Regardless of what kind of film or digital media art you want to create, you will need some kind of schedule, that communicate to others who does what by when. Schedules can range from napkin drawings to multi-link spreadsheet, depending on the needs of your project, but they all will follow a similar timeline, which is should be not be linear but circular…
Use a 360-structure for your management approach to work backwards from final delivery to development. This can feel overwhelming, to think of your delivery items during concept development, but it is invaluable to fully understand what you are trying to achieve – and to do it within the agreed timeframe and budget.
To make time your ally in the project, go time-travelling and anticipate what your project may really require.
This is a great exercise to avoid complications and unforeseen add-ons later:
Who is the intended end user?
How do they access your work?
Do you need to deliver across multiple platforms [TV, web, DVD, mobile, flash-drive]?
What are the delivery items you want to include [photos, video, online video, text, interactive DVD, educational manual, games, freebies]?
What is your social media and PR strategy? Build this into the overall schedule and push your director to work on this now.
Once you have identified your delivery items, you can start planning.
Be realistic, but don’t stop the creative crew to think big and bold and out of the square. Your job as a producer is to enable your team to pull this amazing project off, not to stop it dead before it gets legs. However, you will need to be careful not to promise anything at this point. Just take the ideas and concept and run them through your 360 filter – what do I need to get XYZ made?
Even though you are still toying with ideas and nothing is locked in yet, you may want to be aware of development funding and other grant deadlines, which can give you a good idea what milestones you need to set.
Be careful not to burn too much time in development, overthinking and overwriting your project may cause it to get stuck in permanent development and procrastination.
You want to find out as soon as possible, if the concept if feasible – and then set off to find the means to make it happen.
Once you get your Delivery Items and end user sorted out, you may need the following:
• 5-point story plan, this is mainly for you and your team to help plot the journey and structure of your narrative, and will be very useful for writing the other documents below
• 3-page pitch document [synopsis, overview of story [including 5-point plan, dramatic arc and look & feel], team bio, schedule overview and a rough indicative budget [what will it cost roughly and who is funding what]
• 5-10 page treatment, which usually is a longer version of your pitch document, unpacking why this is urgent and important, how your story may unfold, giving the reader an idea how the characters interact, what will happen and how you are going to produce the work. Plus more background information on talent, key crew and challenges that you anticipate [funders love risk assessments and plan b’s…]
• Completed budget, ideally in the format your funding agency prefers [they need to understand how it works, without you in the room…]
This schedule usually outlines the milestones from green-lighting the project [funding approval] to actual start of production. All the research that needs to be done, locations to be found, collaborators, permissions, funding still pending – all the essential items that you need to start shooting your film or building your website. This is also when you consolidate your media campaign.
The schedule can be an online planer that you share with your crew and partners or a huge whiteboard in an office with clear task lists and what has been done – whatever way you do it, make sure you have a system to keep track of tasks completed and deadlines approaching.
Delegate as much as possible, but keep in touch with the work and do check progress without micro-managing your crew. The more they can share the responsibility and have some independence, the more they will enjoy working with you. Main thing is to be clear, communicate well and keep stress out of the office or away from the team.
Make time in the pre-prod schedule for test shoots and location visits. Don’t meet too often with third party representatives or funders, as you may get roped into promises that you don’t want to make. Keep it on a ‘need to know’ basis. Be confident. Build the excitement that soon you all will make this happen together.
For all these time frames of the overall production process you will find dozens of templates online [some are included in the download section below.
Whatever format you use, make copies and discuss it in detail with the whole crew or at least with the heads of departments [on big projects]. Make sure your call sheets are up to date and match your schedule AND reality…
Encourage your team to keep to the day-to-day schedule and call sheets, but pace your shoot so that your crew is able to enjoy the process. Don’t schedule more than 6 interviews a day and don’t work your team more than 10 hours/day. Allow for generous lunch breaks, sufficient travel time between locations and some error time. Be calm and stay calm, no one respects a shouter and screamer. If you have a concern, be clear and assertive so that the crew understands that you meant it when you said ‘we need to be out of here in 15 minutes’.
Give ample warning. If possible, get a line producer or - when working with community – a local support worker involved who can help you keep track of time, gear, props and people.
Allow for re-shoots and pick-ups, close enough to the original time, so that you don’t have to re-create a lush springtime scene in the middle of a dry summer…
Ensure that all key creative, especially the director and camera team watch the rushes at the end of each day, so you can find out if you need to plan more re-shoots and pick ups. Do it. It will save thousands in travel costs and endless stress in the edit.
Don’t give in to ‘lets do this tomorrow’ comments from crew or directors who haven’t seen the schedule. But if it is possible to do it tomorrow, be generous, they will love you. If it is tight, motivate them to get it down NOW. They all know they don’t want to chase things later – and they all are committed to make this the best project it can possibly be [if they are not committed, send them home].
If you have to schedule a shoot intermittently over several months, make sure to repeat the crew briefings and get your editor involved, so that everyone is across what has been achieved to date, how cool it already looks and what they need to do next. If possible, don’t show rushes or early stage assembly edits to anyone outside your key crew, they are likely to mistake it for the final product.
Plan for a wrap party, even if the budget is small. It can get very frustrating if the crew can’t celebrate what they have achieved.
Check the post production workflow section for details.
Work out with your editor when the different stages of edit are likely to start and finish [review, file management, assembly edit, rough cut, fine cut, picture lock off, music, sound mix, GFX, color grade, export].
When do your clients or partners need to see the work? If you are in fine cut, now is time to plan for client edit reviews, so that they can advise on avoidable factual errors or style choices, before the edit progresses to picture lock off.
Check credits, names, run them past your partners. Anything that will make the work for your editor easier.
Supervise all the other creatives and brief them on style and tonal changes.
If you need more time before final delivery, negotiate before you get too close to delivery or launch date.
How long will it take to export the media? Allow for an extra day to output. Hot hard drives can seize up, computers suddenly seem to become hostile to your input. Shit happens, plan for it.
Are there any unmovable dates outside your control, such as festival entry deadlines, funding acquittal reports?
But most of all – enjoy the process. Post production is the best time, as your work is now becoming visible and still malleable to tweak its story and direction.
Now you are ready to set your Distribution Schedule. And here the round trip ends - and starts again. Confirm broadcast and launch dates, get your PR kit ready, pilfer your treatment and pitch documents for an updated promo text.
Unleash your PR campaign. See how you can work this into new projects. How can you maximize exposure? What other deadlines are coming up for new work or exhibitions?