As producer of such a low-budget film, I was also essentially the production manager. I saw my responsibilities throughout the process as similar to that of a project manager; one whom has control over every element, from initial conception to final delivery. The keywords being production, control and co-ordination.
The responsibilities of managing a business in its infancy and managing a feature production were both tasks that were new to me. There were issues of trust and delegating tasks, which caused problems for the production later on. Thinking I could take on so many tasks myself, and underestimating the time and resources I would need to commit to my role as producer, particularly the financing was quite naïve, particularly as this was my debut feature in any of the roles I assigned myself.
The list of roles I could credit myself for on this production is long, and in hindsight I would have been better served spending more time in early pre-production trying to recruit a production manager and a location manager, than trying to do it all myself to save time and money. These were two of the key roles I took it upon myself to fill. The reasons for this were partly because there was a struggle to find suitable people who would work on the deal terms we had and partly due to my own issues with trusting someone to do the job correctly. In some respects I believe I handled the tasks well, and am grateful to have had such a broad learning experience, particularly as a production manager and a producer. If I had recruited a production manager, as a producer on set I perhaps would have felt more detached.
When working as production manager and producer, it is essential that you have a team whom you can trust and rely upon. When leading a small team such as a low-budget film crew, who are pretty much working for you for free, it can be difficult to ensure they give their best. Particularly in terms of finance, when nothing is at stake to them, they can find themselves detached from the importance of the film’s budget and schedule. In John Sweeney’s book ‘Successful Business Models for Filmmakers’ he suggests a free-flow model of communication with your crew. The model, whereby project issues can be discussed freely with all members of the crew on all levels, can give a sense of collaboration and equal value to all crew members, thus encouraging them to want to perform at their best. The error I believe I made in this respect was perhaps being too ‘free-flowing’ with information. When creating a more casual atmosphere, whilst it can prove more productive and positive, I also found I had to be more wary of individuals taking liberties, or making assumptions. Creating an atmosphere where people want to do their jobs rather than feel they have to, is paramount on this kind of project and in the most part this is very much the way it went.
Essentially, money was always going to be the key issue, because with money it is possible to buy more time. However, we were working within a time frame and the dates we had set for production were spurring the pre-production process. Without a fixed timeframe to shoot, we may well still be in pre-production today. The issue with time was specifically related to the amount of days we could afford in the primary location. We were aware, after a breakdown had been done, that with the three weeks we had there, we would be working to an almost impossible schedule. From this experience I have learnt that getting the schedule right in pre-production is essential. With the rush we had, the first assistant director was forced to do the best he could in creating a suitable schedule, obeying my instructions to prioritise bunching together actor’s days to minimise travel and accommodation costs, and secondly bunch together locations. With the schedule never properly being finalised it was forever creating problems and repeatedly changing. A twelve-hour exterior night shoot in July, for example. Another issue was the scheduling of unnecessary shots which could be done as a pick up or when more time was available. Industry practice suggests you keep aside some shots you could complete the shoot without, and pick them up later if you have time. For example, two hours were spent shooting a two-second close up of an actor’s hand switching on a light. Unsurprisingly a more crucial climactic stunt sequence scheduled afterwards did not get finished in time. I could say my reluctance to entrust important roles and tasks such as this, to others, is justified here, as the mistakes that were made are blatant. However, by assigning me the responsibility of production manager, it should have been my responsibility to check the schedule more thoroughly during pre-production, instead of only learning about these mistakes after they had happened. A weaknesses of my abilities as a production manager, it seems, is that of complacency. Without insisting on the final say I allowed important decisions to be made in my absence. In hindsight, as production manager I would have had more involvement with the scheduling.
I was stretched so much because of our limited development and pre-production time; by the time we were shooting I was still playing development producer and financing producer. But often as a producer on a micro-budget shoot like this, assigning yourself the role as production manager is a necessity. However, don’t underestimate the amount of work this is.
– Industry article on ‘The Day in the life of a Production Manager’