Making films is in fashion. To mark Videothink Blog’s one-year anniversary, we’ve decided to calculate the hind legs off a donkey. We wanted to find out how many decisions have to be taken when making films and we weren’t half surprised by our findings.

There’s only one thing in life that’s truly important and that determines all else: The ability to ask the right questions. And finding the right questions, that’s a tough one: They can only be asked, when distinctions have been made beforehand. Apples are different to pears. Equal things have to be viewed as equal, unequal things, as unequal. When it comes to film, this is almost impossible. We tried it anyway.

Film is creative project work which at times involves extremely complex processes and sometimes teamwork that is just as delicate as it is fragile. Know-how, experience and talent mutually influence one another. However to achieve a comprehensible and clear result, things have to be simplified and summarised.

The Starting Point

As a starting point we’ve based this article on four standard types of sponsored films 1 and the typical tasks involved: An image film 2, an advert/TV-Spot 3,a product film 4 and a webvideo 5.

With each of these videos 6 we asked ourselves, based on a standardised work flow 7 how many decision have to be made on average, throughout the relevant creative and production steps of a project. Always differentiating between creation (director 8) and production (producer 9).

We made a deliberate choice not to include possible decisions that during the filmmaking process concern the internal coordination within the teams or that have to be taken in collaboration with the client.

Likewise, for the practical purposes of this article and its underlying study, several technical decisions have been reduced to one decision. Determining the movements of a camera in a take, for example, is categorised as one single decision, considering that in actual fact, this task requires the filmmaker to take a series of decisions: On which axis should the movement be? Where does it begin? Where does it end? Will the camera pan or move along in a travelling shot? With what rhythm? Will a dolly be used? A steady cam? Over the shoulder or on a tripod? In other words: Like in real life, one question always leads to the next. Expert knowledge, persistency and perhaps stubbornness can result in each question giving way to five new topics of contemplation, dragging all prior incertitude along with them. Just think for example about the complex universe that is created in the early development stages and during elaboration of the storytelling alone.

The results of all four film genres were then deduced to an average per minute per film type. In order to calculate the overall average number of decisions taken a minute when making a standard sponsored film, we added the four one-minute-values together, before dividing them by the resultant points from the number of test objects.

The Result is Surprising

There’s a saying that claims that films are only easy to watch, because they’re difficult to make. The initial results prove that there’s more than a speck of truth to that theory. The difficulty (or the complexity or challenge, to put it nicely) in making films obviously also depends on the quantity of decisions that have to be made in the making of a film or video.

The result of the study speaks for itself: From a purely mathematical point of view, a creative or production team has to take over a 1000 decisions per film or video minute created!

Average number of decisions for every 1 minute of film or video:
Process of creation59
Preproduction481
Filming on location370
Postproduction134
TOTAL per film/video minute1’044

Source: Study Decision making in FilmmakingCondor Films, Autumn 2016

In practice it is of course completely impossible – even if filming lasts more than a few days – to consciously take over a thousand decisions per filmed minute.

In reality film agencies and film and video production companies take most of the decisions during creation, preproduction, production and postproduction without even knowing it. Because making films or developing a project are synonymous with decision making, be it creative or practical ones.

Where most decisions “happen” – not as a result of a rational weighing up of options, so to speak – the three most important factors when dealing with the moving image come into play: Know-how, experience and talent. They make the impossible, possible.


The Results in Detail

The results listed and broken down by further criteria and in more detail. A more multilateral and in-depth Excel-sheet of the research data is available here upon request.

Decisions per Film Type/Genre

(All results shown as a total per average duration of a film.)

Average number of Decisions per Film type/Genre:
TV-Spot (Duration: 30 seconds)  121’364
Image Film (Duration: 5 minutes)  132’423
Product Film (Duration: 3 minutes)  141’592
Webvideo (Duration: 2 minutes)  15870

Source: Study Decision making in FilmmakingCondor Films, Autumn 2016

Decisions per Process

(All results differentiate between creation 8 and production 9 per film type, total duration and per minute.)

Average number of decisions in each process (extrapolated from overall duration, value per 1 Minute of Film or Video):
Process stepCreation 8Production 9
Process of creation2930
Preproduction205276
Filming on location3628 (1o)
Postproduction10232
TOTAL699346

Source: Study Decision making in FilmmakingCondor Films, Autumn 2016

Overview of all Genres

(Average number of decisions in each process and for overall duration and value per 1 minute of film or video.)

