Worth the read. Get ready to reflect.
I consider myself a philosopher of filmmaking, I think on the various aspects of the film creation and production processes often. I take time to reflect after each film to consider all the massive anxiety points where I catalogue regrets or moments that sparked change in me. I like to reflect on what worked and how the experience helped or hurt the people around me – the performers, engineers, locals artisans, small businesses, and artistic community at large. I like to consider my film footprint. And after all that toil (year after year, usually at 3a), I started writing about what I had learned. And hopefully this will help you discern your film footprint aswell as the work that fits you and the work that doesn’t fit your gifting.
Before we get started, think about who YOU are as a person and then we can apply it to your filmmaking career.
What is your personality type?
My CliftonStrengths (Gallup Assessment) are that of a “Learner” “Empathy” “Achiever” “Strategic” and “Connectedness.” These have served me well in deciding what kind of film producer I am in my career – But there is even more to consider.
Not everyone loves the 5 Love Languages assessment, but I do! Love languages that help people thrive on film sets are: acts of service- a posture of service helps the day run smoothly, and quality time- because you feel better interacting with and bonding with your colleagues – and being close enough to hear what they need. Assessing your team’s love languages for on and off set helps teams build connectedness. For instance, if your Director craves quality time, your DP loves hearing words of encouragement, your Sound Mixer enjoys gifts, and your fellow Producer craves touch (gentle COVID-safe shoulder touches with consent, of course), then you’ll be able to plug in and keep the team from feeling lost, thankless, or unseen in all that they do. And a happy crew can handle any surprise or hiccup that inevitably comes their way.
If these aren’t your preferred tools for personality assessment, there is also the Enneagram System (3- The Achiever, 6- The Loyalist) and The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (INFP), both fabulous and famous assessment tools that help you step outside of yourself to reflect on the kind of work you wanna do, the work that feeds your inner needs, and the workers you want to be around. And, as TikTok has opened my eyes to my undiagnosed ADHD, I get to make even MORE decisions on how to tackle work and the type of work where I can be successful with my teams (ADHD Hacks).
Knowing thyself is important for a film producer as you’ll need to have a high emotional IQ to be prepared to dance your way through the severe ups and downs of filmmaking. After all, filmmaking is culture-shaping, king-making, and inspirational and the responsibility on your shoulder is high. And it’s an honor to do it at all!
What type of Film Producer are you?
There are two kinds of primary producers before we break it down even further: Strategic and Creative. And within that, there are story, logistics/physical production, coordinating, on-set, line producers, post, marketing and so on…. But I want to focus on the way film can (should) be done and how you may fit into that. But first, are you a strategic or creative producer?
Quiz: How do you build a puzzle?
Do you pour out the box gently, lay them all face up, organize pieces into the corners/sides/colors, and then systematically put the puzzle together by what the categories demand for efficiency? Then you might be a Strategic Producer.
Do you look at the box photo for longer than expected, pour out the pieces, and then pick them up one by one and separate them into piles based on placement in front of or around your body until you have sections to put together? Or even look at the picture for longer than expected and decide right then, based on the picture, what type of system might be best such as putting all the clouds together first before even considering the rest? Then you might be a Creative Producer.
For the Strategic Producer- You may have analyzed what works best for your movies and created an infrastructure in which to put all movies through your pipeline. You can be flexible, sure, but overall you know the best path to the shared team goals. (See Goal-setting here “How To Interview A Potential Producer – AND How The Producer Interviews You”)
For the Creative Producer- If ‘feeling it out’ based on what seems best in the moment fits your style, then you’ll likely be very involved in either (or both) story discussions for the film and processes for logistics based on the individual film. You may make one movie in a completely different style, structure, process, and platform than the next movie because the movie genre/concept/teams dictate the decisions instead of the processes being a set pipeline.
Note: Let’s not get caught up on the wording, ‘strategic’ could mean ’measured logic’ and ’creative’ could mean ’development’ or ’stylized’ as there are dozens of ways to describe producers, but they all fall into these primary categories.
Quiz: Order Of Operations
Take a good look at this order-of-filmmaking-operations real quick (you won’t be asked to recite it, no need to memorize, just become familiar). This is from “Refresher: Did You Forget How To Make A Movie Step-By-Step?” another article from TheDrillMag.com.
- Inspiration – Sometimes story driven, sometimes culture driven, sometimes opportunity driven.
- Development – Flesh it out, there are no bad ideas here. Don’t worry about how you got here, just get in and get your hands dirty, nothing else will matter if you don’t give this stage your whole self.
- Goal Setting – Team activity AND personal activity. Big honesty here sets you on a clear path.
