What would you do differently next time?

Prior to working in film/tv I used to work in the business / non-profit sector as a creative media producer. Part of working in the corporate world was filled with team meetings and trying to figure out how to improve the organization as a whole. One process that I actually enjoyed involved After Action Reports, which where utilized after an event or program was finished.  It was a tool we used to analyze the success or failures of said event and provided ways to learn from our mistakes.

When you wrap a film or tv show do you ever wonder how things could go differently? What would you do so that the next project would go smoother?  Below I have listed 10 questions to ask yourself at the end of each shoot is complete?

  1. Which crew members would you hire back or recommend again? Why or Why not?
  2. Did all of the locations or sets work for the scenes in the script? Were there any locations you wish you had more options for?
  3. Did you end up picking the best time of year to film? If you had to start over would you choose another season of the year to film in?
  4. Which processes or systems were missing that you would put in place next time?
  5. Was there a dept that was lacking prep or man-power? How could you you predict this in the future?
  6. Did any dept go over budget? How did this happen and how could it be fixed in the future?
  7. Were there any specific scenes that took longer than planned and what was the cause of the delay?
  8. Did any of the cast present issues or prove to be difficult? Was this handled appropriately?
  9. Did you have enough dept mtgs during prep? Was prep a well oiled machine or lacking structure/systems?
  10. Was there any drama behind the camera and how could this be minimized in the future?

Whether or not you do an official AAR with your team, its a good practice to do by yourself or one or two other crew members.

Communicating leadership principals with metaphors

Making a movie or TV series can often times feel overwhelming. You might have too little time or not enough money to solve all the myriad of problems that lie in front of you and your team.

One thing I like to do early on in production is to communicate ideas about work or the work process via metaphors. I love to use metaphors because they help turn the seemingly difficult problem into a visible solution that gets people thinking.

Below I have listed a few metaphors and how I use them.

Metaphor #1

Do you know how to eat an elephant?

Of course you are NOT really going to eat an elephant…that would be horrible. The metaphor is meant to evoke the sublime. Elephants are so huge it would be impossible to eat them, however if you did have to eat them you would eat them one bite at a time.

Occasionally I will explain this metaphor to my office staff when we are faced with 100 to-dos and I can see the look of of defeat on their faces. I try to explain that if you can focus on one thing at a time and slowly make your way through all that has to be done you will be successful!

I typically share this metaphor with Office PAs, Coordinators etc when working as a UPM/Line Producer.

Metaphor #2

Why should you not eat desert before the meal?

Of course we all know that eating desert before any meal is not a good idea. It’s something we have to educate children on when they are young. The metaphor does apply to filmmaking however and it is one of my favorite to use.

In the filmmaking metaphor the DESERT is often 1/8 of a page (CU of the man holding the phone). The MEAL is simply the meat of the day and hopefully a 3 page scene with dialogue. Now this does not always mean that starting with 1/8 of a page is a bad idea, however it can slow you down and be problematic if you do have a high page count and want Actors to be at their best.

Choosing to start with a big meaty scene first will not only give actors the energy they deserve, but allow you to focus on what’s really important.

I typically share this metaphor with Directors and DPs while working as a 1st AD.

10 ideas to stay productive during Covid-19 as a freelancer

Initially when the Covid-19 Pandemic hit the United States I was unsure how to properly manage all this unexpected free time. I have been unemployed before due to living the life of a freelancer.  While I have learned a few things along the way I am still trying to refine my process for being productive. Whether there is a pandemic or not, the idea of being out of work for a week, month or many months can be a very real thing that freelancers will need to grapple with.

Below I have come up with 10 ideas to stay productive when out of work or in between gigs.

