Monday, April 1, 2013

What's Expected of a Student Producer

Continuing from last week's "What's Expected of a Student Director," let's turn our attention to the person who makes the director's job possible - the producer. Producing can be a thankless job, one that many people - even people in the industry, sometimes - don't quite understand.

So what, exactly, is the job all about?

1. Breaking It Down. Producers thrive on "breakdowns." The Script Breakdown is a master list of every scene in the script and every character, prop, set, vehicle, etc. that will be required to film those scenes. The Casting Breakdown is the list of the characters in the film and the brief descriptions of the types of actors you want to read for those roles. The "Day out of Days" is another type of breakdown, used for scheduling actors ("Actor X is on set for 3 days out of a total of 10 days of filming," for example.)

2. Doing Paperwork. The paperwork doesn't end with the breakdowns. If you're using Screen Actors Guild actors, you need to file paperwork with the Guild 6 weeks before you start production. Once SAG approves your production, you sign more paperwork and become "SAG signatory," meaning you've now entered into a contract with the Guild. And that spawns more paperwork - actor contracts, time sheets, final production reports.

3. Wrangling Locations. If you want to shoot off-campus, you need to help your director find the locations that will work for the film. Then it's your job to get them to agree to let you film there. If it's a public location, you'll have to work with the local film office to get a permit (more paperwork). And a public or commercial location will most likely expect the production to have insurance - which UAT can provide after you do (you guessed it) more paperwork.

4. Scheduling. Your actors - SAG or otherwise - probably have day jobs. Your crew members have other classes, homework, part time jobs, social lives. Your locations have restrictions on when you can film there. Equipment gets reserved for other productions. Juggling all these factors to find the best times to get everyone and everything on set at the right times can be a full-time job unto itself.

5. Issuing Call Sheets. 12 to 24 hours before filming begins, it's your job to send out a call sheet to all cast and crew that includes the location address, call times for everyone to arrive on set, contact info for you and other key personnel, even the address of the nearest hospital in case someone is hurt on set. And as each shoot day wraps up, it's your job to issue the next day's call sheet.

6. Sticking to "12 On, 12 Off." Shoot days can be LONG. On student and indie projects they can get out of hand and go 16 hours or more. It's your job as producer to stick to a policy of no more than 12 hours of work on any one day, and no less than 12 hours off between wrap time on one day and call time on the next. Sometimes your director will work against you on this, going longer than planned. It's your job to encourage the director to wrap, or it's on you to revise your call time for the next day lest you incur the ire of your crew.

6. Feeding the Team. Like an army, a film crew moves on its stomach. A well-stocked craft services table, a constant flow of water, sports drinks, and coffee, bagels in the morning, and a hearty lunch halfway through the day will keep things running smoothly. And if you're working with SAG, remember to feed your actors at the 6 hour mark or risk violating your contract!

7. Preparing "Sides." Every day on set you need to provide the day's script pages - a.k.a. "sides" - to all department heads. These sides need to be half the normal size of script pages (i.e., two pages side by side on an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper) and must only include the materials being shot today (meaning anything else gets blacked out with Sharpie). This is a daily task that on a bigger production would fall to a Production Coordinator or an Office PA, but since this is a student film - you're it.

8. Missing All the Action. You're going to be so busy making sure the next shoot day will go off without a hitch, that you're probably not going to be on set much, if at all. If you thrive on the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, then the producer gig isn't for you.

9. Getting Very Little Credit. Once the film is done, everyone is going to talk to the director, congratulate the director, praise the director, and credit the director for everything that went right in the film. No one in the general audience even comprehends everything you did to make the film possible, so try not to take it personally if they overlook you.

10. Realizing That You Are Now a Professional. In spite of all that, try and remember that there's a reason why it's the producer who gets the "Best Picture" Oscar at the Academy Awards - because without the producer, there is no movie. And now that you've been through this experience, you're ready for just about anything the industry is going to throw at you!

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