Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here you'll find a wealth of information about SMU's Summer Film Production (SFP); some of these are actual "frequently asked questions," while others are "things you might want to know but didn't know to ask."
(if you don't already know what the Summer Film Production is, check out the SFP homepage, which explains this program and the status of the current SFP)
If you're looking for information about a specific issue, see the list of topics below. Otherwise, just scroll down the page - and happy reading! And if in all this somehow you still can't find the answer to your burning question about the SFP, you can email your question to SMUSummerFilm@gmail.com and we'll get back to you - and add your question and the answer to this list!
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Scripts and Submissions
HOW DO I SUBMIT A SCRIPT?
All script submissions are handled online: simply go to the script submission webpage (available here), fill out the form and attach a PDF of your script.
WHAT HAPPENS ONCE SCRIPTS ARE SUBMITTED?
A selection committee comprised of SMU Film & Media Arts faculty and students will read and evaluate the submitted scripts (see the next question, "What are you looking for in scripts?"). Submissions from “SMU writers” – meaning incoming and current SMU students and recent (graduated in the last 5 years) alumni will be read first. In the event that less than three of the scripts from this group are deemed acceptable for production given the above criteria, scripts from others will be read. In the event no submitted script is deemed acceptable for production, no script will be selected and the shoot will be pushed back to the next year to allow for another round of script submissions.
A small number of scripts (two or three) will be approved by the committee for potential production. These scripts will be made available to prospective directing/producing teams early in the fall semester prior to a production summer (i.e., fall 2015 for the 2015-17 SFP, which shoots in summer 2016). Each team submitting an application to direct/produce the SFP (see "Director/Producer Selection" section below) will select ONE of the committee-approved scripts and include as part of their application a pitch for their planned approach (logistical and creative) to that script. Thus the script that is ultimately produced will be whichever one was specified in the application by the selected directing/producing team.
WHO IS ON THE SCRIPT SELECTION COMMITTEE?
The committee will be comprised of the Chair of Film & Media Arts, the faculty advisor to the Summer Film Production, and at least one other Film & Media Arts faculty member, plus one alumnus (selected by the Division faculty), and one current student.
The current student representative on the committee - which may be any current SMU student who did NOT submit a script - NOT be someone will be elected at a meeting of the Student Filmmakers Association (though he/she need not be a member of that group). Interested students should submit their names to the SFP faculty advisor by the script submission deadline; the faculty advisor will then publicize the submitted names prior to the SFA meeting at which the vote takes place. Any student wishing to vote in this election can vote in person at the SFA meeting or in absentia by emailing his/her vote to the SFA president prior to the meeting.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN SCRIPTS?
If you already have a good script ready to go, by all means submit it – don’t try to reconceptualize your whole story to fit what you think might work better for the SFP! That said, if you are in the early stages of writing (or haven’t started yet) and are looking for tips on what will make your story/script more likely to be selected, here are a few pointers:
The first factor considered will be simple viability – no matter how good a script is, if the selection committee determines it would be impractical or impossible to produce the script well given the time and money available, it will not be selected. Things that affect this determination include:
- number of locations (the fewer and more accessible the better)
- number of actors required (again, the fewer the better – what many beginning writers forget is that it’s not just the number of “leads” that matter but also extras; if you write a scene requiring hundreds of extras it will be tough to do well in this context)
- number and type of special effects (some effects are reasonably easy to create or will be a good challenge; others might be difficult or impossible on this budget)
None of the above are in and of themselves “deal-breakers” and will be considered in context – though it’s a safe bet that a film with fifty locations requiring two hundred actors and multiple complex effects will not be selected.
Safety is a paramount concern. On this scale of budget and with a student crew, things like high-speed car chases and complex stunts are simply not possible. This does not mean your script cannot contain any “action” – prior summer films have included on-foot chases and simple stunts, for instance – but simply that if the committee does not feel a script could be safely shot by students, that script will not be selected.
Beyond the minimum threshold of viability, the criterion is simply what script the committee determines will likely result in the best film. In other words, we’re looking for a script that’s a good read and has strong potential to be engaging to watch on screen. A variety of things can make a script engaging – interesting characters and/or relationships, a tightly-woven plot, snappy dialog, strong emotional impact, surprising twists, a unique viewpoint, etc.
Bottom line: if we’re bored or disengaged reading a script, we’re not likely to expect it to make a great film. Thus the quality of the writing is of paramount importance. That said, other factors that can weigh in a script’s favor when comparing two well-written and engaging scripts are things like the potential for striking/unique visual/sonic design and clever use of location (a unique location can give a film “character” – take advantage of what Dallas and Texas have to offer that differs from L.A. or New York). In other words, story/character/emotion come first, but also consider how a script would actually look/sound onscreen.
Finally, a note about polish. Scripts will likely undergo some revision during the pre-production year, but the more polished a script is at submission the better – all other things being equal, a script that has already gone through several rounds of rewriting and polish will be selected over one that might have a strong core but will require significant rewriting before it’s ready to actually shoot. If the submission deadline is approaching, go ahead and submit your script even if it’s a little rough in some places, but your chances will be better if you have spent some time polishing it to make it the best read and the best script possible.
CAN I SUBMIT MORE THAN ONE SCRIPT?
Absolutely! You can submit as many scripts as you would like – just fill out a complete submission form for each one.
CAN I SUBMIT A SCRIPT BASED ON AN EXISTING STORY?
