Transportation for Film and TV Production: The Role of Logistics in Movie Success

Supply Chain and Logistics 10 min read

While the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 provided the perfect environment for film and TV to flourish within, they had to overcome the challenge of getting productions off the ground.

Despite that, TV and film ably weathered the storm. Dot.LA has tracked the streaming boom and found that, now, film and TV production levels are back to pre-lockdown standards.

Film and TV Production

These levels have not happened by accident. Indeed, the talent never went away and worked under difficult conditions to keep delivering content for streaming services. Writers perhaps found even more time than usual, given the extra time freed up by lockdowns. However, underneath all of that came the logistical prowess and innovation to allow it all to take shape. The hidden heroes of the streaming splurge seen through 2020-21 were these supply chain masters, and they've continued to innovate to ensure that they can meet the next emergency situation.

Material on the move

Consider the moving parts involved with filming a movie or box set. The work of the actors, directors, producers and associated filming crew is often the last stage in the entire process, and even that can get incredibly complex. Before filming day occurs, there are whole teams working to ensure everything is set up correctly. Next, contracts and negotiations occur, scouting of filming locations happens, equipment is built and purchased, and finally, the sets can be constructed.

The most simple situation, where a set is built-for-purpose at a filming location, can be expensive. The Nashville Film Institute notes that set design and construction forms a large part of the overall production costs. It can eat up to 25% of the total budget. While the producer has a significant hand in organizing every aspect of the production, it falls to supply chain experts to supply the know-how of getting physical material together.

Role of logistics experts

The Canadian Alliance concisely outline just what role logistics professionals have to play in the smooth operation of filming:

· Locations managers, who liaise with residents and businesses within a filming location or its vicinity;

· Logistics coordinators, who manage relationships with third-party suppliers, such as building material firms and contractors;

· Production managers who will be responsible for managing contracts and their payments to ensure smooth interactions between the supply chain and the filming process.

There are, of course, another dozen roles underneath these key levels, but it clearly demonstrates the exact part that supply chain workers have to play in producing for film and TV. It begins with obtaining areas for filming and then building relationships with key players in that area.

Obtaining set rights

TV and film on location

For some productions, obtaining the proper rights for filming can be straightforward. The National Parks service outlines how many public areas can be used for low-impact filming without any payment. The same goes for photography, for instance, film stills for advertising and promotional purposes. Where complexity enters the equation is in 'high-impact' filming. This is where an area of land will need to be drawn off to the public, as is often required with filming. This is usually due to large volumes of people working in the area as well as additional materials moving onto the site for the duration of filming. The logistics side of film production plays a key role in this.

Logistics will manage both the set and the amenities that come with it. The responsibilities of the logistics team include, but are not limited to: actors' trailers, local supply chains, contracts and maintenance. All of this comes under the remit of those working on the logistics side of the film. Improper logistics management can result in delays and interruptions in the whole production. Managing a set location can be intensive work and requires both a touch of local finesse as well as the wider industry know-how that logistics experts bring with them. Only with their hand in the pot managing the contracts can proper organization get off the ground.

Organizing a set

Understanding the volume of work necessary for any individual film set relies upon the scope of the production. Obviously, the most epic environments and backgrounds will demand a lot more source material. Take, for example, Stalingrad (2013), with an estimated set cost of $3.5m. The entirety of the battlefield, the sprawling city of Stalingrad, was recreated for the film; 400 artists took six months to build the set. Throughout this process, the work of logistics and the supply chain was absolutely crucial. Such huge volumes of material cannot be kept on the average film set. Weekly tasks for successful management include restocking, rebuilding, and replenishment of inventory. There are also security concerns to keep in mind, which often become the responsibility of the logistics team.

On set clap board

Even where film sets have used more unconventional methods to stage the scene, there is still considerable work to be completed by the supply chain. For example, several of the key settings of the Lord of the Rings film franchise, from Gondorian capital Minas Tirith to Elven sanctuary Rivendell, were actually completed using miniatures. This saved thousands on set building and maintenance. The team used 72 'bigatures' - large scale miniatures for filming, to give a sense of depth to the production. However, despite the smaller scale required for these sets, they nevertheless had a high logistical demand attached to them.

A similar theme is present in computer-generated imagery (CGI) based sets. This type of set has become ever-more-popular in the era of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) dominance. CGI may be less resource-intensive - it comes with the territory of being computer-generated imagery - but it still has a significant impact on the supply chain side of filming.

Developing CGI

CGI is sometimes developed within entirely digital means. However, more often than not, it will require a significant amount of motion capture (mocap). This presents key challenges in itself for producers. While certain cities, such as Hollywood and Atlanta, will have the existing infrastructure ready to go, it requires a little bit of creative thinking to make films in other locations when CGI is involved.