  1. Create a routine. Take a day each week to plan out your upcoming week. Consider setting aside 30 minutes every Sunday to plan out your week’s schedule. Don’t feel like you need to plan everything, but schedule as many meetings, calls and errands as you can. If you don’t have anything coming on the horizon then perhaps consider discovering some new classes/workshops or training to be a part of.
  2. Get Exercise. Consider going on short walks in your neighborhood or trails nearby, practicing yoga at home or even going to the gym a few times a week. Maintaining a steady habit of exercise will help you to reduce stress and stay healthy.
  3. Learn something. If you haven’t subscribed to Masterclass I highly recommend it. Not only do they have numerous film/tv courses…you can also learn about topics such as cooking, fashion, wine etc…
  4. Take a trip somewhere. Make an effort to plan a mini trip once a month. These trips don’t have to be expensive, however they can help break up the monotony of everything and maintain your sanity. Ideas might include: camping, staycation at a hotel, road trip or visiting friends and family.
  5. Tidy your space. Take a room in your apt/house each week using the Kon Mari method and slowly take control of your “stuff”.
  6. Create something. Create a list of possible projects and dive in head first. Maybe you want to write a screenplay, book or begin painting.
  7. Work on yourself. Maybe you need to see a doctor, therapist, psychiatrist or [insert specialist] for something you may be dealing with that needs professional help.
  8. Remodel your space. Take an inventory of every room in your house of what the current needs/wants are and how it can be improved. Maybe you need a new rug or lamp for the living room?  Create a list and slowly tackle that list as you see fit. Don’t limit yourself to amazon.com…..perhaps you can save $$$ by visiting local estate sales, thrift stores and good wills to hunt for various items.
  9. Read new and interesting fiction and non-fiction books. I recently finished reading the book Deep Work by Cal Newport and it has really helped me think about the way I approach my work in general.
  10. Volunteer or Give Back. Consider looking for an organization that you can help out and donate your time.

10 notes regarding the Industry White Paper

As of June 1st, 2020 the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force released a White Paper that was compiled by various companies, unions and guilds in the Film/TV Industry with the purpose of creating a safe workplace and re-starting the industry. Below you can download the file and see our thoughts.

  1. The document is very concise, easy to read and graphically interesting. Some people were expecting a 40-page report that no one would read…thankfully most in the industry will be able to digest this 22-page doc with ease.
  2. It is really amazing to think that all the film unions and guilds came together to create such a document in such record time. Kuddos to everyone involved!
  3. The suggestion to include Face Shields in addition to face masks and cloth masks is definitely worth noting. For individuals such as Directors, ADs (who have to communicate a ton) and/or anyone who hates wearing a face mask….the face shield may be the solution we have been waiting for. Face shields cover your eyes (which face masks fail to do) and they have the potential to make it easier to communicate with a walkie etc.
  4. The suggestion to use electronic scripts, sign-out sheets and electronic documents (call sheets, prs) etc is something that for the most part has been adopted by the industry, however there are certain productions that still may be stuck in their ways using paper and need a push to go digital (something we wrote about here).
  5. Having adequate eating space for lunch can be challenging…. I’m a bit surprised that french hours were not suggested to solve this problem although they did mention having shifts.
  6. The designation of a Covid-19 compliance officer will be a relief to many that these “supervision” duties do not fall onto the shoulders of the AD staff.
  7. Background Actors were not really mentioned in the document (except briefly on page 20 in reference to crowd scenes) unless they were included in the category of Cast.
  8. While the document is very thorough it does not really detail if non-union workers such as PAs will be under the same rules as a union worker. Also what if a production is only SAG or only IATSE…will the same rules apply to everyone?
  9. In general the face mask policy needs a bit more clarification. Obviously cast/crews will be able to take it off during lunch, however will there ever be instances where having a face masks is not required ie… shooting in an outdoor field where crew are predominately able to social distance with ease.
  10. While there are bound to be a ton of questions to the interpretation of these rules…where does one go to dive deep into these questions? Will there be a website with more information or suggestions for how to improve this document?

Below you can join our Facebook Group to participate in questions/discussion on how best to implement these policies on your set.

Why you need a “fixer” when filming on location

Whether shooting in a small city/town hours away from an airport or filming in a remote village overseas, having a “film fixer” can be an essential element in ensuring a film’s success.

The word “fixer” has come to mean a person that can serve as a middle-man between a film production company and the city/town/area that the company is aiming to film in. In some instances this person(s) may have film knowledge and act as a “local producer” and in other situations this person(s) may be very well connected but new to filmmaking.

I’ve used fixers multiple times to find locations, secure extras and assist with the overall production of a movie. Below I have outlined some of the things that a “fixer” can assist with should you choose to use one.

10 things that fixer’s can assist with:

  1. Finding and securing key locations and in some instances handle aspects of the permitting process
  2. Acting as a conduit to the local town officials (police/fire/city/film commission) and setting up introductory meetings
  3. Having a pulse on the local news media (papers/facebook groups/tv & radio) in order to know which entities might be able to activate press
  4. Handling passports, visas and essential paperwork to allow a company to have access to said country
  5. Working as a translator (if a foreign land) and transcribing important documents
  6. Serving as a peacemaker when filming in areas that could be considered dangerous to outsiders
  7. Being a cultural leader and someone who can get others in the community excited about being a Background Actor
  8. Providing recommendations for safe and reliable places for the cast and crew to stay
  9. Connecting the production company with possible experienced crew or cast that might live in the area
  10. Filling in the gaps of the production crew and potentially working in an official capacity as a Producer, Coordinator, APOC, Supervisor, Location Manager etc..