TV-SPOT 3  Decisions in each phase of project
TV-Spot (30 seconds, calculated to total duration):
Process stepCreation 8Production 9Total
Process of creation424486
Preproduction371472842
Filming on location27012 (1o)282
Postproduction10152153
Total TV-Spot 30 seconds7845801’364
TV-Spot (30 seconds, extrapolated to 1 minute):
Process stepCreation 8Production 9Total
Process of creation8489173
Preproduction7429341’685
Filming on location54024 (1o)564
Postproduction202104306
Total TV-Spot per 1 minute1’5861’1602’728

Source: Study Decision making in FilmmakingCondor Films, Autumn 2016

IMAGE FILM 2  Decisions in each phase of project
Image Film (5 minutes, calculated to total duration):
Process stepCreation 8Production 9Total
Process of creation524294
Preproduction114292406
Filming on location1’440201’460
Postproduction42142463
Total Image Film 5 minutes2’0273962’423
Image Film (5 minutes, extrapolated to 1 minute):
Process stepCreation 8Production 9Total
Process of creation10 (11)9 (11)19
Preproduction235881
Filming on location2884292
Postproduction84893
Total Image Film per 1 minute40579485

Source: Study Decision making in FilmmakingCondor Films, Autumn 2016

PRODUCT FILM 4  Decisions in each phase of project
Product Film (3 minutes, calculated to total duration):
Process stepCreation 8Production 9Total
Process of creation343265
Preproduction114172291
Filming on location9988 (1o)1’005
Postproduction20328230
Total Product Film 3 minutes1’3482441’592
Product Film (3 minutes, extrapolated to 1 minute):
Process stepCreation 8Production 9Total
Process of creation111122
Preproduction385997
Filming on location3333 (1o)335
Postproduction68977
Total Product Film per 1 minute44981531

Source: Study Decision making in FilmmakingCondor Films, Autumn 2016

WEBVIDEO5  Decisions in each phase of project
Webvideo (2 minutes, calculated to total duration):
Process stepCreation 8Production 9Total
Process of creation232145
Preproduction3883121
Filming on location5747 (1o)580
Postproduction1112124
Total Webvideo 2 minutes747124870
Webvideo (2 minutes, extrapolated to 1 minute):
Process stepCreation 8Production 9Total
Process of creation121122
Preproduction194260
Filming on location2873 (1o)290
Postproduction56662
Total Webvideo per 1 minute37362435

Source: Study Decision making in FilmmakingCondor Films, Autumn 2016

Structuring of Decisions for Analysis in Categories

For this study, we initially defined the decisions that were absolutely essential to each process. These individual decisions were then summarised in sub-groups. The sub-groups were then combined in main categories, which comprise all the decisions necessary in the making of a film or video.

Example to illustrate: “Image composition” within the categories (main group) comprises the subgroups light, colour and perspective. All three terms each involve further decisions, which have to be made in both creation and production processes with regard to each take.

Overview Decisions-Categories (main groups)

Nr.GroupNo.GroupNo.Group
1.1Briefing6.1Casting Briefing19.1Image Composition
1.2Meeting6.2Briefing Extras20.1Camerography
1.3Re-briefing6.3Casting21.1Sound
2.1Budget6.4Deals Actors22.1Guidance Actors
2.2Contract6.5Deals Extras23.1Instructing Extras
2.3Deadlines7.1Scouting24.1Repeating Takes
2.4Quality7.2Indoor location/Studio25.1Verify Connections
3.1Author7.3Outdoor location26.1Briefing Editing
3.2Synopsis8.1Preparation PPM26.2Editing and Montage
3.3Treatment8.2Follow-up PPM27.1Color Correction
3.4Script9.1Callsheets28.1Animation and Retouching
3.5Shooting Script9.2Working budget29.1Graphics 2D/3D
3.6Storyboard10.1Décor30.1Sound Briefing
3.7Choosing Director11.1Props31.1Music Composition
4.1Parameters12.1Camera Equipment32.1Sound Design
4.2Risk Analysis13.1Light, Sound, Equipment33.1Mix
4.3Definition of Production Values14.1Briefing Costume Approval34.1Approval
5.1Choosing Key People15.1Rehearsals on/off Location34.2Corrections
5.2Choosing Crew16.1Transport35.1Final Approval
5.3Deals Key People17.1Accommodation36.1Versioning
5.4Deals Crew18.1Reality Checks37.1Debriefing

Source: Study Decision making in Filmmaking, Condor Films, Autumn 2016


Footnotes and further Remarks on the Study Making Films

1 Corporate films or sponsored movies are films or videos that are commissioned by a company or institution, often times in the context of a campaign.

