Production Process

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Production Process


Film production involves a complex set of processes that balance aesthetic, financial, and organizational needs. These processes have changed over time: some changes have arisen in response to the different kinds of film that have dominated various industrial eras; some have arisen from the changing shape of industrial organization; and others are a function of the ways in which technology has evolved. Yet even in the present day, filmmaking practices used to create different types of film can vary greatly. The production processes of a live-action film and an animated film, for instance, will differ substantially. Nevertheless, the main stages through which production moves are normally clearly identifiable regardless of the type of film involved. This process is conventionally divided into four parts: development, which deals with conceiving, planning, and financing the film project; preproduction, when key resources such as cast, crew, and sets are assembled and prepared; principal photography, during which time the film is actually shot; and postproduction, which involves editing the raw footage and adding the visual effects and soundtrack.


Early films dating from the 1890s were far shorter and less technically complex than feature films in the twenty-first century. As a rule, they did not require either a script or a large crew. Many were nonfictional films, known as actualités, which in some instances simply involved setting the camera up in front of a street scene (or other view), filming for a short while, developing and printing the film, and then screening it unedited. The Lumière brothers' (Augustère, [1862–1954]; Louis Lumière, [1864–1948]) Lumie celebrated Cinématographe served this type of filmmaking well, as it was a movie camera, printer, and projector all in one. A camera operator equipped with this device could be supplied to vaudeville theaters, which regularly included films in their program; he or she would film local scenes, print them, and project them, all on the same day.

Other popular genres of the time were filmed variety acts and "trick films," which centered on special effects. These films, unlike their documentary counterparts, required staging, rudimentary sets, costumes, and props. Trick films also demanded more innovative production techniques than actualités or variety acts. For example, The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots (1895) involved stopping the camera after Robert Thomae, the actor playing Mary, laid his head on the execution block, and then using a dummy for the head-chopping sequence.

Trick films and variety acts were most easily made in a studio. The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots was shot in the first dedicated film studio: Thomas Edison's (1847–1931) "Black Maria," which opened in New Jersey in 1892. Although basic by modern standards, it was carefully designed to deal with the various contingencies that filmmaking faced at the time. It had an open roof to allow in sunlight—essential for a period when all filming relied on natural light—and the whole structure rested on a revolving pivot to maintain an alignment with the sun. Other filmmakers followed suit, both in the United States and abroad, including the Biograph Company, which built a rooftop studio in New York in 1896, and Georges Méliès (1861–1938), who constructed a glass-encased studio near Paris in 1897.

Staged films demanded preplanning. In the early days, however, this tended to be minimal and was left mostly in the hands of the film's director. As film companies moved towards mass production, more methodical planning processes were instituted. Careful scheduling allowed efficient use of resources and also ensured a regular flow of product. Increasingly, producers rather than directors assumed greater control over planning projects. Directors, for their part, were progressively relegated to the role of project managers, subject to strict schedule and budgetary controls, and required to shoot the film according to a script developed elsewhere in the system.

Two important management innovations did much to change the balance of power between producers and directors. The first was the institution of production schedules around 1907 to 1909. The second was the introduction of continuity scripts, which were in regular use by the early 1910s. Production schedules helped to manage the flow of activity in order to ensure maximum utilization of studio capacity and human resources. These production schedules depended, in turn, on continuity scripts which provided detailed outlines of each individual film project. As longer narrative films became the dominant type of film production, continuity scripts played the crucial role of indicating the resources such as actors, crew, set, and equipment that would be needed for the production as well as ensuring that the plots were well planned in advance. While these innovations came about partly in response to a growing reliance on narrative films, making it easier to plan and produce them reinforced the eventual dominance of this type of film.

