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BTL Expo Heads of Production/Shutan

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The emergence of virtual movie studios will offer below-the-line talent a tremendous creative palette from which to choose, one major studio’s head of physical production told attendees of the Below the Line EXPO at Raleigh Studios.Mark Bakshi, president of feature production management worldwide at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, also observed that “costs theoretically should be held down because you won’t have 200 people traveling to different locations.”In attempting to become a studio of the future, he reported that Paramount is considering posting its own shows rather than sinking funds into facilities at Sony, Disney or others. “It would be great to have our own dubbing facility on the lot, and more importantly, the talent,” he said. “Once you build it, you must have really top mixers.” Otherwise, spending on hardware without top talent will turn into a financial black hole.On a related topic, Bakshi isn’t intimidated by growing use of digital intermediates. “Like any tool, it can be misused,” he acknowledged, “but as time goes on studios have become more aware of what DI can do.”On the remake of Bad News Bears, he said it cost about $150,000 to stick green leaves on tree branches to capture the summertime atmosphere when, in fact, turning all the leaves green could have taken about 30 seconds in a DI bay, which by comparison costs about $10,000 a day. “It was an expensive lesson I learned,” he said.In addition, Bakshi noted that the camera package on Collateral cost $70,000 a week for both film and high-def, which was decided on as a creative backup for shooting some sequences, “and we didn’t save a penny.” He said the moral of the story was to go either film or HD.Production heads who are accustomed to making 16 or 17 films a year need some sort of continuity and checks and balances in place when it comes to offering reasonable pay raises, kit rentals and client relations, according to Bakshi. One huge cost-control mechanism at Paramount is that the studio owns rather than rents equipment and isn’t bashful about upgrading the machinery. He said it’s a practical approach, especially in the event that a key grip is fired and pulls his equipment. This way, the studio isn’t ever beholden to any equipment rental packages.Addressing the co-financing trend, Bakshi noted that Paramount has been at the forefront of this practice in deciding to bring aboard outside equity partners to help minimize its exposure to risks associated with poorly performing films. But in order for the arrangement to work, he said one of the studios needs to assume the lead role on managing procedures and daily production at the time the deal is hatched. “You don’t want to have two masters just like you don’t want to have two directors,” he explained, noting the need to avoid imparting conflicting information to line producers.He said Paramount typically takes the lead on discussions with bond companies about overages, which if creatively driven and in need of re-shoots, will usually increase a film’s budget. “We’d basically just add those funds back to the direct cost of the bond and the contingency would be pushed back or it might have to be increased,” he said.Bakshi, whose father was a filmmaker, started as a PA at Disney where a procedure was in place that involved production executives in preproduction and production. “It was great to actually be making films instead of sitting behind a desk,” he said, referring to an inherent problem with others on the studio-head-of-physical-production track. Many of his peers, for instance, have no idea how long it takes to set up a dolly track. “If you don’t understand the dynamics on the set, then how can you advise them?” he asked. By working in the trenches instead of a corner office, he was able to gain the trust of filmmakers and be part of the collaborative process.Bakshi is sanguine about the future as it relates to easing concerns about runaway production, citing Mission Impossible 3 as an example of a significant LA shoot (Berlin was nixed over cost and creative concerns). His sense is that the latest on-location developments are driven by a weak dollar and lease-back subsidies in London and elsewhere not being as strong as they once were. He lauded recent plans for aggressive but equitable subsidies in New Orleans and Atlanta.He also considers home video “a huge growing area for physical production and projects. Our studio alone will be making 12 to 15 original titles a year for our home video division whose budgets are anywhere from $3 million to $5 million a year.”

Written by Bruce Shutan

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