What is Film Production Management? | Wrapbook

What is Film Production Management?

17 September 2020 | Nate Watkin

A professional film producer can expect to face countless dilemmas on the job. However, the most consistent challenge for producers tends to be related to a simple question: how can one achieve overall efficiency and productivity when keeping track of so many moving parts? While there are a number of new apps that can improve your production workflow, sometimes it’s best to start with the basics.

In this article, we’ll overview the film production management process like a system, explore how it works, and identify two key techniques that can help producers save time, increase their focus throughout the day, reduce general stress, and maximize productivity.

Film Production Management As a System

It’s helpful to start a conversation about film production management and productivity by reviewing the basics. A film production is the type of system in which many separate yet coordinated activities converge into a single process with the intended goal of delivering a finished film or video on deadline.

Let’s begin by zooming out and looking at a flowchart of a typical film production in its entirety - start at the top of the chart and follow your way to the bottom.

The workflow of a typical production.
The workflow of a typical production.

You’ll notice two things right away.

First, the various activities in a film production fit into the larger process in a particular order, dictated by five consecutive stages: planning, pre-production, production, post-production, and delivery. A producer should not move from one stage to the next without first resolving every requirement of the previous stage.

Second, the various activities generally fall into three categories: production, security, and legal obligations. Production activities have to do with executing the project, and are the type of things that a layperson would associate with a film production (i.e. casting, shooting, editing). Security activities ensure you always have a backup plan in case things go wrong (i.e. contingency budgeting, media backups). Legal obligations ensure that you’re not exposed to any potential liabilities (i.e. holding insurance, following government rules around hiring).

The producer’s role is to address these characteristics by (1) synchronizing the activities with protective buffers so as to avoid bottlenecks, and by (2) balancing the production, security, and legal obligations of your project to maximize the efficiency of the overall system

Now that we’ve reviewed the big picture, let’s highlight two specific techniques that a producer can implement to maximize their efficiency: keeping a production workbook and creating standard operating procedures (SOPs).

The Production Workbook

The key for a producer to manage their time and stay focused day-to-day is maintaining rigorous and centralized documentation. Also called a wrap binder, the production workbook is where you store and organize all documents, files, and forms associated with the production broken down into the phases: planning, pre-production, production, post, and delivery. This should include everything from the budget, to call sheets, to production overages.

Take a typical production phase activity: issuing certificates of insurance, or COIs, to the owners of a shooting location. An organized producer, who has already filed both a signed location agreement and proof of general liability insurance coverage in the pre-production section of their workbook, easily finds the information from those documents needed to create the COI on the insurer’s online portal, sends off the document to the location owner’s inbox, and minimizes any and all delays for their crew in the process.

In this domain, there is no better all-around solution than using a production management software such as Assemble, which enables you to organize and store all of your production documents on a cloud platform that can be accessed easily by your entire team.

Assemble's project management platform.
Assemble's project management platform.

What are Standard Operating Procedures?

A standard operating procedure is essentially a list of instructions for an activity that you continually update with new insights through experience on more efficient management. We recommend that producers create detailed SOPs for all of their processes and to share them with their team.

Sharing SOPs with your team encourages efficiency and coordination. It also accelerates the process of adding new members to the team who need to get up to speed quickly.

Hiring Your Team: Standard Operating Procedure Example

Here’s an example of a typical SOP a producer might consult beginning from pre-production.

  1. Build your crew list. Break down the script and then confer with your director to get a better idea of what kind of crew you’ll need. Think through pre-production and post for additional roles. Finally, interface with the heads of every department within the production for any roles you might have overlooked, (i.e. DIT, security, catering).
  2. Secure the necessary insurance coverage. A workers’ compensation policy is usually required to hire independent contractors or employees in the U.S.
  3. Track your crew list in some sort of document including day rates, scheduling conflicts, and guild guidelines (such as SAG-AFTRA. stipulations for minimum wage) and prepare accordingly in your budget planning.
  4. As you hire, collect signed agreements from all cast and crew. Agreements should include important terms like a payment schedule and credits. Schedule your payroll and be sure funds will be available according to your agreements. Late payments are a totally avoidable issue that even major media corporations have trouble prioritizing - don’t be like them!
  5. Line up back-up crew in case of last-minute cancellations.
  6. Stay on top of your payroll throughout the production and close out the process properly by issuing tax documents to your workers when appropriate, such as 1099 forms for freelancers in the U.S.

Backing Up Media: Standard Operating Procedure Example

Another common practice productions will need to take daily is backing up media. Here’s another example of a standard operating procedure.

  1. Calculate the amount of storage media your production will require. Consulting with your camera department is helpful because the size of the files will depend on the camera settings as well as the volume of shooting you expect to do. You must also consult with your editing department - proxy footage and other assets will take up even more space.
  2. Take the anticipated amount of storage media, and double it. Budget accordingly.
  3. During production, backup all your footage directly from the camera media onto two separate storage drives - at least on a daily basis.
  4. During post-production, ensure your editing team backs up all their work in the same way - duplicated on two separate drives, at least once daily.
  5. To archive the project, simply ensure that a copy of the mastered final deliverable is included in each drive along with all the work to date. Consider printing the media to tape for longer-term archiving.

Wrapping Up

By analyzing the overview of a typical film production management system, you can see how you can improve your management skills and overall efficiency as a producer by utilizing a production workbook to store all your documents and forms, and then implementing standard operating procedures for the most important and repetitive activities. These two key components can take your processes to the next level, help you save time, and work faster and more efficiently with your team.

Finally, a reminder that in terms of smarter and more powerful tools to maximize the performance of your production workbook and beyond, Assemble is a great place to start organizing all of your production assets, from pre-production documents to post-production reviews, for your next project.

Nate Watkin

Nate Watkin is the Founder & CEO of Assemble, a project management platform for video production teams. Learn more at www.assemble.tv/project-management

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