No. To avoid any potential of copyright or licensing headaches, scripts will only be considered for the Summer Film Production if they are completely original material. The one potential exception is if you have a script based on an original story that you wrote yourself – check with the SFP faculty advisor for guidance in this scenario. Otherwise, your script should not be based on pre-existing material, characters, or stories, whether in the public domain or not.
SHOULD I SUBMIT THE SCRIPT I WROTE IN MY SCREENWRITING CLASS?
You certainly can, provided it meets the script requirements regarding feasibility, length, etc. In fact, if you have an idea for a script you’d like to submit as a potential summer film, the Screenwriting 2 course (FILM 3364), where you write a feature, might be a good place to develop it and do a first draft. (Screenwriting 1, FILM 2354, focuses on the short script so screenplays from that class would not meet the length requirements for SFP submission without extensive rewriting and expansion).
Be aware, though, that generally what comes out of screenwriting classes are first-draft scripts that have not been revised and polished to the point that they’re ready to shoot. So if you have a script from your screenwriting class, its chances of being selected for an SFP will probably be significantly better if you spend some time after the course rewriting it.
You might also consider taking Advanced Screenwriting Workshop (FILM 3365), a course specifically designed to take a script that’s already in a first- or second-draft stage and revise it to really get it ready to shoot.
HOW CAN I INDICATE I’D LIKE TO DIRECT OR ACT IN THE SCREENPLAY I’M SUBMITTING?
In short, you cannot. The Summer Film Production is designed to be a collaborative endeavor, and the script / crew / cast selection processes are intentionally kept separate. So anyone can apply to direct an SFP, and no special consideration (positive or negative) is given to the writer(s) of the script being used. Casting is done the same way – actors and actresses are chosen by the director through an audition process, and those involved in writing the script will receive no more or less consideration than any others.
Note that when you submit a script through the online form, you explicitly agree that if your script is selected it will go into production whether or not you get any desired cast or crew position. So if for some reason you would only want your script to be used if you were going to direct it, then you should NOT submit it to the Summer Film Production.
Of course, if your script is selected and you are not selected as the director (or whatever position you really want), you always have the option to make your own version of the script in the future – submitting a script to the SFP grants SMU the right to make A version of this script, but does not preclude you from making another version.
WHAT’S MEANT BY AN “SMU WRITER” IN TERMS OF SCREENPLAY SUBMISSION, AND HOW DOES THIS AFFECT SCRIPT SELECTION?
Anyone may submit a script to be considered for production. In the script review process, however, scripts from “SMU writers” are considered first, and submissions from others are only considered in the case that the faculty determine not enough of the scripts from “SMU writers” are suitable for approval as potential SFP scripts. So all submitted scripts are separated into two groups – those from SMU writers and those from others – with scripts in the second group only read if less than three scripts from the first group are approved for potential selection.
For purposes of this determination, “SMU writer” means anyone who is a current or incoming SMU student or an SMU alumnus from the 5 years prior to the shoot (for example, for the 2015-17 SFP, shooting in May 2016, a graduate from May 2011 or later). In the case of co-written scripts, all the writers must fit this criterion for the script to be considered as written by “SMU writers.”
Note that major, minor, or degree is not considered in the determination of who is an “SMU writer.” Also note that the definition of who is an “SMU student” for purposes of crew selection is different than that for writers – see information under “Crewing” below for details.
WHO OWNS THE SCRIPT?
The rights to the original script remain with the original author(s) regardless of what happens after the script has been selected. In most cases the original author will also remain the sole owner of the shooting script, even if others have done some rewriting during pre-production or production. In the rare case where a script undergoes significant rewriting after selection (meaning not just some dialogue rewrites or story tweaks but major structural changes resulting in a substantially different product), ownership of the shooting script will be shared by all those with a screenplay credit, potentially including the original author. As described in the script submission agreement, any disputes over writing credit will be resolved by the Chair of the Division of Film & Media Arts, whose decision will be final and binding.
THE SUMMER FILM PRODUCTION SOUNDS COOL – HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED?
This depends on the phase the project is in, and what you want to do. Basically there are three possibilities:
- During the script submission phase, if you have a screenplay you’d like considered for production, you can submit it using our online form, available here.
- Immediately after a script has been selected, if you’re interested in producing and/or directing you have to submit an application. See “Crewing” information below about this process.
- Once a directing/producing team has been selected, contact them if you are interested in acting in or crewing on the SFP, or in helping out with post-production during the second year of the SFP’s two-year production cycle.
All of this boils down to: check this website’s information on the “Current Project” and/or the SFP blog to learn what phase the current project is in, and how to contact the director(s) and/or producer(s) once they’ve been selected.
I’M AN SMU ALUMNUS – CAN I BE PART OF THIS?
For sure! We’re always happy to have alumni involved in front of and/or behind the cameras. Note that to ensure the SFP remains run by current or recent students, alumni can generally only serve as crew heads in the first couple years after they graduate – see “Crewing” information below. Other than that, alumni are welcome to join in any part of the process.
I’M A PROSPECTIVE / INCOMING SMU STUDENT – CAN I BE PART OF THE SFP?
We’d love to have prospective students involved, but the details of this (particularly the on-set part) can be a bit dicey since you haven’t yet been accepted to SMU. If you’re a prospective student who’s interested in working on some aspect of the SFP, contact SMUSummerFilm@gmail.com with your information and we’ll see what might be possible.
