Episode Ninety-Six: Producing Animation

January 11, 2012 by cindy  
Filed under episodes

Abstract Block Background Image: Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Producing animated content is a much different process than producing live action. The concept of creating a whole world is the same, but in CG animation, every aspect of the production is created in a computer. The process is vast and very fascinating. Join us as we speak to animation producer, Ellen Coss about her experience in the world of CG art and animation.

Ellen Coss- Producer

Ellen Coss is a 25 year veteran in computer generated imagery, starting her career at the seminal Digital Productions.

In the 1980s feature films were not using computer imagery, but theme park attractions were.  Ellen spent 2 years at Universal Studios as the production manager of the film for Florida’s Universal Park Attraction “The Funtastic World of Hanna Barbera”. The film, a motion based race through three of Hanna Barbera’s cartoon worlds employed computer backgrounds and 2D characters, optically composited.  This was one of the first projects to combine 2D and 3D animation.

Ellen then joined Rhythm & Hues as a producer for theme park attraction films such as Seafari, which won first place at Imagina that year.  She later became the Executive Producer of the theme park division and was responsible for bringing in multi-million dollar projects to the studio.

As many of the projects she worked on became creative milestones in the industry, Disney Feature Animation brought her in to produce their theme park attraction films.  Magic Lamp, employed exaggerated squash and stretch techniques common in 2D but not common in cg, and Mickey’s Philharmagic, a stereoscopic film which took nine of Disney’s beloved 2D characters and created them in 3D.  It is currently playing at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando and is the number one audience rated attraction.

Ellen then joined Dreamworks, as a Production Executive, where she worked for a year on various studio initiatives.  Subsequently she was the Associate Producer on the feature film Over the Hedge, released in 2006.  Hedge was heralded by Jeffrey Katzenberg as the smoothest running production ever at Dreamworks Animation.  During a second stint at Dreamworks, Ellen produced the Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special, which aired on NBC and Secrets of the Masters, which was the companion DVD to Kung Fu Panda 2.

Seeing that overseas production was the wave of the future Ellen headed to Prana Studios, a 325 person animation studio with offices in Mumbai India and Los Angeles. As Head of Production Ellen contributed with her years of production pipeline experience as well as her new role as a voice in the process of the company developing their own I.P.  Prana is currently producing, as a 1/3 ownership partner, three direct to DVD features entitled Unstable Fables being distributed in 2008 by TWC.  Under Ellen’s direction all pre-production including script writing, storyboarding and visual development occurred in Los Angeles, with physical production currently taking place in India.

Ellen then got a call to produce The Tortoise and the Hippo at Walden Media with John Dykstra directing.  She developed the project for 7 months until it was put on hold because of the writer’s strike.

Ellen then provided producing consulting services for the animated feature Arthur Christmas an Aardman Animation film to be distributed by Sony.

Ellen’s reputation in the industry is one of an excellent executer, and a nurturing manager, as well as a supporter and contributor to the creative vision of all projects.  Her goal on every project is to produce an excellent creative product, on time and on budget and to have the people associated with the project feel that it was one of the best working experiences in their career.

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Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

November 29, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

November 29, 2011

A good producer knows his/her strengths and more importantly, they know their weaknesses.  Why do I think knowing your weaknesses is more important than knowing your strengths?  I don’t if you really think about it, because, knowing your weaknesses is a huge strength.  It allows you to fill in the gaps creating a stronger team and therefore a stronger production.

When I first started, I didn’t know the first thing about giving script notes. I knew what I liked and what I didn’t like and was very good at pointing out what I didn’t like. But I was not good at pointing out why I didn’t like something. Because I knew my weaknesses, I was able to find producers who were strong in the area of script notes. Through surrounding myself with others who had that skill set, I was able to learn and develop my own skills at giving script notes. If someone were to come up to me right now and ask me what my weaknesses were, I would be able to list them right now.  But, then I would also be able to tell them who I have surrounded myself with to balance those weaknesses out.

We are all imperfect and no one is good at everything, therefore, it is important for you to know your strengths and weaknesses in order to fill in the gaps.

Q: What is your dream job for producing?

September 8, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

Q:  What is your dream job for producing?

Deloris H., Buena Vista Florida

Wow, it’s so nice of you to ask.  Honestly, my dream project tends to change from time to time.  I will say this, though, my dream project regardless of the content or the medium would be to have a cast and crew that are excited about the project.  To have a filmmaker that is honest and realistic about what the project is (i.e., they know that it’s not going to win an academy award if it’s a slasher film…which I don’t want to do anyway).  To have a group of people that love what they do, realize it’s not brain surgery, and are having fun.  To have a crew that really likes each other, respects each other and knows what each other’s job is.  I just like to make people smile, whether it’s through the process of actually making the film/TV show or by making a comedy that makes people laugh while watching it.