This system, which was firmly entrenched by 1916, came to be known as the "multiple director-unit system." Under this system, each company had several filmmaking units, with each unit headed by a director and including a full production crew. Other resources, such as actors, were drawn from pooled resources which the production company made available to each unit as required. Later modifications to this scheme led to the "central producer system" in which producers took responsibility for supervising a number of simultaneous productions and over-seeing the directors who worked on them. This way of organizing film production was the basis of the system used throughout the US "studio era" (c. 1920–1960), which was dominated by a handful of large, integrated production-distribution-exhibition companies. It quickly came to be seen as a model of best practice for other national industries, many of which adopted its techniques.

The production process established under the US studio system remains in use and dominates filmmaking to this day. There are various reasons for the survival and dominance of this model. To begin with, many of the basic technical requirements of filmmaking have not changed significantly over the years. Second, most of the skills needed for making films are now embedded in craft knowledge and professional practices protected by unions and occupational communities. Finally, the systems of project management that were refined during the studio era continue to yield significant practical and economic benefits. Although the different stages of the production process were developed to meet the needs of live-action fictional feature films, many aspects of this system are used to produce other types of films, such as documentaries and shorts.


The growing reliance on feature-film production that displaced the dominance of short films required an increasing upfront commitment of financial and human resources. Allocating and using these resources effectively required planning, which resulted in greater attention given to development and preproduction within the US studio system than had existed previously.

During the studio era, development and planning was undertaken by company executives and was shaped by two factors: first, by the estimates made by the head of distribution as to the number and nature of films required to meet theatrical exhibition needs; and second, by the need to make optimal use of internally held resources such as specialized staff, sets, and costumes. Top studio executives decided the overall budget for the year, and based on this budget, allocated expenditures for individual motion-picture projects.

Once the range of projects was decided in terms of budget and genre, work commenced on planning the individual films. Projects normally originated with the script department, a unit all major producers had instituted by 1911. Normally, potential scripts were selected by readers from existing sources such as novels, plays, radio shows, or even existing movies. The Wizard of Oz (1939), for instance, had previously existed in all these forms by the time it was put into production. Other films began life as original screenplays, normally by writers under contract to the studio, since producers rarely purchased original screenplays from freelance writers for fear of copyright infringement.

Whilst some projects were selected on their individual merits, many were genre pieces or sequels that capitalized on proven success and available resources. Examples include the Warner Bros.' musical Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) and Universal's horror franchise entry, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). Some scripts were commissioned as vehicles for contracted stars, such as Road to Morocco (1942), which was one of a series of original scripts written for Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

Once the script department had made its recommendations for potential productions, selected scripts were allocated to associate producers who oversaw the development and production process. This process normally began with a scenario describing the plot in prose form. It was followed by a treatment providing more detail about individual scenes. Next a screenplay was prepared which included dialogue. Finally, a shooting script broke the action down into individual shots and provided guidance for staging and camera positioning.

Scripts conformed to a standardized format, with brief camera and set instructions in the left-hand column and dialogue to the right. Each step of the process was subjected to detailed critical evaluation and numerous revisions before it was allowed to progress to the next stage of writing. As the project evolved, other elements of the production, such as casting, were discussed and decided, and these decisions in turn often led to further script development. The successive drafts were often the product of different writers. Some received on-screen credit and others did not. Carried to an extreme, this process resulted in films such as Forever and a Day (1943), which credited the contributions of an astonishing twenty-one writers.

The meticulous process of script development was intended to ensure not only that the story would be entertaining and engaging, and hence popular with audiences, but also that the resources needed to transform it into a film were available, and that the entire process could be performed within budget and on schedule. The continuity script acted as a blueprint for the tasks required during preproduction, such as casting and set building. Once filming began, it functioned as a detailed template for the day-to-day activities involved in shooting the film. The tasks to be performed, such as the creation of different camera setups, were known in advance and therefore could be scheduled for maximum efficiency. The continuity script also had the added virtue of making it far easier for the production office to monitor the progress of the shooting, and to intervene early when problems arose. This often occurred when scenes proved unexpectedly difficult and expensive to shoot, and could lead to ongoing script revision.

