Production Supervisors

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Below the Line Positions That Can Make or Break a Movie

Below the Line Positions That Can Make or Break a Movie

The terms above the line and below the line refer to the top sheet of a film budget. According to The Movie Business Book, the above the line costs “…are finalized prior to the start of principal photography[1],” and include the Writer (or story rights), the Producers and the Director (along with their support staff) and all casting costs, including the Casting Director and the Actors. All the other talent is below the line. The below the line talent is the crew involved with the day-to-day operations of getting the film made and can be broken down between production and post-production.

Everything you see and hear in a movie has been created by below the line talent, from the clothes the Actors wear to the spaceships gliding through space. So in spite of the term suggesting something “lowly,” below the line talent is just as critical to filmmaking as above the line talent. That is why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes these crucial players during their yearly Oscars ceremony. But on top of that, there are other important players that are below the line who are vital to the filmmaking machine. Below is an overview of department heads, who, if they aren’t eligible for an Oscar, should get a Badge of Honor.

Below the line positions typically include:

  1. Line Producer
  2. Assistant Director
  3. Cinematographer
  4. Production Designer
  5. Costume Designer
  6. Hair and Makeup
  7. Production Sound Mixer
  8. Script Supervisor
  9. Editor
  10. Composer
  11. Sound Mixer
  12. Visual Effects Supervisor

Line Producer

Let’s start with the Line Producer. Though the Line Producer’s “line” usually falls within the production costs and is technically below the line, the Line Producer pretty much is the line. Once the project has been developed, it is the Line Producer who calculates the below the line costs and oversees all the day-to-day operations of a film from pre-production through wrap. Additionally, it is the Line Producer’s responsibility to make sure the film is finished on time and within budget. Talk about high stress!

Assistant Director

The Assistant Director, aka the AD, runs the set. While the Director has the vision, it is the AD who coordinates all the elements needed to shoot each scene. The AD is brought in during pre-production and helps breakdown the script and determine the most efficient way to shoot it, coordinating with all departments to clarify their needs. During production, The AD must keep a vigilant eye on time and make sure the crew stays on schedule — which includes the Director! Definitely worth of a Badge of Honor.

Cinematographer

The Cinematographer, sometimes called the Director of Photography, is responsible for the overall look of the film from a camera perspective. This includes lighting, framing, camera movement, etc. The Camera Operator, the Grips, Gaffers, and Electricians all work under the Cinematographer.

Production Designer

The Production Designer is responsible for everything that the Cinematographer shoots. From the use of color to deciding on locations, the Production Designer is concerned with pushing the visual narrative, and the role of physical space. What does a location say about the characters who live in them? What clues can be put in the environment to add layers to the story? The Production Designer creates the artistic look of a film and must collaborate with many departments — props, costume, construction, and camera — to do so.

Everything you see and hear in a movie has been created by below the line talent, from the clothes the Actors wear to the spaceships gliding through space. So in spite of the term suggesting something “lowly,” below the line talent is just as critical to filmmaking as above the line talent. That is why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes these crucial players during their yearly Oscars ceremony.

Costume Designer

The Costume Designer collaborates with the Production Designer and is responsible for what the characters wear. The most obvious costume design is seen in period films, but a Costume Designer is just as critical on a present-day film. How people dress is an expression of who they are, so a Costume Designer must understand character, and each outfit they put on an Actor should have meaning and support the visual story.

Hair and Makeup

Hair and Makeup are also integrated into production design and costume design. How much makeup an Actor might wear or how her hair is styled must reflect the character and flow with the look of the film. Hair and makeup must also follow the script and keep makeup consistent through principal photography, even though most films are shot out of order.

Another category in the Makeup Department is special effects makeup. These guys often work with prosthetics and fake blood. For example, prosthetics can be used to make a character look more like a historical figure, or to create something like a monster or alien.

Production Sound Mixer

The Production Sound Mixer, sometimes referred to as the Sound Engineer, is responsible for recording all the production sound in a movie. This includes the dialog and other sounds that you hear on screen – car engines turning on or off, ambient sounds, the Judge slamming the gavel down, etc. It also includes getting room tone, (an important tool for post-production) in which the entire crew stands still and doesn’t make a sound for at least 30 seconds…but feels like an eternity for a time-crunched crew.

Script Supervisor

The Script Supervisor can usually be found right next to the Director, taking detailed notes and ensuring continuity from take to take. The notes will include which character’s lines are on screen and what kind of coverage the Director is getting. Each time the camera resets to do another setup or take, the Script Supervisor also makes sure that the Actors repeat their action the same way – for example, putting a coat on right arm first or sipping a drink with the handle turned left. These notes are all intended for the Editor. At the end of each day, the Script Supervisor sends her notes to the Editor to let them know what has been shot and what still needs to be shot, so the Editor doesn’t start a scene before they have all the footage.

Editor

Though editing is mostly a part of post-production, the Editor is usually brought on during principal photography (production) to edit the scenes together as they are shot to ensure that the footage is, indeed, working and to anticipate any extra coverage they might need to get. The Editor is responsible for watching the footage, choosing the best takes and piecing the visual story together.

