January 8, 2024

Producer’s Playbook: Gabe Godoi’s Tips on Building a Talented Crew

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Welcome to another episode of On Production brought to you by Wrapbook. Today's guest Gabe Godoi embodies the spirit of storytelling excellence. With a history rooted in Breakwater Studios. Gabe has produced an array of both narrative and documentary shorts, including the Oscar winning op doc, the queen of basketball, not stopping there. His works like the almost famous TV series, and that's my jazz have received acclaim and resonated with audiences globally. an alumnus of the prestigious USC film school, Gabe knows the ins and outs of the production world. Today, we're set to dive into his expertise on what it truly takes to be a great producer in this ever evolving industry. Gabe, welcome to On Production.


Thank you. Thanks for having me, Cameron.


And it's our pleasure. I mean, game, just jumping in. Can you give us an overview of your journey from your time, even before college becoming interested in film and production? And then going to USC Film School Program?


Yeah, so my, I guess my Fandom of movies is probably not that dissimilar from a lot of people just in America who go to the movies on the weekends as sort of a family or friend event, although my father was an immigrant from Brazil, and he didn't know English when he moved here. And he claimed to have learned the language from repeat watching of the Lethal Weapon movies and Sesame Street. And I have a deep love for the lethal weapon movies, at least. But yeah, I just think movies and I grew up in California, near Los Angeles and Orange County. So movies were always part of the culture here. And yeah, I ended up going to Cal State Fullerton for radio, TV and film transferring out of there to go to USC, for at the time critical Studies in the School of Cinematic Arts. And they changed the name of the major while I was there to cinema and Media Studies, which makes sense, feel like if you tell somebody your major is critical studies, they're like, critical of what literature. So while I was at USC, I was a student worker at a couple of different places. But one of them was the office of admissions for the School of Cinematic Arts. And as I was gearing up to a you know, typical college student and film school, you have a lot of internships at different production companies. I worked an internship at 3311, which was a production company that made Oh, geez, what did they make? They made it as follows. And in a world and some other cool movies, and I also had an internship at Morningstar entertainment, which, at the time, I was really excited about because they were the show they were the production company that that made the Deadliest Warrior series, if you remember because that was which was a pretty fun and, and even at the like, a interned at a video game development company called supervillain studios that is now defunct, I think, yeah, now defunct, but they made fat Princess, it turned out to be fruitful working for as a student worker for admissions because the vice dean there had some connections to alumni. And before I graduated, he encouraged me to go to meetings and meet these people. So I happened to meet with Ben Proudfoot, who is the CEO and main director of breakwater studios. He had graduated maybe four or five years before me from USC. And he happened to be between assistants. So I interviewed to become an assistant there and became an assistant. Breakwaters Studios is a very small film production company that focuses on documentary, short, and branded films. And there's a little bit of narrative here and there, but really, the bread and butter is branded documentary. His thing was, he made a short documentary called ink and paper while he was at USC, which is great and you can watch it on YouTube, about the last one of the last letterpress, functional letterpress is in Los Angeles. And I think he got to deal with Sony out of that. They paid him some money for that and that was how he was able to start the company. So it was a very young company when I joined. I think there were three of us. Four of us may be. And so there were a lot of opportunities for me to not just be in the traditional assistant role. But you know, it was all hands on deck that got to coordinate pretty quickly. And within four or five months, the producer Jeremy Lambert, who I would consider my mentor. He was sick or something for whatever reason. There was a project for Charles Schwab that he couldn't do. So Ben tapped my shoulder and was like, Hey, can you produce these 3/62 Short dock branded docks for the Charles Schwab, our Charles Schwab client, and I was like, of course, and that kind of got me started producing for a breakwater. And then I was there for maybe four, four or five years, producing all sorts of different dogs, including the queen of basketball, which was, I would say, the, the sort of Pinnacle accolade wise of my time at breakwater was a kind of sweet way to, to move forward when I decided to go freelance. But that film is almost all of the films that I made with breakwater are available on YouTube. But that was a New York Times op doc about Lucia Harris, basketball star before the WNBA existed.


That's really awesome, man. I mean, you mentioned somebody named Jeremy, who you said is somebody that you'd consider a mentor? How did your mentor kind of shape your approach to producing?