During the studio era, planning and resource allocation decisions were made within the context of multiple projects. The logic was one of portfolio investment in which decisions on individual projects were strongly related to what the studio intended to produce and release in a given year. The breakdown of the studio system in the early 1950s saw a return to the planning of films as individual units, a process known as the "package-unit system." This approach became dominant through the 1950s and 1960s when the studios began to cut back production. The cutback was partly a response to antitrust decrees that forced the studios to dispose of their exhibition business, with consequent loss of control over release. It also responded to the decline in cinema attendance, which was caused by a range of factors such as the baby boom and the growing popularity of television. The production cutbacks meant it was no longer viable for the studios to retain costly personnel under contract. Nor was it worthwhile, once control over exhibition was lost, to maintain an infrastructure that depended on a continuous flow of film production.

Personnel were therefore let go, physical assets were sold, and in-house departments such as wardrobe and props were shut down. Filmmaking returned to the logic of individual production that prevailed during the earliest days of the industry. When planning a film, it became necessary to negotiate for the main elements—stars, director, and script—separately. Once the main elements were secured, production finance was sought on a film-by-film basis. In the contemporary film industry most film projects originate with entrepreneurs. As a rule, they are financed largely on their individual merits, instead of by virtue of their contribution to the production and distribution strategy of a large studio.

The change in the way the industry is organized has had important repercussions for the development stage of film production. Because the key players are all independent contractors rather than attached to a studio, it has become harder to ensure that all of them remain committed to seeing a project through to completion. As a rule, key personnel such as actors and directors become contractually committed to a film only when financing has been obtained and a date for principal photography has been set. Unlike the studio era, when financing for individual films came from internally allocated budgets, in the poststudio era it is usually negotiated piecemeal from a variety of companies or individuals. This process may take so long to conclude that directors or actors who were originally enthusiastic about a film may move on to other projects.

The impact of financing uncertainty on the commitment of key personnel paradoxically tends to increase the uncertainty of financing itself. Financial backers often make their participation contingent on stars or high-profile directors. If key individuals exit the project financing arrangements may unravel—which may lead to postponements which, in turn, may lead to further exits by key personnel, bringing to an end a project originally seen as highly promising.

The problems of obtaining and committing sufficient financing for production have increased exponentially since the breakdown of the studio system. The multiple sources of finance which prevail in the twenty-first century increase the probability of endless postponement and ultimate failure. If the financiers do not have confidence in the way development is progressing, or if their financial situation changes, they may choose not to make the movie, putting the project into "turnaround," a stage at which the producer may seek finance elsewhere. Monetary uncertainty, combined with constant changes in personnel, often means that the development process can be extremely protracted. Director Richard Attenborough's pet project, Gandhi (1982), went through twelve screen-plays and seventeen years of development before it reached the preproduction stage.

Conversely, some films of the poststudio era have had much shorter periods of development than films made under the studio system. This has sometimes resulted in critically and/or commercially successful films. Some of the best-known examples were made by the American entrepreneur Roger Corman, who achieved particular renown in the field of low-budget exploitation films. The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) was inspired by standing sets. It was conceived and written in the space of a couple of weeks and filmed in slightly more than two days in order to take advantage of the sets before they were torn down. Another director who capitalized on standing sets was Wayne Wang. Immediately after shooting Smoke (1995), he filmed Blue in the Face (1995) in six days, based on ideas noted down by writer Paul Auster during the shooting of the first movie. It was assembled from largely improvised scenes and used many of the same actors along with a host of quickly marshaled celebrity cameos.

