Have you found yourself watching a movie or a TV show and wondered how it got made? I don't mean that in the negative, "how did this even get made?!" type of question, but a question that's more about the production of it all. How does a movie or a TV show go from concept to completion? Please keep reading to find out as I get into the mechanics of how Hollywood works!
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First off, producing a film or TV show is a very long, drawn-out process with various steps that can take years to complete. While film and television are different mediums, you'll see similarities because, at heart, their creation comes down to three specific phases: pre-production, production, and post-production. You can attribute film and television production variation to decisions and processes that differ to serve that specific medium best.
How a Film Gets Made in Hollywood
Usually, there are five stages of production associated with making a movie.
The initial stage of film production is called development. How films start can vary, so this phase can look different for every film. This phase can be boiled down to fleshing out the concept and writing and then honing the script for most films. This phase also might include a writer or director pitching the project to producers and figuring out where finances for the film are coming from.
The pre-production phase begins when a studio gives the green light to move ahead on what's been previously developed. Pre-production involves the planning of how the film will be shot. The team will finalize the shooting script, figure out the budget, confirm the financing, and hire critical positions. They'll cast principal actors, hire a director of photography and assistant directors, and assign department heads to costuming and props. They'll also hire a line producer to ascertain what each department needs to bring the director's vision to life. The team will scout filming locations, create a shooting schedule, and determine what equipment will be necessary for each day on set.
Also known as principal photography, production is when filming commences. The two primary goals during film production? Stick to the schedule and stay on budget, and it is easier said than done! The crew also comes on board during production, such as script supervisors, costumers, makeup artists, film and sound editors, and more. A production coordinator supervises the day-to-day minutiae of the set, making sure departments like billing and catering are on track. The crew shoots footage following the schedule and shooting plan.
Once principal photography is complete, a film enters post-production. Editors assemble the movie by piecing the footage together. The post-production team will add music, sound, and visual effects. Voice-over work done or automated dialogue replacement work would be done during this phase if required.
Once the film is finished, someone needs to let it loose in the world! The film needs a distributor. Distribution is how a film ends up in theaters, on DVD, or a streaming platform. Where someone can see the film depends on the specifics of the distribution deal. The distribution company also markets the film.
These phases may look different for some films based on the scale of the film. Some films may see their phases bleed into one another, but all movies have some form of these stages.
Taking the same steps as film, a television show simply gets broken down even further, particularly in terms of pre-production.
A writer, producer, or manager will pitch a show to a studio, and if they obtain studio backing, they'll go on to pitch to a network or streaming service. Sometimes a producer can skip the studio and go straight to the network, but this happens only when the producer is well known and accomplished.
Both the studio and the network will give notes on the show. A pitch can drastically change and morph into something the network wants more than the initial idea. Rarely does a show come out of this stage precisely as the creator envisioned.
Outline and Script
When a network accepts a pitch, the creator will develop an outline to ensure that everyone's on the same page with the concept. If they haven't already, the creator will further detail the outline and write the pilot script. The studio and network will review the script, return it with their notes, and the writer revises the draft.
When the network approves a pilot for filming, it will assign a showrunner (often the show's creator and writer) and producers. The showrunner is the lead executive producer of the show; they work with additional writers on the scripts, cast actors and are overall responsible for its creative vision. Producers help in the hiring of a director, crew, and writers. The script is either rewritten or updated for filming. A pilot episode is made.
To Order to Series or Not
Once the pilot is done, the network reviews it and decides whether they want to order the entire show series. If they want it, then the show goes into production. If not, then often, this is the end of the show's journey.
Phew! That was a lot of information. And, of course, the way Hollywood works is not limited to the simplified processes I shared above. There's plenty of messy stuff that happens in between the creator's initial idea and that idea's fruition, but generally, these are the main phases that an idea will have to go through to make it to some sort of screen. There are opportunities for newer writers to learn on the job in each of those phases, even if you're not putting pen to paper, so it's essential to know how it all works. Happy writing!