When someone has mastered the skills necessary for excelling at their job, the only factor that then remains to determine their success or failure depends on the amount of personal energy that person is willing and able to invest. Those who have reached this step of their career ladder are well advised to think outside the box from time to time and should aim to set the bar of reference ever higher when it comes to measuring their own performance. The same applies when working in film and video. This article lists the 5 deadly sins every producer or production manager should keep in mind and avoid committing at all costs.
The job of a producer or production manager is a demanding one: One that promises all sorts of adventures and can in general only be achieved in adventurous ways and not without the odd hurdle or detour. Those who have worked their way up to a leading position in a film production and can confidently say that they are cut out for the job, are reminded of the joys of filmmaking on a daily basis.
If your job really is your vocation, you enjoy it and if – like in film itself – are driven in equal parts by fascination and the pressure to succeed, there’s a danger you might forget what’s most essential. The film, the “product” isn’t the only thing that’s essential here but also the people who contribute to the process of filmmaking. For any experienced producers this is stating the obvious and needs no further explanation.
However oftentimes producers and production managers – overwhelmed with the many responsibilities their job title implies – overlook the fact that when it comes to guiding and leading everyone on the team, they often neglect to focus on their own leadership skills. Not every producer or production manager likes to take a good look at themselves in the mirror. And unlike Snow White’s magic mirror that never lies, most mirrors that surround a producer or production manager can tell fairytales.
5 Deadly Sins for Producers and Production Managers
5 Deadly Sins? No more than 5? This article isn’t about what makes a bad film and the sins committed for the film to turn out that way (that number is too extensive to list in one single article) but about the producer and production manager as an individual, about power, self-confidence, self-awareness and ego. Bad films unfortunately are inevitable in the film industry. What can be avoided however are bad habits when it comes to our own aptitude. Those willing to change them, can do so.
Sin 1: Putting your own status before the end result
In film there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Producers and production managers have earned their position after arduously working their way up. If you’ve reached your career goal and your business card proudly displays the job title you’ve always longed for, you’re embarking on a new stage in life. Throughout the first years and projects you find your feet, you hone your abilities, establish your position and proceed with due caution. Then at some point routine takes over. That’s where it can get dangerous. It’s not without reason that one of the peril’s in the media industry (or in any other industry for that matter) is becoming “too big for your boots”. For a producer or production manager to enjoy long-term success they have to treat every new project as if it were their first. Because at the end of the day all that matters to the viewer or client is the end result the producer or production manager delivers and not the person, who made it all happen.
Sin 2: Putting your own popularity before your responsibilities
A taste of power can be enjoyable. It can however be addictive. Producers and production managers can grant favours here and there. And sometimes they should, considering that giving in or spending extra on unforeseen or overlooked elements is part of making a project a success and leads to a better film. However if this is done with your own popularity in mind and not the quality of the film, a producer or production manager clearly misunderstood what their job is about. Film projects originate in so-called socio-technical structures and clusters. „Socio“ stands for the social, human competence and in order for that to function it requires a (“technical”) infrastructure and guidelines. Responsible for this infrastructure here again is the producer or production manager. And the end of the day, you’re not doing anyone any favours if your film production has to be cancelled or fails due to a lack of responsibility and ends up being of no use to anyone involved as a reference for the next job.
Sin 3: Putting emotions before facts
Filmmaking is emotional. And to be able to work with emotion, you have to stand by what you feel and allow your feelings to show. But feelings can be tremendously misleading, especially when it comes to highly complex film and video productions, where project work, communications and art converge. In communication in film and video numbers and feelings most certainly don’t go hand in hand. They are more like two complete strangers who have to get to know and learn to appreciate one another. Bringing numbers and feeling in line is one of the most difficult tasks a producer or production manager faces. Whoever believes that in the fast-paced media world experience is all you need to secure your future, might end up not having a future at all.
Sin 4: Putting harmony before confrontation
Hot heads and aggressors generally struggle to work their way up in the film world. The same goes for someone with a “butter wouldn’t melt” demeanor. Most of us don’t like conflict. Confrontation is tiring and because conflicts often lead to change, they can even be painful or frightening. Most producers and production managers would agree. Nevertheless almost every film project or video situation comes with at least one confrontation. To avoid confrontation for the sake of keeping the peace is a mistake. Just as big a mistake is however – once a conflict has been resolved – to not make an effort to reestablish the peace.
Sin 5: Putting your own integrity before trust
Nobody’s perfect and everyone has feelings. Any producer or production manager who tries to come across as a faultless production machine, is making a huge mistake. It doesn’t matter which position you currently fill in the film world: everyone involved in a production, experiences things and processes that can be wrongful, annoying or painful. What makes you strong and trustworthy is being able to admit your mistakes and vulnerability.
Producers and production managers – and not only them – should leave their ego at the door at the very beginning of a project and should not try to be the centre of attention. The measure of collective intelligence of film crews and everyone involved, in the film world is above average. Someone who talks the talk, but can’t walk the walk and does a good job of pretending to be a producer or production manager, has their priorities and responsibilities all mixed up. He or she is clearly in the wrong place. It’s not without reason that it’s a given within the industry that a producer or production manager who is an overzealous people-pleaser will struggle to bring a proper film project to fruition.