Short periods of development may appear attractive at first sight, but they often have negative consequences for the integrity of the film. When Corman filmed The Terror (1963) using the sets and stars assembled for his production of The Raven (1963), it was based on only a handful of hurriedly written scenes without a clear idea of narrative. Far from replicating the efficiency of The Little Shop of Horrors, this project required a further nine months of shooting scenes piecemeal to accumulate enough footage to transform it into a feature film. The filming of this jumble of sequences was completed by another five uncredited directors, including Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson, Monte Hellman, Dennis Jacob, and Jack Hill, and became one of the most protracted production processes of Corman's career.

Many independent productions have suffered from too little time spent in development, since the producer may not receive payment until the film goes into preproduction, encouraging the fastest possible progression to this stage. Yet even large-budget studio productions have sometimes been marred by insufficient development, such as the $35 million Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), which began shooting without a completed script.


Once basic agreement on the script is achieved, early preparations begin for the actual filming. Director, cast, and film crew are assigned while script development continues. Suggestions made by the director are incorporated, and the script is tailored to fit the image of the selected stars. Each member of the crew is provided with a copy of the script to assist preparations for principal photography. Decisions are made about which parts of the film will be shot on studio sets, and which on location. In general, studio shooting is preferred as it allows a greater degree of control over both the artistic and practical elements of the production process, and avoids the expense of transporting and accommodating cast, crew, and equipment. Filming on location is preferred for greater realism. If it is a location shoot, locations are selected during preproduction and all the practical arrangements are made in preparation for the arrival of the cast and crew.

Under the studio system, the larger production companies employed not only a variety of sound stages, but also extensive grounds on which potentially flexible sets remained standing for repeated use. For instance, parts of the Jerusalem set built for Cecil B. DeMille's The King of Kings (1927) can also be seen in King Kong (1933), The Garden of Allah (1936), and Gone with the Wind, (1939), amongst other films. The redressing of sets, with superficial alterations, disguised their repeated use and was an important factor in the economy of the studio system. Standing sets would be readied for production and new sets built when necessary (although the latter expensive and time-consuming activity was avoided when possible). In addition to standing sets, the large studios also maintained vast collections of costumes, furniture, fake weapons, and even live animals, all of which individual productions could book for use. During the studio era these activities were organized internally by heads of departments who worked to ensure that all these resources were selected and made ready during preproduction. Following the dismantling of the studio system, it has become common for productions to rent studio space, costumes, props, and other materials from independent businesses that provide specialized services to the film industry.

Before filming begins, a shooting schedule is prepared. This describes the order in which scenes will be filmed, which usually differs from the order in which they will appear in the finished film. The plan allows the film to be shot as quickly and cheaply as possible. All the scenes using a particular set or location are normally shot consecutively. The availability of actors can also dictate the order in which scenes are filmed. For instance, Goldfinger (1964) began shooting in Miami without its star Sean Connery, who was still working on Marnie (1964) at the time. Goldfinger's Fontainebleau Hotel set later had to be reconstructed at Pinewood Studios in England once Connery became available, and back projection was used to incorporate footage shot on location.

Some directors regard the practice of shooting out of sequence as artistically compromising. In some rare instances directors insist on shooting films completely in sequence—a practice that allows actors to fully engage with their roles, but is costly in other respects. Ken Loach, the British director of Raining Stones (1993), Ladybird, Ladybird (1994), and Sweet Sixteen (2002), is one famous advocate of shooting in sequence, since strong performances are always the lynchpin of his films.


By the first day of filming, every member of the crew is expected to be familiar with the shooting schedule, and all the necessary equipment for the day's work should be available. Each member of the crew is provided with a call sheet, itemizing when and why they are required on set. The sets will have been built and dressed, and lights positioned in accordance with the scheme agreed by the director and the director of photography. Cameras and microphones are positioned and camera movements and lighting adjustments are rehearsed with the help of standins who walk through the actions. Marks are placed on the floor to ensure that actors make the same movements when the scene is shot. While this is going on, the actors spend time in costume, hair, and makeup. Once the technical aspects of shooting the scene have been firmly established and the actors are dressed, they are called to the set. At the discretion of the director, some time is normally spent rehearsing before the scene is filmed.