Incoming students already accepted to SMU (for instance those starting in the fall semester but interested in working on set the summer preceding that fall) are welcome to get involved as soon as possible. As a practical matter, in the past we’ve found it’s difficult for incoming students to actually be on set just because of scheduling – the shooting part of the SFP happens in early May, when most high schools are still in session. But go ahead and contact us and let’s see what we can work out – you may be able to help with pre-production or post-production even if you can’t be on set.
DO I HAVE TO BE A FILM MAJOR TO WORK ON THE SUMMER FILM PRODUCTION?
Not at all. The Summer Film Production welcomes anyone who is interested, regardless of major/minor/year, provided he/she has some connection to SMU (incoming student, current student, or alumnus). People not connected to SMU may be allowed to work on aspects of the production subject to approval by the director(s), producer(s), and faculty advisor. Only SMU students and alumni can serve as crew heads.
Auditions for cast are open to anyone who wishes to audition, whether an SMU student/alumnus or not.
HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN WORK ON AN SFP?
As many people as want to, within reason. If you want to work on a year’s SFP, contact the producers and let them know, and they should be able to find you a role.
Also consider that even if you cannot be on set for scheduling or other reasons, you can still get involved with the pre-production or post-production phases during the school year (and vice-versa).
CAN I BE INVOLVED IF I’M NOT AVAILABLE DURING THE TWO-WEEK SHOOTING PERIOD?
Absolutely! There are plenty of opportunities to get involved in the pre-production and planning process, as well as in the post-production and distribution phases. Some examples in pre-production would include script breakdown, budgeting, location scouting, production design, prop creation, wardrobe design, and logistics. In post-production, the project will need editors, assistant editors, sound designers, composers, sound editors, sound mixers, Foley artists, visual effects people, etc. And finally, after the film is finished the producers will need marketing people, graphic designers, DVD/Blu-ray creators, advertising creative, and others to get the film submitted to festivals, promoted, and ideally distributed in whatever way is appropriate to the project.
DO I HAVE TO BE A FILM MAJOR TO BE A CREW MEMBER?
Not at all – indeed, on past productions we’ve had students from a variety of majors work on the crew (though the majority have always come from Film & Media Arts).
The Summer Film Production welcomes anyone who is interested, regardless of major/minor/year. Of course, we need qualified people in all positions so your particular experience, skills, and training will determine what specific positions you can do – for instance, someone with no experience shooting video will not be selected as the cinematographer, whether s/he is a film major or not. Assuming you have the requisite skills, though, you can apply for any position. And even if you have no past film/video experience, if you want to be a part of the SFP we’ll find you a job – part of the structure of this program is to allow less experienced students to learn from their more experienced peers.
WHAT’S MEANT BY AN “SMU STUDENT” IN TERMS OF CREWING?
For purposes of cast/crew selection, an “SMU Student” includes all currently enrolled undergraduate and graduate students, as well as alumni who have graduated in the 3 years prior to filming (i.e. for the 2013-15 SFP, shooting May 2014, alumni who graduated from May 2011 onward were considered "SMU Students," as were all currently enrolled students).
Note that this definition of “SMU Student” is slightly more restrictive than that of “SMU Writer” for screenplay submissions, which includes alumni from up to 5 years prior to the shoot.
WHAT IS MEANT BY A “CREW HEAD”?
“Crew heads” is a general term for the set of all crew positions carrying responsibility for an entire area of production. Most of the crew positions with significant autonomy and/or input are crew heads, with all other crew members in a department working under the supervision and guidance of their crew head.
The on-set portion of the SFP operates more-or-less under a traditional Hollywood-style crew structure, with tasks divided among various departments who operate semi-independently under the guidance of a crew head (who in turn follows the lead of the director). For purposes of the SFP, crew heads other than the director are (with their respective departments in parentheses):
- 1st assistant director (directorial)
- producer (production)
- production mixer (sound)
- cinematographer (camera)
- gaffer (grip/electric, which is run as a section of the camera department)
- production designer (design)
- costume designer (wardrobe/makeup)
- casting director (casting – though this is primarily done prior to shooting)
- editor (post-production – on the SFP the editor comes along on set to put together sequences during production)
Why is this important? Well, the director(s) and all crew heads must be “SMU Students” (see previous question for definition).
One additional stipulation about the composition of the crew overall is designed to ensure the Summer Film Production remains a student-centered project: though recent alumni are eligible to be crew heads, normally at least 70% of the crew heads must be current SMU students (meaning current as of the selection of the crew, so seniors graduating just before the summer shoot would still be considered “current”). If the directing/producing team wishes to select a set of crew heads that would violate this rule, they must present a rationale to, and get approval from, the SFP faculty advisor.
WHAT CAN I DO TO GUARANTEE THE CREW ROLE I WANT?
There is no way to guarantee you get a particular crew role – others may want the same role, so it’s simply impossible to promise that everyone can get the exact position they want.
That said, whenever possible we’ll try to find a way to get you into the department you want, so if you’re passionate about a particular area of production you should have the opportunity to work in that area.
The most competitive roles are generally the crew heads, especially director and cinematographer. If you’re interested in heading a department, remember that in most cases there’s only one head of each department, but potentially multiple people interested in that job.
What you can do is help your cause by practicing in your dream role on other shoots; for crew head positions, it is unlikely that someone will be selected who has never done that role in the past, and in general the more experienced a person is in a role the more attractive they will be to the directing and producing team when selecting a crew.
Additionally, applicants who have worked in the same department on a prior SFP will be looked on favorably (though again, nothing guarantees getting a particular role) since they’ll have had first-hand experience with the particular challenges that department faces on this type and scale of shoot. So if, for instance, you’d like to be a cinematographer on a future SFP, try to get into the camera department as an AC on the current SFP.
