Did you know that student filmmakers can win Oscars? The winners who have become famous are Robert Zemeckis, Spike Lee, Trey Parker and John Lasseter.
They started by working with others in a production team. They also knew that to understand cinema as an art form, they had to take into account the work of the many people who work together to make film a reality.
If you are an educator filming in class, consider teams of up to 5 students. All of the roles listed below can be shared by multiple students, making learning that much more complete. Or, if you’re directing a film on your own, think about how you can combine the following roles throughout the filmmaking process, and consider who can help you when you need help.
This person is basically the group leader and is responsible for managing the production from start to finish. The producer develops the project from the initial idea, ensures that the script is finalized, organizes the financing and manages the production team that makes the film.
The producer also coordinates the filmmaking process to ensure that everyone involved in the project stays on schedule and on budget. Without the producer at the helm, the films don’t get made.
The director is primarily responsible for supervising the shooting and editing of a film. If the director can be compared to the author of a novel as the first visionary of a film, he could not make the film without the help of many other artists and technicians.
In fact, the notion of director as author is misleading because it assumes that the director, as author, does everything. A director works at the center of film production, but is inextricably linked to dozens of other people who do the work together.
While a film’s dialogue may feel natural to the viewer, a writer carefully crafts it; however, the screenwriter does much more than provide dialogue for the actors. He or she also shapes the sequence of events in a film to ensure that one scene flows into the next so that the story unfolds in a logical and interesting way.
Like the producer, the role of the screenwriter is generally unknown to the cinema-going public, whereas it is essential to the production of any film. If there is no script, there is no film.
Before an 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 first draft of the film.
A storyboard is a series of sketches on panels that show the visual progression of the story from scene to scene. Creating this sketch of the film on storyboards also ensures the visual continuity of the film from start to finish. Storyboards serve as a visual guide for the director throughout production and will be a template to follow during the editing process.
The art director is responsible for the film’s sets: the buildings, landscapes and interiors that provide the physical context for the characters. This person is responsible for acquiring the props, decorating the sets and making the set believable.
The costumes say a lot about the period of the film and the characters who wear them, including their economic status, profession, and attitude towards themselves. Be sure to think about how costumes can visually show something about the character.
Director of Photography
The director of photography, or DP, is responsible for capturing the script on film or video. The DP must pay attention to the lighting and the technical capabilities of the camera.
When the director wants a shot to achieve certain visual or atmospheric qualities, the DP achieves this through his choice of lighting, film stock, and careful handling of the camera. This craft is called cinematography.
Shortly after filming begins, the editor begins to organize the sequences and organizes the individual shots into one continuous sequence. Even in a single scene, dozens of different shots must 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 how the final film looks.
In charge of representing the characters of a film, the actors work in close collaboration with the director and the director of photography. Considering an actor’s role in this larger context also suggests that their job is much more difficult than appearing on set and reciting lines.
Music has been an integral part of movies since the early days of cinema in the 1890s. A piano or organ player accompanied even the simplest silent films. The silent film palaces of the 1920s were equipped with elaborate organs and orchestra pits to accommodate large groups of live musicians. Today, selecting the right music for the film will intensify the story for the audience.
filming in class
When everyone works together, the process of making a movie can be fun and simple. 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 to respect the producer’s schedule. Depending on the length of the film, expect your project to last between 2 and 3 weeks. Reserve your last week for your editing and post-production.
For other helpful resources, check out the American Film Institute’s Screen Education series. The institute further breaks down the filmmaking process and guides new filmmakers with best practices and ideas.
About the Author: Jaclyn Bell is a Digital Media Trainer and Director of Community Content for OneSeventeen Media Inc. as well as Competition Director for the Young Minds Digital Times Student Film Competition.