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July 10 at 8:15am

Film Production Methods: The “Better” Way Vs. The Easy Way (In 15 Steps)

Two years ago I wrote a blog post “Ten Things We Should All Do On Our Productions“.  I would like to do a sequel to that post and would love your suggestions as to what those things now should be.  I do think the old list fully applies, but I am confident we can add to it.

15 Things We Can All Do On Our Film Productions That Would Make Life & Art Better, Safer, & More Satisfying.One of the ten things that was on that list was doing things the “better” way vs. the “easy” way.  We so love completing tasks we often cave into just getting things done.  But if we all worked together to lift the bar higher, no one would tolerate many of the practices that are currently considered “acceptable”. So why not work together to raise the bar higher?  How about I start with a list of:

15 Things We Can All Do On Our Film Productions That Would Make Life & Art Better, Safer, & More Satisfying.

On that original post, I listed the seven following ideas as examples of the “better” way.

  1. Avoid 15 Passenger Vans as they are the most dangerous vehicle on the road.
  2. Provide housing when someone has worked an excessive day.
  3. Recycle bottles and cans.
  4. Print less. Use less paper.
  5. Email Call Sheets
  6. Provide production packages (shooting schedules, breakdowns, lists, etc.) on line.
  7. Crew Lists as Address Cards so they can instantly be input in one’s phone.

Looking at this list, it made me wonder what other practices could be done even “better”.  I challenged myself to come up with another 8, to bring my list to 15. I had to do it over my morning cup of coffee — as that is the only time I can ever find to blog.  It would be great to get this list to 30, but to do so I need your help — and few more mornings.  For now though, it’s not too bad to be armed with a list of 15. Please let me know if you succeed in doing any of these on your productions.

  1. Hire people who are not like you, who come from different backgrounds, who have had different opportunities, are different genders, politics, race, class, beliefs than yourself.
  2. Make more of the process transparent.  What have you got to hide?  Openness facilitates trust.
  3. Make sure interns receive an educational experience and are not exploited as free labor.
  4. Give people a true day off.  Restrain yourself from sending emails or making calls one day a week.  Instead gather those needs, requests, ideas, and hold onto them for 24 hours before sharing them. Emergencies do happen, but a well-rested team performs better.
  5. Don’t tolerate abusive, inconsiderate, discourteous, or impolite behavior.  Talented people often get away with a lack of civility.  It creates a hostile environment and there is no need for it.  What if we started calling everyone out on it?
  6. Share something you create with another production.  We often give away our remaining “expendables”.  We give away crew lists and such other basic info.  What more can we share?  Can you create a new form and then distribute to the community? Have the location photos all gone up in a communal database?  What if you met for 30 minutes with another production that was just starting to prep when you were about to start principal photography and discussed what you could pass on.
  7. Actively try to get jobs for your top five performers on the cast or crew — particularly if they are not well-known yet.  Don’t just take the talent with you.  Promote them to others; maybe help them get an agent or other representation.  Don’t wait for new productions to call, but call them.  Write those letters of recommendations in advance and give them to the superstars to take with them.
  8. Provide all collaborators with some piece of ownership in the work.  The industry likes to say that backend doesn’t matter, but they still refuse to give any of it away.  If even a small fraction of the net profits is given en masse to the crew and cast, I am confident it will have a positive effect on the production.  My best experiences have all been when a large number of the team had an ownership position.  Granted some times this backfires a bit; way back when when on The Wedding Banquet we distributed a significant share of the profits to the cast and crew despite not being contractually obligated to do so — yet a group voiced that we were not doing enough (and I wonder how many times in the subsequent years they received anything from anyone else).  It also sometimes can not be mandated due to the other financing concerns — so there are many reasons why it is not done more often. I just know I am going to try to do it more often going forward (and encourage others to do likewise too).
So what do you have to add to the list?  Let’s build it better together.

 

 


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  • http://www.joeavella.com/ joeavella

    the best part is your clarity on ‘better’ & ‘easy’ being 2 different things. Sometimes they’re the same, but often filmmakers (I’ve done this more times than I’d like to admit) focus on making their process ‘easier’, and end up making it awful for everyone around them, especially the one’s who eventually view their work.

  • http://twitter.com/elizabethkarr Elizabeth Karr

    Great list. Along with Ted’s suggestions to write letters of recommendations, which I wholeheartedly agree with – reward excellence and keep good people working – I recommend taking the time to check references. Make phone calls, send emails to people potential crew member has worked with before and find out their experience with them. It is much easier to take a little time at the outset and avoid potential problems early on. This is in keeping with the mantra that it is difficult and unpleasant to fire people. 