Thanks so much for asking, I really appreciate it.

Q: How do you interview an AD?

September 6, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

Q:  How do you interview an AD?  How do you know he/she is worth the chance as so much is riding on his/her capability to handle chaos and remain calm?

Jake H.  Wahoo Nebraska

It’s interesting because I just did a consultation with one of my students at NYFA the other day about how to choose the right DP for their shoot.  So, I am going to make this a general how to interview someone post because I feel that each role on the set is important.  Yes, the AD is a super high pressure job and it may seem more important that you get the right AD than getting the right grip or PA, but the truth of the matter is, one person that does not fit within the team could equal disaster for a production.

The key is to know how the producer and director work.  So much of being good at these two jobs in particular, is knowing who you are as a person.  You need to know this so that you can fill in the holes and make sure to get a balanced crew.  You must know what each crew members job in general is so that you can ask for a sample schedule and ask how long it takes them to do a schedule, but the most important question is…how do you like to work.  If you know that you like to have a meeting right before the shoot, then after lunch, then at the end of the day and the person you’re interviewing really doesn’t find it necessary and in fact thinks it’s stupid, then they are probably not the right person for you to work with.  The thing is, there is not right or wrong way to do the things it takes to make a movie (as long as you’re being ethical) so it’s not a “bad” thing for you to hire people that work the way you do.  If you like to laugh and have a lot of fun on set and you are interviewing an AD or DP or anyone for that matter who is sitting across the table from you for like 20 minutes and hasn’t cracked a smile, do you think this person is a good fit for your production?  They may be super qualified and really good at their job, but you are going to have to spend a lot of time with them so they may not be the right fit.

If you’re the producer and you know that your director is very internal with his process, it’s probably not a good idea to hire an AD that is an introvert.  On the flip side, you know your director is very A.D.D., be honest (and respectful of the director) when you are talking to the AD and tell them what the director is like and ask them how they would handle that.  Part of your job as a producer is to be able to see who will work well together and who won’t.

One particular thing to remember when interviewing an AD though, is that their job can be VERY stressful, so make sure that they have a calm demeanor and that they are respectful enough to ask the crew how long it will take to set the shot and that they trust the crew to do their job, but can get them to work efficiently.  Above all, TRUST is the word you need to remember when hiring key crew members.  Do you trust them to do the job well?  Do they trust you to do yours?  Do they trust the crew to do theirs?

It can be a tricky process.  One last thing I will say on this and it’s a really hard one for new producers and that is, you may have to fire someone.  It’s OK as long as it’s because the project or the crew is suffering because this person is on the project.  It’s really not a personal thing or an ego thing so make sure that you remember that.  One bad apple on set can poison the entire shoot so you’ve got to be able to do what it takes to make sure the process is smooth.

Q: You talk about pre-production all the time. What is it and why is it important?

August 29, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

Q: You talk about pre-production all the time.  What is it and why is it important?

Sarah V., Richmond Virginia

Pre-Production is the time before principal photography starts. It is the time when you get to plan and prepare for the chaos of the shoot. It is, arguably, the most important part of the process because if done correctly, you can spot issues with the script, the budget, the shot list, the locations, the equipment, transportation and pretty much everything you will encounter on set. Now, you must know that there will always be unforeseen challenges, but there are a number of “standard” challenges that every film faces. If you do a proper pre-production, those challenges can be dealt with before everyone is sitting on set and time is ticking away. Because, on set is where time is the most expensive. Also, if you are working in the low-budget world you don’t have money to throw at problems.  More likely than not, you will be asking to borrow equipment, locations, furniture, etc. and if you can allow for more planning time to get those things lined up the shoot will go much more smoothly. So, please, I implore you to do as much pre-production as you possibly can on your films without becoming obsessed with pre-production to the point of avoiding the shoot.

Q: What’s the best/cheapest school for aspiring producers?

August 24, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

Q: What’s the best/cheapest school for aspiring producers?