When the director is ready to shoot, an assistant calls for silence. If filming takes place in a studio, the doors are closed and a red light switched on above them to signal that entry to the set is forbidden. The director instructs the camera operator and sound recordist to begin recording. The scene and take numbers are read out and the hinged clapperboard snapped shut, which assists with marrying sound and image in postproduction. The director then calls "action" and the actors begin their performance.

The first take is not always successful. It may be spoiled by actors flubbing their lines or marred by errors in camera movement or focus, or by lights or microphones making their way into the frame. Repeated takes are therefore often unavoidable. Some directors, such as W. S. Van Dyke, nicknamed "One-Take Woody," have always endeavored to keep these to a minimum, while others, such as Fritz Lang and Stanley Kubrick, developed reputations for demanding an extraordinarily high number of takes before their exacting standards were met. Few go to such extremes as Charlie Chaplin did when he went through 342 takes of a scene in City Lights (1931) in which his Little Tramp buys a flower from the blind girl (Virginia Cherrill). In general, careful planning and rehearsal can help keep the number down and reduce unnecessary waste of expensive film stock.

The difficulty of deciding whether a take is satisfactory has been much reduced since video was introduced into the process. The practice was pioneered by the actor and director Jerry Lewis when filming his feature debut, The Bellboy (1960), in which he also starred. Lewis sought a way to instantly review the recording of his acting performance. He decided to use a video camera linked to the main film camera and recording the same material. This invention came to be known as the "video assist." The recent advent of digital filmmaking has meant not only that master footage can be viewed at any time, but also that it is economically realistic for the director to request a greater number of takes than with 35mm, or even 16mm, film stock, since digital videotapes are considerably less expensive.

When the director is satisfied with a take, he or she will ask for it to be printed. The same scene may still need to filmed again from different camera angles, though. Alternatively, a scene may be shot with more than one camera at once. This allows a range of options when it comes to editing, and it is an especially valuable technique where a scene can only be filmed once due to danger or expense. Gone with the Wind, for instance, used all seven of the Technicolor cameras then in existence to shoot the sequence depicting the burning of Atlanta.

At the end of each day's shooting, the film is developed and the takes the director has selected are printed and screened for the director and production company executives. This material is known as the "dailies," or "rushes," and is used to evaluate the film's progress. It also reveals mistakes overlooked during the day's filming and directs attention to scenes that must be reshot while actors are still available and sets still standing.

While the director concentrates his attention on filming the main scenes—normally the ones in which the stars appear—the task of shooting other footage may be assigned to other units. A second unit is often used for filming in other locations, for shooting fights or other action in which the main actors are not engaged, or for filming street scenes, animals, landscapes, and other such material. Many well-known directors such as Don Siegel, Robert Aldrich, and Jonathan Demme served as second-unit directors early in their careers. The special-effects department may also shoot some footage separately from the main unit, such as the model animation so central to King Kong. During the studio era, some companies also had centralized resources for providing certain services. If, for instance, a film required a close-up of a newspaper headline, the task of filming this would fall to the insert department rather than a crew member dedicated to the particular film. Sometimes standard scenes, such as a cavalry charge, were not filmed at all. Instead, the filmmakers incorporated stock footage drawn from the production company library. This was a far cheaper option than reshooting scenes for each individual picture and was unlikely to be noticed by most viewers.

