Production Tips: Do I Need a Producer?

March 24th, 2017
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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March 26th, 2017

This article could be better organized, and it’s riddled with typos and grammatical errors, I couldn’t read through this article with so many disjointed thoughts, and I’m not sure who its intended audience is… And the title is misleading since I’m not sure if it’s giving me tips on what a producer can do for me or if it’s giving me tips on how to produce my own shoots also as a DOP.

In the content itself, which of these questions are you expecting to be sent discussed with the client and which are for a producer to discuss with their subcontractors? It doesn’t flow well is what I’m saying. Anyway, good luck with the rewrite :)

March 27th, 2017
Reply to  Derek Hakkim

I couldn’t disagree more, Derek.

First off, what typos, what grammatical errors? Every post is proofread. And even if there are still one or two errors, why does this matter so much?

Why are you assuming that only DoPs are our intended audience? This is what’s reflected through your notion that the title is misleading. Feel free to publish a “counter piece” to reflect your own thoughts and then we’re happy to discuss the differences.

March 27th, 2017
Reply to  Nino Leitner

okay, i’ll bite.

first header:

– What To Ask Yourself Before Taking Accepting a Job <– Taking Accepting?

– Take out more than enough time to find out what your client wants to get done – the Full Monty, everything. <– Full Monty is capitalized, are you referring to the movie title or the idiom?

– Check if they are already working with a local service producer. If so, great! Go ahead and do your job. If not: <– The bullets below are not sub-bullets, closing the thought and poorly organizing the information provided.

– 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. <– 'in prep', what is in prep? That needs to be clarified since it is not common terminology used in industry. Also this is also a ridiculously long run-on sentence. Break it up into smaller sentences.

– 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. <– This ultimately reads as "find out if there's anything you don't know about because you might have to do it". This is erroneous, and how does one plan for this? Can bullet can be removed.


So not to knock the article too much, there is great info here, it just needs to be better organized :) … And yeah, I'm more than willing to write guest articles for Cinema 5D as well :)

Goran Stepic
March 25th, 2017

Yes, the same story as do I need a project manager…

 Mike Pardo
Mike Pardo
March 24th, 2017

Its better to have a godfather that a producer. If you don’t believe it just look to the Sony FS7 II competition.

 Mike Pardo
Mike Pardo
March 24th, 2017

I agree completely with your post. A producer is a must have, no doubt about it. And you have explained it in a very easy way to understand. I have participated in many productions and when you have a bad producer its like having an enemy at your side. What i intended to say with my previous comentary is that producer or no producer is irrelevant when your product never had the oportunity to thrive. We live in a world where unfortunately that’s more common that we thought. Anyway great post and best regards.

 Mike Pardo
Mike Pardo
March 24th, 2017

I was talking about paid comercial production. I know its dificult to understand but i will try. In Spain most if not all movie productions are subsidized by the goverment by the ministry of culture department ICAA. Spain produces arround 100 films and domentaries a year (paid, not competitions or festivals) Only a handfull of these are distribuited to the cinemas. Arround 80% of the films shot are never seen by anyone and were made with that intention Because everybody got paid by the subsidized money. You dont know if the producer you are working with want to release the movie or just get paid by the goverment, pay to the cast and crew with part of that money and keep the rest. This is why is frustrating when you see and injustice. Competition or paid gig. And its even worst when you see that the same people (those with friends in the ICAA) get their projects aproved. Of course not all productions and producers are the same, some try to do their best. This is why i said a good producer is a must have. I have worked in many paid productions that have never been released and never where ment to. But you have to work.

 Mike Pardo
Mike Pardo
March 24th, 2017

I was just giving and opinion from someone with years of work and field experience. But i get that it does not interested you. I apologize and i will no longer comment. Sorry again.

Katharina Lichtenberg
March 24th, 2017

So, und gleich noch mein erstes blogpost auf cinema5D hinterher!

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