Brian W.,  Des Moines Iowa

What’s the saying, beauty is in the eye of the beholder?  Well, deciding what the best film school is for producers is kind of similar.  It’s in the eye of the beholder.  Meaning, what’s right for me and the way I learn may not be right for you and the way you learn so I am not going to give a specific school here.  I recommend (and I know I say this a lot) researching.  There are many different kinds of producers and many different tracks to go on.  For example, if you want to be a creative producer at a studio, then I recommend a four-year university that has a lot of ties to the studio system, that really focuses on networking and creating a strong community amongst its graduates.  If you are more interested in doing every facet of producing on an independent level, from the budgeting, to lifting sandbags on set, to being with the director and editor while they are working on the project then a more nuts and bolts film school is for you.  Those schools tend to focus on hands on experience in every position on set, they tend to be shorter in time than a four-year university, they’re more like a trade school.  Then there is always the school of hard knocks.  You can go out and intern (which I call free film school) and just start making films with your friends. So, as you can see, there are many options for those who want to produce.  Do your research and choose the one that is right for you.  If you can’t afford the film school you think you need, remember some of the best producers around didn’t go to expensive schools, some of them didn’t go to film school at all.  Frankly, if you want to be a producer, I would recommend getting a business degree so that opens up a ton of options for school right there.  There is no one way to become a producer and every experience brings something different to the table when it comes to filmmaking and that’s what makes this business so special and so much fun.

Q: If you’re a writer/producer what’s the first hire you should make in terms of getting a project financed and started?

August 23, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

Q: If you’re a writer/producer what’s the first hire you should make in terms of getting a project financed and started?

Eric F., Scottsdale Arizona

This is a tricky question because there is not one answer.  It really depends on where you’re at in your career as a filmmaker, what kind of investor you are going after, what kind of film you are making, where it is going and who your contacts in the business already are.  If you are a 1st time writer/producer, I would recommend that your first hire be a producer who has done this before.  I say this because there is a lot to navigate and this person will most likely be able to help guide you through the process.  Do your research and know when you are hiring an honest and experienced producer.  Make sure that you and that person communicate well and can work together on a daily basis.  You are about to spend a lot of time with each other and it should be an enriching process. Typically when you’re a writer, you think mostly creatively (which is good) but the process of turning your script into an actual moving picture is more business than creative in the beginning.  You will need someone who understands budgets and business and it doesn’t hurt if they are good at negotiating.  Just a heads up – as the writer/producer of the project I would be prepared to write a lot of things you wouldn’t normally be writing like the verbiage for the business plan, website content, etc.

Episode Sixty-Nine: Producing Challenges Big Budgets Vs. Small

April 27, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under episodes

Having unlimited resources at your disposal while making a movie doesn’t mean that you’ll make a great movie, but it sure helps. What luxuries do you have on a larger budget production? What must you sacrifice to make a smaller budget work? Producer Scott Fort joins us to discuss what it’s like to make features ranging from half a million dollars to 5 million dollars. In this episode we also kick off our new feature Support: From Start to Finish, in which we’ll highlight a different crowd funding campaign every month. Steve Everson joins us this month to talk about the Indigogo campaign for his film A Midsummer Nightmare.

Scott Fort- Producer


Robert Scott Fort has been a working professional in the film industry for over 20 years.  During the first stage of his career, Mr. Fort worked as a Director of Development at Walt Disney Studios for Stuart Gordon, the director of RE-ANIMATOR, developing projects such as DYNOTOPIA, AMERICAN PSYCHO and the sequel to HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS.  He also worked with Indie film producer David Lancaster on various Showtime projects, and later with writer/producer, Jim Kouf, also at Walt Disney Studios.

Mr. Fort began working in physical production as a Production Coordinator and Production Manager for Full Moon Pictures, where he supervised over 25 low budget horror films.  From there Mr. Fort worked on numerous television pilots and movies of the week at such studios as Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Sony Television, Showtime and Lifetime.

Mr. Fort has also worked as a UPM or Line Producer on numerous independent features with directors such as: Ken Loach, Christopher Coppola, Andy Fleming and Joe Dante.  He has worked in locations as diverse as Utah, Arizona, Missouri, Mississipi, New Mexico, Louisiana, Texas and North Carolina, and has developed an expertise in putting together budget scenarios for film financing packages.

Most recently Mr. Fort Line Produced THE COVER UP based on an infamous Iowa crime case and directed by Sundance winning director, Brian Jun, and Production Managed ACT OF VALOR for Legendary Pictures slated for release in 2011.  He recently Line Produced the teen action thriller, BIG BAD for Eye Vox Entertainment, and is currently prepping a psychological thriller titled CHAINED to be directed by Jennifer Lynch.

Mr. Fort is an alumnus of California State University of Fullerton, graduating with a degree in Communications, with an emphasis in TV & Film. He is a member of the Producer’s Guild of America.

Credits include: THE THACKER CASE, MARK BURNETTE’S GOLD RUSH, KISS KISS BANG BANG, WAITRESS, and LOVE SPRING.