Well, it's funny, because he doesn't really produce anymore. He's a screenwriter and a writer for comics, nowadays, but he is an excellent producer. And his great lesson to me is the many great lessons but I guess one of the most enduring is to lead with empathy as a producer. And when you're producing, you have to hire people. Sometimes you have to fire people, you're managing a budget, you're managing logistics, you're managing a schedule, you're talking to clients, you're interfacing in the case of documentaries that documentary subjects are storytellers. And it, it's a lot. And it becomes easy to see sort of the obstacles of communication and other people's motivations as just something to get through and steamroll past or a nuisance to deal with. But if you lead with empathy, and you take the time, and the energy to think out other people's perspectives, and where they're coming from, and their narratives, in collaborating with you, or dealing with you, you can create a lot more morale and camaraderie, and efficiency. And just like a positive energy around whatever project that you're making, whatever pop up company, essentially, like a film production, you just like a pop up company that's there for a week or whatever. A group of people that's assembled and like it's make or break if people have the right attitude, or the wrong attitude during that period of time. I mean, obviously, there's the sort of like stereotype of a producer who's like, you know, you'll never work in Hollywood again, like they get out really, really wielding their power as a hiring force against the people that they need to collaborate with. In my experience, as a producer, and as somebody who has dealt with lots of producers, the most effective ones are the ones who lead by example of how they want people to act and behave to buy in. It's sort of that thing of like, you want your general to be out on the field, and no other things that I learned from Jeremy this one was a more cynical thing. I hope he forgives me for sharing all of his secrets, his secrets, but he basically said you can't. You need to rely on other people and care about other people that you're collaborating with. But essentially, you can't trust that anybody's gonna get the thing done that you want to get done in the correct way. So like, even if it seems simple, you kind of have to keep tabs on things, not in a way of micromanaging but just checking in, keeping a pulse on any person that you've hired, who is going off and doing their own thing remotely, that's great. But if there isn't constant communication about the approach that's going to be taken to achieve whatever their duties are, and the timeline, and the level of detail, things fall through the cracks. So often as a producer on documentary, at least, that's a big part is just like finding a way to not come off as an asshole, when you are trying to make sure that nothing is falling through the cracks, because people don't remember what they don't remember, you know, it's


an interesting thing game, you know, producing content of any kind is very multifaceted, in your opinion from having produced all kinds of projects, in the fact that you still produce to this day across lots of different production companies, all different types of projects, like for you, when somebody comes to you and says, like, hey, Gabe, I want to get into production. I'm curious, like, what are the foundational qualities that you think make a great producer?


That's a great question, I think a producer has to be a great communicator, they have to have a sort of a chess mind of like, I don't have to be good at chess, but they have to be able to see things in advance, you have to be able to visualize the production from beginning to end each day. And all of the potential pitfalls that could arise in order to plan for them beforehand, because you kind of have to work your way. You know, you go from the finish line, and then you figure out how when everything has to happen, in order to get there in time, and achieve the thing that you want to achieve. Another thing you need, in order to be a good producer, in my opinion, is you need to be perseverant. And what I mean by that is making a movie making media in general, but especially video, it is so difficult to get it done, to do the pre production, to do the production, to go through post, all the travel scheduling, logistics, everybody's equipment, figuring out each shot, dealing with all the fires as they come that on a day to day basis, you can lose sight of the goal. The goal is not to finish a movie, the goal is to make something worthwhile and good. And it's so so easy to lose sight of that while you're making something like, well, we got to the end. And that's good enough. And that's great, because we finished a project. But what's the point? Like? What's the point of all the suffering of all the difficulty of making something come together if it's not going to be good. So like, as the producer, which I feel like is a nucleus to the practicality of production. It's on you to keep the practical elements. And the dream merged. And everybody on track going towards that destination


that has very wisely stated? I mean, how did you do some of the projects that ended up really working out beautifully in terms of their story and how they looked and how they felt? How did you balance the operation? And the creative sides of the production? With the teams and in what kind of size crews were you typically working with? Like, are you all really like building like a really tight knit, warm family vied between you're kind of key folks in terms of crew? And that's how you kind of keep the vision alive to get it all the way through? Or are these quite large operations and like, lots of just multifaceted workflow and operation happening at the same time? Because I think you articulated the challenge of that balance very well, right. Like, every movie is kind of a miracle, even if it's not very good. Just when you think about how challenging it is to make something from pre production all the way through to post and delivery. But yeah, for you, like can you kind of give us an understanding of the size of your sets and how you balanced those kinds of forces at the same time?


