Production software goes global

Tax incentives and far-flung locations drive evolution

For studios — as well as assistant directors and unit production managers, organizing a production just keeps getting more complicated. Not only is there coordination of far-flung production offices to take into account, but a wide range of regional tax incentives are having a growing effect on the bottom line.

And while Hollywood has long since turned to budgeting and scheduling software to handle the job, the rapidly changing demands of production have put the pressure on software makers to keep up.

“What you’re really talking about is the ability to get things done — the things that used to take hours or days or weeks — in a minute or less,” says Darren Ehlers, chief operating officer of software-maker Scenechronize.

To help with global production, Scenechronize includes a cloud-based scheduling program that can be made accessible to offices on a production all over the world and updated in real time. As the sun sets on one office and rises on another, everyone can be made aware of what work has been completed and what changes, if any, have been made to the script.

Though Scenechronize doesn’t yet offer a budgeting component, its program also handles script distribution and watermarking. Scripts that were once sent out as hard copies are now routinely distributed digitally, and watermarking each copy to prevent security breaches has become a time-consuming and tedious task. Scenechronize offers a software solution to that problem.

“We’re really in the business of taking things off people’s plates so they can focus on the movie or the TV show or whatever they’re trying to make,” says Ehlers, who counts Warner Bros., ABC Studios and AMC among his clients.

Gorilla Film Production Software was created by Aaton Cohen-Sitt, an indie director with a background in programming who couldn’t find what he needed to organize his productions. As he built his own scheduling and budgeting programs, he and his wife realized that those tools would probably be useful to others.

“The thing that killed me, and that kills most people trying to make their own movie, is getting all your resources where they need to be and figuring out if you can even afford what you think you need,” says Cohen-Sitt. His software breaks down shooting days, imports storyboards and also features a system that alerts users to blackout dates for crew and equipment.

One selling point for Gorilla: A $249 Student version for productions with a budget up to $50,000 and 14 shooting days. The $299 Standard version can handle up to $1 million and 48 shooting days. The Pro version ($399) supports unlimited budget and shoot days.

Perhaps the most widely known budgeting and production software is Entertainment Partners’ Movie Magic; its budgeting and scheduling components can be integrated or used separately.

Movie Magic features a key budgeting element — the ability to calculate the financial impact of tax incentives.

“We were hearing back that incentives were a big issue for our customers.” says Fran Lucci, marketing veep with Entertainment Partners.

Incentives are such a fundamental part of the budgeting process now that the company also updates all of its online information any time an incentive changes. It also offers support lines its customers can call to be certain they have the latest incentive information.

Lucci is quick to caution that owning the software doesn’t instantly make someone an expert.

“There might be something in the script that reads, ‘Our hero looks up,’ and if that is in the script for a movie like ‘Inception’ you have to know you’re budgeting for an entire visual effects sequence on top of all the special effects you might have to do with the actors and a green screen,” Lucci says.

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