Friday, March 16, 2012

5000 Hours

 I saw a film called Birdemic the other night ( It's famously terrible. Thankfully, I watched the Rifftrax version (, which made it more bearable. It's easy to point out any of the many "things wrong" with the film, but I want to point out that it was created with sincerity and earnest effort on the part of most if not all the crew members.

My first thought is "where do they find these people?", but my next thought is "how truly awful that so many thousands of hours were wasted to create this unsellable, unbearable, tasteless junk."

5000 hours is (minimally) how long it takes to make a movie. 5000 "man" hours (includes many "woman" hours). When you consider all the many roles involved, crew members, cast members, preproduction, production, postproduction... it often takes much closer to 10000 or more hours. That's five working years of someone's life.

I assume something in the order of 5000 hours were spent creating Birdemic.

The quality of the film is, for the most part, entirely dependent on the set of persons on the filmmaking team. A good team will, for the most part, result in a good film, or at least in a film that passes for a low-grade late night TV feature.

But a team of morons and incompetents will inevitably, unambiguously produce an idiotic waste of time and money. Hence Birdemic.

Where am I going with this? Don't hire your cousins and your buddies to work on your film. Seek out the best crew you can find. The best writer, the best director, the best cinematographer, the best production designer, the best composer...

Then you'll have a great shot at having a decent movie.

And I don't believe that the amount paid to team members is the first nor even the second most determinant factor in the quality of their work. It's far better to employ a first-time (or even student!) director who's proven his or her genius on a short film or two than to hire a seasoned director who has only ever produced C-grade material. A top-tier student director will be hungry and enthusiastic about making a great feature, while an experienced hack will often only be working for a paycheck, and make a terrible movie.

The team for Birdemic must have been neither capable-but-inexperienced-students, nor seasoned-but-jaded-professionals. But don't imagine that means any less work was done. The 5000-hour rule still holds. And that's the tragedy. With the same amount of money, the same amount of time, more or less the same script (unbelievable, I know, if you've seen Birdemic, but the script could pass for a few foreign territories once translated capably into other languages), and just a little extra effort in scouting out some decent talent, this film could have passed muster for sales to some late-night slots on some international channels. Because with the same pay (I assume the crew was paid, even terrible terrible films often have paid crews) a better, smarter, more talented crew would have delivered a far more entertaining film.

Every time you hire a lesser crew member, you waste the time and effort of every other crew member to some extent. And if you hire several lesser crew members, every crew member starts to sense the low quality of the team, and the crew starts to lose hope that the film will matter. Then they care less. Then the movie suffers. And the further it goes, the further it goes. They're predicting that the movie won't succeed, and therefore isn't worth losing sleep over. And they're probably right.

Be a better producer. Do the legwork and find great crew. Don't waste a combined three-to-ten years of people's lives.

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