On a recent shoot we nearly overpaid $4,000, added two days onto our schedule and came close to shattering the dreams of our lead character.
And this was all in one day.
Can it get any worse?
On the same shoot we had to field regular phone calls at 6am from an over anxious character and was often up until 1am ensuring we weren’t over budget and lacking time.
Producers are often considered as a ‘nice to have’ for smaller crews, but how is not having one really impacting your shoot?
Let’s say you have a crew of up to four or five. You have covered the all important roles of Director, DP, Audio, Gaffer and a PA . But then the location you had lined up months ago pulls out last minute. Nobody has time for to line up a decent replacement, so you call in a couple of favors and get something that will do.
The shoot goes ahead but you just don’t feel great about the location, it doesn’t work but you are stuck with it. The shoot wraps, you go into post production and everything is amazing… apart from the location.
Does this sound familiar?
There are so many things that can go wrong, on a daily basis. And they do.
We’d love to share some tips we’ve found that will save your butt when things hit the fan. Even the most prepared crews can come across some of these common producing mistakes.
Here are three common problems and tips on how to resolve them next time you are working on a project.
MISTAKE #1: WITHOUT ENOUGH PLANNING, YOUR PROFIT MARGIN IS SURE TO GO OUT THE WINDOW
You submit a proposal for a project and land the gig. You think you are totally covered with the budget you have and will make it work regardless of what happens. Then you start filming and you have completely cut yourself short. You realize you need much longer production time than anticipated and you haven’t budgeted for half of what you needed for the shoot.
You can’t ask the client for more money as the brief hasn’t changed at all. So instead, you kick yourself, organize what needs to be organized and resign to a smaller profit - or even worse.. no profit at all.
It’s happened to us all but it can stop today.
There’s a number of things you can do to get as close as you can to the budget you forecast in those early days. Settle in and get comfortable, here is what we do:
1. Create a detailed project plan, prior to submitting your budget.
In this you will want to cover things like the overall objective, timelines and the all important deliverables. In doing so you will get a really good understanding of how much time and support you will need at each different phase and ensure this is budgeted for appropriately.
2. Be present during the shoot and understand your outgoings.
This one may sound obvious, but is commonly missed. It is so easy to get consumed by the production itself that you let things slide. We’ve been on shoots with 14 hour days and still get back to my hotel room and settle the receipts from the day. To avoid a BIG shock at the end of your shoot, keep on top of things and adjust accordingly - otherwise you will get to a point where you have no room to make up the money in the budget.
3. Contingency is a thing.
Some people think adding contingency to a budget is a bit cheeky, as this is an unnamed line item that can’t be justified if questioned. It absolutely can be justified and generally is set at a rate of 10% of your total budget. Contingency gives you the freedom to act on something that wasn’t budgeted, but will make a huge difference to the final story, or cover hidden costs that nobody saw coming.
4. Story is your best friend when trying to land a deal.
We approach everything with a good (and real) story up our sleeves. From flight change fees, to securing a location at a much lower cost - if people understand the why behind your request, they will be much more likely to help you out.
5. Learn from your experiences.
Our crew do a review of every project once it has completely finished and we have reconciled the final budget. After doing this a couple of times you will soon see trends in where you are under quoting and have a much clearer understanding on the next budget you present.
Implementing these tips will make you more aware of what’s going on and getting closer to your estimated budget time after time. And remember.. If you are being unrealistic with your projections just to land a job - you need to ask yourself if you are prepared to do it for free. If not, submit the correct budget and a solid explanation of why it is worth the money you have allocated.
MISTAKE #2: UNEXPECTED DELAYS ARE GOING TO RESULT IN YOU DELIVERING LATE
Plan, plan plan. Seriously.
An unplanned shoot will never end well. It is as bad as the old ‘we will fix it in post’ line. Sure, you can put a bandaid on it and hope for the best, but it will never be as good as it could have been.
Planning can start as early as the project has been greenlit, and continues until the very end. We rarely have a call sheet go out that remains the same, that’s the nature of the stories we tell and our desire to be more than a tripod.
What’s important is that you move with these changes and CONTINUE to plan with them, rather than just go with the flow and hope for the best.
1. Information for cast/crew
Shooting style guides, production books, storyboards, live travel itineraries and up to date call sheets are all crucial in ensuring your crew are on the same page and know what to expect.
There are some amazing apps and programs to make things quicker and easier. Studiobinder for example allows you to duplicate call sheets, make quick changes and email it out to relevant people direct from the app. It is huge when making last minute changes and also lets you know who has viewed the call sheet and who you need to follow up with.
2. Realistic timeframes
Speak to your Director and DP well before production to get an idea of estimated timings for your shot list.
If you are running behind during production you need to keep your Director updated and work out what the priorities are, as something will have to give. This should also be taken into account when creating further call sheets - if the crew is consistently slower than expected you are much better off accounting for this early on.
3. Make time up (if possible)
You may find yourself cutting things very close to deadlines in every phase of a project. If this is the case you have the opportunity to make it up by getting ahead in other areas. For example, you may have been delayed by the client in getting the shoot scheduled. Instead of this affecting everything beyond that point, you may be able to schedule your editor earlier and have them start before filming has even wrapped. Regardless of the delays, try and keep as close to schedule as you possibly can, this will make a big difference to the client.
MISTAKE #3: THE TALENT AND CREW DON’T FEEL AS ENGAGED AS I WOULD HAVE LIKED
We hear time and time again stories of shoots that are so focused on getting the shot list ticked off and staying on schedule that the experience for the people involved is completely disregarded.
When this happens the crew don't take breaks, they fall tired, become hungry and slowly start to crash - which is a recipe for disaster.
The talent then feel rushed and under pressure. This will make them develop nerves or disconnect with your purpose, compromising the depth and honesty of the story.
And finally, the client watches all of this unfold and starts to worry. Which is the last thing you want!
If you don’t pay attention to the people involved and how they are feeling, there is a good chance this will lead to disengagement. Even worse, you are missing a real opportunity to get them excited about being involved and to take the result to the next level.
Experience is everything. How your talent, client or crew feel about the production will make a direct impact on your final story. A producer's role is to support each individual on set with everything they need to engage with a story or purpose.
So, let’s recap our top tips in producing a kick ass shoot and a completed film you can be proud of:
Create a project plan and think about all the details - prior to submitting your proposal
Keep track of expenses in real time and make up for overspends before it’s too late
Build in contingency to your initial budget
Use story when asking for things or talking to people, they will want to help you a hell of a lot more
Don’t make the same mistakes twice - document your mistakes and experiences
Keep your crew informed of changes as much as possible
Set realistic timeframes for production
Make up time by getting ahead where you can
Care about the people you have involved and their experience
Anyone can show up to film a shoot with a crew, some gear, and talent. How much planning you put into it will determine how much you get out of it.