Interview with Peter D. Marshall

Peter D. Marshall is a filmmaker from Vancouver, Canada. He has worked (and survived) in the Film and Television Industry for over 35 years – as a film director, television producer, first assistant Director, and TV Series creative consultant. He writes and publishes the monthly filmmaking ezine, “The Director’s Chair,” which is currently read by over 3400 filmmakers in 100 countries around the world.

He is also a part-time directing instructor at the Vancouver Film School and teaches his filmmaking workshops around the world (Canada, Dubai, and Singapore).

Jason Brubaker of Filmmaking Stuff caught up with Peter for a few minutes earlier this week to ask him about his new online filmmaking course.

Filmmaking Stuff

Peter, I reviewed your Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling Online Course. I have to say it’s very comprehensive and covers some detailed information that only comes with experience. Before we get to the details, could you tell us a little about yourself?

Peter D. Marshall

I started making films (on Super 8, no less) when I was 16. I’d make movies of our high school parties, film my friends as they drove around in their cars, and create pixelated animations with model race cars in my basement.

During my 35-year career, I have worked as a PA, dolly grip, electrician, assistant cameraman, commercial production manager, first assistant Director, TV series creative consultant, television producer, and Director. I have worked on various productions, from industrial films to documentaries, television commercials to music videos, Emmy Award-nominated TV series to Hollywood feature films.

I have directed over 30 episodes of Television Drama and written, directed, or produced over 50 hours of documentary and educational programs. (My documentaries and dramas have won, or been nominated for, 14 International film awards.) And as a First Assistant Director, I have worked on 13 Hollywood Feature Films, 15 Television Movies, 6 Television Series, 4 TV Pilots (all of which went into series!), and over 20 Commercials.

Filmmaking Stuff

How did you get started in the movie business?

Peter D. Marshall

After graduating from Grade 12, I spent three years in film school in Toronto (1970 – 1973) and then hit the streets looking for a job to kick-start my filmmaking career.

My first paid film job was on a Carts commercial in 1974. I was the PA [Production Assistant] holding a brown paper bag just under the camera so when the Director called “Cut!” the actor could spit out his candy into the bag I was holding. In 1985, I got my first professional job as an Assistant Director when I was the 2nd AD on the 13 x half-hour Television series “The Hitchhiker.”

The first major TV series I worked on as a 1st Assistant Director was in 1986 on a Steven J. Cannel production called “Stingray.” After “Stingray,” I worked on several more TV series with Cannell until I became one of the 1st AD’s on “Wiseguy.”

I also got my first big directing break on “Wiseguy” as well. This occasionally happens on a TV series when some department heads get an opportunity to direct.

Filmmaking Stuff

In your program, you offer all sorts of valuable information on how to be successful in the movie business, both during production and as a career. And you have a real passion for sharing your experience with up-and-coming filmmakers. What sorts of mistakes can first-time filmmakers avoid when prepping their movies?

Peter D. Marshall

There are many things a first-time filmmaker should know and understand when prepping and shooting a movie. The 137-page course is designed to show this information, step-by-step, to filmmakers so they know how to end up with a properly designed shooting schedule.

Here are just 10 of the hundreds of tips contained in the course that will help filmmakers better prepare themselves during the prep of any movie or television production:

1. They have to have an understanding of the politics of film!

2. They must know who the Power Players are and how to deal with them.

3. They need to know about everyone else’s job as much as possible.

4. They need to know what is expected of them when they begin pre-production and when they step on the set

5. They need to know the differences between Feature Films and Television

6. They need to know the intricacies of the director/assistant director relationship

7. They need to understand the physical breakdown of scripts, scenes, and shots

8. They need to understand traditional camera techniques

9. They need to understand the five stages of blocking a scene

10. They need to understand film editing techniques

Even though the title says “Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling…” this course is not just for Assistant Directors or Production Managers. When I wrote this course, I also had directors, Producers, Location Managers, and any filmmaker who would like to gain in-depth industry knowledge of the entire pre-production stage of making a feature film or television series.

Filmmaking Stuff

One area you brought to my attention is the extra budget. It’s funny, but in my experience, this has been an area where filmmakers drop the ball. Can you tell us a little about the extras budget and why it is essential?

Peter D. Marshall

The Extras budget is usually the only budget the AD department has to manage. You start by getting the Extras budget from the Production Manager, which is generally listed in “man-hours” for the show.

After a preliminary schedule, you begin your first pass on the extras count by deciding how many background performers you feel you need for each scene. Since you do this budget early in prep, this number probably won’t be based on an actual location but will come from your own experience and reading the script. (re: How many people will it take to fill a nightclub when the hand says, “the club is busy and jammed with patrons and dancers.”)

You should budget high for all extras because every Director will want as many amenities as possible for a scene. As all film budgets do, the extras budget will eventually be cut down, but at least you have a good starting point.