Yeah, absolutely. So the typical All, breakwater production for a short documentary was like a skeleton crew, four or five people trying to keep it as minimal as possible. There are some philosophical reasons for that. When you're making a documentary, you're trying to encase in Amber's a genuine and authentic perspective and from a real person. And the more people that are involved in your production, the more artifice occurs, because they're seeing that this is a big film production. And as soon as you have a camera in front of someone, or camera crew, they don't, they don't act exactly like themselves, they act like the late night show version of themselves. Right. So or they cloister. So in order to have a level of intimacy, you want to keep your crew feeling as intimate as possible as well. So that's one thing. And obviously, there's a financial element to it: smiling at your crew is the least expensive it's going to be, especially during COVID. That obviously, there were lots of new hurdles, and especially when we didn't know exactly how things spread and how dangerous it was and for breakwater. I mean, that company makes very cinematic documentaries that often have a storyteller, the subject of the film is older. So, you know, they were at risk demographics. So it was especially important for us to be safe, as well. So that during COVID, things were even tighter on a crew level. Personnel level, though, I've worked on several projects that are like typical production. We also had several projects, so 20 Plus or 70, to 100 different people working on a project during the course of it.


When you're making these documentaries, you want an authentic human, very present. I don't want to call them performances, but you don't want a performance. You want the truth, you want this person's nature. And if I'm correct, it sounds like you really try to build that warmth into your crew to draw that out to hopefully reduce kind of that pressure to perform to really try to capture the narrative of what happened in these people's lives. Is that right?


Yeah, I think that's right. And I'm remembering now that part of your question was basically like, how do you instill that in a crew? And how do you maintain it, and a big part of it is finding the right people, and then continuing to work with them, or finding people figuring out the special skills and assets of each contractor, independent contractor, collaborator, Freelancer that you hire on a project. And either making a mental note of that, or for me, I'm a big Google Sheet guy. So I'm, I'm logging every, all the people that I meet and the capacity that I met them and their contact information and their websites and the things that I think that they're really skilled at. So I can use that later and harness it in a way where it's not like, once again, things falling through the cracks. People who are really talented slip through our mind, because we meet so many people. But yeah, I think creating a stable of talented crew members who are like minded and their work ethic is probably really important. And then starting to create distinctions between say you have three or four DPS, directors of photography that you have found all to be at, you know, above average and adequate to work with and superlative in lots of ways. Which one do you pick? Then really, that becomes the creative part of producing and collaborative art and talking to your director of like, what style is best suited? And what are these particular creative people best at? What would they flourish at? What would they enjoy the most? And once again, like where is each person in the narrative of their career and relationship with what you're doing and who you're with and what you're making? Like? What's going to be the biggest impact for someone, because, like sometimes you'll there's somebody that you could collaborate with, that, you know, is really, really talented and good at something, but they've done something similar on a higher level recently, or something like that, where it's like, they'd probably take this job, but I don't know how engaged and passionate they're going to be about it. Just due to the context of their life.


Totally fair, you know, Gabe, we I feel like we've kind of touched on the art of producing and but I'm also curious, I'm like, like more of the science or the operational side of it, which is for you, you mentioned that, like, You're a big Google Sheets person, what is your kind of tool set? Like when you're approaching a project from like, nothing? And it needs to turn into something? And hopefully something good? And what tools are you using? And what's kind of your framework for actually moving forward and making progress against producing something great.


Honestly, I have used different software and services, it's usually dependent upon a production company and what they require or what they want. I think hard skills is an area that it can sometimes feel like, oh, man, what do I actually do? I don't like making a sword or something like that. I'm not a blacksmith. But like, I think soft skills are really the major asset I have as a producer, and I think many producers have, and obviously, different budgeting software and things like scheduling things. But I don't really align myself strongly towards any one of those things. I'd say, one of the things I learned in university that I keep with me, is to have the, I guess audacity to, to believe that I could learn anything, any software, any hardware, any system, I could learn that and I could learn that quickly. And I can be self taught. And I want to be agile and be carrying as little clutter with me as possible. In the sense of like, I need to be a freelance producer, I need to be able to collaborate with any production company at any time, who's using a different system or service. So I have to be flexible for that.


That's awesome. What have you been producing since you left breakwater and who have you been producing for?


So I've mostly been producing commercials since I left break water. I produced a commercial for Arizona iced tea, which I think is coming out pretty soon here. They have a hard tea that they're releasing. And it's like their answer to white claws. Uh hum. And I'm very interested in narrative, though I haven't had a ton of opportunities for your experience in narrative. While I was at Bridgewater because that's not what they do. So I've been taking sort of foray into narrative short comedy. So there are a few of those that are coming out here soon. And on the festival circuits,


for you gave them curious, you know, how you have found yourself navigating between the different genres. So like you've produced now both narrative and documentary, but like, does your approach differ between the genres?


