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August 4 at 9:04am

The Shape Of Things: Towards A New Organizational Structure

By Ted Hope

Today’s guest post is courtesy of James Fair.

When I wrote ‘Linearity is the Enemy’ for Ted last month, I briefly mentioned how I felt the ‘family tree’ style organisational structure of filmmaking could look more like a ‘mind map’. I want to clarify my point a little further and follow it with why I think it is relevant.

FIG 1 FILM STRUCTURE james fair2  The Shape Of Things: Towards A New Organizational StructureIn Figure 1, I have drawn what many consider to be the model that represents filmmaking structure best. It is a hierarchy of roles that symbolises where the responsibility lies. At the top are the people responsible for the most things, and they then delegate sections of that responsibility to other people ‘below’ them who then assume the responsibility as a proxy. This model is established, tried and tested, and works. It has evolved over time, adding new responsibilities as they emerged, like the sound department. The model was defined early on and has survived political, social and technological changes worldwide. But is it the best model?

What would constitute the best model? The one that generated most profit? The one that enables the greatest artistic vision to unfold? The one that turned out the most films for the least money, i.e. quantity over quality? Could the best model be the one that reduced the time between concept and completion to months not years? Despite filmmakers working on a project-by-project basis, with numerous different outcomes and motivations, there is currently only one model that consistently gets used. It gets used because it is established, regardless of whether it is the best for the job.

When faced with the challenge of shooting, editing and then screening a feature film in three days as part of the 72 Hour Movie project, I could simply adopt the same model and insist that everyone just works harder and faster than they normally would. Instead, I reassessed all of the responsibilities that would need to occur within the project and reassigned them to whom I felt could do them best. I admit that I have built much of these on the basis of the skill sets that I know various people within my crew possess, as opposed to a model that was built with no knowledge of the crew and then forced onto any given individual. Still, I have altered the roles from their usual titles and given them new responsibilities and remits, designed to support the task of making a film within a short timeframe. As the traditional ‘director’ for example, I have given myself the horribly managerial sounding ‘Project Leader’. I am supported and work closely with Gary Hoctor, the Project Manager (the closest thing to a producer). The strange titles go on throughout the crew, from the obvious (transcoder) to the obscure (shadows). The titles aren’t important – it is the fact that the new roles do not carry the same responsibilities as the existing roles, and therefore they require new titles.

I visualise this organisational structure to be different from the existing model (see Fig.2). Instead of being situated at the top of the project with a series of people ‘underneath’ me, I visualise the Project Manager and I to be at the centre, surrounded by the crew. The roles split out to various other roles, but unlike the vertical communicative routes of the old ‘chain of command’ system, there is a horizontal communication that I believe reflects our collaborative effort more truly. The visual impression of the existing model looks much like a river, with a source and a flow of responsibility towards a delta of runners. It is linear and sequential. The visual impression of the new model reflects a whole entity, in which we are ‘in it’ together, and the process is collaborative. Obviously there is some semblance of order and priority otherwise it is chaos. There is a greater emphasis placed upon the opinion of those closest to the centre, but the need for feedback is factored in to the model, so that the Project Leader or Manager has a greater idea of the effectiveness of the whole effort. I’ve witnessed disgruntled runners as the greatest catalyst of on-set problems under the existing model, damaging morale whilst finding no way of resolving their concerns.

You can dismiss these models as idealistic rubbish if you wish. I imagine I am inviting blog abuse from some of Ted’s readers! You may feel that the design of the model is insignificant as filmmaking operates quite flexibly anyway. I’d agree, but I believe that the titles and the models are not being portrayed as flexible; they are being portrayed as fixed. However you learn about the industry, from educational institutions through to informal training on the job, you are taught ‘how the industry works’, as if it is an unchangeable entity that evolves through necessity to cope with whatever demands are placed upon it. You start at the ‘bottom’ and you work your way ‘up’. Why do we not question it more openly instead of adopting it without a second thought? Yes it may already work, but what if it could work better?

FIG 2 72 STRUCTURE james fair1  The Shape Of Things: Towards A New Organizational StructureThinking differently about the organisational structure means that we might think differently about the process too. A major difference between the existing model and the model that I visualise is that my performers are a part of my crew. I don’t perceive them to be a separate entity just because they are in front of the camera. Perhaps it is the existing distinction that means we treat them differently, and probably why few film schools in the UK teach directors how to work with actors, preferring instead to teach technology. We may begin to think of directors and producers differently too, perhaps like the captain of a sports team instead of a great individual artist (who don’t always give credit to their collaborators). Who knows what differences may emerge from thinking about it differently?