Once again, logistics underpins the good work in this regard. As film experts Studio Binder outline, there's a lot of specialized equipment that goes into CGI. In addition, when you consider the types of films that tend to employ CGI, like science fiction and high fantasy, you'll also start to require physics-defying acts and, from that, the use of extra rigging and cables.

Another vital aspect of the supply chain's role in film production is the management and supply of equipment. The specialist equipment, and safety ratings that come with it, are of crucial importance in the safe operation of a film set and the achievement of the production goals that come along with it. Logistics staff don't just build, move and maintain sets; they provide the fine equipment and detail needed to make the vision of a producer and director a reality.

Working through hard times

Working through hard times

Like many other industries deemed non-essential, filming was subject to significant downturns when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Figures compiled by the World Economic Forum revealed that film admissions dropped significantly from 2020. In Europe, the USA and India, admissions dropped 32%. This had a knock-on impact on the demand for filming. This added to the already present issues concerning the feasibility of filming during a pandemic. Clearly, social distancing and isolation is not a strategy that can come easily to the filming process, even with 'bubbles' keeping actors and film crews separated from the general populace.

Furthermore, there are existential threats to filming posed by the overall downturn in the economy. Even with the talent in place, film production cannot continue without the set built. Materials are necessary to build and maintain sets, and we've seen shortages of all kinds of goods throughout the pandemic. Furthermore, contract negotiations and the rental of public spaces slows down with the relevant officials sick or without their full equipment in working-from-home environments. Again, this is where the ingenuity of logistics experts has come into play. They provide an extra level of safety and quality to film sets.

Playing a role

With COVID rules in place, film sets have many new factors to consider. However, logistics teams readily meet these demands within the production timeline. Procuring PPE, building sets and locations that are COVID-safe, and doing all of this in a way that meets budgets is the domain of supply chain experts.

The LA Times highlights how the nature of filming has changed for every single individual on a movie set. Still, a look at relatively low-budget independent filmmakers provides real in-depth perspective on the importance of logistics experts. The need for fine-tuned, granular detail from these experts has led to a 'just-in-time' approach for planning the COVID hygiene response to sets in a way that is really suited for those who have prior experience in the supply chain.

Individual expertise

Lights Camera Action

The target platform for film and TV has changed rapidly over the past five years. The last two only accelerated this change. The cinema is now less relevant; TV and cable are, equally, feeling the same pressures. Today, the focus is more and more on streaming services, according to the Raindance Festival organizers, and this means a change in how filming sets are made - and, potentially, for the better.

Streaming services lend themselves more towards media consumers going through catalogs and looking for what interests them. A wider range of content focused on smaller periods and timescales means lower budgets - but more flexibility and a need for a supply chain that can react to the demands of filming. This isn't always the case, of course. Series such as Netflix' blockbuster The Crown can cost up to $13 million per episode. Similarly, Game of Thrones, in pre-COVID times, cost even more. However, the cost of the cast is often elevated in these big-ticket titles.

Conversely, shows like HBO's Succession have a relatively low filming budget because they operate on a smaller scale. Scenes typically occur within one room, and although the show flits across the globe, from New York City to the Ionian Sea, it nevertheless has sets that don't tend to last in the same place for long. So what does this mean for the supply chain?

Logistics professionals' expertise and finesse enables these shows to become a reality. That's true whether it's negotiating a set in a luxury resort in Italy before making the moves to get the set, costumes and equipment over and in place or simply having the connections and experience to procure private jet filming while maintaining COVID-19 hygiene safety. Arguably, the nature of filming has become more simple in recent years. Shows are less stunning and complex than in years past. Yet the role of the supply chain and logistics professionals has only become more important as a result.

Looking forward

The scale and complexity of filming sets is in decline. Even blockbusters, like MCU franchise newcomers, rely more on CGI and the clever use of props to achieve their look - it's just not as likely that huge sets, requiring thousands of man-hours, will be as frequently needed. Similarly, TV continues to move to small ensembles, small set formats, and chiefly appears on streaming services.

This represents an opportunity rather than a decline in logistics' importance within the film industry. Producers and writers are being more exploratory than ever before; they're more creative and are trying out new ideas. For this to really come to life, the supply chain is essential. The sets and location management that logistics professionals flourish in dealing with are becoming more important. The rigors of meeting COVID-19 regulations and ensuring film crews and cast are protected are becoming more pronounced. In its entirety, the film industry is presenting challenges that need to be met on the logistical side.

As the inevitable resurgence of film and TV media has shown, the supply chain is doing a lot right. As they continue to organize the industry in a fashion that enables the continued excellence of media creatives, enthusiasts of filmed media will benefit and continue to enjoy new, boundary-pushing art.

If you would like to partner with Gilbert International, please feel free to request a quote!

Supply Chain and Logistics