I think my approach is pretty similar. It all starts with talking to the major creative visionaries. And getting on the same page with what is the homerun version of what you're trying to make? And what are the goals? And being very honest about these are the things I'm good at. These are the things that I am not versed in yet, or but this is what I can offer to the project. And then hammering out a budget, whether or not they have funding, how much it's going to cost to make what they want to make at scale. They want to make that and go from there. So it's like, once you know the numbers, and you know, the creative vision, then it's sort of like filling in the blanks of making the lump, I guess making a grocery list of like, okay, so these are all the things we have to do in order for that to be achieved. And in that sense, it's the same, right? But like in a documentary, it's going to be a lot more focused on creating opportunities for flexibility, it's a lot more jazz-like, because you don't, the B roll, for instance, of a documentary is super important. But in the style documentary that I make, you have to do the interview before you know what you're going to need, as far as the story is going to present itself through a long, long interview. And that's when a director is going to say, Oh, now I know we need a boxing ring or whatever. And we've got a day to do it. So I ended with a documentary. It's like the grocery list has a lot more to do with pre predicting potential needs, and doing as much homework as possible to get ahead of when the task is going to come. And then the narrative has a lot more to do with putting together a robust crew. Obviously, there's a casting element that you don't really have in documentary sync, that it's like, collaborating more closely in the pre production with all of the other creatives in narrative. And moving that along. And then when it comes to production, if you've done your job correctly, like, in a narrative film, things are pretty quiet, like your job is pretty much done once you're in production, hopefully. Whereas in documentary, you're doing a lot of work in pre production. But your job is also weirdly doing pre production during production. That's kind of me. I think my approach is the same, but it's just the different fruit.


One way I've always thought about production is it's like a bespoke suit. Like they're all suits, but they're all different. You know, everyone, some somebody will have longer arms, and other people have a different size torso, right, and it's still a suit. But it's always challenging and different every single time. I'm curious, Gabe. So you've produced some great projects that have won various types of awards. I had a chance to take a look at the most famous series, as well as my jazz. And, you know, I'm curious, either from those projects, or others that you've worked on, are there challenges? And can you share moments from either project or projects that you've worked on that kind of exemplify the essence of what great producing looks like


working on great projects? And what significant challenges have come from them? I mean, it's so contextual, I mean, that's my jazz, we were shooting in Copenhagen. And there was an element of like, we have to find a jazz band to be in the B roll. And we don't have a fixer. We don't have a local production coordinator in Denmark, who knows jazz musicians? How do you find jazz musicians who are competent and have the look that you want, within 12 hours. And in a foreign country? And I I feel like I kind of put it out of my mind, like the trauma of coming up with solutions sometimes. Man, we did figure out a solution somehow, it must have been through Facebook groups or something like that, calling local bars to see if they'd had any jazz events. You just kind of have to like any solution that you need. You just have to reverse engineer like, what are the 10 ways that people could approach solving this problem, and I need to try to take all 10 of those approaches immediately, simultaneously, you know, and I think that it's one of the most wonderful things about people in general is that we all somehow take slightly different routes to get to the same place a lot of the time. And if you can, I think it's tied to leading with empathy. Like, you're putting yourself in other people's shoes as part of your job. Then you may have a better access to solving problems from different perspectives and trying to move outside of your one best way. And that's kind of when things get interesting and solutions. Um, forward that you never even expected would like, for instance, actually, I guess I had a really cool game. Okay, thanks. Um, I have one example of the queen of basketball. We were filming in Mississippi. And we wanted Lucia Harris to visit Delta State University. For some B roll footage of her returning to the college, that she will use to be a basketball star at that ad, she has a complicated history with Delta State University, because they didn't really do a good job of acknowledging her importance there compared to her coach, and there are some racially coded things going on. But anyway, we wanted her to return to Delta State University if she felt comfortable with it, which she did. And we did have, we shot some B roll of her going back to that back to the court, and looking at the statue of her coach, and some other things. And while we were there, we decided to take a visit to the archives, the Delta State University Archives, even though we've called Delta State University and asked them if they had any archival materials from the games, or when she played in the 70s. And they said no. When we showed up at the archives, oh, you know what, we have some stuff that we've never really opened in the back here. Let me just grab it. And we'll see. And it turned out there was this incredible film, assets, archival assets that hadn't ever been released, that we were able to get a hand on and go get scanned. And like it's, I guess, an example of like, a problem you didn't know that you had, which, which, and we were filming during COVID, when archival became a big, a more prominent and important part of making documentaries, in the style that we were making them. But it's part of that, like perseverance, trying to approach finding a solution from every angle. Like if, if the number one solution to the problem of how do we find original archival materials from Lucia Harris's history of playing basketball? If the number one solution was, well, we'll call the archives. And they'll let us know if there's archival materials. And we do that, and they say, well, there are no archival materials. Like I think the average person says, okay, there are no archival materials, we were told there are no archival materials. But when you're producing or when you're on a team of people trying to solve problems for filmmaking, you have to think about where people are when they're, when they're taking your call, who took my call, who told me there's no archival footage, how long did they take to tell me that? Did they really look? Are they mistaken? Is there somebody else at the same organization? Who knows more? Could it be at a different department within the same university? Maybe they sent it off to a library and it's actually held off there so the University who they played with could have footage as well. So just just trying to find every possible angle to a solution is is really, really an important part of approaching the problems that face you as you conduct a film production


