Key lessons about producing

Blog - Jul 02, 2019

I have been a part of a lot of projects. Some of them were films and YouTube commercial videos, some television projects, and some were related to production in theatre. All of these experiences have helped me build a rapport and an attitude towards my profession, but what helped me in that building the most was a module in my university known as ‘creative strategies’. During our first class the professor addressed the auditorium: ‘Welcome to the real world of art! I must disappoint you here and now and tell you that your talent is but a fraction of the whole story. This industry is, first and foremost, a perpetual battlefield in which only the ones with the best thought-out strategies survive. This is why I would heartily advise you to dedicate your creativity to excogitating a good strategy during this semester.’

We’ve used different books to aid us in this, but oddly enough the most helpful one was a book written by an ancient Chinese military general Sun Tzu, titled ‘Art of War’ or ‘Sun Tzu’s Military Strategy’. Thus, I will in this essay quote certain sentences from the book and supply examples from my own experience in order to explain why this literature has been extremely helpful in our endeavours. I will, of course, analyze this book from the stand point of a film industry worker, but I am certain that people working with other art forms as well, would agree with me on this, albeit using different terms and their own experiences. In this text the battlefield is presented by the ‘realisation period’ of a certain project ( from preproduction to postproduction stages), and the enemy is, well, the ‘deadline’.

‘Problems are best resolved if one intercepts them.‘ The first lesson I learned was that, in addition to careful and painstaking planning, one should take into consideration all the possible aspects of Murphy’s Law. This means fashioning a plan B for all possibly erroneous aspects, such as: the weather (having alternative filming locations), illness of a cast member (hiring an understudy), possible technological difficulties in the field (which are almost always present), budget cuts (planning both the most expensive and the cheapest budget plan that encompasses all of the necessities), etc.

Sun Tzu then says: ‘One who bares steel to fight is a bad general.‘ (or, in this case, producer). Plainly speaking, when confronted with a problem, one should think of new and creative ways to resolve it and always be open for improvisation if the situation demands it. Know how to think outside of the box.

Another very important part of filming is the team itself. ‘The general (producer) is the protector of a state (his team). If that protection is absolute, the state is strong, if it is not, the state is weak, and if the directions are incoherent, the problem is in the officer.‘ A carefully planned, coherent and precise schedule is what allows all the team members to function most efficiently and is an ally in the fight with the ‘deadline’. A producer should also know how to communicate and collaborate with different kinds of people. Since people are what makes a state (creative team), a producer should do his/her best to understand each of the members individually and take care of all of their needs in order for them to produce something creative and well together.

The last eight years I have worked with a lot of different people, some of whom I have befriended, some have remained good colleagues of mine, but I have done my best to always be on the best of terms with all of them. Sun Tzu writes: ‘He who knows to pick the right person for the army shall prosper. He who does not shall fail’. I personally consider this lesson to be the most important one. As a producer, one should always know who the ‘right’ person for the specific job: the right director of photography in which set, the best storywriter for which story… What is even more important than this is whether WE are the best person for our job and we should do our best for the answer to that question to be ‘yes’ in as many cases possible.

‘In the end, if we know our enemy well and not know ourselves at all, we have equal chances of victory and defeat, but if we know both our enemy and ourselves, no matter how many battles we weather, we will prevail.’ One should know all the demands of a producer’s profession, all of one’s strengths and weaknesses. One should use both to one’s advantage, if possible, and make do with what one has got. We should also trust our team, let them do their part of the work and make each and every member of the team feel as an important part of the whole project, because they truly are. A well structured team aware of each of its member’s strengths and weaknesses is a strong and successful team able to cope with every deadline. Finally, a producer should trust that he/she did his/her best before and during the filming and he/she should hope for the best, remembering to breathe deeply.


Katarina Milanović

Video Producer (Represent Communications, Srbija)

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