The Top 10 Things The Game Industry Can Learn from Film Production
May 1, 2012 Page 3 of 5
Lesson #4: Goldentime (film) versus Crunch (games)
When a film crew member hears the words "Golden Time" they will either shudder or smile. The term refers to the large salary jump crew members earn when hitting the 16th hour of work on a given day. While each crew member has their own contract, many have a clause specifying terms for what happens when working overtime. They may get bumped after 10, 12 or 14 hours of work to increasingly higher hourly rates. At 16 hours, many crew contracts hit paydirt, receiving an entire day's salary for hours 16 through 20, regardless if they work 1 minute or 4 hours.
Crews may be exhausted, but knowing they are getting paid bank perks up the set and sometimes even creates a creative and festive atmosphere. Of course, the producer and director aren't feeling festive, as their production costs skyrocket with each passing hour. At the end of the day, the producers are responsible for overages, and they do everything in their power to avoid them. If a crew goes over, it is the producer that is punished, incentivizing them to do everything they can to effectively manage the work hours of their crew.
In games, compensation isn't quite so cut and dry. If bugs crop up or features aren't turning out as planned, team members can find themselves working "crunch", the industry's pet name for unpaid overtime.
Some teams work small, planned spells of crunch as a way to reach the end of a sprint or boost the quality of their products. Other teams find themselves working unplanned crunch, scrambling to fix bugs or drive up game quality.
Game developers are usually salary and not unionized, so these late hours are compensated only by the hope of a big hit game and profit sharing or a bonus at the end of the year.
I'll leave it up to you to decide which system is better or worse. Crunch is loved by some, hated by others. Film golden time has a similar split. Crunch can drive up quality, or demoralize a team. Golden time can help you get that last shot, but exhaustion may set in for the rest of the week. These are hot-button topics that most professionals in both industries have their own thoughts about.
One thing is clear, however. In the film industry, crew members are mandatorily and openly compensated for their extra effort. If a film goes into overages, it falls squarely on the shoulders of the producer and management, instead of punishing team members for unexpected events. Does this incentivize producers to avoid long hours at all costs? You bet. Does the crew appreciate this and work harder for it? Probably. A savvy producer can assume there will be a certain amount of overages and plan for them. When the time comes, they can reach into that overage budget, maintaining a happy crew even in a difficult crunch period.
Lesson #5: Post-Production is Half the Film
Have you ever watched an action movie on mute? Try popping in Transformers or Spider-Man and turning off the sound. Scenes that usually make your heart pound become emotionally flat. Disinterest sets in as your mind wanders to checking your email or planning your lunch. To create engaging, gripping sequences, sound is an absolute must.
Good film producers know that post-production is literally half the film. Audio, sound effects, pace of editing, and title sequences can make or break how an audience reacts to your product. Post-production in the film world also includes voiceover work, color correction, special effects, and working with film stocks or digital delivery formats to ensure a crisp image on the final screen. Post-production period lengths vary, with some films getting things edited quickly while others can take up to a year or more to perfect.
Game producers also give extra attention and focus to sound and other techniques that fit into the post-production schedule in Hollywood. In a medium requiring moment-to-moment tension and excitement, game developers are keenly aware of the value that post techniques have on their audience.
However, most game schedules that I have seen don't seem to have an official "post-production" period set out at the end of the project. Audio, cinematics, lighting, titles, and special effects are often expected to come online throughout regular production. While many elements can easily come online early, some need to wait for final content before implementation. What results is a crunch period right before major milestones for audio and other team members. Game developers may want to consider laying out extra time at the end of their projects to ensure these key elements can be fully realized.
Lesson #6: Everyone Gets a Script and Script Page Changes Every Single Day
When a film crew member walks on set in the morning, one of the first things they receive are neatly printed script changes. They take these pink, yellow, blue or other colored pages and place them in their binder with the rest of their script pages. The new pages contain added lines, cut scenes, or location changes. Every crew member has a script fully printed out, and they add these new pages into their script. They always know exactly what is being shot for the day and what needs to be done.
In game production, teams often use game design documents, but in general the process of creating content often less top-down and more organic. Leads of various departments may be working off hit lists, and also creating content and story as they go along. The game designer probably has a game design document, but with sheer volume of gameplay usually contained in a product, this is difficult to keep up to date. Things move fast in game design and GDDs get out of date quickly. Designers iterate on the game constantly, making improvements by the hour and minute. On larger games, you may have 10 or 20 designers all making changes on their levels simultaneously.
Am I advocating that game teams adopt printed script bibles for all team members? Maybe. While printing out pages seems archaic and a waste of paper, it's funny how easy it is to dismiss emails or avoid reading digital GDD updates, especially when changes are rolling in every day and you have a bug list a mile long. Having a physical "game bible" may be an interesting experiment to try.
Or, perhaps the game itself is the script bible. The best way to stay up to date on what changes are rolling in from the team is to actually play the game. Try running through one level each morning with your team to see what changes are in, as well as to discuss upcoming tasks that will be coming online in the next few weeks.
The key take-away here is determining whether your team members are always up to date. Being in the loop will make for a more cohesive vision, with team members that stay on track and contribute to that vision.
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