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What Prefix?

What Prefix?

First Steps of Prefix

The idea for Prefix came from the staff of Generator Post Ltd. (Fake Graphics Ltd. 2014->), who introduced it to the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in the beginning of 2011. Over the years, this post-production company had repeatedly witnessed how shortcomings in pre-production would cause problems that accumulate towards the end of the production process. All problems can’t be anticipated, but many costly and time-consuming fixing operations could’ve been avoided, if more attention had been paid to certain aspects of production before the film shoot. The main idea was to reverse the “fix it in the post” thinking, which gave the project its name, Prefix.

Survey on Problems in Pre-production

The project was launched in August 2011 by the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Generator Post, Kemi-Tornio UAS (Lapland UAS 2014->), Association of Independent Producers in Finland (SATU ry) and three production companies: Helsinki-filmi, Kinotar and First Floor Productions. First we surveyed film professionals’ experiences of pre-production issues and brainstormed for ideas to resolve them.

The majority of issues revolved around three needs:

1. Additional funding for pre-production
2. Improvements in information flow
3. More training in VFX planning

The first item means that film professionals felt that production funding decisions should be announced earlier. Sometimes the decisions came out so late that very little time was left for pre-production between the green light and the first day of the shoot. Production companies didn’t want to take too many risks, so before the production funding was secured, they only took care of the absolute necessities. The hiring of Heads of Department was delayed so much that they didn’t have much time to prepare their work carefully.
The second item was a general concern about information flow. Even if the funding was already secured, all the essential information didn’t necessarily reach the Heads of Department. Then the planning and pre-production was done on the basis of guesswork, which was not the most cost-effective way forward. At worst, the safety of production crew was compromised, for example, in situations where the set designer had to work on such a tight schedule that all safety issues couldn’t be considered carefully enough. Also, unnecessary expenses were caused, when the whole film crew was kept waiting for the set to be ready, just because information about the shooting plan didn’t reach the relevant parties in time.
VFX planning seemed to be a big question mark for many film professionals. This is not surprising as Finland doesn’t have a long tradition of producing VFX heavy films and the development of the VFX industry is extremely fast. The production management staff were perplexed by the calculation of the VFX budget, and the post-production companies that the VFX supervisors worked for found it difficult to respond to imprecise requests for quotations. It was difficult to relate the quotations to filmmakers’ expectations, because ”if there was a need to know the costs for a car, someone might give the price for a Soviet Lada, and someone else for Mercedes-Benz.” Producers hesitated involving a VFX supervisor before the film shoot, because they didn’t want to commit to commissioning post-production services from the same company.

Actions Taken - Additional Funding

Prefix decided to focus on the three issues identified in the survey. Securing additional funding turned out to be the most challenging one. Prefix didn’t have a budget to grant pre-production funding, but we wanted to promote the idea of producing impressive pitching material in order to find sponsors for a film project. The earlier you can substantiate the world of the film with images and sound, the easier it is to convince potential sponsors of the feasibility of the project and the competence of the producer. An excellent example of pitchviz is the feature film production Astronaut, for which producer Essi Haukkamaa and her team produced a wonderful teaser long before the first shooting day of the film. The brand new teaser was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2014 and it attracted a lot of attention. You can read Essi’s report here.
Another contribution of Prefix was an addition to the budgeting and report form that is used when applying for funding from the Finnish Film Foundation (FFF). Now the applicants are requested to itemize the costs of VFX planning in the budget. VFX supervisor Tuomo Hintikka and Project Manager also organized a discussion with the Film Commissioners of the FFF. The discussion turned out to be interesting and beneficial for both parties.

Actions Taken - Information Flow

During the production of the feature film Gloriously Wasted (Helsinki-filmi, summer 2012), we tested Confluence Wiki as a platform for information flow. Well before the shooting period, we published all the existing material on a Wiki page that was divided into topic areas. We gave user id’s to all contracted members of the crew so that they could read and download all the documents that were relevant to them. During the shooting period, call sheets and other new material were added to the site. The production company as well as the production crew thought this was a good practical solution. The production company no longer needed to manage hundreds of emails or worry about all the employees getting the new or updated materials, and the crew members were no longer guessing, if they had all the relevant, updated documents. As everything was available on the same site, there was no need to send inquiries to the production company. Just by signing in on the site, one could get a quite good general impression of the production. The Metropolia Wiki platform was in test use during the project, and after Gloriously Wasted, Helsinki-filmi decided to continue with this practical solution on a different platform. Read more about the experiences of Helsinki-filmi here.

Another theme relating to information flow involved visual design and previsualization tools. Contemporary filmmakers have access to a growing supply of previz and project management tools. The Prefix Digital Library includes a comprehensive list of programs that were available at the end of 2013. Prefix also initiated the design of its own previz software, Virtual Viewfinder. With this open source software, you can view, for example, 3D-scanned locations and try out camera angles much more easily and precisely than before. Virtual Viewfinder will be downloadable for free at the end of 2014.

Actions Taken - VFX Supervision

The staff of the Prefix co-organizer and partner Generator Post / Fake Graphics included experienced VFX supervisors, who gave a substantial contribution to the project. Tuomo Hintikka and Ville Vaajakallio ran many workshops and gave presentations on VFX supervision - from the basics to more advanced skills.

The main messages of the workshops and presentations were:

1) The work of a VFX supervisor can be regarded as an independent part of pre-production. Hiring a supervisor does not obligate the production company to sign a contract for post-production. We launched the concept of ”script mentoring”, where the VFX supervisor discusses the most challenging parts of the script with the cinematographer, director and line producer for a few hours or a whole day. Script mentoring helps to avoid ”Lada or Mercedes-Benz?” type of confusions as the production crew can elaborate on their ideas verbally and the VFX supervisor can throw in alternatives for implementing the ideas and their estimated budgets. If the same VFX supervisor is hired for the actual production, it will be easier and quicker for him or her to join the production process.
2) The early involvement of the VFX supervisor, either in the form of script mentoring or a longer work contract, is likely to save costs at the end of the production. As technology develops and prices go down, the VFX supervisor is probably able to give the best advice on which scenes should be filmed live, which ones should be done with CGI in post-production, and in which scenes you should use a combination of live shooting and CGI.

Digital Library

This website introduces some of the most important phases and interesting results of the project. The documents have been produced by the Prefix partners that brought the project to a close together with Metropolia: Lapland UAS, Matila-Röhr Productions, Helsinki-filmi and SATU ry. The material focuses on the pre-production of film, television and other drama projects. If you sign in, you can add relevant material or links to our library for the benefit and enjoyment of other visitors. We hope that our digital library will help you to make your pre-production phase as valuable as possible.

Saija Heinonen
Prefix Project Manager

Presenters and organizers after the closing seminar in May 2014