A Five Step Program for Producers

by | Jul 13, 2015 | Strictly Business Blog

A good producer listens, stays organized and communicates well. A great producer does those things and predicts the future, moves a ton of atoms with ease and shifts time on demand.

I was a producer for many years often pairing up my skills as a first assistant and later as a photographer. Although I started working New York City, I now live and produce in a small to medium sized market and on most projects I still handle most of the production myself.

The key element of most productions is for the producer to understand:

  1.  The Mission – what are we trying to do?
  2.  The Strategy – how are we going to do it?
  3.  The Budget – how are we going to pay for it?
  4.  The Deliverables – what are we going to deliver?
  5.  The Schedule – what’s going to happen when and who needs to be there?

Productions have various stages and depending on the project scale those stages may take on different forms. For instance, a family portrait session is much different than a week-long advertising campaign on location.  But many of the core elements are similar.

The relationship between these five elements is first defined in the RFP – Request for Proposal – at this stage listening to the client side and asking good questions are essential.

Next it’s imperative to assemble a preliminary production plan. The essence of the strategy, the production plan is often based on wishful thinking and what if scenarios.

Once the producer starts assembling numbers, reality sets in.  However, it is never a good idea to self-edit at this stage.  Instead, just lay it all out and see where things fall. I often do a high, middle and low set of numbers that correspond to three different levels of approaches we could take to solve the creative problem.

Once we know the deliverables and their deadlines, we can then sketch out a preliminary production schedule and create our response to the RFP with a written plan outlining our team’s solution to the problem.  If this is an estimate, we might outline options at various price points. If it’s a bid, we often recommend one approach with a few options.

Once we are awarded the project, and the paperwork is signed, we get to work on pre-production; filling in the blanks, confirming team members, securing locations and lining up all of the rental components.

As we move into the production phase, the producer has to keep an eye on the original five elements. Making sure that the team stays on mission and has all the key ingredients to complete our strategy, all the while watching to ensure we stay on budget. If an issue comes up, it is important to communicate with the key decision makers and confirm – in writing whenever possible – that the client is okay with any changes.

The most challenging element to productions is staying on schedule. This is the one element that seems to go off the rails most easily – bad weather, shipping or travel delays, flat tires…all combine to take a well thought out production schedule and rip it to shreds.  Let me tell you from experience, it’s not if but when delays will happen.  Good producers plan for things going wrong and build extra time into the schedule.

Post-production is where the good organization pays off. The logistics of getting props and equipment back to their rightful places on time, having creative assets backed up and ready to work on, putting receipts and paperwork in the proper format so that invoicing can commence, etc. One misstep and a great production turns into a mussed up heap of trash.

In the end, a good production delivered to the client on time and exceeding expectations is one where no one remembers the producer’s name.