Of course, when our 72 Hour Movie project ‘The Ballad of Des & Mo’ goes up onto IMDB as a result of the Melbourne International Film Festival screening, we will have to switch responsibilities back to their nearest equivalent titles, just because the roles are fixed upon their database. This fixed way of thinking means that others may never do things differently, even if it could hold more opportunities for filmmakers.

James is a lecturer in Film Technology at Staffordshire University and is currently in Australia, where he is preparing the 72 Hour Movie project ‘The Ballad of Des & Mo’. The 90-minute film will be shot and edited in three days and then screened to an audience at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Visit www.72hourmovie.com or www.facebook.com/72hourmovie for more details. He openly admits he can’t draw diagrams very well.

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6 Comments

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  1. im2b_dl / Aug 4 at 9:04am

    I would say there are several new positions but they integrate with the old positions well… a hypervideo interactivtity mapper, 2 script supervisors, an integration cowboy/girl (who corrals partnership links for an interactive interface) , a social media architect (who works with story, production architecture and marketing), and post hypervideo editor (focuses on UX and/or interactivity architecture sync, implementation)… but all of these still need to fall under one production head to implement and one to creatively direct… but all of them need to stay within a storycube architecture from story inception…through a layback version of release and the oncoming interactive pieces (including what has up until now been viewed as ancillary) My advice is that film production needs to start sitting down with game and web developers to see their production systems. You will find the teaching is mutually educational.

    just my thoughts after being in this production systems change for the last 8 years

  2. Jon Raymond / Aug 4 at 9:04am

    So here we have a film scholar (as if good filmmaking was ever a scholarly endeavor) telling us that business models are questionable in light of the artistic and creative aspects of filmmaking. Then he goes on to suggest there may be a better model out there, even though this one is working. But the current system isn't working. It never did work. The film industry is having one of its greatest depressions. Even when it was on top, 50% of all industry product never made a profit.

    The problem is not that we need a better business model. The problem is that even having a conversation about a business model is absurd, which brings me to David Lynch. When I listen to him talk about the process of making a film, there is no business model or organizational structure. You may say even he has departments run by department heads, which may be true. But in a truly harmonious film production these departments operate as single entities to fulfill their respective tasks, and like our scholar mentions, none of this is ever set in stone.

    The problem that 99% of the film industry continues to have is that film is not a business, nor is it purely an art. It's the business of making art, and that means that the art has to come before the business, since you can't sell your art if you don't go about making it first. This may depend on your definition of “art”, which is an abstract word much like love. I think of art as stuff that moves people emotionally and even physically. That has absolutely nothing to do with making money in itself. If the moving of people can be achieved then I think the money making potential is there. You don't start out with the idea of having to make money and then come up with art that has that goal. That is not art. Nor should business have as its goal to make money without first having some higher purpose, to fill a need or fix a problem or help society.

    Of course, failed American corporatism and its decades of authoritarian conservative ingrained tradition will continue to insist to its dying day that pure business models (regardless of product and with no other goal than money) are the way to go about doing any business, even art. But, like the Roman Empire, blind leading the blind (no one knows anything in Hollywood) kind of thinking is ultimate doom.

    Pull out David Lynch's Inland Empire DVD. You do have one right? There, not only will you find David Lynch show you a great quinoa recipe (maybe you eat too much meat to be able to make good films that can sell on their own merit) but you'll also hear him talk about his artistic “business model”, which amounts to getting one idea, then getting another idea, and eventually putting these ideas together. But if you were to talk to a good sample of great artists, you'd find that each of them have different ways of doing their art.

    Even most indie filmmakers have a model where they come up with a script, and even a cast an crew, and sometimes even make the film before they go about looking for an “executive producer” (since often the only real business aspect of films is the distribution after they're made). They may or may not take notes from that producer. My understanding is that most indie producers act as patrons and seek to fund artists with no expectation of return. That is the traditional model of artistic endeavor around the world.

    The one reason that any good films even exist in America, I think, is that there are indie renegades out their like David Lynch and there is also the independent spec screenwriter factor. Screenwriting can be done in a vacuum away from all the failed corporatist bullshit. So in that regard, screenwriters have the ability to be true artists, going about writing in whatever artistic way suits them (as George Lucas did far away from Hollywood). For that reason, we have some great screenplays in existence that Hollywood then gets it's greedy clammy little hands on and plugs into its organizational chart to end up with something resembling art (so long as no dogs are killed).