Some people know right away that the Costume Department is where they want to be, or that post-production sound turns them on, but not everyone has such a clear path. It’s okay to make discoveries as you go through film school or after you land your first job on set.

Composer

The Composer is the one who takes home the Best Original Score Oscar. Though a Composer is often consulted early in the process to start thinking about themes and moods for the film, they are usually brought in once the movie is cut together and do their real magic once the picture is locked (completely finished). The Composer works with the Director to decide where music cues should be, and writes and records the score.

Supervising Sound Mixer

Overall, this might be the most misunderstood department. The Oscars have two post-sound categories: Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing but there are even more elements to these post-sound categories. Let’s talk about the main credits we usually see on a film. The Supervising Sound Mixer supervises the overall post-sound team and according to Sopan Deb, in his New York Times article, “[S]ound editing is about collecting the sounds needed for a film. Sound mixing refers to what is done after they are collected.[2]” So take a movie that has spaceships and growling monsters — the Sound Editor would collect the sounds (sound design) and the Sound Mixer would mix those sounds with the dialog and the music.

Visual Effects Supervisor

The Visual Effects Supervisor, aka VFX Supervisor, is responsible for all the visual effects on a film. They are usually brought on as early as possible and stay until the bitter end of post-production. They start by breaking down the script to see what VFX are needed and discuss with the Director and the Producers the best way to achieve them. This can be anything from green screen scenes or motion capture to shooting miniatures or simply removing signs of the modern world for a period film. A VFX Supervisor works very closely with all departments and the more “world-building” there is, the more collaboration there is with the Production Designer.

Finding Your Career Path

I can’t say everyone starts their film career below the line because some people have been known to forego it altogether. But many do, and it’s not only where they learn the ropes, it’s where they meet fellow filmmakers and make lifelong professional relationships. On the other hand, staking out a career below the line can be a very smart choice. Writing, directing, producing, and certainly acting aren’t for everyone. Some people know right away that the Costume Department is where they want to be, or that post-production sound turns them on, but not everyone has such a clear path. It’s okay to make discoveries as you go through film school or after you land your first job on set. It’s okay to wander the departments as a Production Assistant before you know where you fit in. It’s also okay to think you want to direct and discover what you really like is production design.

Directors depend on below the line talent, and most of them expect their department heads to have a vision and are inspired by creative partners. You can have a very illustrious career below the line. That’s why The Academy hands out the Oscars. And they may not hand out a statue for it, but I challenge anyone to make a film without an AD or a strong Line Producer. These positions are the backbone of production and hold the line for everyone up above.

References

  1. Squire, Jason E (2016). The Movie Business Book. Routledge. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  2. Deb, Sopan (2 March 2018). “Confused by Sound Mixing vs. Sound Editing? We’ve Got You.” The New York Times. Retrieved 16 September 2019.

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What Are the Key Elements of Mise En Scène?

What Are the Key Elements of Mise En Scène?

A great visual film is an amalgam of layers created by lighting, composition, art direction, costuming, makeup, and texture. These combined elements create what is known as Mise En Scène, which essentially means “visual theme.” Its creation begins with writing a screenplay that illustrates not only the action and dialogue, but also details (within reason) certain visual elements including the specific time period, essential descriptions of settings, and even character costumes and props. The explanation of these elements helps a Movie Director, Director of Photography, Art Director, Costume Designer, Makeup Artist, and Actors understand the tone of a film. Let’s dive into the essentials of Mise En Scène — an important and foundational part of film theory.

The key elements of Mise En Scène are:

  1. Composition
  2. Production Design
  3. Lighting
  4. Costuming
  5. Hair and Makeup
  6. Film Texture

Composition

One of the fundamentals of Mise En Scène is the framing of a shot and it can be determined during the storyboarding phase of a film. A Storyboard Artist will work closely with a Director and sometimes the Writer of a film to visually draw, illustrate, or graphically design storyboards of each scene in a screenplay. It is during this phase of pre-production that the framing, compositions, and camera movements can be determined before shooting. Some Directors like to work in very steady and traditional wide shots, medium shots, single shots, and close-ups. They want story to take the lead over style and don’t want the compositions to interfere with the acting and dialogue. However, some Directors prefer more kinetic and even frenetic shots and choose to shoot hand-held, Steadicam, or on jib and dolly. Perhaps shots with more movement are desired for a more fluid and active tale where style and story are equally expressed. Regardless of the style of the Mise En Scène, it can be determined during the storyboarding stage and then created on set with camera angles and moves.

How silly would Star Wars be if not for the original and historically inspired costumes of the Empire and the Jedi. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory would not have the same visual impact if Gene Wilder were dressed in jeans and a T-shirt instead of his classic and recognizable purple velvet long coat, patterned silk vest, and his Bell Topper hat. These costume choices are all about adding to the value and mood of Mise En Scène.

