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Ben Yennie: 5 Unorthodox [but neccessary] Producing Skills


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In almost all things related to filmmaking, the buck ultimately stops with the producers.  Since they control the purse strings, they hold much of the fate of the films in their hand.  The number one job of any producer is to ensure the shoot goes smoothly.  Doing that well requires a whole lot more than simply scheduling and budgeting.   Here are skills necessary to being a producer that aren’t the first ones that come to your head.  

1. Being able to be a therapist.

Filmmaking is an exhausting process that takes it’s toll physically, mentally, and emotionally.  It’s a process that involves more people than you would expect and even more moving parts.   The job is extremely stressful, exhausting, and mind-numbingly time consuming.  People outside the industry have trouble understanding, so personal and familial relationships can suffer from overwork.  Given the number one job of a producer is to keep everything running smoothly, sometimes we have to play therapist to help people deal with the stress. 

Having a beer with your crew or being a supportive ear can help make sure everything gets done on time and better than it needs to be. 

2. Being able to improvise

I’m not sure if you’re aware but sometimes things go wrong on set. Sometimes things get behind schedule.   Sometimes people [actors] and things don’t show up or are late.  Shocking I know! 

But you’re the producer, and the buck stops with you.  You’ve still got to get the shot in the can, so you may have to improvise.   Maybe the catering somehow ended up not confirming and you have no lunch.  You’ve got to feed a hungry crew in the next hour.   How do you solve the problem without busting the budget?  

Well, if you’re a smart producer, you could go on Post mates or Task Rabbit and hire someone to go to the local supermarket and buy about 8 American Subs, a bunch of paper plates and cutlery, mayo, mustard, and potato salad [not the Kickstarter kind.]  You’re out about a 120 bucks once you pay the TaskRabbit, and you’ve fed your crew.

3. Being able to bullshit.

Not everyone draws a distinction, but there is a relatively profound difference between lying and bullshitting.  Lying is making up facts, or grossly misrepresenting them.  Bullshitting is exaggerating certain facets of a story in order to improve the narrative you’re looking to convey.  The fish growing every time you tell the obscenely cliche fish story is bullshitting.    A studio exec telling you you’ll get rich solely on net points is a lie.  

It’s almost never okay to lie in any industry.   Bullshit is not only acceptable within reason, it’s sometimes necessary to get the job done.  

 

 
Don’t you worry about how behind schedule we are, let me worry about fixing it.   Ah, those low numbers on opening weekend are nothing!  Nothing I say!   Hey, did you see how great these hats are!  They’re awesome, here have one.   Sometimes you have to underplay problems in order to give yourself time to fix them.   Other times, you have to slightly exaggerate your successes to keep morale up and make sure the project gets done.

That said, it shouldn’t be something you rely on too much.   You should just focus on being number 5.  This next one though, this one you should be all the damn time.

4. Being a Schmoozey bastard.

A friend and colleague of mine, former ICM agent Jim Jermanok has said that schmoozing is one of the most important skills that will differentiate between Hollywood successes and failures.  The biggest successes in Hollywood are fantastic schmoozers.

You’ve got to know exactly how friendly to be, and how much you can maximize the time you have with powerful people.   You’ve got to get them to like you in a very short amount of time.  Hopefully, you had some hats printed for your movie.   If not, try this example.

Say you’ve rented a house for a day, but you’re behind schedule, and today is the only day you have Jackie Chan.  The homeowner comes home and is getting antsy.  Time for those schmoozy skills to go to work. 

You have a PA grab the Petty cash, then you pull out a Fifty.  Then you tell the homeowner “Look, I’m so sorry that this is taking so long.  Why don’t you take your beautiful wife over there out for a movie?  It’ll be way more interesting than watching us shoot this one.  We’ll be wrapped up by the time you get back.”   You begin to walk them towards the door, and then you hear the 2nd AC Say “Scene 2A, Shot 8, Take 12!” You grab another fifty and say, “Dinner’s on us too,” then close their door behind them.

Your schmoozing just saved the shoot.

5. Being a Goddamn Logistical Magician

As we said, there’s more to being a film producer than simply scheduling and budgeting.  You’ve got to do everything above, but also tediously enter data into call sheets, port data between schedules and budgets, make sure everyone knows where they need to be and when, export payroll reports, verify releases of all kinds, and you had damn well better not forget the crafty.   Seriously, Don’t forget the crafty.  

Let's not forget, as your career grows you need to track your inventory of props, wardrobe, and equipment, track your contacts, and so many documents it’s no longer funny.   Then you’ve got to find work, and make sure you have clients, and that the exec always knows just enough to not be a problem, but not so much that they’re an even bigger problem.  Honestly, It’s kinda draining.  

It’s no wonder that this job causes people to need therapy.  Good thing we’ve made ProductionNext to make it easier. 

ProductionNext can make everything we listed above about 10x easier.  And right now, it’s free.   So go on, Try it out, what have you got to lose?