Thursday, May 21, 2015

What to look for in a line producer (part 1)

I recently heard from an aspiring filmmaker. He managed to put the money together for a short he wants to shoot (hooray!) and he asked me to help him find a line producer to make it. 

Seems simple enough. But you know me. Rather than simply giving him a couple of names, I sat down and thought about what I look for in a producer. Then I wrote all those things down in a list and put them in order of priority. 

And then, rather than actually getting back to the aspiring filmmaker, I decided to put it all together and post each characteristic, one blog post at a time. 

Kidding. 

Here's what I told him: 
  1. The most important quality to look for in a line producer: Someone who’s ethical.
The single most important quality to look for in a line producer is someone who not only knows the difference between right and wrong, but who always, always does what’s right. 

Right for the production, for the crew, for the actors, for the community, and for you.

I’m going to get into budgeting basics in another blog post, but for now take me at my word when I say that budgets are fuzzy things in that there are thousands of places to bury a body. What’s the rate for a gaffer? Well, there’s a range, but on each and every production it’s up to the producer to negotiate the rate with the gaffer. 

You don’t want a gaffer who resents being paid less than what he or she feels is fair, but at the same time, you don’t want to just throw money at the gaffer, either. 

An ethical producer takes all the relevant factors into consideration: The size of your budget, the number of days you’ll be shooting, the circumstances  (it’s a lot easier to ask for flexibility when you’re shooting on a tropical beach than when you’re shooting in a garbage dump), the team being put together, the kind of piece you’re working on, the number of favors you’ve already asked from the gaffer, and perhaps most important, your reputation. Yours. 

I’ve had crews drop everything for a chance to get paid half their normal rate when they heard it was a chance to work with me and oh by the way, we were going to be shooting at night. In winter. Outside. Why? Because from the day I started directing almost 20 years ago I’ve made it a point not to be an asshole. I take care of my crews, I treat my actors with respect, and I bust my own butt. 

(To be fair, I've had crews drop everything for a chance to get paid half their normal rate when they heard it was a spot for a Swiss bank and there'd be a topless girl in it, but that's another story.)

If you’re a newcomer, you don’t have a reputation yet and frankly, that can work against you. First timers are often indecisive, which ends up wasting a lot of time. Or they can try to overcompensate for their lack of experience by being too decisive, which ends up pissing off a lot of people who really are just trying to make things go better.

If you’re a newcomer, go ahead and try to assuage your producer. If he or she is any good, it won’t make a difference because, well, you’re a newcomer and there’s no value in making promises to a crew about what you’re going to be like to work with that he or she can’t keep. 

But let’s go back to that gaffer. The one whose rate was being negotiated. I’ve heard of producers negotiating one rate with the gaffer, but then putting another number into the budget. One that's a touch higher. What happens to the difference? Well, producers need to drive nice cars, right?

At this point you've been reading along, hoping I would get around to answering that question: “But, Brian, where can I actually find an ethical producer?” Here comes. 

Let's go back to what I said before, about how you want to find someone who always does what's right for the production, for the crew, for the actors, for the community, and for you. The thing about ethical people is that they'll have a reputation. And people with reputations are pretty easy to find. 

All you have to do is do what that aspiring filmmaker did: Ask. Not me, obviously, because I'll probably just turn it into a blog post instead of giving you an answer. 

Okay, ask me. But also ask anybody who might have crossed paths with a line producer they'd recommend. Ask actors, directors, crew members, people who let some aspiring filmmaker shoot in their barn. Ask specifically for people who are ethical.

See? Pretty easy. 

But there's more. And I'll get to each and every one of those in future blog posts, which if you want to make sure you don't miss, why don't you sign up for my email list? The only spam you'll get is from me, and it's only spam if you're not interested in what I have to say. Which you are. 

Brian Belefant is a copywriter turned director currently finishing up post production on a corporate video that you'll never get to see because of all the non-disclosure agreements and stuff. But hey, if you're looking to put together your next project, please call (503) 715 2852 or email belefant@me.com.