In days b.c. (before computerization), harassed production managers glowered before huge 8-foot-by-4-foot sheets of plywood, arranging, then rearranging, miles of adding machine tape with hand-written notes to create the production schedule. If the production board had to be relocated, the second a.d.s could get a hernia moving it.
And then there was the budget, at least as thick as the metropolitan Burbank phone book.
Now, the production board is 14 inches long with laser-printed, multicolored plastic strips indicating each item, and the script, schedule and budget are loaded into a laptop computer. “You can put a whole show under your arm and walk across the lot,” notes computer consultant Jeremiah Williamson.
At ShowBiz Expo, Screenplay Systems is introducing Movie Magic Production Studio, which is the integrated package of their separate Movie Magic Screenwriter, Scheduling and Budgeting.
“It reinforces the idea that these tools do communicate together,” says Steven Greenfield, president of Screenplay Systems.
There are several competing production software systems — B.C. Software’s Production Manager, Quantum Films’ Turbo Budget, Film Works 2AD and Easy Budget.
“But judging from our sales,” notes Jesse Douma, partner and store manager of The Writers’ Computer Store, “I would have to assume that the studios have pretty much standardized on the Movie Magic package.”
Despite its above-the-line title, the Writers’ Computer Store registers major sales in below-the-line software, probably because the script programs eventually must export their data to scheduling programs, if the script is to be made into a movie.
Therefore, B.C. Software’s Final Draft not only exports to their own Production Manager but to Movie Magic Scheduling. And Scriptware —- which competes with Movie Magic Screenwriter —- prints and exports breakdowns to Movie Magic Scheduling.
“”We do a lot of sales to Warner, Universal, Disney, Sony — pretty much all the major studios — along with a lot of their production companies and independents,” says Douma. “The software companies all claim victories at each studio, but approximately 90% of the scheduling and budgeting software is from the Movie Magic series. For the studios, it’s more cost effective to buy the software than to deal with the internal problems of developing their own systems.”
Production Manager — which used to be called Mac Toolkit — operates only on the Macintosh. For that reason, and “because it’s about half the price of Movie Magic,” notes Writers’ Computer Store’s product consultant Jeremiah Williamson, Production Manager is very popular with independents and out-of-town filmmakers — who don’t have to conform to studio systems — and film students at USC, UCLA and AFI.
“But standardization is so important when you get to a studio. And the interchangibility. They don’t want some a.d. to say you have to spend another $500 to buy this particular software or go out and rent a bunch of computers because the software doesn’t match,” says Williamson.
The Screenplay Systems operate on both IBM machines and Macintosh.
“It’s hard to imagine, but there are still (unit production managers) and a.d.s out there still wedded to doing breakdowns and schedules manually,” says Nancy Nickerson, a former line producer and production manager on independent features who is now a consultant training studio and production company personnel on digital budgeting and scheduling.
“They are people who have been in the industry for years who just never learned the software,” says Nickerson.
But software savvy has expanded beyond the production manager and assistant director ranks. “Even people in development are now asked to at least know how to run the budgeting programs, so they can make changes,” she says. “But they are not the ones doing the budget from scratch. And production accountants, who may know the accounting software, now are learning the budgeting software.”
The companies are competing for their slice of an expanding pie.
“There are some advantageous features to Turbo Budget,” says a production manager of the software spectrum that includes Turbo Budget for Windows Studio Version, Turbo Budget Pro for Windows, Turbo Budget Cross-Tracking for DOS, a Turbo Budget package for DOS (which includes Cross Tracking and Budget), Turbo Budget AD for DOS, Turbo Scriptscan for DOS, a Turbo Scriptscan and AD for DOS combo and Turbo Budget Enterprise Edition. But as the titles imply, the system is made only for IBM, not the popular Mac, of which there are always a few in production offices.
Another system, Easy Budget, works with the existing spreadsheet software, if someone is already comfortable with that and doesn’t want to learn an entire new system.
Film Works 2AD is a tablet-based computer, a handy 8 1/2-by-11 inches, with its own proprietary software that, as the name suggests, the assistant director totes around to produce daily call sheets, production reports and actors’ sign-out sheets. 2AD takes its feed from Movie Magic Scheduling. It was developed by Film Works Software president Patrick Graham, himself a former a.d. The 2AD only rents as a package, with a carrying case, ready to go.
The Industry Labor Guide electronic ratebook now plugs into the new Movie Magic Budgeting Version 5.0, “so that if you look up the rate of a grip in Canada,” explains Nickerson, “when you click on it, it dumps that whole information right into your budget, which is very handy.”
But there is a digital bottom line that has nothing to do with state-of-the-art programming. “There’s a kind of follow-the-leader thing,” notes Williamson. “There’s a critical mass involved with everyone under tremendous pressure and deadlines,” so that being able to get immediate help from someone on the next machine or in the next office assumes great importance.
For that reason, “with a lot of the software, it’s marketing and support that’s important in making the product work.”
As Screenplay Systems president Greenfield says, ” ‘Waterworld’ was the most expensive film ever made, and it was budgeted with Movie Magic. You don’t want to be out on a project like that, call for technical support, and have the staff not available because they’re out selling or developing new software.”