Basics: Why every film has four lives and not just the one!

The ABC of moving image creation

Cats have nine lives. A film has four. Videothink explains the basics of how a film comes into being in the intersection between art, craft and equivalence of effect for filmmaker and marketing and communications with film and video.

Old timers in the film business know it. Films are easy to watch because they are everything but easy to make. And the clever ones among them also know that a film or a video doesn’t have just one sole existence, but four. They seize these inherent basics of the craft of filmmaking and turn them into an opportunity.

Motion pictures, TV films and sponsored films start off in the mind of the writer, director or the creative or art directors. They all share the same desire to materialise their vision, concept or idea as truthfully as possible onto the screen in the form of a film or video. That is only possible if the film and its foundation of ideas survive these four steps unharmed.

Basics: The 4 steps towards equivalence of effect in film

A film is a commodity and a means of communication that in the best of cases comes close to art. Or in an ideal world could even be considered a work of art. How a film is made can either be classified by the processes inherent to filmmaking (creation, pre-production, image and sound postproduction) or by a series of steps that measure equivalence of effect. Equivalence of effect means that a film or video – throughout all its phases of production – remains geared towards eventually producing one same end effect. If you’re asking yourself, why we’re mentioning this when it may seem obvious, you’ve probably never comes up close and personal with the process of filmmaking or as yet haven’t had to confront the truly perilous and critical stages moving image production can entail.

Of course: Pre-production can been done half-heartedly and shooting can either run smoothly or be a complete nightmare. From a production perspective there are many dangers that lurk in the creation of a film. It gets crucial or hazardous (but therefore all the more interesting!) in a different way, if you scrutinise the making of a film not from a production viewpoint but instead with the eventual effect in mind. In this case four single steps can be defined that can present the odd challenging hurdle or in extreme cases cut a film’s life short. It is essential for a filmmaker or commissioning client to keep these indispensable steps in mind.

The four steps of equivalence of effect in film are: Conception (step 1), shooting (step 2), editing (step 3) and viewing/ reception (step 4). The intended effect – which is where it all began and the starting point of the whole production – can change across any of the four steps. Or in the worst-case scenario, you could lose sight of it, rendering the film both senseless and useless.

Step 1: Script

In the beginning there was fire. And the force of creation. But the idea of lighting that first spark preceded the actual flame. There was that spark of an idea, a vision and determination, triggered by man’s notorious need to create something new, something never before seen. And for that novelty to live up to (our own and others’) expectations and standards, it always came down to a healthy dose of transpiration and inspiration. The same goes for film.

Moving image creation can be tedious and oftentimes difficult. But once the miracle finally comes about, there is nothing more beautiful than a completed, unspoilt script – as yet untouched by the restrictions of production realities or by a possible lack of talent. And once you have that script, which works on a narrative level, promises to entice the target audience, enraptures both commissioners and financers and motivates all those involved to give their all – that’s when it all begins! That’s when the hurdles and challenges start lining up.

Step 2: Filming

A script is just that. Words on paper can eventually become a film but they’re no film (yet). In order to become a film, the words and sentences have to be transformed into actions in front of a camera and have to be translated into the language of the actors and into the grammar of the film. Even if a scriptwriter knows all the ins and outs of the craft of filmmaking and uses prosody and syntax to underline the characters he creates and highlights plot twists, almost foreseeing or simulating the editing stages: No script can bypass the phase of being translated from one medium (paper) to another (film).

If this transfer from one form of presentation (word) to another (moving image) is successful – all the while staying true to both types of media – equivalence of effect begins to take shape between the script and the filmed material: the pulsating heartbeat remains, the circulation is in tact and the resulting piece is more solid and more beautiful than ever before. In a perfect world the writer (as the creator of the idea) then has no trouble recognizing his creation – which he no doubt, hesitantly entrusted into the hands of the director – and rejoices in what it has matured into. The original vision has been preserved. A good script made way for a good film.

It’s no secret that films come into an entirely new existence during filming. The content takes on a new life, is redefined – be it intentionally or not – by internal and external forces and interpreted in a different way than during the step of conception. With documentaries or with factual or light entertainment for TV, this might be seen as welcome input. However it isn’t necessarily sound advice when it comes to marketing and communications in moving image. Image films and TV spots are like a pair of tailored shoes. They have a clear profile, their objective and purpose are clearly defined and not a single word in the script is left to chance – that’s the premise most successful corporate films go by. If a sponsored film falters on one of these steps, chances are the message it intended to portray will fail to come across too.

Step 3: Editing

The editing of a film according to many a great filmmaker is just as important as the process of filming itself. Here the film once again takes on another life, dialectically assembled and solidified by the editor. The film attains its final shape and form on the editing table. This is where, the film the audience will see comes into existence. In editing you can only work with what has been filmed. You can however leave out or edit as much as you like: People, plotlines or even the initial intention of the author or director.

This doesn’t mean you need an eager, Hollywood-like producer who in image postproduction seizes his chance to control his rights to the final cut. During editing a film can be saved or reborn, or it can be destroyed to an inch of its life. In this step again, it’s all but self-evident that the vision – which started life in the form of a script and was meticulously safeguarded throughout filming – should remain as once was and it can easily happen that the original intent becomes distorted.

Step 4: Viewing

Once the magic has happened and every step along the way has transformed and benefitted the work in its own way – without having lost sight of the basics – that’s when the real test has to be faced: the audience. Here (even though avid democrats in the wake of Trump’s Triumph would disagree) the words of the director Billy Wilder apply: “An individual member of an audience may be an imbecile, but a thousand imbeciles together in the dark – that is critical genius.”

Even though viewing films is a truly individual and strange process of perception: The audience is always right. Because films always are a means of communication and a product destined for someone, at the end of the day the viewer – and only the viewer – decides upon the final way it is perceived! Even online. A film or video is, whatever the audience sees in it.


A film essentially takes on four lives: In the form of a script, during filming, on the editing table and in the mind of the audience. Each times a film has to be newly thought out and created to a certain extent. For that to happen information and clear communication is required. On the one hand each step provides you with the opportunity to rectify mistakes made in preceding steps.

If you embark on this adventure with a lack of know-how, talent and experience, you’re treading on treacherous ground. It’s not without reason that directors butt heads when it comes to editing, scriptwriters and editors strive for that director’s chair and the relatively new job title of a show runner is a godsend to the film world.

© Graphic Design: Freepik | Graphic Layout: filmpuls | © filmpuls, translated by Nina Kaelin

Über Videothink Team 32 Artikel

Articles by the Videothink team are collaboratively-written by more than one member of the videothink publishing team.

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