Principal photography is probably the most difficult part of the production process in terms of investment and effort. Motion picture production is haunted by stories of shoots that have brought projects to the brink of collapse. A production that illustrates the difficulty of location shooting is Apocalypse Now (1979). The production's problems ranged from difficulties with its stars—the drug-addled Dennis Hopper, the intractable Marlon Brando, and the heart attack-stricken Martin Sheen—to having to deal with monsoons and logistical crises. Another example is the German director Werner Herzog's magnum opus, Fitzcarraldo (1982), which experienced comparable difficulties with location, logistics, and climatic conditions. In the case of Fitzcarraldo, matters were made worse by the loss of two main actors halfway through the filming (Jason Robards left due to serious illness and Mick Jagger left due to a prior commitment with The Rolling Stones). This meant principal photography needed to be restarted from scratch. As difficult as production on these films proved to be, the directors could take comfort that they were completed and went on to receive considerable critical acclaim. Terry Gilliam's abortive production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is one of the rare instances in which the difficulties of principal photography led to abandonment of production. The saga of this unfortunate production is recounted in detail in the fascinating feature documentary Lost in La Mancha (2002).

Although problems encountered during principal photography are common to many films—difficult locations, poor logistics, and recalcitrant actors—the methods that filmmakers use to address them can be very different, as are their outcomes. My Son John (1952), Solomon and Sheba (1959), Dark Blood (1993), and The Crow (1994) all had to deal with the deaths of their lead actors during their shoots. My Son John was completed by incorporating outtakes of Robert Walker from his previous film, Strangers on a Train (1951). Solomon and Sheba recast the role of Solomon, replacing Tyrone Power with Yul Brynner, and reshot all of Power's scenes, while The Crow succeeded in resurrecting its star, Brandon Lee, through the use of computer animation. Dark Blood, however, was abandoned after the death of River Phoenix in 1993, as the insurance company considered this to be the cheapest option.


After principal photography is concluded, the production process moves to postproduction. Postproduction transforms the thousands of feet of raw footage into a finished film. One of the most important elements of postproduction is the editing process in which shots are selected and assembled in an appropriate order. Attention is then turned to the soundtrack. While the majority of US films record dialogue on set, some parts may be rerecorded due to poor sound quality. Music and sound effects must be recorded and the different tracks combined into a final mix. Opening and/or end credits must also be added, and other optical and visual effects work may be required.

Editing, like script development, goes through several stages. Traditionally, the editing process has involved working with a physical copy of the film, cutting and splicing pieces of footage manually. It is now more common to load the images onto a computer using a system such as Final Cut Pro or Avid, which allows easy experimentation with different ways of arranging the shots. Whichever method is used, the basic processes remain the same. First, the dailies are assembled in the order specified in the shooting script. Excerpts are then taken from individual shots and arranged in such a way as to tell the story as economically as possible, while at the same time preserving a sense of coherent time and space. This is traditionally referred to as the "rough cut." Although normally it does not have a soundtrack, it is generally a reliable guide to the finished film.

The editing that produces the rough cut often uncovers deficiencies that had not been detected before. A common problem is that shots do not fit together well because the director did not film enough coverage of the action to clarify the spatial relations between them. More rarely, the movie may simply be too short. This happened with Duel at Silver Creek (1952), when director Don Siegel paced the action too quickly. The resulting rough cut ran for only fifty-four minutes, far too short for a feature release. The obvious remedy in such situations is to shoot additional footage, but it is one most producers strive to avoid because of the difficult logistics and potentially great expense of reassembling actors and sets.

While the editing is taking place, work is carried out on the soundtrack, with different crew members working on the music, sound effects, and dialogue. Normally the composer does not begin work until after viewing the rough cut, but in rare cases the musical score is written before filming begins. Ennio Morricone's music for Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, 1966) and John Williams's score for Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) are well-known examples of such a practice. Sound effects are often taken from existing recordings held in sound libraries, but some films require the creation of new effects. This process is undertaken in a recording studio by a foley artist. It may also be necessary to record postsynchronized dialogue. This normally entails placing the actors in front of a film projection so they can ensure their lip movements match the image.

The different pieces of sound are recorded on separate tracks. They are combined in premixes, which are the sound equivalent of the visual rough cuts. As the editing of the image track progresses, the sound needs to be remixed in accordance with the lengthening, shortening, rearranging, or deleting of scenes. This process has been made easier by the development of computerized sound-editing software.

