Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In comes the New Guard: Interview with Devin Watson!

Bit of an Intro...

I met Devin on twitter many many months ago when I was in the crazy mind set of raising funds for THE SAVING on indiegogo by going on a sleep strike every night. He bailed me out around 2AM with a donation. I haven't forgotten it since. Besides being a very generous guy he's also pretty freaking brilliant. We've had a lot of thoughtful and awfully humorous conversations via twitter and email (hand cannon's ATTACK!) and I've enjoyed reading his blog and getting to know him on a variety of different levels. And yes Stephanie he makes horror movies.

A couple weeks ago Devin and I were discussing the ins and outs of effective production procedures and he decided let me in on a little secret. He's building secret weapon, targeted for the use of indie filmmakers in the pre-production stage all the through post. Indie film world domination much? I asked Devin if he'd be interested in letting everyone else in on his little secret and he kindly agreed to an interview. Prepare to have your mind blown.

And without further ado, Devin Walker: Filmmaker.

1. To start us off, tell us a little about yourself, how did you get into filmmaking? Did you have a career before catching the film bug?

    I got into filmmaking first by being a cinephile. It wasn't until around college that I got the screenwriting bug and then after that the filmmaking flu. Before that I had written a pile of short stories, a novel, and even some bad poetry. My career before all of this (back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth) was as a software engineer and a developer with a background in Computer Science.

2. You said in our Skype conversation prior to this interview that Hollywood still runs on Excel, what exactly did you mean?

    Spreadsheets are still de rigueur even for many large film projects because what little software there is doesn't cut the mustard. That is mainly due to a disconnect between the companies making the software and the filmmakers using the products.

There aren't a lot of programmers out there that are also versed in the process and understand that making a film is literally thousands of variables all changing at a moment's notice. I've heard many horror stories from filmmakers during the production of their films where someone will try out some software to help their production but ultimately give up after many hours of futile effort and go back to using spreadsheets. That's where the disconnect lies, and honestly it's not hard to see that this is one area that many think cannot be done right.

3. What was your inspiration to create Pre-Producer?

    I had my own troubles during the production of The Cursed back in 2007, too many to mention in one single paragraph. But needless to say, it was the impetus for me asking, "This is the 21st Century, why are we still using donkey carts and buggy whips when these problems were solved so long ago in so many other industries and the military?"
    When I started the initial design it was more about scratching a personal itch. But as I showed the early prototypes to a few other filmmakers their reaction told me that I had hit on something that many people wanted but could never put into words.

4. In 3 sentences summarize what all Pre-Producer can do for the indie filmmaker?

    Pre-Producer can:
        - Analyze, break down, and manage your film project.
        - Organize and manage many of the tasks which are tedious but also difficult such as reports and cast and crew.
        - Also does a realtime pencil budget as you go along to give you a rough idea of how much you will need to shoot your project (which can be imported directly into the Budgeting program).

5. What were some of the challenges you were faced with and are still working through while developing this software?

  There were two types of challenges to this. One was social in nature. Early on there was, I want to say, some opposition from certain parties that said flat out to me that what I wanted was impossible.
    The software had to be extremely easy and intuitive to use. Given the sheer amount of information required to run a production of even modest size means you can get lost in a sea of data unless it is well organized.
    Another unique problem posed by a film production is the fact that everything is an interconnected fabric whether you may know it or not. Change one tiny thing and it can have a ripple effect somewhere else.
    I also wanted it to be a central point of communication for cast and crew. That meant having the ability to send SMS texts, e-mails, print, you name it. And this all had to be as intuitive and easy as possible.
    The biggest challenge was developing a scheduling system that took into account all of those real life factors that go into shooting a film, and be able to generate a shooting schedule that is the most optimized for your conditions.
6. How did you overcome these challenges?

    I learned to just ignore the naysayers because I knew I was on the right track. What got me was that these were folks in the same industry as me saying something was impossible, when we're all in the business of making things possible.
    One area that I'm proud of getting right is the ability to import a screenplay and have the software analyze it for breakdowns automatically. The way it reads a script is very close to how a human does it, only much faster. That gives you a solid base of information that is accurate and only takes a few seconds to a minute to do. From there, you can build on that information almost indefinitely.
    Taking care of ripple effects required working along an event-driven architecture that's near realtime where each piece can know when something else changes. As those changes take place the other parts of the software that have to know about it do, and react accordingly.
    Since spreadsheets are one of the most commonly understood designs, many parts of the interface use that same grid style to make it very easy to transition away from the spreadsheet without losing that know-how. It may look like one, but it's definitely not underneath.
    The one edict that I try to adhere to in regards to the information is this: you're never more than 2 clicks away from any piece of information you need about your production.

7. Do you have a time table for its completion?

    Pre-Producer is currently in beta, which means that we believe it's stable enough for others to try out but it's not fully polished. We're looking at about another 2-3 months of work getting feedback from beta testers and incorporating those features into the software as well as fixing any bugs.
    By the end of beta we'll be RTM (Release To Market). That means there will be versions available for Windows, OS X, and also mobile devices such as Android and iOS. There's also a few other small applications we want to have available for mobiles that tie seamlessly into Pre-Producer.

8. How much are you looking to sell the software for once the program is perfected?

    The software was intended, first and foremost, for independent filmmakers. I know from my own experiences how tough it can be. Of course studios can use it as well and it can scale to those productions with up to 6 shooting units and 4 cameras.

    To keep it accessible for the indies, it's going to be priced according to a simple subscription model. We haven't settled on a price just yet, but it will be very inexpensive for what it does. If you think about it, you're not doing pre-production constantly throughout the year, unless you're a studio. You wouldn't want to incur a large annual cost for something you use one month out of the year. For studios that want to use it with a large churn in productions, we'll have an enterprise license that lets them use it.

9. How can the we as filmmakers get involved and help out?

Any serious filmmakers that want to try it out and give feedback are welcome to contact us through this blog. Bear in mind that Pre-Producer is running on Windows for the moment, so if you use a Mac only you can use Boot Camp or Parallels to give it a whirl. The functionality will be exactly the same in both versions however, and you'll be able to import a project from one version into the other without any hassles.

10. If Pre-Producer had a mission statement, what would it be?

    Make better films faster and easier.

11. What is at least one piece of advice you can offer a filmmaker newbie?

 Don't overlook the pre-production process or give it short shrift. Knowing the business in "show business" is just as important as being an artist.

There we have it folks! Told you he was brilliant. If you are interested in beta testing Pre-Producer just post a comment below and I'll hook you up with all of Devin's contact info.

You can find him on twitter @Dklon.

Out with the old, in with the new.
NOW, Go forth and make more movies!

1 comment: