I use my Mac for making movies

MacFormat catches up with Richard Symons, a movie director who loves the combination of his Mac and Scrivener software

MacFormat: What do you and Spirit Level films do?
Richard Symons: We make, buy and distribute films. Mainly feature-length documentaries but a few insane movies get into the mix because we fall in love with them, like Rendezvous, a banned French film we’re just releasing with a car chase that’s so terrifying Jeremy Clarkson said it “Makes Bullitt look like a cartoon!”.

MF: Do you use Macs or PCs?
RS: Macs, because they just work – we can’t afford to have a computer go down on us when we’re on top of a Volcano in Costa Rica. Part of the business we love the most is production and Macs are pretty much used throughout that process – from filming to editing, sound and grading. Probably at least as many man-hours go into pre-production - the research, writing and planning, which we also use Macs and software like Scrivener for.

MF: For those that don’t know, please explain what Scrivener is.
RS: We fell in love with Scrivener because the main challenge with documentaries, especially large productions like a global series, is simplifying and summarising a vast amount of documents, transcripts and research. Mainly writers, students, academics and lawyers – people who need to turn thousands of pages into a concise, simple document, but need super-fast access to the source material, use Scrivener. In our case that simple document is a set of Index cards or a ‘beat-sheet’ – basically an outline of the story you’re telling. There’s an unlimited number of ways to tell any story and Scrivener let’s us re-order and re-arrange the ‘beats’ until we’re happy with it.

MF: Tell us why you prefer using Scrivener for organising your movies.
RS: Documentaries are completely different from scripted films where the script is essentially a blueprint for what you’ll be shooting. You can always get an actor to change a line or re-do a scene. You can’t do that when you’re filming a President, his enemy or wife. We’re often in the middle of a shoot and somebody will avert their eyes or burst into tears and reveal something that makes you realise the real story is completely different to your original conception. We go into a film knowing the story we want to tell is going to be turned on its head and will need to be re-assembled. Once we’ve returned from filming, we’ll get all the interviews transcribed and into Scrivener, then pick the parts we need, allocate them to the beats and re-order those beats so they make dramatic sense.

Preparing to interview the President of Costa Rica

Preparing to interview the President of Costa Rica

MF: What other software do you use in the creative process?
RS: We’re pretty much a Final Cut Pro house for editing – though I must confess we’ve got Adobe’s Production suite and are considering moving the editing to Premiere Pro for the first time. Photoshop is essential for any photo’s that find their way into the films, and on the audio side our music composer uses Logic, whilst audio post-production is Pro-Tools (with Apogee Maestro for any in house Voice Over work). The last stage of production is the picture grade, which is normally on DaVinci’s Resolve or Baselight.

MF: What’s your most recent film project about?
RS: We’ve just finished the first three films from our new series, The Price of Kings. Probably the most ambitious project we’ve done so far. At its core are intimate confessions from world leaders – revealing the hidden price of power. Ultimately all drama comes from people in extra-ordinary situations facing difficult decisions and these guys face terrifying decisions with global consequences. Without giving too much away, there were plenty of tears – both on set and on the screen.

Watch the movie trailer for The Price of Kings

To find out more visit spritlevelfilm.com 

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