CAN I HOLD MULTIPLE CREW ROLES?
You can certainly be involved in different ways in different phases of the production; for instance, the casting director may have a different on-set role since casting will be essentially completed by the time we are on set. In the same way, you might hold one position on set and be involved in a different role in post-production.
For the most part, the same person cannot hold multiple on-set positions, as this can create inefficiencies on set. The only general exceptions are:
- some producers may also hold other jobs, provided at least ONE of the producers is ONLY producing and/or line producing during principal photography
- director(s) may also be producer(s), but may not hold any other on-set role
- “crew swaps” are possible for non-crew heads, meaning students interested in learning about more than one department may arrange to trade positions with someone in another department, provided the producer(s) approve this scheduling. But they would still not hold two different positions simultaneously
Any request for the same person to hold multiple on-set jobs outside these specifications must be approved by the producer(s), director(s), AND the faculty advisor.
I’M INTERESTED IN CREWING AND ACTING – DO I HAVE TO CHOOSE?
Probably, but see the detailed answer to this question in the “Acting / Casting” section for specifics and exceptions.
Director / Producer Selection
I WANT TO DIRECT OR PRODUCE, WHAT DO I NEED TO DO?
First, you need to put together a TEAM - as the directing/producing team is ultimately responsible for the SFP both creatively and logistically, it's important that it's not just a couple individuals, but a strong team that can work together, so only directing/producing teams (not individuals) will be allowed to apply for these roles. Once you have a team, then you'll need to read the committee-selected scripts, choose which one your team wants to make, and put together an application (see below). Applications will be reviewed by the Division of Film & Media Arts faculty; the selected director(s)/producer(s) will then be in charge of selecting the rest of the cast and crew. More info available under Director/Producer Selection here.
WHAT IF I WANT TO DIRECT BUT DON’T HAVE A PRODUCER IN MIND?
Well, the short answer is FIND ONE. Applications will ONLY be accepted for director/producer packages, no exceptions. If you don’t have someone in mind to team up with, talk to your friends/classmates to see who might be interested, and/or find out who produced recent SMU student films you thought were well-done and talk to those people, and/or ask around the Film & Media Arts faculty for recommendations on students or recent alums who might be good producers.
WHAT IF I WANT TO PRODUCE BUT DON’T HAVE A DIRECTOR IN MIND?
Read the above answer, but switch “director” with “producer.”
WHAT IF MY PRODUCING/DIRECTING TEAM DOES NOT LIKE ANY OF THE SCRIPT CHOICES?
You may find another script you prefer, and submit your producer/director application with this script. Bear in mind, however, that the faculty takes the script selection process seriously, and will only select a team using a different script if the script and the team package is deemed significantly better than those of any other submission packages. Your best odds of being selected to direct/produce are to use one of the committee-approved scripts.
CAN I BE PART OF MULTIPLE PRODUCER/DIRECTOR APPLICATION PACKAGES?
No. While it’s possible you may have legitimate reasons to want to be part of two different teams’ applications (maybe you think either of two different styles would be a good approach to the film, or you work well with two different people who are applying separately), we don’t want to open this up to people “hedging their bets.” Producers and directors need to be committed to their approach to a particular movie to believe in it through the inevitable struggles and challenges that arise over the course of production, so commit yourself to what you think is the best package of people/ideas/etc. and apply with that package.
WHY DO I HAVE TO APPLY AS PART OF A DIRECTOR/PRODUCER TEAM RATHER THAN JUST APPLYING FOR THE JOB I WANT?
Well, on a logistical level, this requirement does ensure that the Summer Film Production has dedicated people on both the producing and directing side, rather than potentially having a bunch of people apply to direct but no one to produce, or vice-versa. But this is not the most important reason for this requirement.
On any film, it’s crucial that the director(s) and producers(s) are all good at working together toward a singular vision of the final product. This doesn’t mean they won’t or shouldn’t ever disagree, but rather that they have the same ultimate creative goal and are capable of working together to hash out any differences in a productive way. So it’s critical that the director(s) and producer(s) genuinely want to work together and have agreed on how they’re going to approach the project (think of how “efficiently” Democrats and Republicans in Congress work together and you’ll see why we don’t want to pick the producers and directors separately lest they have different ideas about how the film should turn out). The way we ensure this is to have TEAMS apply rather than individuals.
In general, for both producers and directors, ideally you’ll want to form a team with one or more other people who all get along, have a common vision for how to approach the designated SFP script, and have some different strengths – for instance, if you know you’re disorganized, you’d like to find someone for your team who is exceptionally organized and have them handle organizational aspects, if you’re best at thinking on the spot you’d like to partner with someone who’s better at planning ahead so your team can agilely handle both scenarios, etc.
WHAT IS THE MAKEUP OF A PRODUCING/DIRECTING TEAM?
Each application package must include one or two directors, and one to three producers (the director may also be a producer, but there must be at least one person acting SOLELY as producer). Check the rules for crew heads above, and remember that all directors/producers must meet these criteria.
At least one director and one producer (and not the same person) must be designated as the person to see the film through completion and distribution. At least one of these people must be someone who will still be at SMU through the completion of the two-year production cycle (i.e., for the 2013-15 SFP, the person must be someone not graduating until May 2015 at the earliest).