game as we wrap up, I mean, can you give our listeners a sneak peek at any exciting projects you have on the horizon or beyond?


Well, I've got a short film called we have notes coming out soon. I'm not sure we think it might live on Vimeo. It's a comedy about a big Hollywood production of an adaptation of Joan of Arc’s story that is being noted and noted and noted to death by studio executives. So it's really fun. It has some that I think like for me, I like sketch comedy, but like the difference between a short film and a sketch is there has to be some level of meaning and something thought provoking about a short film when you finish watching it compared to a sketch. And I think that we really achieved that. So that's something to look out for. Arizona iced tea can Marshalls come in, coming in hot. And I've got a board game coming out.


Yeah. Tell us about the board game and where can people find it? And then I mean, one more bonus question like, I mean, you've been a producer, a lot longer than a board game designer and publisher. Was there any interesting crossover for you in that experience? So tell us about the game? Where can we find it and then to close this out? Talk to us about production and board game production?


Yeah, I don't have the title but it is still being worked on by the company that is going to be publishing the games called Skybound entertainment. They are a multimedia company that are responsible for like The Walking Dead comics and shows and so they're sort of wide reaching. But the hope is, it'll be available at Barnes and Noble and target next year, it's a drawing party game. So I'd say just look for a game designed by a cowboy, which will be on the box. And check out the games section of your friendly local game stores. The crossover between board game design and film production. So during the pandemic, I think a lot of people, including myself, were re-evaluating what they wanted in their career. For me, I am a really creative person, but didn't always have the opportunity to be the I mean, I, when you're producing you are not usually the main creator, by definition, the main creative voice of a project, I kind of see the producing job as being sort of the guardian of the creative vision, but not necessarily collaborate in some ways to be part of the creative visionaries as well. But you're not the main person, which is fine and great. But for me, I am a creative person. And I do have my own, you know, things that I want to make, to tour, the art tour of things that I want to craft. And I also felt isolated, I think a lot of people felt isolated. I felt isolated and wanted more than anything to be able to connect with people. Be in a situation where I was looking into other people's eyes, and creating memories again. And I think board games, film, and television are all forms of storytelling. They're just different mediums for storytelling. Board games are particularly a medium where you're creating the structure for other people to tell a story that they are the characters in, you know, if Cameron and I have a game of Risk, for example. And, you know, I'm winning, I've taken all of North America, I've got Europe, I've got Cameron on his heels. But he's, he's kind of just been stowing away in the Australia area, and gaining a bunch of troops. And suddenly he blasts through and takes all of Asia and he, you know, beats me out of North America. Well, there's a narrative that we're gonna remember was, it was Cameron who did that to me, who betrayed me now as I guess we were going against each other the whole time in this scenario of creativity. But anyway, yeah, the ability to be part of the narrative and emerge, immersed into a narrative and board games was an appealing thing for me. And as far as its similarity to being a producer, I kind of have kept Church and State separate. And I would say that a lot of the logistics and practicality is removed when I'm designing a board game. And it's all about creating mechanisms and themes, creating the art of the game, in order to create the best experience, but I'm not thinking all at all about or collaborating with anybody else for the most part other than to play test. I'm not thinking about how I'm going to get this funded. I'm going to get it out to the most people and all these things that you're thinking about sometimes as a producer. Eventually I'll finish the game and then I'll pitch it to publishers, but I have no intention of producing my own games.


I think it's super cool. Well, Gabe, hey man, thank you so much for your time and sharing a little bit of you know, your heart earned insights on like producing really beautiful documentary work and productions of all kinds like can't wait for our listeners to have a chance to see some of the work that you've made it's really phenomenal so thanks for being on on production


thank you so much Cameron Have a great rest of your day

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