Key lessons about project execution
Blog - Jul 15, 2019
I’ve participated in executing numerous projects. Some of them have been related to film and commercial video shooting, others to TV content production, or, by coincidence, to theatre production. This experience has been of immense help in building my relationship with the profession of a producer. However, what I consider to be of the greatest assistance was the course titled “Creative Strategies” at my faculty.
I remember the first lecture and a professor addressing the entire audience (all filmmakers, graphic designers, photographers…) and saying:
– Welcome to the real world of art! I have to disappoint you from the start by saying that your artistic talent is only a small part of this story. Above all, this industry is a constant battlefield, where only those with the best devised strategy function and prevail, so I would suggest you focus all your creativity on strategy design in this semester.
In that semester, we used all the available production-related literature, but, believe it or not, the most helpful source was the book written by an ancient Chinese general, Sun Tzu, titled “The Art of War” or “Sun Tzu’s Rules of War”.
Quoting below some excerpts and giving examples from my personal experience about why this particular piece of literature, if you can even call it that, was exceptionally useful for all of us. Naturally, I’ll analyse it here from the perspective of someone in the film industry, but I’m sure that my peers from other walks of art would agree with me, only using a slightly different terminology and their own examples. First of all, the battlefield in this paper is replaced by a period of project execution (from the initial phases of shooting preparations to post-production, and the enemy with a deadline).
The best problem-solver is the one who does it before they emerge. The first important lesson I learned was that, despite all precisely defined shooting plans, the most important thing is to take into account all possible situations that Murphy’s Law may apply to. It means making a plan B for all those situations that may go wrong (because there are lot of them and they often do go wrong): weather forecast (shooting plan – scenes EXT., shooting plan B- scenes ENT.), illness of crew members (always keep backup team members close), taking into account all technological difficulties that may emerge at the set (because they probably will), change of budget status (always keep in mind the most and the least expensive option of all elements required for a film)…etc. Sun Tzu then says: ”The one fighting for victory with bare swords is not a good general.“ (or, in this case, a producer).
To put it simply, when resolving potential problems, you need to have a good strategy prepared in advance, think outside of the box, be creative and improvise if a situation requires it. The next very important thing is a team of people engaged on the project. „A general (producer) is the protector of the state (team). If that protection is complete, the state will definitely be strong, if it is incomplete, the state will definitely be weak, and if instructions for protection are not clear, the problem is in an officer.“ In other words, well-planned shooting is the best protection against the battle with a deadline, a well-presented shooting plan (clear and concise) enables maximum efficiency of all team members.
Furthermore, as a producer, you need to know to work will all types of people (find common languages with everyone). People make up the state (creative team), so you need to invest efforts in understanding needs of all those people, take them into account, so that eventually all of you can do something creative and good. As mentioned, in the past eight years, I’ve had an opportunity to work with the most diverse people, some of whom are my best friends today, others only good colleagues, but I’ve really tried to have good relations with everyone.
The text goes on and says: “The one who knows to select the right person will progress. The one who does not know to do it will fail.“ For me, this lesson was one of the most relevant ones. As a producer, you always have to know who the “right person” for EVERYTHING is (who’s the best cameraman for the project, the most professional sound engineer for a location, writer for this particular story…). Even more importantly, we need to know whether we are the right person for the job and do our best to answer with “yes” for most projects.
„In the end, if we know the enemy but do not know ourselves, there are equal chances to win or lose, but if we know our enemy and ourselves, even if we wage a hundred battles (shootings), we will not be threatened.“
You also need to be familiar with all requirements of being a producer, all our strong advantages and our weak points. We should utilise all of them for our benefit, if possible. Work with resources we have. If we follow everything listed above, we also have to trust our team, let them do their job, and work on making everyone feel like a part of a bigger whole, because they are. A well structured team, where everyone knows their job and their strongest advantages, is powerful and successful, with no problems in handling any deadline. And finally, producers need to believe in themselves, do everything in their power in preparation phases, before the shooting begins, and hope for the best after everything, while not forgetting to take deep breaths.