2 An image film transmits brand values. It transforms expertise into an experience. In order to transmit information and emotions it uses a directorial/artistic or documentary approach. A narrative thread tends to build a story, connecting it to the viewer’s reality by a reference point specific to the company. (Source & © Condor Films™)

2 Parameters Image Film: Total duration: 5 minutes ; Key People: 3;  Crew Members: 12; Duration per Take: 3 seconds; Takes per Shooting Day: 20; Actors: 3; Extras: yes; Music Composition: yes; Colour Grading: Yes.

3 An advert, also referred to as TV-Spot or TV-Commercial (TVC for short) describes a short film which advertises a product, a brand or a service. Unlike other film and video genres the use of interviews as a means of communication is rarely implemented in commercials. An ad is commissioned by the brand owner or product provider and created by a specialised film agency or by an agency in collaboration with a film production company. They are mostly diffused on TV or in cinema theatres and increasingly exhibited online. The purpose of a spot is first and foremost to increase sales for the advertised product (brand familiarity, trigger purchase intention) or heighten confidence in the brand (image, brand affinity). The intent to advertise links the commercial to the image film and other, longer advertising film formats. (Source & © Condor Films™)

3 Parameters Commercial/TV-Spot: Total duration: 30 seconds, Key People: 5, Crew Members: 35; Duration per Take: 3 seconds; Takes per Shooting Day: 10; Actors: 3; Extras: yes ; Music Composition: yes ; Colour Grading: yes.

4 A product film focuses on the unique selling points of a product or service. Level of information, emotionality und narrative structure are guided by an in-depth, prior understanding of the target audience, market conditions and channels of distribution. Sequences of an informative nature are often closely connected to the presentation of the product’s or service’s benefits to the consumer.| (Source & © Condor Films™)

4 Parameters Product Film: Total Duration: 3 minutes; Key People: 3; Crew Members: 12; Duration per Take: 3 seconds; Takes per Shooting Day: 20; Actors: none; Extras: yes; Music Composition: no; Colour Grading: yes.

5 A webvideo, also known as internet video or online video, is a film which can be seen in a digital format on a website and was produced and created primarily for this purpose. It can refer to short clips or a series of videos. Image films, product films and other film genres – which generally are distributed online only by default – aren’t categorised as webvideos for the purpose of this investigation. (Source & © Condor Films™)

5 Parameters Webvideo: Total Duration: 2 minutes; Key People: 1; Crew Members: 2; Duration per Take: 3 seconds;Takes per Shooting Day: 20; Actors: none; Extras: yes; Music Composition: no; Colour Grading: no.

6 For more information on the difference between film and video and the corresponding definitions: click here.

7 Standardised Workflow: based on the established processes at Condor Films Ltd. [PDF available for download here].

8 Directing is considered a creative task and in this study, for the purpose of research – unlike in reality – comprises all (!) creative decisions that are necessary when making a film. The term comprises all creative processes and the definition of the task is thereby wider than usual. Specialist decisions that go beyond a basic understanding of filmmaking (for example special effects, choice of special camera lenses or types of filter were left out).

9 Likewise the task of production in this study summarisesall (!) decisionsthat provide essential direction in production of film and video. Specialist decisions in film making (for example, legal questions or aspects of film insurance and those relevant to purchase of services were left out here).

10  To stay on the safe side, we assumed that a planned and prepared filming schedule was completed without any mishaps (= without the need to revisit any production decisions, as in reality is always the case). That explains the ridiculously low number of production decisions during the filming process.

11  Rounded off figures. In accordance with the study the exact figures are 10.4 for creation and 8.6 for production.

12 Based on the experience values of Condor Films Ltd and in view of market demands for TV-Spots, the theoretically calculated numbers from the group TV-Spot/Commercials were multiplied by 1.2 (20% increase across the board) to guarantee a more realistic outcome.

13 Another hot topic here that actually would push the number of decisions even further up: The theoretically calculated numbers in the Image Film group have not been altered.

14 Based on the experience values of Condor Films Ltd and in view of market cost pressures and the oftentimes inherent simplified processes, the theoretically calculated numbers from the Product Film group were multiplied by 0.75 (25% reduction across the board) to guarantee a more realistic outcome.

15 Based on the experience values of Condor Films Ltd and in view of market cost pressures and the oftentimes inherent simplified processes, the theoretically calculated numbers from the Webvideo group were multiplied by 0.65 (35% reduction across the board) to guarantee a more realistic outcome.


We look forward to your input and feedback !

The findings – which form the basis of this article – on the amount of decisions a film industry worker has to take when making films and videos, is only a first step. Through refinement of the assessment criteria, grouping of the decisions, greater degree of detail and with reality checks referencing scientifically evaluated productions, the quality of the results at hand (not only from an academic point of view) can undoubtedly be substantially improved.

© filmpuls, translated by Nina Kaelin