Today is my third and final post in a series addressing three key roles in film production. In part 1 (“Are you a DP or a light putter-upper“) I explored what it means to wear the moniker “DP”. In part 2 (“Be a director not just a camera pointer“), I begged you to fully embrace all that it means to “direct” a film or video. Today we're going to talk about your role as a producer.
Let me FIRST start off by saying; I am NOT addressing people who work “in Hollywood” or do feature or television production for a living. I made similar disclaimers in my two previous posts but still got comments from people that seemed to suggest that they missed my disclaimers (e.g. in my last post, someone thought I was insulting the role of an AC on a film set.) Okay so let me make this clear. In this post, I am specifically addressing small, self-employed filmmakers who take on commercial or personal event projects.
Also, if you're an independent contractor that primarily just does camera work (i.e. you work for other studios), this most likely won't apply to you either. This is for those of you who work directly for the client.
Now that we got that out of the way… If you are hired as a videographer or filmmaker to shoot someone's personal event, or to produce a video for a commercial client, I don't care that your business card says “DP” or “Filmmaker” or “Cinematographer” or “Director.” You may wear all those hats, but you're also a producer. That means you need to act like one, think of yourself as one and make sure your clients understand that is another role you play (whether or not you specifically tell them “I'm the producer too.”)
What are some of things a producer does?
- He's a project manager. That means staying in touch with everyone who is working on the project and holding them accountable to their tasks. Those people include other contractors you may hire, as well as people on the client's “team” (e.g. product managers, executives, mothers of the bride, etc.)
- He puts out fires. When things go wrong, you need to have a “Plan B” (and Plans C and D too). You need to keep things running as smoothly as possible. Sometimes that may mean making hard choices.
- He's mindful that it's a business and makes sure the project stays on time and on budget. That means keeping close tabs on spending (e.g. rental fees, food, etc.)When the director starts getting delusions of grandeur that will stress the crew or budget, it's the producer's job to “reel him back in.” If you're BOTH the producer and director, the producer side of you needs to keep things in check. If your budget is $3,000, I don't care how cool that latest Philip Bloom or StillMotion video is, you CAN'T rent an Epic to shoot the gig. (Unless the Marketing VP in you decides this particular piece is worthy of creating an Epic reel with which you will use to get bigger budgets).
- He takes responsibility. If something goes wrong, the buck stops with you. That means, if your second camera operator screws up a shot, don't use him as a scapegoat. Ultimately, it's YOUR shoot.
Bottom line: learn to balance the creative side of your business with the business side. In your endeavors to push the limits of your creativity, keep in mind of all those aspects that will keep you in business.
Ron Dawson is an award-winning filmmaker and provides business coaching for filmmakers and photographers. As a producer, he’s been so hard on his directors that he's been known to make them cry. This is especially interesting because he's the only director he's ever produced. He is also host of the weekly show “Crossing the 180“.
(cover photo credit: snap from the brian grazer pic)