    BUT – if someone is a problem early on – shoot that trigger and fire them. There are so many good, capable, honest, hard working, easy going people out there – find them, hire them and treat them well. 

  • http://twitter.com/kim_garland Kim Garland

    On my last production job, the director and I were discussing the costumes we are often left with that can’t be returned and we’d be happy to lend to other productions. Maybe an online database where we can plug in what we have to share and look for what we need. And if that already exists, I want in!

  • GypsyFilmmaker

    When recruiting interns from film schools or other arts organizations, I often set up an evening recruiting session that opens as a lecture the followed by Q &A. At least this way, I can give back to the institution as a way of thanks for offering their students to our project and it gives the students a chance for some one on one from a working industry professional offering a peak from the inside. I find this practice extremely worthwhile and rewarding on location jobs outside NY / LA where students may not get movies coming to town a lot. You never know who you may inspire to pursue a career in the industry or help start their career!

  • A.D. Calvo

    Maximize the use of online collaboration tools, e.g., Dropbox, Google Docs / Calendar, etc. Have been using Dropbox more and more — with each department having their own folder.

    Alex
    http://www.goodnightfilm.com

  • Lorie Marsh

    I second this 100%! Folks that sustain 10-hour shooting days and who must create on the fly when problems arise, function a million times better if they’re fueled by nutritious food!  Proteins, healthy fats, veggies, fruits and whole grain carbs as much as possible.  No crap food.  But, there has to always be room for awesome coffee, good chocolate, and homemade cookies when possible. ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/meinhorn Max Einhorn

    Hi Ted-

    My name is Max Einhorn and I’m currently an intern for Anthony Bregman and friend of Ross Katz! I’ve come up with some of my own additions to the list from what I’ve learned doing my own projects while at Temple University the past four years.

    1. Besides making sure to feed people right, it’s very important to feed people with food they will enjoy having. Eating is really a communal experience and lunch/dinner time can really bring people from the PAs to the Producers to the actors together for a pleasant break from exhausting shooting. 

    2. This is probably more important than #1, but a THANK YOU goes a thousand miles. Especially for people working under scale or at the low-end of the pay-scale.

    3. Hire people who are smarter than you and are experts in things you are not. This is an important strategy for anyone leading a project of any kind, even outside of film.

    4. Let everyone read the script (unless it’s a top secret project, but it’s good to have folks sign non-disclosure agreements anyway). Everyone on the production should have access to it. If everyone knows what they’re working towards, the process itself will be plenty rewarding.

    5. Make friends, not just business acquaintances. The people you make friends with will be the ones you can call on in times of crisis and/or will be cutting you a deal just for the pleasant opportunity to work with you again.

    6. Use tablets such as iPads as often as possible, but be sure to keep hard copies of of important documents. 

    7. I personally believe that independent productions should plan on raising the last few hundred grand of their budget not from large-sum financiers, but from crowd-funding such as Indiegogo, Kickstarter, or their own method. This could give thousands of movie-going individuals the opportunity to feel as though they played a hand in creating a feature film. It would be an easy way to fundraise but also promote the film online, as well as stimulate word-of-mouth publicity.

  • Jennifer Ussi

    As a producer of no to low budget films, I
    have learnt a couple of things the hard way. My 2 cents:

    1.             
    If you’re not paying scale (or
    anything at all), promote crew to a higher position than they would be hired on
    for a proper budget shoot.  Make sure
    they know you trust them and believe in them, and they will truly shine. It’s
    rare they will let you down.

    2.             
    If someone is a problem on set,
    fire them.  Especially if it’s an
    attitude problem, because a rotten apple truly rots everything around it.

    3.             
    For producer/directors like me
    – try and find line producers/ production managers or an actual producer
    instead of doing it yourself. It’s incredibly difficult to excel at both
    positions.

    4.             
    Never be afraid to ask for
    things. Ask for specific things or amounts, and people will find it easier to
    give. Always be sure to thank them in the credits, and always leave locations/suppliers/donors
    being happy they helped you, because there are more filmmakers behind you who
    will need them too.

