Here is a list of our favourite things that can and will go wrong during production if you don’t take care of them now…
It will be all good….
No one shows up
Gear or tech not working
Running out of time
Working with talent
Missing in action
No it won’t. Film making is a bit like Murphy’s Law, what can go wrong will go wrong. It really is a weird and wonderful process of working uphill against the odds, dealing with high expectations [from yourself and others…], exploitative notions of media, increasing funds, increasing delusions of grandeur and fame to be had… the list goes on and on.
Tip for producers: Assume the worst and prepare. Don’t tell your creative team yet, because their job is to dream up the best possible creative outcome – and your job is it to support them to make it happen. By that we mean, removing all the myriads of obstacles, obstructions, sabotage and other unforeseen disasters that may get in the way of your project to be good.
What can go wrong?
On location or at the workshop – have you reconfirmed date, time and location with all your participants, crew, partners and contributors? How do you know they were listening? Double check. This could also be due to people getting lost – have maps ready for crew and participants so they can easily find you. Include your and your key crew mobile numbers. Don’t rely on interactive mobiles etc, they will run out of battery or be out of reception. Have hard copy back up will travel safely and on time.
And now you have to have a difficult conversation with your contributors as they won’t sign until they read it thoroughly, which they should. Turn this mess into a positive and share your approach to rights management, IP and ethics with the whole team. Make sure you have packed enough hard copies or have a portable printer in your kit. And even if you have sent out release forms, people forget to read them and sometimes won’t sign until later. Make sure this doesn’t work against your project, as some people want to play power games, because they think they are too important to hand over their permission to you. Remind everybody that this is a collaboration where you as the filmmaker will take a huge risk in time and energy to create an art work that will benefit everyone. If you can’t develop trust with your contributors, don’t rush it or rather walk away, take it as a signal that this is not working out. Things can and will become worse…
Have you delegated essential yet boring tasks such as who charged batteries, cleaned cameras etc. Double check. Bring spare batteries. When working in remote areas, make sure your budget allows for some spare parts to be purchased before you leave.
During public presentation involving multi-media screening etc, make sure you test your set up and presentation material YOURSELF before you are on, and with the setting that will be used in the actual stage event, not the day before. Use a tea break to do a tech check. Don’t leave it to the technicians, they may be fabulous, but they won’t have to sweat it out on stage if the tech fails, your slideshow is speed-sliding or your video has no sound and looks stretched.
There is a limit to what can be shot. Take a look at your call-sheet and run your schedule again through an online map – how long will it really take to drive from one location to the next? During the shoot for Flow we had to manage long drives between 5 locations across the Coorong area…so we decided to split up. Make sure you are aware of the on-ground reality, the weather, have enough crew and gear to split teams if need be. And then allow for error time – rules of thumb for a 5min interview: 30min set up time, 30min interview, 15min break down of gear, travel time to and from base. And now the expert had the grand idea to go out on location and bring an internationally renowned guest speaker with him who happened to be in town. Can you re-schedule?
Learn to be assertive, be friendly but firm and say no when you need to. And check in with your crew, because they will support you and work extra speed if you can explain what is going on. What is the best for the project AND everyone’s well-being? Can it be done safely? What are the consequences?
When you work with a diverse group of community members on culturally sensitive issues, make sure you have covered enough ground with all stakeholders before you go out on production. Do you really know what they want? Do you understand their concerns? Don’t be embarrassed to ask – ideally put in writing so you can refer back to it and pass the info on to your team if needed. Can you stand your ground when it comes to your narrative and creative ideas that you want to pursue? Test your relationship with your project partners early on, best to know where the fault lines are before you are out of your depth on their country making a mess of it all… And be open to learning and listening, without loosing your critical abilities.
Contributors may want to change the project’s agenda or clear. Be prepared to identify difficult conversation in advance and turn these issues into interesting screen content – I understand that this is an important issue for you – would you be willing to share these thoughts on camera with us, so this could be come part of the project? This way you may win an ally whop otherwise wuld have been ready to leave or sabotage the project. Remember, people scare easily, especially when it comes to being filmed. And be prepared to send someone away if this person is solely responsibly for sabotaging the project for the whole community. We never had to do that in over 10 years with hundreds of films, but had to clarify a few times what we will and won’t accept. Even though people get scared they usually also respond well to compassionate and rational clarifications. Main thing, keep it real, transparent and friendly. Don’t stress out or push an ad-hoc decision. Learn how to read a room or take the temperature of a group. It helps to have someone dedicated to do this, during tea breaks etc – but it has to be heartfelt and honest, otherwise we all smell the pretense.
Contributors may not be able to relate well on camera. Make sure you do screen tests with people, especially if they are to become crucial contributors or actors in your work. Find a positive way to relate the news to them that this is not working out. Some people will be relieved, others may have assumptions around their acting abilities. Be sensitive, have a private conversation if you can. Does everyone need to be involved in this decision? If this is part of a co-creative team process, make sure everyone is able to take care of themselves. We often announce that our production workshops are not ‘safe containers’ or therapy spaces, but a risky process of creating as a team on often difficult subject matter. We found people, especially so-called ‘vulnerable’ groups or individuals, respond well to be taken seriously and expected to take self-responsibility. Just don’t patronise anyone or promise it will all be good. What do you know?
Don’t underestimate your crew’s desire to overshoot. Meet with your director and camera team before the shoot and step through the shot list and creative brief, even if you only have a rough idea what to expect from the shoot. You want to find the middle ground, a self-motivated crew that shoots as requested but is also able to grab opportunities when they arise unexpectedly. On the other hand, avoid crews who do only as told, as you may find you will be lacking in coverage in the edit – and then it may be very hard to re-create or go back…
Will it be windy? Rain? Too hot? What is the weather forecast? If the weather turns bad, what is your contingency? Can you find a protected space?
Delegate to at least one other person to record atmo sound. How much do you know about the location’s sound environment? Make sure your crew carries headphones and uses them. If the weather turns bad, what is your contingency? Can you find a noise-free space? We often forget, but it is really good to carry a double adaptor for 3.5mm jacks, so you can easily jack yourself in and monitor the sound quickly yourself with your ear buds if need be – a good trick when it comes to working with inexperienced teams or participants, as accurate hearing is the last thing on peoples mind when they are working with a new camera.
Make sure someone is in charge of checking off that no one and nothing got left behind. Too many time we had to run after a contributor who still had our radio mic transmitter attached to their coat.
‘Pre-Production’ is where you start to devise some more of the specifics about your project. No longer in the world of amorphous maybes, or will we/won’t we type discussions, pre-production is your chance to start planning and getting your ideas down on paper.