Beware the Reclamation Project
Any producer, director or artist that has been in the industry for awhile has come across the reclamation project. This is the job that we should run, not walk, away from as fast as we can, but we don’t.
Typically this is a film, TV series or DVD that needs to be rescued. It was either never completed (for a variety of reasons) or it was completed but never sold or it was such a flop that someone wants to repurpose it by adding new material or has found a distributor who will take it if only you can put a dog in it, or, on and on and on..
The lure is always the same, someone has acquired a property's rights and assets for next to nothing and believes that if they can just give the property a face-lift, they can make a killing. They need it rewritten, lengthened, shortened or reworked in some way or fashion. Like the guy that buys a wreck of a house and thinks it only needs a fresh paint job and a few repairs to make it saleable, the people that buy the rights to failed properties often have the same kind of unreasonable expectations. Neither understands what’s is really needed and that’s where you come in….
Well should you be caught in a weak moment or it‘s been real slow and you need the work or for whatever reason you get suckered in this mess, you need to be prepared because the people who have called you will rarely know how much work is really involved (and really don’t want to) and when you talk with them they will say things like, “Can’t we just change the pig to a rooster - it’ll be funnier that way”, or “We need to take out all the Bible references, we need to go secular to broaden the market.” They might ask for any number of changes that in their mind, are no big deal!
Now these folks need not be inconsiderate, slick, fast talkers out to wring you dry - they may even be nice people, people you like and would be happy to help but they can be equally hard to work with in their own way. They look to you as the guy or gal that’s going to spearhead their project and they will certainly be complimentary but their lack of knowledge will turn into a weapon. They will expect things that can’t be done or can only be done at a great expense. They will become creative and will not understand it when you tell them that they can’t use certain assets that they has assumed could be reused. So unless you’ve laid the proper foundation before you signed on, you will find yourself in a mess before you get very far into the project.
So here are some of the things you need to do before you start:
Review and audit all the assets that come with the project. Be sure that everything is there that you were told would be.
Insure that the assets that are there are useable. If someone says that they have all the rigged models on Maya and all the sets on Lightwave check it out. If you are going to change production houses how will the original assets travel and if they are 2 or 3 years old, how much work will it be to conform them to for use with newer software?
If the work is in 2-D there are other sets of problems to consider but it all comes out to being very careful to know exactly what assets really exist, how they stored, how to access them and how much of them you will be able to really use.
If you are not sharp on the tech side get someone to work with you that is… Same with post, have someone check all the tracks. Be sure you have separate M&E tracks and be aware if the talent is still available - Is it cheaper to ADR changed dialogue (if you can get away with very minor changes) or do you reanimate to the new dialogue changes.
What formats are the original master in and where are they? Are they in HD or even layed out for 16x9 or? If you need everything in HD does the client understand that everything will need to be re-rendered? And on and on and on…
Well you get the picture. I have done more than my share of these projects over the years and I can say that they are never easy. Most of the time there are very restrictive budgets and clients want to use as much of the original material as possible and can’t understand when it just doesn’t work. The only thing you can do is to put some sweat equity time in first to determine how much really has to be done - the client will seldom really know and even if they do they won’t want to give you bad news - it’s human nature. Just like you if you call a plumber - you don’t say, “My plumbing is horrible, think you may have to tear everything out and redo the whole darn house!” No, you say, “Might have a little leak under the house, shouldn’t be much to fix…”
So take your time and go through everything first and then draw up an agreement that allows for contingencies… Say they haven’t finished the rewrites - make sure you provide for the costs of new models and locations and put a dollar number on them. What if the script comes in and there are 40 new characters and you had thought it would be more like a dozen?
At the end of the day here is the germ of advice I want to impart - don’t let someone else’s ignorance be a weapon against you. You are the one that is being brought on as the person that knows what he or she is doing, so don’t operate on the assumptions of your client. Your client doesn’t know squat, you are the one that knows squat so don’t change places in the middle of the job and end up working for nothing because of your client’s willful ignornace.
Oh, and stay away from these kind of jobs if you can…