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Archive for September, 2009

Movie Production

Movie Production

I recently had a very interesting discussion with Antti Sipilä, a producer from Luoda Production Oy. As he is a professionally trained movie producer, and I’m myself coming from the software industry, we were comparing the similarities between these industries. The question was, can the software industry learn something from the way movies always have been produced?

The first question is why should we even discuss this matter, what’s wrong with the software industry anyway?

Not necessarily anything. There are few interesting issues here, however:

  1. Do we utilize a model where we can get the best possible resources for each production (software project) we do?
  2. Do we respect and motivate the individual talents needed for a production… a project, to achieve best possible results in the given timeline?
  3. Why doesn’t the software industry respect deadlines?

Let’s start by describing the way how the movie industry works.

The first group in our focus is called the scriptwriters. This profession is specializing in writing the scripts, the actual idea of the whole thing. Sometimes the script is based on a book, sometimes not. You can think about these guys as the ones who write Business Plans in the software industry, in a way. The scriptwriters themselves do not go after each script on their own, in order to produce a movie, but they sell it to somebody. There are specialized agents shopping for these scripts. The buyers typically pay few hundreds of thousands of dollars for a good script. The buyers then develop these scripts further, and it can take years before a script goes further, if at all. Sometimes the scripts are even combined in order to create one better script.

When a script is ready for the next step, it is sold to a Movie Studio. It’s the factory that will produce the movie. One team can produce about 20 movies per year, taking care of the production and marketing alike.

Producing the movie needs talents, many different kinds of talent. And the talent set required for a movie can be each time different. The studios do not actually keep all the possible talents on the payroll, nor utilize only the talents they have on their payroll. They hire the actors and all the other talents and skills (such as light expertise) on a per project basis. There are specialized Casting Companies who find and contract these talents. Many famous movie stars have their own agents who take care of this process on their behalf.

The movie production can start when

  1. The script is in the shape it can be turned into a movie
  2. There is a movie studio producing it
  3. There are all the actors needed to implement it
  4. The studio has arranged financing for the movie, which could be done also with crowdfunding model

Each movie production is (or should be) a master piece of project management. As each actor and other resources needed cost money all the time, all the steps are well planned and go in parallel, including marketing and distribution. If there are unexpected changes, as there always are (like rain for a scene meant to be sunny), changes are done on the fly to keep the train going. Deadlines are respected, this is built-in feature of the industry. If some person will not do her task in the deadline agreed, she will not be respected by the others. Actually, nobody really wants to be the one who caused the delay of the production, and that also motivates everybody. Being will prepared for one’s role is always part of the success, and people take this seriously. The Crew Commitment is important!

On the other hand, the timelines (often defined by the Assistant Director) must be realistic in the first place, which takes experience to master. We discussed this long time with Mr. Sipilä and it was obvious that the respect of the deadlines, intensity of team work and mutual trust and respect are the core values for any successful movie production. Individual talents are, as we all know, respected highly and this is indicated for example by showing a long list of them at the end of movie. It’s like the Hall of Fame, and you want to be there.

As the movie industry is “hit driven”, the success or failure can often be measured for example by the sales of the first weekend. There is of course a long tail and other longer term revenues, but this first weekend often gives indication how it will go. The marketing and distribution actions are well planned and executed, nowadays utilizing many different media channels, like the Internet and mobile phones In order to control this the movie studios often own the delivery channels (like movie theaters and ticket offices) in many countries.

So what can we learn about this concerning the software industry? That will be covered next week, stay tuned!

… and comments are very welcome, thanks!

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