Independent Filmmakers Jane Wagner and Tina DiFeliciantonio

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When thinking about what goes into making a film or video, math is not the first thing that comes to mind. Filmmakers usually begin the process of making a film by dealing with the creative concept, the story line, the characters, the dramatic arc, et cetera. We think about the foundation of the film—what it will be about and how the story will be told.

As filmmakers we often want more time and money to be able to make our films, but there is not an endless supply of cash to fuel our creative impulses. The name of the game is to "put every penny on the screen." So we turn to the more practical and logistical aspects of filmmaking. This involves grappling with the budget and schedule.

You have probably heard of the phrase, "Time is money." It turns out that math is used to make logistical and budgetary decisions that will directly affect the filmmaking process. The better a person is at using math, the better he or she can analyze budgets to create the best options and make the wisest decisions. In creating and manipulating budgets and schedules, multiplication and division are mostly used. As producers, we must be able to effectively determine how many people can be hired and how much they will be paid. As directors and editors, we need to know how much time we can spend editing the film.

Besides being a business, which means producing a solid film on budget and on schedule, filmmaking is also quite technical. Each department uses math to help bring the film to life. The camera department uses math in designing the look of the film by determining the which lenses, filters and film stocks will achieve the chosen look—they use math to calculate exposure and the depth of field using "f stops" and focal lengths. Math is also the basis of sound recording—calculating the sound patterns and recording levels. Production designers, art departments, costume designer and wardrobe assistants also depend on math. Sets must fit together perfectly and clothing must be tailored to fit each actor. Everything has to be measured and made to size.

Using math doesn't end at a film's "wrap". It continues into post-production, where editors use math to calculate everything from trimming shots, to creating fades and dissolves, to creating complicated effects. As an editor gains experience, he or she can even learn the feel of different calculations. For example, an eight frame dissolve feels a beat quicker than a twelve frame dissolve.

Once a film is completed, filmmakers and distributors want as many people to see the film as possible. Since people pay to see movies, audience is equated with income. But it takes money to pay for the advertising and publicity to get people into the theaters, and, it takes money to pay for the prints that are projected into the theaters. (This is called P&A, and it is usually deducted from the gross profits before anyone can start to participate in the net profits.) Investors, actors, writers, and directors can have points in a film, which means that they are entitled to a percentage of the net profits, so keeping track of P&A expenses is important if anyone other than the studio or distributor is to receive royalty checks.

As you might imagine, once one starts to pull apart the filmmaking process, there is no end to the use of math! Its use is intricately involved in all stages of the filmmaking process. Enjoy learning about math because using it can be a lot of fun and it helps keep food on the table!