When the editing of the image track has been completed, a copy of the original negative is cut to match the edited print. A new positive print, known as an "answer print," is struck from the edited negative. This print is then graded, which ensures that color and light levels are consistent throughout the film. The process may be repeated several times before unwanted variations are eliminated. At the end of this process, a print called an "interpos" is created, from which another negative, called an "interneg," is struck.

Work on the final version of the soundtrack is also completed at this stage. The final sound mix is made to synchronize perfectly with the finished image track, and the sound is recorded onto film in order to create an optical soundtrack. A negative is created from this and combined with the interneg. Any titles and optical effects are also added at this stage. The resulting combined optical print will be the source of the "interdupe" negative, from which the final release prints will be struck.

Throughout postproduction, executives of the producing or distributing company carefully monitor the progress of the film. If dissatisfied with the results, they may insist on changes, sometimes even replacing the original editor and/or director. This may happen at any stage from the rough cut onwards. The insistence of studio executives on their right to determine the final cut has frequently resulted in bitter conflicts with directors who often regard themselves as the "authors" of the finished film. A confrontation that entered the Hollywood annals took place during the studio era between MGM and director Erich von Stroheim. Producers were alarmed by von Stroheim's forty-two-reel (approximately nine- or ten-hour) rough cut of Greed (1924). Aware that a film of this length could never be screened commercially, von Stroheim cut almost half the footage himself, and then handed the reduced version to a trusted associate for further editing. The results failed to impress MGM executives, who demanded further cuts. When von Stroheim failed to comply, they appointed their own editor, and cut the film down to the more marketable length of ten reels.

If the studio is uncertain about the audience appeal of a film, it will often undertake test screenings in order to gauge reaction and obtain guidance for improvements. Test screenings may be repeated several times until audience scorecards indicate the film has attained the desired response. Reediting, or even reshooting, may be required if audience reactions fall short of expectations. Recent films that were substantially altered following test screenings include Troy (2004), which replaced Gabriel Yared's score with completely new music by James Horner, and King Arthur (2004), for which a new ending was shot and the violence toned down. With each batch of changes, however, the postproduction cycle must be repeated, as new versions of sound and image track need to be married and new negatives and prints created.

It is also common to prepare multiple versions of films for release in different countries. Perhaps the most obvious feature that needs to be localized is the language. Often the dialogue is dubbed into local languages, which means the newly recorded voice tracks need to be remixed with the music and sound effects. Title sequences may be replaced completely—sometimes with entirely different visual designs—or subtitles may be added to the existing credit titles. If the film has not been dubbed, dialogue subtitles will be needed throughout the film.

Language is not the only feature that varies between countries, however. Different censorship regulations mean that sequences allowed in one country may have to be removed in another. Obviously this can affect spatial and/or narrative coherence. Sometimes major changes are made to a film in order to give it greater appeal outside its home territory. Francis Ford Coppola's first directorial assignment (under the pseudonym of Thomas Colchart) was to take the Japanese disaster film Nebo Zovyot (1960) and completely reedit it for US audiences, transforming the plot and adding not only new dialogue but also new footage. The film was released in the United States as Battle Beyond the Sun (1962).


The main filmmaking stages—development, preproduction, principal photography, and postproduction—are similar for most types of filmmaking. There are three notable exceptions to this dominant model: documentary, animation, and experimental cinema.

The method of making documentary films necessarily differs from fictional features because the events recorded can rarely be planned in advance. This is especially true for cinéma vérité and direct-cinema films, such as Primary (1960), which followed presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, and Don't Look Back (1967), D. A. Pennebaker's account of Bob Dylan's British tour. Each of these films was shot on location using lightweight 16mm cameras, long takes, and available light to follow events as they happened.

