Production Tips: Do I Need a Producer?

Production Tips: Do I Need a Producer?

More often than not, it’s difficult for potential clients to understand that there’s a lot more to do in each location aside from just getting the gear and crew and start shooting. Read on for this post from Katharina Lichtenberg, a line producer with over 15 years of experience.


Let’s take a look at the very important role of the line producer

“Can you also arrange XYZ for us?” … Sound familiar?

After more than 15 years of experience in the field as a line producer, I’ve developed a couple of tools to make sure I totally understand what I am getting myself into every time I accept a project. One of my methods – especially for small, short-term requests – is to go through an internal set of questions I ask myself, and a series of steps to take.

What To Ask Yourself Before Accepting a Job

  • Take out more than enough time to find out what your client wants to get done – the Full Monty, everything.
  • Check if they are already working with a local service producer. If so, great! Go ahead and do your job. If not:
  • After discussing the tasks regarding your own department, ask specifically how far along your client is in prep, and if there are any open questions regarding locations and logistics, even if they didn’t include this in your job description.
  • Find out if all the issues are already being taken care of in order to gauge if some additional tasks might ultimately end up on your table.
  • Estimate as good as you can if you need to work outside your department, and how much time to allocate to that.
  • Check your timeline: how tight are your bookings, can you even make time for these additional efforts?
  • Check with your client regarding charges for extra work, and make them aware of all additional costs.
  • Offer a solution: take it upon you to complete the missing tasks or suggest a line producer or service producer to your client to get it done.

Of course, this process is restricted to one single, isolated project. If you are planning on sticking around, then also:

  • Reach out to your local media community as well as the community of where your shoot is going to be.
  • Introduce yourself.
  • Get in touch with media professionals who not only work in your field but also in neighbouring professions.
  • Specifically look for a good production person you trust.
  • Develop these relationships over the years.
  • Be patient. No great team has ever just fallen from the sky onto your lap.

While working on a specific prep, the following considerations may also help you:

  • Be clear about what and who you need. If you are not clear about what or who you need, engage in discussions and interactions to find out what those things are.
  • The more specifically you know who and what kind of qualifications you’re looking for to complement your own work, the better.

A Scenario

Your position: DoP, or any other position except producer.
Shoot: 3 days in your base area, with no travel days and no travel time. 10-hour days. Mainly exterior shoots. Prep time: 0,5 day, typically not charged for. Wrap: 0,5 day, typically not charged for.
Equipment: Taken care of by you (own equipment or rental) and charged to client. Enquiry comes in 10 days before the first shooting day.

After finding out what is required of the DoP, asking the set of questions we established above gives us a better picture of the whole venture:

  • There is no local service producer involved (yet).
  • Open tasks in the production department: 1 location still needs to be found, and one driver + van are required for 5 days (pickup – shoot – return).
  • Open tasks in the sound department: 1 sound recordist + equipment are required for 3 days.

Estimating the time for completing the above

Location scouting:

Easy public EXT location; scouting, sending pictures and drawing the permit. Only 1 option is presented. Please keep in mind that if you need to present more than one option, you will most likely need more than a day to find a shooting location, unless you’re already drawing from an archive. Take application periods into consideration and communicate them! The field of location scouting and management within the context of line production is huge. Make sure you check out every aspect of the shooting requirements before settling on a place to shoot. If there is only enough time to make one suggestion, it has got to work out. Estimate: 1 day.

Finding a driver and booking a car:

Unless you already know someone personally, this might be the time to look for a producer or production company instead. You don’t want to get just anyone as a driver, but you should also be comfortable with the person and be certain that they know what they’re doing. They must also come with the appropriate language skills and a knowledge of the area where you will be moving around in order to make everyone on the team feel comfortable and safe. Booking a car is not a very demanding task, but getting the price and rental conditions right can become a bit nerve-wrecking, especially on short notice. Estimate: 0,5 day.

Finding and booking a sound recordist:

The same goes for the sound recordist: unless you already know a reliable person to do the job, this is the time to go to a producer. Remember, you are always responsible for the crew you bring with you. If they can’t deliver, then you can’t either. Depending on your pre-existing network, estimate: 0,5 day.

Total extra time required: at least 2 days (depending on the exact circumstances).

Further Considerations

Time management:

  • Can you do these extra tasks, and do you want to make time to take care of them?
  • Is the schedule still compatible with your other obligations?

A lack of time for the actual prep in your own field may not only affect this particular shoot, but also lead to you losing out on more shoots where your contributions in your core field(s) are appreciated.

Money management:

  • Is there actually more money in it for you?
  • Consider the additional risk you are taking on. Is it worth it?
  • You may need to pre-finance other parts of the production other than your fees. Can you afford this? Think “cashflow” and “financing costs”.

Consider that if you’re charging an international client, you may need to prosecute the company for example in the US. If you take a step back and go through a local production company, you have a better position in terms of payment in case anything goes wrong.

Especially when you’re new to the industry and in the process of finding your place, you might want to have an experienced professional handle money matters. They can accurately estimate a realistic budget range and communicate with the client on an even level. Sometimes this also means that certain shoots will not happen, usually for the benefit of everyone involved.

Qualifications and experience:

  • Will the quality of your work in your core field suffer?
  • What will you potentially sacrifice?
  • What will you potentially gain?
  • Are you ready for this?

A long read, I know. But this thought process is actually what you need to go through consciously or subconsciously every time you take a decision between accepting or passing on a project. Make it a routine to go through all the aspects before taking the next steps.

I hope you enjoyed reading this rather lengthy post and you got something out of it. Let me know your thoughts – I’m happy to discuss different points of view!


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