**IMPORTANT**: It is MANDATORY that at least one person on the directing/producing team (and preferably at least one director AND one producer) has been on set for a previous Summer Film Production to understand the process and the challenges of this style of production.
WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO SUBMIT A PRODUCER/DIRECTOR APPLICATION?
Well, first, find your team. Then put together an application. There is no specific format your application must follow, other than that it must exist in a hard copy format you can physically turn in. So shape it in whatever way most clearly conveys what you want to explain about your team and your proposed approach to making the film.
Though how to organize information in the application is up to you, all applications must include the following information:
- Names and bios of proposed director(s) and producer(s), including specifying which people will see the film through to distribution, and which person(s) will still be at SMU through the end of the SFP cycle
- Which script your team wants to make, and any significant changes you expect to make to that story/script.
- A detailed directorial statement of the vision for executing this script. Aesthetic references, design ideas, and stylistic approach notes are helpful.
- A proposed budget for the project (including production insurance).
- A detailed plan on how to reach the proposed budget
- A post-production plan and schedule for seeing the film through completion and distribution (i.e. festival submission), including deadlines through post-production and a list of who will be responsible for each phase after principal photography. If you already know who some of your post-production team (editor(s), VFX supervisor, sound designer(s), sound editor(s)/mixer(s), colorist, etc.) would be, include brief bios with their names and experience.
- A list of the member(s) of the post-production team who will register for Summer Film Post-Production the next academic year. If due to credit hour restrictions no one will be able to register for this course, provide a detailed explanation of how you will guarantee the film gets completed.
- Work samples (DVDs or links to them on web) directed by the proposed director(s), along with a written explanation of what this work demonstrates that will translate to the current script/project. Please also include work samples of projects produced by any of the proposed producers if available.
Completed application packages should be turned in to the Film & Media Arts office by the last SMU class day of October of the submission year.
It should go without saying (but we’ll say it anyway) that before submitting an application, all the proposed producers and directors in the application package should have thoroughly read through ALL the information about the Summer Film Production on this website, including the entirety of this FAQs.
WHAT’S REQUIRED OF THE PRODUCER?
In short, to see that the film gets shot and seen through to completion. This includes all manners of tasks (take FILM 4316 Film Producing for more), but some of the biggest responsibilities will be budgeting, fundraising, and working with the director on cast/crew selection. Generally speaking, the role of the producer is first to ensure the director has the resources necessary to achieve his/her/their vision, and second to ensure that the entire production process moves smoothly forward. More practically, the producer is the crew’s head problem solver, who anticipates potential issues and has a plan to solve with them as well as dealing with any unexpected problems that may arise in trying to see the film through to completion (one description of a good producer is someone who solves problems before the director is aware there ever was a problem).
After principal photography, it is the producer's responsibility to keep the post-production on schedule and on budget (the director should help with this as well but is most focused on trying to get the best finished product out rather than on the schedule or other limitations). The producer can (and should) also be creatively involved with post - but is primarily responsible for getting the film done ON TIME and ON BUDGET.
Once the film is completed, the producer is the point person for distribution/marketing, which includes (but is not limited to):
- Providing digital and/or hard copies of the finished film to all cast/crew
- Providing digital AND hard copies of the finished film and all the raw footage and materials to the Division
- Creating behind-the-scenes / marketing videos and trailers, and getting full-res digital copies of all of these to the Division
- Submitting to festivals, managing submissions, and getting high-res copies and marketing materials to festivals as needed
WHAT’S REQUIRED OF THE DIRECTOR?
The director is the creative head of the entire production, and it is his/her responsibility to have a creative vision for the film, and effectively communicate that to the cast and crew. Ideally the director should spend a lot of effort ensuring that the right people are in the right roles on both the cast and crew, then deal with the “big picture” question of making sure all aspects of the film fit together into a cohesive whole, letting the various actors and crew departments be creative in their own roles but providing guidance to them as needed to maintain the overall artistic goals of the film.
On set, the director is primarily responsible for working with the cast, blocking scenes, and working with the cinematographer to design the shots; the director has final say on all creative decisions, but if the right crew is in place, and everyone has been properly communicating ahead of time, many of the production aspects should run smoothly without the director having to personally deal with every single detail.
CAN I GET HELP FROM FACULTY ON MY PRODUCER/DIRECTOR APPLICATION?
Absolutely! The Division wants the SFP to run as smoothly as possible, so seeking help from faculty or others on the application is not only allowed, but encouraged - the better the applications submitted, the better sense we have of which team is right for the job. And some parts of the application - like budgeting and scheduling a feature - will be new to you, meaning it's worth checking with someone that you're doing it properly (and not forgetting any key elements!). So ask questions, get feedback, and get your application package as strong as possible!
DO I HAVE TO BE A FILM MAJOR TO ACT IN THE SUMMER FILM PRODUCTION?
Nope – in fact, this is the one category of participation that is automatically open to anyone, even if you have no connection to SMU. So go ahead and audition!
WHEN ARE AUDITIONS?
This will vary with each cycle as determined by the producers, but in general expect them to be in the first half of the spring semester of the SFP cycle’s first year – so for the 2013-15 SFP, the casting call went out in January 2014.
You can always find the most up-to-date information under “Current / Upcoming Project” on the main page of the SFP website, and/or subscribe to our Twitter feed (@SMUSummerFilm) for updates and news.
I’M INTERESTED IN ACTING AND IN CREWING – DO I HAVE TO CHOOSE?