How to run an effective production meeting

A production meeting often called a page-turn is one of the most important meetings any film or tv show can have prior to shooting. These meetings can vary depending on the size and scope of the project, however in general they look very similar. Below are some ideas for running a mtg for a typical low budget project.

  1. Schedule the Meeting. Inform the people attending the meeting a few weeks out and be sure to collect RSVPs. This assures that you will have the right people attending and can answer as many questions as possible. Make sure your crew are aware of how long the meeting will last ie…6 hours etc.. If shooting on location you may want to wait till you have a majority of the Depts on the ground to have the meeting…so generally one or two weeks before filming. If filming a larger movie or tv-show there may be multiple meetings early on. In general its ideal if you can have this meeting the day after a tech-scout because the Dept Heads have seen the locations and this will inform the meeting greatly.
  2. Decide who will and who will not attend. Generally this meeting is reserved for department heads and certain above the line folk, however certain productions may call for various personal. Depending on the size of your meeting space you may also be limited in space on who you can actually fit in the meeting. Suggestions for who to include are the following (Producer(s), Director, Line Producer, UPM, Production Supervisor, AUPM, Script Supervisor, DOP, Gaffer, Key Grip, Production Designer, Art Director, Prop Master, Set Decorator, Costume Designer, Costume Supervisor, Construction Coordinator, Location Manager, Assistant Location Manager, 1st AD, 2nd AD, Stunt Coordinator, SPFX Coordinator, VFX Producer, Transportation Coordinator, Sound Mixer, Key Makeup Artist, Key Hair Stylist, Editor and Post Producer)
  3. Have updated scripts. Send out an email a few days before the meeting and get a count of who will need a physical script. Encourage laptop/iPad use to save the forest and to avoid over-printing scripts. Scripts should be hole-punched and fastened with brads. Coordinate with the writer and director to make sure the latest edits are in this draft.
  4. Offer drinks and food. Its a good idea to offer a breakfast / lunch and have crafty type foods and drinks throughout the meeting. This will make your staff feel taken care of and allow everyone to be focused on the meeting and not their hunger pains.
  5. Setup the meeting room in advance. You may have a dozen people with laptops and electronic devices so make sure there is enough power outlets and strips for people to work effectively. Print out the wifi/password and have listed in the room. In addition to having a supply of scripts you may want to have additional materials such as one-liners, crew lists etc at the meeting.
  6. Do intros at the beginning of the meeting. For some shows this may be the first time that some of the crew members are meeting each other. Take a minute to allow everyone to introduce themself by saying their name and title. In some cases it may be great to place name-tags with titles for where each person should sit.`
  7. Consider using a TV Monitor for visual support. If you have a scene(s) that need details explaining it can be helpful to have visual aids such as story-boards etc.. This can be especially helpful if the movie is very vfx/stunt heavy and you want to talk about certain action sequences.
  8. Setup how the meeting will run at the beginning of the meeting. Typically the 1st AD will run the meeting, talk about how much time they have allotted and keep everyone on track. Normally the 1st AD will go scene by scene in script order and will read or paraphrase the descriptions of each scene. After the 1st AD talks about each scene it is a good time to ask questions or point out problems from various departments. If there is an issue that takes longer than a few minutes to solve in the meeting it is a good idea to say “sidebar” and discuss after with the pertinent people it pertains to.
  9. Take Notes. Consider having someone take notes on their computer throughout the meeting and keep track of side-bars. This person can then email the notes after the meeting to everyone who attended.
  10. Come up with Solutions. Its important to come up with solutions and action-steps at this meeting and not just address problems or concerns. Make sure that at the end of the meeting everyone has a clear idea of what problems remain and who is the person appointed to solve these problems.

What to include in your speech to Background Actors

Whenever you have a day in your production that involves Background Actors or “BG” one of the things the AD staff may handle is giving a speech to this group of people. Typically this speech is given by a 2nd 2nd AD or Background PA and is helpful so that things run smoothly and the BG know what to expect and where to go.

