Communications with Film and Video: What a producer won’t tell you

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Communications with Film and Video: What a producer won’t tell you
Communications with Film and Video: What a producer won’t tell you

In communications and in any business relationship what is said is important. Often what is written is even more important. But what ends up being really crucial is that which is left unsaid. And it can’t always be read between the lines. This article lists 10 things, a producer will rarely – or at least not willingly – communicate to his client.

Before a surgeon operates on his patient, he’s legally obliged to inform his subject of the potential risks. It’s different when it comes to film producers and video makers. The gap in knowledge here between those who provide and those who contract a service is in fact often times equally as vast as between a doctor and a patient. But when it comes to who says what to whom, when and how in film production, there are no set rules in the realm of the moving image.

And where there are no rules, we’re facing a similar situation, like with the question of determining how long a skirt should be. As for the skirt the limits are defined by two factors: decorum on one end and the floor on the other. In communications with film and video these delimiting factors are: the disposition of the person in charge, the desire or not to build a durable relationship with the client and last but not least experience. Twenty years of experience in the film business have taught me:

1. Projects can go haywire

Films and videos are projects and projects are often prototypes. Whether it’s during investigation, planning or eventual production: Projects can and do go wrong. There’s not only statistics to back this up, but it’s proven by films or videos that time and again are left misunderstood to wander the world like lifeless zombies.

Tip
Project competenceMake it clear that both achievements and failure have to be communicated openly. Failure, after all, teaches success.

2. Even great talents have their bad days

In North Korea news spread that Kim Jong-il does not have to answer to bowel movements like the rest of us. Apparently he invests and exerts so much energy into running his country that his body simply burns off all his bodily secretions, without having to excrete them. Those of us who don’t have the same privilege, well, we’re human. And as humans, we have good and bad days. Things don’t necessarily have to be as bad as they were for one of the directors I was working with on a corporate film in the U.S: who on the first day of shooting found out that his younger wife had left him for her Tantra teacher. The poor guy was of no use to anyone on set.

Tip
Being humanWhen hiring key crew members, ensure you have an equally qualified and experienced backup available, in case of such emergencies.

3. Not everything can be filmed and made into film

A filmic adaptation of an excel-sheet has its charms. None, to be precise. Certain content and facts should be dealt with in their natural habitat; on paper, online, in writing, in a graphic or a chart. Explanatory videos do serve a purpose, but they have their limits. In the same way some people are photogenically blessed look better on camera than off while some don’t belong in front of a camera at all: If a film or video doesn’t enhance the message its intended to convey, but instead weakens or distorts it, then moving image is the wrong answer.

Tip
CapabilitiesA film or video transports emotions or information. This is because we identify with people. You may be fond of numbers and charts, but you can’t love them.

4. Some costs are based on experience

The great Stanley Kubrick is famously quoted for saying: „If it can’t be written or explained, it should be portrayed in film. “ Those who know the wonders, moving image is capable of, will agree with that. But: Try explaining to the purchase department of a major company, that you intend to create a product, that in the end will surpass all other media and will do so because it comes together to a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Your contact in purchasing will be beside themselves; with joy or despair. Because rather than effect, he’s worried about the financial sum of all the parts. Understandably here the indescribable tends to trigger greater fear, than the cessation of a project or production, which can be delegated to the legal department.

Tip
ExperienceExperience not only has a cost, but also great value. Stating and communicating your doubts openly benefits the quality of the work and the clients trust in you.

5. Some clients aren’t ready for communications with film and video

In my younger years in beautiful Berlin, I worked as an executive producer on an image film. On the second day of shooting, we were flatly refused entry to the client’s location. The famed and talented director and his crew were left standing on Alexander Platz out in the freezing cold, while I desperately tried to get a hold of the bosses at Condor Films in Zurich. After hours of waiting around, we decided to take off, irritated. The next day after several crisis meetings, it turned out, that management and the board of directors were in disagreement about the conceptual direction the film was taking. The fact that client and producers have to be on the same wavelength is no news. All internal power struggles do, is affect the quality of the film. In such cases it’s best to just sit back and wait until everyone’s done licking their wounds.

Tip
Congruent goalsNo effective film results from damage control, nor on a “Work-to-rule“ basis. Conflicts should be dealt with in advance.

6. A film by itself is only a film

The most beautiful film and the best video is nothing, if they’re not seen by anyone. Without a distribution strategy any video will struggle to find its audience. And without an audience a film’s message or effect has no outlet. Be it on a small or large budget: no film deserves not to face its public. And no! YouTube isn’t a synonym for film marketing. Virals – videos that become a great success on their own – are as rare as Hollywood stars: for every one of them, there’s a hundred thousand failed attempts at making the impossible possible.

Tip
MarketingTake precautions early on, for image films and product films too.

7. Creation isn’t what you’d expect

Those who know exactly what they want, don’t need creative heads. They need mathematicians, who can deduct the numbers of their formula in their own briefing. The creative process has to put it all in a nutshell and deliver the necessary answers. But please in an original, unexpected manner. Creatively, so to speak. Simply meeting expectations – and not surpassing them – doesn’t win you an Oscar.

Tip
CreationTrust isn’t everything, but without it you have nothing. That applies film and communication too.

8. Film’s half-life is becoming increasingly shorter

The more media is out there, the more media we consume and the shorter our memory span becomes, which is counterproductive when watching films. Big film projects are great and a huge privilege. But where before the market life span of an image film – depending on which branch – was about 5 to 12 years, today has shrunk to 5 to 12 months. The pressure to innovate drives competitors to set the bar increasingly higher within ever-shorter timeframes. Therefore you’re better off placing your bet on a series of smaller film units on social media, than a large-screen production.

Tip
DurabilityFilms can last for eternity. In cinema that is. When it comes to budgeting for a corporate film: Targeted effect and frequency = success.

9. Benchmarks are damn high

When we hear film, we think of HBO, Netflix and the silver screen. That is where today’s storytelling parameters are set and continually raised, on a visual, cultural as well as content level. For a VJ, who has to deliver the same performance as a one-man-show, keep in mind: a film is a film and a video is a video; it’s an almost impossible. That’s why I repeat here: there are films that are better left unmade. Mind you, that is reassuring, even in Hollywood.

Tip
ExpectationsHas to be clarified not only with the client, but also the audience in mind.

10. Content is king

(Sensitive souls with an adversity to strong language please skip this point) A teacher and mentor who perhaps was most influential to me when it comes to moving image, used to repeat – for my naïve self at the time surprisingly often : “You can’t bake a cake with shit.” I think that suffices to make my point.

Tip
StorytellingStorytelling is made up of three words: Story, telling and talent (the elusive white rabbit in Alice in wonderland)

… and what you can learn from it

When you reach a certain age or workload you realize as a producer, it’s easier to tell your client the truth. Simply because at the end of a busy workday, you sometimes don’t remember whom you told or didn’t tell, what.

© filmpuls, translated by Nina Kaelin

Über Kristian Widmer 27 Artikel

Kristian Widmer (49) is Executive Producer and CEO of Condor Films Ltd. He has been advising customers on film and video for 23 years.

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