    5.             
    And back to points 2 and 3 – I
    hired a producer on my last feature (also my first!) – he spent 5 weeks working
    out whether we should go for the RED camera or super 16. He could not find a
    DOP – he managed to get as far as saying that he had found a focus puller who might
    THINK about doing it?!!!!  When
    production was approaching at a rapid date and still not much had been done I
    roped him in to go and look at locations and he kept on saying “I didn’t sign
    on for this”… At that point I decided he wasn’t signed on for anything and
    fired him. It took me 2 days to find several experienced and award winning
    cinematographers who really wanted to shoot the film. I never found another
    producer in time, but a bad producer is far far worse than no producer. I
    should have fired him in Week 2.

    6.             
    My film was picked up by a
    major distributor, held onto for 5 months, and then dumped. Why? Probably
    several reasons, but I know that there were two reasons that stood out:  No A-List actor that would help market the
    film, and – the film was targeted specifically at the 40+ female. VERY
    specifically. The distributor who picked it up was run by a woman. Her boss was
    a man. When he saw the film – months later – he over rode her decision. What
    the solution to these two problems are I don’t know. Well, the former of
    course, TRY AND GET A KNOWN NAME!!!! The latter, it’s almost impossible to
    overcome. We were picked up by a  2nd
    distributor a few days after being dumped by the first – and had the EXACT same
    problem! It was run by a woman and man – she wanted it, he didn’t.

    7.             
    On the same point about
    distributors – the film screened very well, as a comedy, and a black comedy at
    that, the bigger the audience the bigger the reaction. We screened to all the
    distributors in Sydney and again in Melbourne, in a cinema which we had hired,
    and tried to get as many people into the cinema as possible. This was a major
    reason why the distributor picked us up in the first place – the audience were
    laughing so loud at time you couldn’t hear the dialogue anymore! But when the
    head honcho watched it, he watched it on a DVD, probably in his work computer,
    in between a hundred phone calls.  Always
    try and avoid sending DVDs – invite them to screenings even if it costs you a
    few hundred dollars and fill the cinema with as many people as possible.  And NEVER believe anyone who says that
    distributors or festival directors can ‘see’ a finished film even if you send
    it to them unfinished. It’s not true. Finish the film before sending it
    anywhere.

    8.             
    Never be afraid to ask for
    things. Ask for specific things or amounts, and people will find it easier to
    give. Always be sure to thank them in the credits, and always leave
    locations/suppliers/donors being happy they helped you, because there are more
    filmmakers behind you who will need them too.  Even if something breaks or is damaged – as long
    as you make amends, personally apologise and do your best to replace or fix or
    compensate the damage in some way, people will still be happy they helped you.
    And it’s the producer who needs to do this, not the PA or the runner or 2nd
    camera assistant – regardless of what was damaged or by whom.

    9.             
    FEED YOUR CREW WELL!!!! Funny
    enough, sometimes you can feed them too well. I shot one of my short films in
    Africa, and had invited film schools from around the world to send their best
    student out to crew on it. The response was amazing and we had crew from
    literally ever continent. Their film schools had paid for their board and
    lodging too, so I made sure they had very nutritious meals, 3 times a day (we
    were all staying in a game lodge on a game farm.)  After about 4 days the ganged up on me and
    begged me to order some junk food for a day!

    10.         
    Never give up.

     

  • http://twitter.com/BluePaperFilm Blue Paper Filmworks

    Take breaks. Smile at people. On stressful days, we sometimes designate one person on the crew to be the “grump” but only one person, and one person to be the joker. That way there is a bit of humor on set, but still a balance between venting and staying optimistic. These roles switch out, for example, maybe the next day the grump is the joker, and the joker is the grump. So one person is not stereotyped but we are all forced to see some alternative perspectives on set.

    http://www.bluepaperfilmworks.com

  • http://twitter.com/rfamovie Radio Free Albemuth

    Max – couldn’t agree more. Good stuff.

  • http://twitter.com/rfamovie Radio Free Albemuth

    Well said, EK. You are turning into a helluva producer.

  • http://hopeforfilm.com/ Ted Hope

    Right on Max! I agree with all of these. Some come down to just treating people right. I’d like to think it was common sense, but we have to mindful in the stress of production and sometimes lose track of what makes it a life worth living. Sounds like you are learning well from your experiences.

  • http://hopeforfilm.com/ Ted Hope

    I just found this. This was the post I did that was sort of about what you are talking about Max:
    http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2009/11/15-ways-to-show-your-collaborators-you.html

  • Mike Chinea

    I say yes to all these suggestions. Especially the care and feeding of your crew.

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