Below I have listed 10 things to include in your speech to Background Actors:

  1. Read or Summarize the scene(s) that the BG will be involved in. Background Actors are there to “ACT” and while they may not need the sides/script knowing the motivation of the main characters around them can be helpful on certain occasions. Let the BG know if and when they should react or respond to the main action.
  2. Explain continuity and starting positions. If you have a long complicated scene that involves a lot of coverage this will be especially important. Stress the importance of going back to your one when the ADs say back to one when a scene has cut. There may be occasions that BG need to start or stop their action by the cue of an AD or by listening/watching the action in front of them.
  3. Explain how to pantomime. Believe it or not most beginning BG will not get this right off the bat. Explain that whispering can be picked up by the sound mixer and it is not the same thing. Watermelon, Watermelon, Watermelon…. always does the trick for realistic pantomiming.
  4. Discuss any safety concerns. Remind the BG that they are on a film set and there is lots of heavy equipment spread throughout. If someone says points they should pay attention and watch their head. If there is a stunt sequence or road work this is a good opportunity to stress where they can and can not stand and how important that is to their safety.
  5. Discuss noise levels. If your BG are working close to set or the set is inside its good to remind them to keep their talking to a minimal and silent when rolling.
  6. Explain where things are. Show the BG where crafty, bathrooms, holding and set are. Be careful to use film terms such as the technical names of the trailers as that may confuse some. Stress the importance of remaining in holding and not wondering off.
  7. Talk about crafty. Once you have shown the BG where crafty is its a good idea to lay some ground rules….especially if they are sharing crafty with the cast/crew. They should not be filling their pockets to take stuff home and be respectful of the area.
  8. Give instructions regarding paperwork. Remind the BG that they may need to give their payroll sheet sometimes called a skin to another dept if they are borrowing wardrobe or props. This is a way to make sure these items are returned to the proper dept. Explain to the BG that they need to sign out with a designated AD or PA with that paperwork. This is especially helpful for new BG who may not understand the drill just yet.
  9. Discuss meals. Depending on when the BG arrived and how long they are planning to be shot will be part of the determining factors if and when your production plans to feed them. It is a good idea to let the BG know the approx time they will eat, that they will eat after the crew and where they can sit. While the breakfast or first meal may be available to the crew are you going to allow BG to participate?
  10. Talk about set etiquette. There may be occasions where the actors on set are famous. This will be a good time to talk about the importance of BG to not talk to the Actors or ask for a picture or autograph.

7 ideas to manage the pre-production process as a UPM / Line Producer

Managing the pre-production process can vary for each type of production, however many of the same issues and problems you will face as a Unit Production Manager or Line Producer will most likely remain the same. Below I have listed 7 ideas to manage the pre-production process as a UPM / Line Producer.

1. Figure out what’s urgent and important

Often I will start prepping a movie and come up with a list of 100 things on the to-do list. Its important to figure out from that list what things need to be accomplished today or this week and which things can wait a bit. I typically like to assign certain tasks to the various weeks of pre-production knowing that many of these tasks will be on-going and overlap.

Example if prepping a low budget movie for 4 weeks:

WEEK 1: setup production office, hire essential production staff, publish crew postings, setup accounting system, secure hotels or housing for out-of-town crew/cast, cast day players

WEEK 2:
hire crew, background actors casting, finalize budget/schedule, secure missing locations, vendor quotes

WEEK 3: 
secure vendors, finalize travel for cast/crew, finalize signatory paperwork, secure basecamp/parking for each location,

WEEK 4:
tech scout, production meeting, organize pick-ups, schedule cast fittings/rehearsals, finalize missing crew members

2. Keep the crew and cast Informed

As you get going there can be a lot of changes and updates that will be pertinent to the cast and crew. Its a good idea to routinely send out updated scripts/schedules on a weekly and sometime bi-weekly basis. I generally prefer to not send out updated scripts too often as it becomes cumbersome for everyone involved. One thing I like to do when I hire crew members is to send them a link to the google calendar that they can subscribe to that has important information (tech scout, production meeting, cast fittings, flights etc) along with a 411 info guide (if shooting out of town) with pertinent information. I also create a secret Facebook group that I use to share location photos, 360 photos and videos of the locations so that the DP, PD, Art Director, Set Decorator, Gaffer, Key Grip etc can all be in the loop prior to the official tech scout.

3. Figure out the needs from the department heads early on

To avoid surprises on Day 1 of principal it is a good idea to talk with all department heads and ask them about their needs in terms of crew, supplies and budget. I typically like to have these talks as early as possible so I can avoid last-minute problems.

Example when talking with your sound mixer…I might ask the following questions:

Do you anticipate needing a 2nd Boom Op or Utility on any days during the shoot?
What does your sound package include?  Do we need to rent any additional lavs, comtechs etc?
How many batteries do you generally go through? We have X amount slated for the budget…will this work?
When it comes to sound reports what is your typical work flow?
How do you feel about wiring all the actors? Is there ever a time that this is problematic?