Production Design

Think about the movies you’ve seen. Each one has its own visual merits partly created by the setting you see captured within the frame of each shot. If you’re watching a period piece like Gladiator, then the story can’t stand on the costuming, props, and lighting alone. It must also exist in the time period that showcases a believable backdrop — in this case, Ancient Rome, filled with gladiatorial training camps, the Colosseum, rural fields of grain, and ancient Roman architecture. It’s the art direction, scenery, and backdrops that give Gladiator its sense or realism and three-dimensional quality. When creating your own film, it’s important to ask yourself, where will my story take place? Does the setting, created by the art direction, strengthen the Mise En Scène? It’s important to producing a believable story that connects with viewers and you can do that with the proper locations and production design.

Lighting

Once your setting is determined, locations are locked in, and production design is constructed, all of that needs to be lit in a way that elevates your intended Mise En Scène. Let’s cite the aesthetic of the feature film Drive, lit by Newton Thomas Sigel. The night scenes are lit in what I like to think of as “Neon-Noir” (not to be confused with “Neo-Noir”). The night scenes feel like the dark and lonely inner world of Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of the Driver. That is the true depiction of smart Mise En Scène. The rich contrast and bleeding colors of Sigel’s cinematography represent not just the tone of the world in which the characters reside, but also the inner workings of the main character, who is somewhat of a lost soul trying to find peace and love in a chaotic Los Angeles. Mise En Scène represents the inside and outside of that world.

Costuming

Can you imagine how little sense the world of The Dark Knight would make if not for the elaborate, artistic, and comic-book-inspired costumes worn by Batman and the Joker? Or how silly would Star Wars be if not for the original and historically inspired costumes of the Empire and the Jedi. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory would not have the same visual impact if Gene Wilder were dressed in jeans and a T-shirt instead of his classic and recognizable purple velvet long coat, patterned silk vest, and his Bell Topper hat. These costume choices are all about adding to the value and mood of Mise En Scène. Now, that’s not to say that the costuming for your film has to be as elaborate and theatrical. In fact, many straightforward stories that are less fantastic and more rooted in everyday reality still make sure that their characters are wearing costumes that strengthen the tone and quality of the film. In a film like Back to The Future, Marty still wears “character” costuming and his signature puffy red-orange vest, denim jacket, and patterned button-down shirt are now an iconic Halloween costume. His character starts in everyday clothes that became part of pop-culture zeitgeist. Regardless of the costuming you choose for your characters, just make sure that they make sense within the Mise En Scène of the world you’re creating on screen.

It doesn’t matter if a movie is some grandiose, science fiction blockbuster or some small, independent character piece that takes place in genuine locations – it’s about using compositions, production design, lighting, costuming, hair and makeup, and film and video textures to envelop the audience into a world that is believable, captivating, and fluid.

Hair and Makeup

Hair and Makeup are essential in a movie and when you think of a film like Grease, the hair and makeup echoes the look and feel of the 1950s. Pomade-greased hair for the men and hyperbolic rouge and eye makeup for the women were part and parcel to bringing those characters’ looks to life and showcasing them in the hair and makeup styles of the era. The same goes for the fictional, politically charged world of a film like The Hunger Games. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) has a look that can be considered gaudy, filled with bravado and flare. Her character dons the look of cotton candy hair and burlesque-style makeup. Her look is ironic in a world where children are forced to fight to the death. In contrast, Katniss Everdeen’s hair and makeup are often subdued, basic, and rural. Her look represents the life she leads: that of a country girl who hunts and lives off the land. However, when she is put on display by the totalitarian Capitol of Panem, she is made to look theatric and warrior-like. Her hair and make-up transform with her character development through different phases of her arc in the film. That is a pure personification of Mise En Scène.

Film Texture

Movies can have any number of final looks that can start with the type of film stock or video camera selected and end with the post-production effects and filters used before a final movie is screened. Traditional Directors of Photography who may still shoot on film will select different film stocks that offer fine, contrasty, or grainy textures. In the world of video, it’s best to shoot the best quality video you can afford and then choose a fine or grainy look in post-production. Take, for example, a movie like filmmaker Michael Mann’s Collateral starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. Cinematographers Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron shot that feature on the CineAlta HDW-F900. According to a quote by Cameron from an article written by Jay Holben called “Hell on Wheels” for The American Society of Cinematographers, “Using HD was something Michael (Mann) had already settled on by the time I came aboard,” recalls Director of Photography Paul Cameron, who prepped Collateral and shot the first three weeks of principal photography. “He wanted to use the format to create a kind of glowing urban environment; the goal was to make the LA night as much of a character in the story as Vincent and Max were.” Often, the latitude (or the array of sensitivity of film stocks or HD cameras) is taken into consideration when shooting a film or video. How film or video reacts to light is important and should be considered before shooting.

The point of understanding all of this is to note that Mise En Scène embodies almost everything that appears before the camera. It includes all of the ingredients necessary to help audiences willfully suspend their disbelief so they can enjoy a film. It doesn’t matter if a movie is some grandiose, science fiction blockbuster or some small, independent character piece that takes place in genuine locations – it’s about using compositions, production design, lighting, costuming, hair and makeup, and film and video textures to envelop the audience into a world that is believable, captivating, and fluid.


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