The USS Quad Damage

Agile film development?

I talk about prototypes and agile design in film making.

In engineering, there’s often a time consuming process of design before any prototyping can take place, and this is often related to the amount of time and money it takes to do the prototyping. At about the time you’re making a circuit board, you really don’t want to repeatedly re-make the board. However, Software engineering is different. Because the cost of actually making stuff is the same as designing it, we’ve (I use that term loosely, I did nothing) developed “agile coding methodologies” to lighten the load of heavy design.

So it is with filmmaking. Because a lot of film has to be shot anyway, and reams of it will go to waste, as well as because the props and actors cost a lot of money, a huge amount of the effort goes to the front: story, scriptwriting, the little action drawings, etc. However, in the fields of digital filmmaking, internet filmmaking and machinima, you’d think people would develop different methodologies for making these films.

For example, machinima. Machinima has some distinct advantages over traditional filmmaking. One is that prototyping is ridiculously easy. In my ground-breaking warcraft 3 machinima classic: the Hungry Party, I did absolutely no thinking beforehand. I just put the characters in and winged it. I have the benefit of being able to go forwards and backwards in time, completely control the cameras, put the text and timings in when I feel like it. By contrast, writing a script and a story, and everything on top of that not only would have been a waste of time, but would also have resulted in a far inferior product, since I would be tied and bound to what I’d written.

Similar things go for shooting with digital cameras. Things have to be a lot more cut and dry, but if your props are pretty much set out, and the way the story goes is set out, then you can make a lot of it up on the spot. It might take a few more goes, but in the end I think the result would be better. In our award winning documentary: Fwoosh, the story of Lord Frederick Worthington III, this is exactly what happened. Our story was only somewhat written, and our props were small and set out. We knew roughly what we were doing, and ended up doing most of it on our first take. We just winged it, and took the opportunities that came to us.

It’s odd then, that I see so many machinima productions that follow the values of the oldskool heavyweight film development when the children of the interweb have a lot more flexibility at their disposal. Don’t we need to work on agile film development?