That depends on what your specific interests are. If you just want to make a cameo or be an extra, that’s certainly possible for most crew members if the director approves. The same person, however, cannot hold a full-time crew position and a major acting role, since there will invariably be times when both roles would demand that person’s attention, and the shoot would slow down and/or suffer because of it.
The best way to be involved in both crewing and acting is to audition as an actor, and also get involved in a pre-production or post-production position; this eliminates the problems created by trying to hold two on-set jobs simultaneously.
If you’re really interested both in acting AND in holding an on-set crew position, your best bet is to choose which you would most like to do, and focus your efforts on that position. You should also let the director(s) and producer(s) know about your dual interests, as they may be able to consider you for both simultaneously since crew and cast selection will partially overlap – but be aware that this may not be feasible to their cast/crew selection workflow, so they may still ask you to decide which is more important to you.
In summary, ultimately there is room for anyone interested to work on the SFP, but there are no guarantees of what position/role you get since everyone has to apply/audition. So yes, it’s possible that you may choose to go for one position/role, not get it, and have missed the chance to apply for your secondary choice. That’s unfortunate but a reality of the process and should be considered when determining job(s) for which you want to apply/audition.
Note that to eliminate any conflicts of interest, the director(s), producer(s), and casting director may NOT appear onscreen (unless needed as background extras).
WHAT'S THE PRE-PRODUCTION SCHEDULE?
After the script selection committee reviews the submitted scripts and releases a shortlist of scripts to potentially shoot (mid-September), directing/producing teams will submit their applications. The pre-production process truthfully begins with these applications, as prospective directors/producers will already be tentatively budgeting the shoot and planning fundraising, thinking about locations, considering equipment needs, and so on. This will prepare whatever team is chosen to hit the ground running.
Once the selected directing/producing team is announced (by late November), pre-production will begin in earnest with that team beginning fundraising, refining their submitted plans, polishing the script if needed, and selecting crew heads in the last few weeks of the fall semester and through winter break.
The spring semester before the shoot will be a busy time, with the key crew personnel in place by early in the semester and casting beginning early in the spring as well. Exact schedules will vary, but likely by mid-March fundraising and casting should be wrapping up, and location scouting/securing should be well underway. By late April EVERYTHING should be in place: all cast and crew selected, the cast rehearsed with the director, all locations locked down, all funding in place, shotlist and schedule planned. This way everyone can head into the end of the semester and exams knowing the production is ready to roll immediately after graduation.
ONCE A SCRIPT IS CHOSEN, DOES THE PRODUCTION HAPPEN NO MATTER WHAT?
99% of the time, yes: once a script is selected for an SFP, the plan is that it will end up as a finished film by the end of that SFP cycle two years down the road.
That said, there is the possibility that in the case of a major problem in the pre-production stage, the faculty advisor may decide in consultation with the producing team to cancel the SFP or push the shoot back a year. The most likely causes of such an action would be if fundraising efforts are so far behind that the producers do not believe they will have enough of a budget to shoot the film on schedule, or if there are significant problems filling key cast or crew roles. The selection processes for both the screenplay and the producer(s)/director(s), however, are designed to minimize the possibility of either of these scenarios.
In any case, for each SFP the faculty advisor will have regular check-ins with the producer(s), and director(s), as well as with other crew heads as appropriate, to make sure everything is on track for the production and, whenever possible, to avert problems before they arise.
WHAT IF MAJOR PROBLEMS ARISE IN PRE-PRODUCTION OR ON SET?
No film is ever planned, shot, and post-produced without one or more seemingly huge issues arising at some point. Once a script is selected for an SFP, the expectation is that it will be turned into a finished film, regardless of what challenges come up along the way - an important part of filmmaking is learning to overcome challenges, expected or otherwise.
One of the most important roles the producer(s)/director(s) will play in the entire SFP process is ensuring that whatever obstacles come up in pre-production are overcome and that the shoot is ready to go come production time. And of course the SFP faculty advisor is available as needed to help these students deal with such problems. In short, the budget, schedule, shot list, and everything else worked on in pre-production should allow room for problems and unexpected issues.
Production and the Shoot Itself
WHEN DOES THE SHOOT OCCUR?
Principal photography happens in the approximately two- to three-week block between May graduation and the start of Summer I (which is usually around the start of June). This allows seniors to attend graduation and still work on the production, and makes it feasible for those taking summer classes or doing summer internships to still work on the shoot before those begin.
Of course, the production takes place in the middle summer of an SFP cycle, for instance summer 2014 for the 2013-15 SFP, with the year prior to the shoot designated for pre-production and the year after the shoot used for post-production.
WHERE DO WE SHOOT THE MOVIE?
It depends on the script, and is ultimately determined by the producing/directing team. Most often the shoot will take place around Dallas, but it is possible that some or all of principal photography may be a location shoot – for example, the first ten days (out of a twelve-day shoot) of the 2011-13 SFP were shot at a lakehouse on the Texas / Oklahoma border.
If a location is more than about ninety minutes from SMU and/or the plan is to stay overnight at a location, it is the producers’ responsibility to arrange for reasonable overnight accommodations for the cast and crew. Transportation costs should also be included in the budget, whether for group transportation or to reimburse drivers.
For logistical and budgetary reasons, all locations must be within reasonable driving distance of SMU – air transport is not an option for the SFP.
WHAT IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG ON-SET?
Problem-solving is a crucial part of your filmmaking skillset, and principal photography NEVER goes exactly as planned. The producer(s), director(s), and assistant director should be ready for unexpected challenges, and either solve them quickly so production can continue, or work with the director(s) to find acceptable ways to change the shooting schedule or shooting plans to work around the problem without compromising the film.
It is also the job of everyone on the crew to think about potential problems of any sort and work with the rest of the team to prevent them wherever possible. The SFP faculty advisor will also be available as needed to provide advice or, in an absolute emergency, help directly in dealing with major problems.
WILL FACULTY BE INVOLVED WITH THE ACTUAL SHOOT?
In short, no.
The SFP is designed to be student-run, with students really having the chance to guide the project rather than working as interns or assistants under faculty or other professionals. So faculty will not be involved in on-set leadership positions - and in fact, there will not always be faculty on set at all.
To be more specifc, the SFP faculty advisor will be on set for the first day of production to help the shoot get kicked off as needed, and will check in throughout the shoot to answer questions (and get publicity stills/video for the department). Other than that, faculty will only be available as a safety net of last resort in case of emergency - one key aim of the SFP is giving students experience solving problems on their own!
(note: a faculty member was involved in the leadership of the first SFP "pilot" shoots to ensure these pilots ran smoothly - and see what challenges a student-run production might present - but now that the pilot phase is over and the program is fully up-and-running, this will not be the case in any current or future SFPs)
Post-Production / Distribution
WHEN DOES POST-PRODUCTION OCCUR?
Post actually begins during production, with one or more editors putting together an assembly edit of the film while shooting is still happening. This gives the filmmakers a chance to identify problems on set and potentially do reshoots or pick-ups immediately rather than having to rely solely on the editing process to fix shooting problems.
Mostly, though, post happens in the second year of the two-year SFP cycle. Roughly speaking, picture editing happens in the fall semester, then sound design, visual effects, and coloring happen in the spring. The film should be completed and ready to head into the distribution phase by the end of the school year, so the next SFP cycle can begin.
WHO’S IN CHARGE OF POST?
As part of the producer/director application, the production team designates people who are in charge of seeing the film through to completion and then distribution. So these people are specifically in charge of making sure post happens. More generally, it is the responsibility of the director(s) and producer(s) to ensure the film is completed.
Tying this responsibility to a specific structure, both semesters of the second year of an SFP cycle (i.e. the school year after the shoot) at least one member of the post-production team is required to register pass/fail for an actual course titled “SFP Post-Production.” A passing grade in this course will require keeping the film moving forward on an appropriate timeframe, as listed in the original producer/director application and modified as needed by the key creative team and/or the SFP faculty advisor.
Normally, aside from the director(s), the editor(s) probably have the most day-to-day responsibility for keeping post moving forward during the picture edit phase, and will stay involved until the film is completed even as the audio post crew ideally takes over day-to-day work in the spring.
HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED WITH THE POST PROCESS?
If you know from the start that you want to take on a key post-production role, talk to the people applying to produce and/or direct and see if you can be added to their package as part of the post-production plans – this is especially helpful if you want to be the editor or sound designer.
You can also get involved in post at any other point in the SFP cycle. Contact one of the producers, let them know you’d like to get involved in post (and what your interests and abilities in that realm are), and see what you can work out.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE FILM ONCE IT’S COMPLETED?
Each producer/director application package includes information on plans for the film after its completion – films are meant to be shared with audiences, and the one thing we do NOT want is to finish an SFP and then have it sit on someone’s hard drive, never to be seen again.
Details will vary depending on the specific film and the producers’ intentions, but as a general rule of thumb most films coming out of the Summer Film Production process will have a cast/crew screening the spring or summer AFTER principal photography, and then will hit the festival circuit (producers should make sure to include money in the budget for festival entries and other distribution costs). In some cases the finished film may have potential for further outside distribution beyond the festival market; otherwise the producers will likely make the film available online, either for free or through a self-distribution scheme.
WILL I GET A COPY OF THE FILM ONCE IT’S DONE?
If you worked on it, YES! One of the post-completion responsibilities of the producers is to ensure everyone on the cast/crew receives a high-quality copy of the completed film for the own enjoyment and/or use on reels. Exactly how this distribution takes place is up to the producers, but a reasonable expectation is that any cast/crew member who wants a hard copy receives a DVD or Blu-ray, and everyone on the cast and crew can request access to a protected online version they can watch and/or download for use on reels.
It is important to remember, though, that due to the time it takes to complete post-production, you should not expect to have access to the finished film (for your reel or otherwise) until roughly a year after the shoot. So do not expect to have footage ready for your reel immediately after production.
WHAT HAPPENS IF FOR SOME REASON POST-PRODUCTION DOES NOT GET COMPLETED ON SCHEDULE?
The structure of the SFP, including everything from the two-year cycle, to the initial application package for potential producers and directors, to the SFP Post-Production course, is designed to facilitate each Summer Film Production making it through to completion in as smooth a process as possible and in a timely manner. Nevertheless, it is possible that for some reason an SFP may not be completely done by the end of the two-year cycle.
Thus the SFP program includes a fail-safe that if the next SFP may not begin until the previous one is completed. That is, the next cycle's script submission process will begin on time, but no crew or cast will be selected until the prior film is completed. In this rare event, those interested in working on the upcoming are encouraged to talk to the SFP faculty advisor about how they can help the previous project get completed quickly.
Organizational Stuff and Other Miscellany
HOW CAN I FIND OUT WHAT’S CURRENTLY GOING ON WITH THE SUMMER FILM PRODUCTION?
