Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What to look for in a line producer (part 3)

I can't see the forest.
Wow. Has it really been a month? I've been so busy with post production on a film project I'm working on that I haven't had time to write up a post. 

Guess I probably ought to start with a recap.

In What To Look For In A Producer (Part 1) I said that the most important thing to look for in a line producer is ethicalness. And then after I hit Publish I realized there’s a better word for that: Integrity. 

Whatever. 

A couple of weeks later I put up What To Look For In A Producer (Part 2), in which I said that the second most important thing to look for in a line producer is a commitment to seeing the project through. Finishitoffness.

There. All caught up.

Now for the third most important thing to look for in a line producer, which is related to both of those, but different enough that it deserves to have its own number. Number 3.

Ready? The third most important thing to look for in a line producer is the ability to see the big picture. 

Let me give you an example.

Not that kind of Dolly.
I was shooting a commercial project that turned out to be a bit more intricate than the producer had initially anticipated. So after the bid was accepted and the job awarded, we discovered that we needed four days to do what he had initially thought we could accomplish in three. As you can imagine, a fourth day makes a pretty significant difference to a budget, what with the additional crew hours and equipment and stage rental. Needless to say, the producer was concerned –– as was I –– about making it work for the money.  

But we’d committed (integrity) and we were determined to see it through (finishitoffness). So we plowed ahead, keeping an extra eye on expenses. 

I’m one of those directors that’s pretty good at scheduling out my days and when I did, I worked it out that our first shot on the first day required a dolly. Which is only important because of what happened. We all showed up on the first day to find... no dolly. 

Not that kind of Dolly, either.
Which means we couldn't get the shot. 

The producer had decided that since money was tight, he’d book the dolly to show up at noon. 

He saved a couple hundred bucks, tops. And ended up having to pay thirty crew members to stand around while the rest of us scrambled to get ready for what turned out to be our first shot, which of course we didn’t actually shoot until almost when we were scheduled to shoot it in the first place. When the dolly finally showed up, we interrupted the flow of what we’d already planned to follow the first shot in order to take advantage of the light that was quickly becoming crap in order to get the dolly shot. 

That was a producer who didn’t see the big picture. And the thing about producing is that there are so many aspects to a production that there’s a lot of big picture to see. The job is seriously like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, only there’s no one right way to do it. You have to take into consideration equipment and crew and cast members and light and locations and preferences and availabilities and all that. A lot of the time, it’s a matter of figuring out the least worst solution to the problem, but in order to do that, a producer needs to keep sight of what is important –– not just to the director, but to everybody. 

There. That's the Dolly I'm talking about.
In the case of this example, the big picture wasn't all that big. The guy wanted to save money, which is one of the things producers are supposed to do. But he ended up wasting a ton more. Plus he put us behind schedule from the very beginning and put the crew into a panic because we had to scramble to move on to what would have been the second shot of the day. Worst of all, he caused incalculable harm to my relationship with the ad agency, who rightfully wondered if I'd ever actually directed a commercial before. 

All that stuff is the big picture. Plus more. And before you haul off and hire a line producer, it’s a good idea to be sure you’re on the same page with regard to just what the big picture is. 

And this, of course, brings up the obvious follow-up question: Brian, just how do I find a producer who sees the big picture? 

No guarantees, but I’ll tell you something I do that helps. I talk about food. 

Seriously.

As someone who has (and still does) work for free, I sincerely believe that a well-fed crew is s happier and more productive crew. So no matter how much we ask people to compromise on their rates, I never want to cut corners on lunch. The difference between a crappy lunch and a good lunch is sometimes less than $5 a person. So it’s really a small concession to make when we’re asking someone to cut their rate by $100 a day. 

This isn’t something I declare when I’m talking to a producer I’ve never worked with before. It’s a discussion I open, to see where they go. 

And no, it’s not the only thing I do, but I find that how a producer feels about feeding a crew is usually a pretty good indicator of the way he or she feels about how all the myriad factors of a production are interrelated. 

That producer? The one who booked the dolly to show up at noon? He thought it would be a good idea to cap off a long day of hard work by having Taco Bell cater the crew’s dinner. This came up before we found out we were going to have to shoot four days for the price of three. I didn’t realize at the time, but that was a sign. 

Brian Belefant is a director who's so busy finishing up the project he's working on that he doesn't have time to be out looking for the next one. Think you might be able to use him? If so, give him a call at (503) 715 2852 or email him at belefant at me dot com.