Film production for beginners: four skills to master

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One of the most common questions we get is how to get started as a film producer. There are lots of ways to get your foot in the door, from interning to self funding a film. Today we aren’t talking about how to get opportunities, however; we’re talking about the most basic skills you’ll need as a producer. Let’s dive into film production for beginners and talk about everything you need to know.

Organizational skills

Being a producer is a really big job, and there are a LOT of moving pieces. One thing you’ll need to work on is on your organizational skills. For a moment, let’s think about a pre production task, like locking in a location. First, you have to identify possible locations. This is a complicated process where you need to think about absolutely all your wants and needs for a space. Then, you have to contact viable options until someone agrees to let you film there. This can mean a lot of phone calls, a lot of emails, a lot of driving around town, and a lot of waiting for responses. Then you need to get them to sign a location release, which is often easier said than done. Leading up to the shoot, you need to stay in touch with the location to make sure they are still available, and you need to make sure that everyone has all the correct information about the location prior to the shoot.

Maybe you’re a type A, inbox zero, spreadsheet loving person. In that case, you’re well suited to being a producer, because as you can see, this singular task has a lot to think through, juggle, and puzzle out. At every step of the process, you’ll need solid documentation so that you don’t lose track of anything. 

If these things don’t come to you naturally, you can work to cultivate them. Spend some time figuring out what organizational systems work well for you. I write everything down in a master Google Doc, work to stay at inbox zero, and work off of a digital checklist each day, while other people find that a paper planner works better for them. Some people set alarms on their phones to help them stay on track, while others find that disruptive. 

One thing our CEO and executive producer, Raven Whisnant says makes a good producer is someone who is always asking what they’re missing. Sometimes the answer is that you’re not missing anything and you have everything you need, but more often than not something has slipped through the cracks. One challenge of production work is that you’re constantly having to look at both the big picture and the fine details. This is only possible if you have excellent organizational skills, so if you want to be a producer, this is something you should cultivate.

Flexibility, creativity, and problem solving

During every stage of film production, there are going to be problems that require flexibility and problem solving. When something comes up–like a location dropping at the last minute, running behind schedule, or even just a necessary shot that isn’t working out–there’s no time to panic. It’s a producer’s job to stay calm and tackle the problem head on. You will need to think outside the box, keep a level head, and approach the issue creatively. 

Remember, both on and off set, people are looking to the producers to set the tone. If you panic, everyone will panic. If you’re tense, the whole set will feel tense. When you model calm, creativity, and flexibility to your crew, they will match your energy and follow suit. Even if you’re a new producer, you can master this skill.

It can be difficult to hone your problem solving skills, because you never know what’s going to happen when you’re on set. One way beginners can work on this is trying to go into “producer mode” next time something goes wrong at work or in your everyday life. Work on the skills of separating your emotion from the problem at hand, stay calm, and try to think of possible solutions to the problem, even if it means changing your plan entirely.

Patience and stamina

Film is a lot of hurry up and wait. You’ll feel like you have the longest to-do list in the world, but there will be times when you can’t move forward because you’re waiting for someone to return your call or sign their contract. There will be days when you’re at your computer constantly, just waiting to receive emails. On set, there will be moments when you have to act lightning fast, and then others where you have to sit quietly and watch as the director asks for take after take of a scene. In post, you’ll have to wait for your team to bring everything together, but you’ll also have to keep things moving. It’s a hard balancing act!

That’s why you need both patience and stamina. Patience, for the moments where all you can do is wait. Stamina, for the late nights and long days. A great producer should master both.

People skills

The final thing I want to say about film production for beginners is that producers need people skills. Film is an extremely collaborative art form. As a producer, you may be responsible for hiring your team. To make your movie great, you need to find people who are nice, work hard, and are good at what they do. You really can’t sacrifice any of those qualities, or you end up with someone who’s good at their job but yells all the time, or a super talented artist who never wants to help out.

You’ll also have to manage people once you’ve hired them, which can be challenging. You need to be able to provide firm but kind directions, make your expectations clear, and have difficult conversations when things go wrong or when someone isn’t meeting expectations. Once again, this is an example of producers setting the tone. If you’re kind, direct, and clear, you are modeling healthy communication for your cast and crew. Producers who can’t have difficult conversations are liable to accidentally create unsafe conditions on set, not to mention make the movie worse. For example, if you have an actor who is uncomfortable with something, and you don’t support them, then they aren’t going to give their best performance, or someone could even get hurt. If you can’t be direct with people who aren’t doing their job to your standards, the movie will suffer. If someone on set is making other people uncomfortable and you don’t deal with it, then you are helping to create a toxic work environment for other people.

These are my four vital skills you should master if you’re interested in film production for beginners. If you’re a veteran producer, what tips do you have for beginners? Drop us a line and let us know what you’d recommend! Want more tips for beginning film producers and veterans alike? Check out our ebook, The Mindful Maker, which unpacks our philosophy of gentle, ethical filmmaking and walks you through how to run a fun, productive, and safe film set.

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Author

Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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