Jenna Edwards- Producer

Jenna Edwards began her film career in Minnesota where she was signed on as talent with Easter Hailey. Quickly after being signed Edwards was hired by the agency as a full time employee giving her a head-start on her Hollywood education. After two years of rising through the Minnesota film community Edwards made the move to Los Angeles.

Soon after Edwards moved to Los Angeles she was hired by agent Jamie Ferrar. It was while Edwards was working for Ferrar that she developed an interest in the casting process. Before long she had moved from talent agencies to working in casting with such industry leaders as; Sally Steiner (Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Boy Meets World), Barbie Block (Jonas, Pepper Dennis) and Allison Jones (Superbad, The Office).

During this time Edwards was also able to gain valuable production experience working with studios like Disney, MTV, FOX and CBS.

After several years of successfully navigating her career through the Hollywood studio system Edwards made the leap to independent film with her first feature April Showers and has since successfully produced 4 feature films as well as co-hosting the Film Method podcast and teaching producing classes at New York Film Academy.

After her success with April Showers Edwards formed Mattoid Entertainment with partners Jeremy McGovern and Andrew Robinson where they produced the first ever made-for-internet movie, In the Darkness, which premiered on Hulu.com. Mattoid has recently made the leap to distribution, where they have acquired three feature documentaries to be released in 2011.  The first, Adopting Haiti premiered as the #1 documentary on Hulu.com.

Aside from continuing to work at Mattoid, Jenna is busy working on budgets for several independent films, producing 2 feature films and developing projects for television as well as teaching producing at New York Film Academy.

Producing Sunflowers Website

The Slash Phenomenon

April 21, 2010 by cindy  
Filed under news

April 21, 2010

For my first official Film Method blog post I thought I’d write about something very near and dear to me. It’s what I refer to as the “slash” phenomenon. Maybe you’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve read about it. Maybe this is you. I recently worked on a film that was produced by two actors. The two actors also happened to be the producers of the film and one of the actors was also the writer and director. He was the actor/director/writer/producer. That would be 3 slashes and 4 titles in case you’re counting.

I’m not sure exactly what makes people say, “I’ve never directed anything before, so I’m going to start by directing something that I’m also starring in”. Why does this make sense to people? Many times I wonder if these people who have suddenly decided to take the huge leap into the world of directing have been on set in any capacity other than as an actor. Have they ever been a producer, an A.D., a grip, or, god forbid, a P.A.?? I have to say that I’ve learned more about filmmaking as a P.A. then I believe I ever would in any other position with the exception of producer and maybe 1st A.D. This is because you see how every department works and you interact with every department.

Being a film director requires so much more than many of these new directors seem to take into account and this is reflected in the extremely inefficient way the set is run. Planning the shot list with the DP is just the tip of the iceberg. You will also need to work with all the department heads to ensure that everything that’s in frame will fit with the look of the film (art dept, make-up, hair, costumes, props, etc). Have you or your DP done any storyboards? Do you know anything about lighting (you might want to learn in case your DP doesn’t)? All of these things must be considered in addition to knowing how to get the performances you need out of your actors. If one of those actors happens to be you then how do you know you are getting the performance you need from yourself? Are you going to depend on your DP to give you performance notes or will you just rely on camera playback? Have you figured that into the planning? I hope so, or you most definitely will not make your day or any day in your schedule.

Something else I notice when watching these very new directors direct is a behavior pattern that is quite disconcerting. It seems that the less experience they have, the more needy and entitled they act. They are more demanding and less concerned about respecting the crew’s time. This is quite an insult considering that these are normally very low-budget films where most crew-members are working way below scale.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that it can’t be done it’s just rare that it can be done well, especially at this level of filmmaking where everyone is generally very green. I’ve listened to new directors talk about their reasoning behind why they feel that they are the best person for the job and honestly it’s pretty frightening. They’ve written a script and they haven’t been able to find anyone to direct it that will understand their vision. Translation: I can’t find anyone that I will be able to manipulate into doing exactly what I say. If that’s the case, then you’re right, you don’t need a director, you need a P.A. Film is a collaborative art, but you wouldn’t know it from working with some of the people that I’ve worked with lately. If the vision and scope of your story can’t be correctly communicated or translated to another director, then maybe it’s not a story worth telling. If you can’t convince one other person to believe in your vision, how are you going to convince a room full of people at your first screening?

The title of director is a prestigious one, but one, nonetheless, that comes with a heap of responsibilities. Are you ready for the challenge to direct/produce/star/write? If so then I hope you’re ready for the ride of your life. Oh and remember, a little respect goes a long way when it comes to how you treat your crew, so does a good pancake breakfast.

Soonami Productions