    Another fallacy about the chart above, with the quintessential executive asshole at the top, is that there is no marketing department. Anyone and everyone knows that in the Hollywood studio system marketing is god. They only make films that project (as proven under failed corporatist business formulas) to make money. So we end up with trilogies and sequel after sequel riding on the success of previous success. We see film stories (like Inception) ripped off of other films (like The Matrix) that worked and we see a plethora of remakes that are again remade on a regular ten year schedule, just like regular old white men on Exlax.

    Fuck all that.

  3. James Fair / Aug 4 at 9:04am

    This is a really considered response and I take a lot of it on board. I have a small but important reply; I wasn't suggesting that these are business models, but organisational structures. I argue that the structure is staying the same regardless of the motivation of making movies – business or art. As I said in the article, you are welcome to ridicule them but I do think we need some kind of a discussion about the way we structure ourselves in collaborative filmmaking because it impacts upon the film itself. You point out that the original model isn't working either, which is a bolder statement than I could make. Is your solution that there really shouldn't be an organisational structure at all? Simply chaos?

  4. Jon Raymond / Aug 4 at 9:04am

    Mr. Fair, I'm honored that you would respond. I actually kind of agree with you, and I appreciate your thoughtful post, despite it's regurgitating effects. I don't think you can put your finger on an organizational structure to apply (or even template) to all films, and I'm speaking from an artist perspective (as was David Lynch – he was an artist who became a successful filmmaker, which I find incredibly admirable, and a lesson for all to learn from). I think every film has a different structure and therefore, if you must have an organizational chart (why would you need one anyway?), it would be different for every film, in my opinion.

    Your second chart is bewildering. There's no producer or director there. Are they just kind of overseeing everything from above? That would actually make a lot of sense. I think films have to have a dictatorial structure with one entity (be it a director or combination of director and producers) that is the artistic vision. Someone has to lay down the vision for everyone else to follow, and that person certainly is not the executive producer. Perhaps film production should be divided into clearly defined areas of art and business. The debate between the two is never ending. Obviously both areas are necessary. Filmmakers can't deal well with business and business people always fuck up the product when they influence the creative aspects. People should stick to what they are good at and stay out of the way of what they aren't good at.

    As to “chaos”, no. Dictatorial rule of a director is the exact opposite of chaos. You do what the director tells you to do, period. That has to come form the creative vision, not the business vision. If business has some input beforehand then the director may consider it (especially if it means making the film or not). But ultimately, dictatorial rule of pre thru post production by a director is my organizational structure. One man at the top (the director), every one else falls in line.

    I understand that DPs are creatives as are actors, grips, wardrobe and so on. But all of them should answer and seek out the director's vision. The director should be benevolent and listen to what they have to say as well. They are all experts in their areas. Directors should spend a lot of time with actors before hand, as many do. But the director is the final authority and overrides everyone. I don't think art works any other way. After all, you are making a single product – a film. It needs a single vision, without too many cooks. Isn't that how all great films are (were) made?

  5. James Fair / Aug 4 at 9:04am

    I agree with you Jon, and I think I was fairly central to our project in Melbourne, and my that the cast and crew would agree. But being 'central' to it is different from 'overseeing' it. It doesn't sit comfortably that I may be 'dictatorial' and overseeing the project. I want to be at the centre of it, not at the top of it. My belief is that I would be more central to action and can motivate and move it faster from within. A player on the pitch can affect a game in a way that a manager on the sidelines cannot. I hope that I created a team spirit and trust that meant that people responded to the filmmaking with loyalty and affection – two attributes that belong in any craft, as opposed to doing their specialization in isolation and not caring about the project (because their reward is not scalable – they get paid whether it is good or shit).

    As I mentioned, and you agree, maybe we don't need any organisational structure. But humans enjoy structure as it provides a platform for understanding, a system to follow in any given circumstance. Film schools are teaching traditional models as if they are unbending, which is hideous as we need more and more flexibility as we develop. As a director on the 72 Hour Movie project for example, I was heavily engaged with the social media, generating an audience and creating a tone that reflected the ethos of the final film. I eventually farmed that out to someone else, but the social media is as much of the vision and the communication with the audience as the film itself.

    I find this discussion fascinating. I would like to get some of my crew involved on here to find out whether they felt my ideology was reflected in practice.

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