This meeting is crucial for many departments because of the overlap with extras (Hair, Makeup, Costumes, etc.) This is also the meeting where the Assistant Directors can have some creative input with the Director on the number and the look of the extras. Of course, your creative involvement here will always depend on your relationship with the Director at this point in prep.

Let me give you an example of the logistics involved when working with a large group of extras.

I was the First Assistant Director on the Second Unit Battle Sequence for the movie “Legends of the Fall.” I was also tasked with the job (along with the Military Advisor) of setting up and training the 1000 extras who would be in the WW1 battle scenes. We had less than two weeks to do all this.

We spent the first week working out all of the logistics; confirming these with Director Ed Zwick and his storyboards; planning the event down to the smallest detail with the Props and Costume departments, who had to dress and arm all of the extras; and had many conversations with Special Effects who had 25 special effects people who were responsible for setting off all the explosions on the battlefield as the troops charged over it – at night!

We then had the second week to set up and train the leading battle group of about 200 extras who played the officers and NCOs (non-commissioned officers) of the nine sections it would take to fill the battlefield.

On the day of the scene (it was shot at night), we were only budgeted for 4 hours of rehearsal in the daylight with the entire 1000 extras! From the time the first extra got off the bus at base camp to the last extra marching into their place in the trenches, it was 1 1/2 hours later.

When actor Adin Quinn blew his whistle, and the camera pulled back on the crane to see 1000 Canadian “soldiers” climb out of the trenches and charge across a battlefield as hundreds of explosions rocked our insides and flares screamed over our heads, we knew we had helped to create a very memorable scene in this movie.

Filmmaking Stuff

Your course reads a lot like a living document. On almost every page, you’ve expanded on the content by providing a link to other, similar information. I’ve read many filmmaking stuff, and I can’t remember the last time an author has been so generous.

Peter D. Marshall

I feel it is essential to “pass the baton” to the younger generation, which is why I hold nothing back when sharing my knowledge with other filmmakers. I also love teaching!

About 15 years ago, I created a 2-day workshop called “How to Design an Accurate Film Shooting Schedule.” As the film and television industry changed and grew over the years, I modified the content of that workshop to keep up to date with all the new filmmaking techniques I was learning. That 2-day workshop has now become the model for this Online course.

Filmmaking Stuff

Making a movie is tough. And it’s common for filmmakers to get overwhelmed with details. Could you tell us a little about The Reductionism Theory?

Peter D. Marshall

As Wikipedia describes, Reductionism is “an approach to understanding the nature of complex things by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or simpler or more fundamental things.”

In other words, the Reductionism Theory states that “most anything can be understood by taking its pieces apart, studying them, and then putting them back together so you can see the larger picture.” For our purposes as filmmakers, we use the Reductionism Breakdown Theory as the process of “reducing a script down to its smallest elements by going from large to small, from general to specific.”

Formula: Things You Don’t Know + Research = Things You Do Know

Here is a basic filmmaking example of the Reductionism Breakdown Theory from reading the script to the first shot on set:

1. Script

2. Act

3. Sequence

4. Scene

5. Shot

6. Take

I had a perfect example of the Reductionism Breakdown Theory when I got the job as First Assistant Director on “Bird on a Wire.” When I first read the script, I was overwhelmed by the logistics of this production. I wondered how I could prepare such a massive show with two major Hollywood stars, lots of action, and many locations. Well, two months of prep later, we were ready for our first day of shooting!

I was overwhelmed on my first read-through of the script because I could only see the magnitude of this picture as a whole. Once I started reducing it into more manageable elements, it became clearer how to proceed. Time is your ally here.

The Reductionism Theory is what we use every day to help us figure out many things – not just in the “reel world” but in the “real world” as well! (Remember the first time you drove a car, used a computer, or set up your TV)

Filmmaking Stuff

This is especially true when it comes to breaking down a script. Every movie seems to have a million elements and ways filmmakers can get overwhelmed with a schedule. I was impressed that your course includes step-by-step Film Scheduling Tips. Any worry that you just gave away the 1st AD secret sauce? Hahaha!

Peter D. Marshall

Quite honestly, there is so much more to cover on this subject. I have several other courses and products I am now developing to support all the material in this 137-page course, such as audio, video demonstrations, discussion forums, etc.

Filmmaking Stuff

What are you working on next?

Peter D. Marshall

I have several consulting jobs that I am working on for different filmmakers worldwide. I am also creating more Online courses that top independent filmmakers better prepare themselves for a successful career in this business.

Filmmaking Stuff

Oh… And one last thing. Where can filmmakers find your Script Breakdown & Film Scheduling Online Course?

Peter D. Marshall

They can visit this website link to check out all the details about this 137-page online course, including the content list, support materials, and free bonuses. I have set up this webpage especially for your readers so they can get US$20.00 of the purchase price of this 137-page Online course.

To learn more about Peter D. Marshall’s Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling Online Course: CLICK HERE.

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ARTICLE BY Jason Brubaker

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