- Business and financial structuring – Create your above the line team in your mind to make this a solid stage that doesn’t need to be re-worked. Ask for advice from as many colleagues as possible.
- Financing`- I think you need a crystal ball to get here. Or being born into or introduced into a pretty rad situation. This is a rarely earned position, but you gotta prove that you belong here to get back here again. I like to tout this plan to help get you started: Get endorsements (be connected to a cause related to your story), find relevant non-profits to partner (for awareness), find Sponsors (in-kind: props, locations, wardrobe, …), business partnerships (legit cash or trade), package team, crowd-fund (or seek venture capital), and then rely on personal support (call on social capital).
- Pre-production – Hit the ground running. Always do a more thorough job than what’s necessary. Set yourself up for contingencies. Ask for help, ask for partners, ask for favors. We all do, don’t be shy.
- Principal photography – GET IT ON THE SCREEN. No matter what, go the extra mile to get in on the screen.
- Post-production – Find the right team, pay them well, and be imaginative in re-working this project into a completely new iteration.
- Testing/finishing – Don’t be a fool, you NEED to test with a handful of strangers and really examine their thoughts before you throw the surveys away. They are your first line of legitimate criticism and addressing concerns at this stage will either help you avoid missteps OR help you prepare your answers for when real critics come in to play later.
- Marketing – How you market to festivals and distributors is different than how you advertise to the consumer audience down the road, they overlap, but your release will be informed by this process.
- Festivals – Do it. Aim high but don’t be too prideful to spread it out to middle and smaller fests too, that’s where you make lots of relationships for longevity in this industry.
- Distribution – I’ve written a lot about distribution over the years, read a few articles and ask advice from filmmakers before talking to anyone you have to pay or hire for advice.
- Publicity & Advertising – Pay for it. Professionals do it best. And Press only comes from this route done well.
- Release – Give it your all! But take breaks. It’s a marathon.
- Premiere – This COULD happen before festivals or at festivals or before release, this is a floating option for every film.
- Maintenance – Don’t neglect your team or your fans, stay engaged and prepare for at least a year of supporting this film.
- Community building – Lob up your team into their next projects, get ready for your next project, engage online, engage with screenings and groups, be generous, make friends, and invest your time/energy. The more you give, the more you harvest in the long run. Remember this step along the way.
If I interview you to work on this new exciting movie project with me, how do you feel about this list of operations?
Do you think this will be a template for us to plug in movie-specific information, start looking at timelines, expand the meanings, and schedule a meeting to go over these options for budget/timing/goal considerations? Then you might be a Strategic Producer.
Do you look at this timeline as a generalized roadmap and once you actually READ the script, then you can look at the first 1/3rd of operations more closely but hold the last 2/3rds of the list at arms length, remaining flexible to decisions made early-on? Then you might be a Creative Producer.
And, yes, you can be BOTH!
Sometimes you’ll do an entire movie and feel like you remained flexible in and out of these titles to tackle individual aspects of filmmaking. I do. Some parts hold a more intimate and creative part of my brain and other parts of the process flip a switch and I am not interested in meandering discussions as the logical processes should become the way we all handle those portions. Maybe certain team members embody the ebb to your flow and sometimes a whole movie might be a paycheck and there is no emotion to the work. You are not caged by knowing yourself and self-examination, your reflections after-the-fact will prepare you for what comes next and what you choose to do IN that next step.
I once said to my partner, “I will never work with ____ again.” Because I couldn’t stand certain aspects of that partnership. However, as I grew as a producer, person, parent, and community member in the industry – I eventually saw past the issues at hand and was able to recognize my red-flag concerns and the context of the situation to get past my initial assessment. I have recently re-iterated to my partner that I would be happy to work with ____ again, but within their gifting, with personal boundaries, and with preparation on how to better handle discourse. I cannot always control who I work with, but I can better manage how I approach my work with that person. Knowing thyself and being perceptive of others allows for the most epic work to be done successfully, as a team. And, after all, what is a producer but a leader on a team.
One last note
A producer needs to find a way to have the heart of a PA (production assistant) while on set. On the first day on set, your PA may be asked to fill up water bottles for team members, but in the best case scenario, your producer should be taking the time to do it. Your posture of service will signify to your team that you are 1. available, 2. value their comfort, 3. see them in their element, and 4. see every job as important. You cannot always do such things in pre-production meetings or as the film releases, but there is a small window of a few weeks where people will be bending their bodies the hardest for the project. Set an example that the PA and the producer are both available for their immediate tangible needs and their overall intangible needs. If you can find within your personality, gifting, and producer type to showcase to your team that you – the person with the most power on set – cares for them, choose to do it. That’s the difference between leading and dictating, be a leader by doing.