While the purpose of these forms of observational documentary is to record events as they occur, other types of documentary present accounts of events that have already happened. These allow some level of scripting prior to production. Examples of this approach include The Thin Blue Line (1988), Errol Morris's compelling exposé of a miscarriage of justice, and Touching the Void (2003), which tells the remarkable tale of a climbing expedition that went catastrophically wrong. Both these films mixed interviews with reconstructions of events, their production processes thus emulating fictional films more than observational documentary. No matter what their styles and subjects, though, documentary films always have greater potential to deviate from their original intent than do their fictional counterparts. For example, Capturing the Friedmans (2003) began life as a documentary about clowns, but when it emerged that the father and brother of one of the subjects were both convicted pedophiles, director Andrew Jarecki saw an opportunity to make a far more interesting film.

The production processes of animated features have many elements in common with live-action films. They do, for instance, engage in a rigorous process of script development, and their soundtracks are created in much the same way as those for live-action films. It is in the principal photography stage that their processes differ substantially, since animated images are created in entirely different ways.

Even within the field of animation itself, a range of very different production processes are used. The traditional and most widely employed technique is cel animation, of which Bambi (1942) and The Lion King (1994) are examples. In this technique, images are painted onto sheets of celluloid that overlie painted backgrounds. "Cels" are placed on an animation table and filmed from above. A slightly different technique is the animation of cutout silhouettes, most famously employed by Lotte Reiniger in films such as The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). Some forms of animation film three-dimensional models instead of pictures. One technique is puppet animation, which was used in The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984). Another is "claymation," of which Chicken Run (2000) is an example. Digital animation is becoming an increasingly popular technique. It has been used to make blockbusters such as Toy Story (1995) and Shrek (2001), and is already displacing the primacy of cel animation.

Some films deliberately set out to challenge the dominant modes of film practice by employing production processes that result in radically different aesthetics from those of mainstream films. These films are rarely shown in mainstream cinemas, playing instead at venues such as art houses, museums, universities, film schools, and filmmakers' forums. Their production, distribution, and exhibition systems all position the films as oppositional to the types of cinema hitherto described.

Experimental film techniques vary widely and employ every possible method. Some experimental filmmakers do not even use a camera, a basic tool of most film productions. Some films are based on images painted directly onto the film strip, a technique normally used to create abstract animations, of which Len Lye's Color Cry (1952) and Norman McLaren's Short and Suite (1959) are two examples. A variation on this technique was used by Stan Brakhage to create Mothlight (1963), which involved sandwiching flowers, leaves, and dead moths between two strips of film. Other films have been created from found footage—film that was previously shot for another purpose. One type of filmmaking to use this technique is the collage film, which edits together excerpts of found footage in such a way as to give rise to new interpretations of the images. The most influential practitioner of this kind of filmmaking is Bruce Conner, whose films include A Movie (1958) and Report (1967). Found footage was also used by some of the structuralist/materialist filmmakers, whose work aimed to draw attention to the material of the film itself as well as to the processes involved in making and viewing it. The descriptively titled Film in Which There Appear Sprocket Holes, Edge Lettering, and Dirt Particles, etc. (1965), by George Landow (a.k.a. Owen Land) is an example of this genre.

Although these types of short films are intended for specialist audiences, highly experimental works occasionally cross over into commercial viewing environments. One example is Time Code (2000), which was shot in real time on digital video using four hand-held cameras filming simultaneous action in different locations. The shooting process had to be timetabled very precisely to allow the actors and cameras from each of the four segments to meet up with one another at specific dramatic moments. Instead of creating a conventional script, writer and director Mike Figgis outlined the actions and locations on musical score sheets. This ensured that the timing of each sequence was synchronized with the other three. When the film was exhibited, the cinema screen was split into four sections, each showing the footage from one of the cameras.

SEE ALSO Casting;Cinematography;Credits;Crew;Direction;Editing;Guilds and Unions;Music;Producer;Production Design;Screenwriting;Sound;Studio System;Technology


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Deborah Allison

Joseph Lampel