Paperless Film Production Apps: Going Green for Leprechaun
COW Library : Cinematography : Zach Lipovsky : Paperless Film Production Apps: Going Green for Leprechaun
The digital revolution was supposed to save us all from endless streams of paper but instead, has spawned an even deeper addiction to the printed page. And there's no place more at fault than the paper-filled production office – not only do mountains of paper get used every day, but in all sorts of wonderful and fancy colors.
As a filmmaker, I'm constantly juggling a lot of different projects. Luckily, I love multitasking and enjoy looking for the most efficient use of my time. I may even be guilty of spending more time looking for software to help me work than actually doing the work.
This summer, I was hired to direct a reboot of the Leprechaun franchise for Lionsgate and WWE. Yes, World Wrestling Entertainment makes films, and I entered the ring to shoot one in 15 days. With my knowledge as an app designer and filmmaker, I took it upon myself to survive the match without using a single piece of paper, no matter how alluring its color may be.
This wasn't a mission to save trees or the environment, which, of course, is a nice bonus. This was a mission to find a more efficient and uncluttered approach – one that would let me focus on making the film, while not being buried under reams of paper.
So throw away your giant three ringed binder and lifetime supply of rainbow 8x10s. Follow me down the path of the paperless set.
The film was being shot in my hometown, Vancouver, Canada. So I flew in from LA and started day one by telling the staff not to give me any paper. This was met with pleasant smiles and nods, but sure enough, for the next several days, I'd return to my desk to find neatly piled stacks of paper. I had to keep reminding the production manager, coordinator and assistant to just rely on email.
Email has already replaced the need for paper on a film anyway. Even the most technophobic amongst us have email. Everyone uses it to send documents to all departments, so why print out a copy as well? I understand people have their set ways of working, and want to make sure nothing gets missed... but it's time to stop the madness!
I drew a line across my desk, you shall not pass... (with paper). Soon enough, the team realized I was, in fact, serious. First step of the detox was complete.
Now, the biggest problem with relying on email is you can get lost under hundreds of messages. How do I manage all that email in the most efficient way? The best app I've found is called Mailbox. This app lets you use your inbox like an inbox, rather then a graveyard for the thousands and thousands of emails you'll never read.
Once you've read an email, you have three choices. DELETE it, ARCHIVE it, or the magical LATER button, which lets you teleport the message to a later date. This means your inbox only has the few emails that need your attention.
Often an email would come in for a different project that I couldn't even think about until my wrestling film was done. So I'd simply flick my finger, tell it to come back in a month, and after production is wrapped, the email simply pops back up again.
It requires Gmail as the backbone, but you can set up Gmail to rout any email account through its servers free of charge. I was amazed how much your stress is reduced with a clean inbox on your computer, and no paper on your desk.
Ok, but now you have all these documents that have been emailed to you. How on earth are you going to keep all of them organized? Meet Evernote, the single greatest program invented in the last decade.
The problem with storing files on your computer is you need to remember where they all are. It's up to you to keep a file structure organized, and when things inevitably start getting busy I always just start throwing things onto the desktop. Soon my desktop ends up being way more cluttered than what my actual real desk would have been.
So instead, Evernote stores any kind of information in a "note". This can be a PDF, pictures, videos, a webpage... anything. Once you create a note you quickly label it with some key info like the production name, then click and forget it.
Evernote then syncs this note onto every device you own, and to the cloud. So even if my computer and phone fell in a lake, I'd still have everything safely stored online. It's like an online version of that giant three ring production binder.
I put everything for the film in Evernote... all my production documents, all my visual references for monster skin, all my research of how to make Vancouver look like Ireland. Everything. That way I know I have it all with me, and can easily find it at any time with Evernote's incredible search features.
As a director I'm often showing the same info to the crew over and over again. With Evernote I can quickly pull anything up, and then send them a link so they can go back and look at it any time.
After the first day of scouting, when nobody else was around, the location manager came up to me and quietly asked what were all those cool apps, and how could he use them? I was infecting the crew with my paperless ways.
So, this is where the shameless plug comes in. As production nears, I open up the app I designed called Shot Lister. It's the only software available to build, organize, schedule and share a shot list digitally.
When I made my first feature length film last year, I couldn't believe that the state-of-the-art for shot listing was to build a custom spreadsheet in Excel, then just scribble all over it with a pen when things go wrong on set. So I built an app that revolutionizes shot listing.
Storyboarding with Shot Lister
Not only does Shot Lister make building a shot list really easy, but it lets you schedule a film on a shot by shot and minute-by-minute basis. Then as you shoot, the app tells you how you are doing. As things change on set, you can simply change the plan on the app and it automatically recalculates, showing you how you're going to make your day.
Schedule on a minute-by-minute basis
The single greatest thing is that when I'm using the app the producers completely leave me alone because they have total confidence I know the plan.
It's available for iOS but I'm also running a Kickstarter right now for an Android version. So if you want to help bring it to Android please head on over to http://bit.ly/shot-lister
While I'm prepping with Shot Lister I completely depend on Shot Designer to visualize the plan. It's a magnificent app for designing shot overheads. Just like I'm Tom Cruise in Minority Report, I can just drag my fingers around on the screen and instantly, I have a map of all my set ups.
Not only that, but I can import the blueprints from MagicPlan as a PDF and drop cameras down onto the actual set.
I always meet with my DP and AD the weekend before the shoot, and having Shot Designer lets us move everything around together, and visualize how we are going to move around the set on the day.
Production for the Leprechaun reboot went very smoothly, we got the film in the can in 15 days and everyone was very impressed with me and my iPad. Only once, did paper find its way back to me on set.
I got a call from the ADs that a package had been sent to me from the production office. I went to the trailers at the end of the day and was handed a manila envelope that transpo had personally dropped off. Seemed important.
I opened it, inside was a printed copy of the updated crew list I was emailed two days earlier.... and this time on green paper! Yeah. Things need to change.
The crew embraced their paperless director, I became friends with a wrestling superstar and on to post I went. In the suite, I often just use Clear to keep track of notes, but when watching a long cut, I love pulling out Cut Notes.
When you're watching the film, Cut Notes syncs timecode with the NLE. Then I just simply touch any of the pre-programed buttons. Cut Notes builds a list of changes with timecode burned in. Then I can just delete each note as we fix it. So simple.
So all in all, I survived shooting and posting the film. I did, however, discover one way paper beat the iPad. Unlike paper, if you drop an iPad on a rock... it breaks. This was probably the only downside to my paperless workflow. For a few hundred bucks, Apple swapped it out for a new one and I was back at it.
By no means have I changed the entire production pipeline, but if one person has found a way without touching a printed page, then maybe others can, too. I dare you to be brave and say no to paper. You can do it!