4. Be creative with the budget and look for ways to save money

In an effort to bring the film in on time and under budget you want to be able to be in a good place financially before you begin principle photography. When getting quotes for vendors I generally like to get at least three different quotes for each big ticket rental ie… (camera, g&e package, vehicles, hotels etc). Having at least three different quotes will give me the ability to compare numbers before I go back to the vendor and ask for that big discount or deal. Many times vendors will cut their prices to a number you might never think they would simply because they want the gear to work.  I have occasionally found that renting equipment (especially smaller jobs) from individuals on SHAREGRID can be more cost effective than renting from a big rental house.  Its possible that many of your crew members will own gear…so consider renting their gear at a discounted rate that will be a win-win for both sides.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure you stay under budget
-Adjust prep days on all crew members…eliminating unnecessary prep
-Reduce dept size and consider day-playing crew members on more difficult days. ie…adding more electrics on night exteriors
-If hiring non-union crew consider which crew members rates you might have to reduce

5. Keep the ship moving with an on-going to-do list and daily prep meetings

During pre-production I like to have a brief prep meeting at the beginning of each day to talk about the tasks for each day. Having this meeting gives clarity on who is doing what and also gives accountability so no balls are dropped. I like to use a whiteboard so that the tasks are visible to everyone and also document these in an online program like todosit, asana or google docs.

6. Think with the end in mind

Don’t wait to create the credit list till the end of the shoot or you may hate yourself. Begin this document as soon as possible with a separate special thanks section. I also discuss with the producers what the delivery requirements will be in terms of stills, video and social media. Depending on the project you may be allowed to post social media before and during the shoot….although many shows will want this to be off the grid until a distributor is brought on board.

7. Find ways to build relationships and develop the team

It can be easy to get caught up with tasks, to-do lists and paperwork that you neglect the people who are making all this possible. Consider scheduling times where departments can hang out and have fun prior to the shoot. These will be key moments that the cast/crew will not forget and will be essential to maintaining a positive atmosphere throughout the film.

5 Day Weeks vs 6 Day Weeks

As a Line Producer, AD or UPM I am often tasked with the question of whether or not the film will be scheduled using a 5 Day week or a 6 Day week time frame.

In general I prefer a 5-Day week but sometimes a 6-Day week will have its advantages if the budget is really tight.

5 Day Week
Don’t have to worry about 6th day time and half pay
-Gives cast and crew adequate time to rest and recharge
-Allows Directors, ADs or Producers enough time to make critical adjustments to the following week
-Allows for enough turnaround time for actors when you are shooting splits or nights toward the end of the week

6 Day Week
Great option if you are doing a rather small shoot that lasts one or two weeks. So if you do two 6-day weeks you get 12 shoot days instead of shooting three five-day weeks. This cuts down on vendor rentals etc.
-If doing for an extended period time (more than 2 weeks) this can potentially lead to sickness within the cast/crew and fatigue

Third Option
In some cases you may want to have a hybrid of sorts. Its possible that you might decide to shoot five day weeks and then switch over to a six day week or vice versa.

10 tips to consider when scheduling your film or tv project

When it comes to Scheduling your Film or TV project it is essential to consider many factors when making decisions that will effect the entire shoot. Below I have listed 10 tips that I believe will help guide you in your endeavor.

10 tips to consider when scheduling your film/tv project:

  1. Shoot out LOCATIONS as much as possible.
  2. Condense LEAD ACTORS 1-6 as much as possible and attempt to shoot out.
  3. Shoot the HARDEST biggest scene first each day.
  4. Look for TURNAROUND issues that effect your primary cast and see how you can eliminate issues before filming begins.
  5. Shoot your EXT scenes first in case of weather.
  6. Shoot DAYLIGHT dependent scenes first and figure out what can be shot in a room without the sun for when you go into overtime.
  7. Shoot the MEAT of the movie first and leave the misc smaller scenes for later in the shooting schedule.
  8. Look for scenes that have MINORS or EXTRAS and find ways to group them together and shoot them out accordingly.
  9. Add DAY NUMBERS to your strips and aim to group scenes by day numbers to minimize wardrobe changes throughout the day.
  10. Aim to make the PAGE COUNT for each day according to the complexity of the scene(s) listed. Example: Shooting a 4 page newscast scene might only take an hour to film whereas a 4 page stunt sequence could take all day.