Major news about the SFP, including calls for scripts/cast/crew, the status of all current and past SFPs, and so on, can all be found on the main page for the Summer Film Production website (and if you’re reading this, you’ve already found that!).
More regular updates including up-to-date news on what’s happening with the current SFP, can be found by checking our blog (blog.smu.edu/summerfilm) or following us on Twitter (@SMUSummerFilm).
CAN I GET CREDIT FOR WORKING ON THE SUMMER FILM PRODUCTION?
Yes, but only in specific circumstances.
In consultation with the faculty, key personnel in pre-production and post-production MAY have the chance to enroll in a "directed study" focusing on their efforts in these phases, in part to ensure that the pre- and post- phases move forward smoothly and on schedule.
Students cannot, however, gets school credit for working on the shoot itself, and not everyone involved in pre- or post-production will enroll in a for-credit course.
We are, however, working on getting the SFP approved as part of the University Curriculum, meaning cast and crew may be able to complete the "Community Engagement" proficiency by working on the SFP. We will post more information on the details of this process if/when this proposal is approved.
WHO OWNS THE FINISHED FILM?
Each SFP is treated as a collaborative work created by a number of students under the aegis of SMU, the Meadows School of the Arts, and the Division of Film & Media Arts. The Division of Film & Media Arts will hold the copyright to the finished film and all materials involved in its creation, including the raw footage, any behind-the-scenes stills or videos, any sound effects or music created for the film, etc., except where otherwise specified. All students who worked on the film will have rights in perpetuity to use the film or portions thereof on their reels or demos, provided they do not make the film available in its entirety without express written consent of the Chair of the Division.
Additionally, once the film is completed, the producer(s)/director(s) may enter the film in festivals and/or work to secure distribution however they see fit.
Any royalties or other income generated by the finished film will be handled according to an agreement between the producer(s) and the Division that shall be created during the pre-production process.
WHAT IS THE BUDGET FOR EACH SUMMER FILM PRODUCTION?
In short, it varies, depending on the specific needs of the script and production. Part of the application packages prospective producers/directors will submit is a detailed budget explaining how much they will need for the shoot and how they plan to acquire those funds – yes, the producers having some fundraising responsibilities (just like in most “real world” filmmaking)! We do put a cap on the “cash” cost of the film (i.e., costs not counting things or time people donated – just dollars actually spent, or placed on credit cards, or whatever): no more than $30,000. In practice, most of the SFPs will be done for considerably less – there’s no “official” minimum cost, but the faculty reviewing prospective producers’ proposed budgets will consider whether a budget is realistic or not.
WHERE DOES THE BUDGET FOR EACH SUMMER FILM PRODUCTION COME FROM?
Each SFP receives some funding and other assistance (see below) from the Division of Film & Media Arts, while also requiring the producers to do some fundraising of their own. This setup is designed to provide students with experience in raising funds for their films (a crucial real-world ability for budding independent filmmakers) while making this process less daunting than it would be outside the framework of the SFP by significantly decreasing the amount of funds they need to raise in two ways.
First, the Division of Film & Media Arts provides some direct cash infusions for each SFP. The details of this support will vary slightly from one year to the next, depending on the production’s budget and departmental resources – if you are applying to produce, talk to the SFP faculty advisor to get the details about Divisional funding for that year’s SFP. That said, generally Divisional funding will be provided as a 1-to-2 match (i.e. for every $2 raised for a production the Division will provide $1), provided the filmmakers raise at least $5000 on their own (which will result in a $2500 match from the department), with a cap of roughly $5000 in Divisional funding (as an example using these numbers, if the producers raised $10,000, this would result in actual cash resources of $15,000 when including the Division’s contribution).
Second, the Division substantially reduces production costs relative to the ourside world by providing free (pending insurance, see below) access to any of its own production and post-production equipment for use on the SMU Summer Film Production, which substantially reduces the equipment costs needed to shoot the film (potentially to zero if only SMU equipment is used). Since this is not tied to a class and hence not under the normal liability system, the producers will be required to show proof of equipment insurance, and agree to pay all costs not covered by insurance of repairing or replacing any equipment damaged, broken, or lost over the course of this production. Given that any outside rental houses and many locations would require similar production insurance, this should not be any additional burden, and again enhances the educational experience by accustoming the student filmmakers to real-world policies and practices, including dealing with production insurance companies.
DOES THE SFP GET TO USE ALL THE FILM & MEDIA ARTS GEAR?
Yes – but under two important stipulations to insure safety and careful use of the gear. First, all usual “training” requirements apply to SFP checkouts, meaning a crew cannot check out gear on which its members have not been trained. The SFP faculty advisor can provide guidance on how this applies to a particular crew and potentially arrange training sessions as needed.
Second, the producers are required to procure production insurance for all the equipment, facilities, and gear (whether SMU-owned or borrowed/rented elsewhere) they use on the shoot. Costs of insurance must be included in the budget submitted as part of their application. For anything beyond what is covered by insurance, including the deductible, the producers and director(s) assume joint responsibility for all equipment and agree to pay any and all costs of repairing or replacing equipment or other property damaged, broken, or lost over the course of the SFP.
Provided these two requirements are met, the SFP can use departmental gear without additional charge (other than paying to replace of fix any gear lost or damaged on the shoot). Since the shoot happens over the summer when no production classes are occurring, the SFP does not need to accommodate any course needs for equipment.
Finally, the SFP's use of Film & Media Arts equipment and facilities is always subject to the discretion of the Division Chair and may be revoked or altered if the Chair determines it is not in the best interests of the Division.