any suggestions out there..

    Grimgar turned 43 last night..

  • Stefano, Courtney is correct 🙂 Producers, loosely, get the production made. Some are more creative, some are more organizational, some hire and fire people or balance the budget, some have their name on it just because they asked for it and did nothing 🙂 Producers absolutely get the money together for a movie or shoot as well. A lot falls under that title. On an independent movie or short, they can be the ones who do it all. On bigger movies there is more specialization.

  • stm

    “Casting is very difficult for a free webisode.”

    Have the unsolicited audition links to YouTube headed your way yet?

  • Wow, this was really interesting. I have zero knowledge of what goes on during a shoot, and I liked this “behind-the-scenes” look at The Guild. Good luck with this new webisode. Can’t wait!

  • Stefano

    Felicia and Courtney, thank you a lot.

    I think I want to be the kind of producer who get the money and did nothing!!! 😉
    In my company (Rai, the Italian public Television) we have that kind of profile but it got a much more less fancy name. Both “assistant” or “Programmista Regista” which could be translated more or less as “Director redactor” (?).
    Anyway in my company is really a jack-of-all-trades, and the word “programmista regista” has, with time, been tainted with despise!!!

    Thank you again.
    Can I dare a proposal?
    I’ve loved the last musical video of the guild. And it was subtitled.

    Why dont’ you put online a subtitled version of “the guild”. You would get the attention of a broad audience of foreigners who are good at reading but sometimes miss out some of the spoken lines. Like me! 😉

  • Producing is a pretty tough gig that I would never want to do. You have to try and balance everything: keep all the egos in check, make sure things are running on time and budget, listen to everyone’s complaints and try to please them, be kind to your crew, be stern to your crew, make sure your sponsors are happy, make sure nothing unexpected comes up and address it when they inevitably do, get the blame when things fall behind, get less credit than the director/actors/writers when things do go well, etc, etc.

  • matt

    Very cool “peek behind the curtains”. Thanks Felicia! More please! 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing, it’s interesting (and inspiring) to see what issues you have to face with each episode.

  • Ben

    Hey Darth–that was a cool video. Lightsaber– slices, dices and makes Julienne preacher. “Jar Jar had to split!”

  • Thanks Ben 🙂

  • I think my OWN filmmaking problem recently in trying to get my production up and running and going has not been actors or locations or story or crew or equipment or even money – though all of those are a large problem finding. For me it is computer problems. I actually was suffering the loss of my laptop monitor and my workstation (that my brother gave me) has a tremendous power and storage space, but i was having problem installing any new devices or software (windows server 2003). I just now this week solved the problem and installed XP and can get back up to speed – though I am still sad at the loss of my laptop. No more writing my story during lunchtime for the moment.
    Now I can turn my attention to those other three great things to worry about finding actors that won’t flake out while still doing it for free, money and money.

  • Soma

    FD dont freak out! you do great work.. your team of
    guildies do great work. i hope everything comes
    together for you all this weekend..

    the anticipation is killing me..

  • I put on my robe and wizard hat

  • mathematica

    Hey felicia. I know it is a bit of tempting but is it possible to take a screen shot of the orginal script? I would like to see it the way it is before it got modified. I know you have a life but I really want to see the written script 🙂

  • Ha! Um, I’ll try to dig it out of storage this weekend. I don’t want to spoil it so I can post it next Tuesday 😉

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