Let me start by disclosing that I am not a professional producer or do I claim to be a production company. I have worked with some amazing producers who have helped me in the past (Scout Utah, Lift Productions, 98 West Productions, Wendy Fisk), but as a photographer it’s sometimes not always feasible or the project doesn’t require a full producer, so that responsiblity falls on you (and your team if you have one), the photographer to work everything out. If you’ve ever worked with a good producer or on a larger shoot that was being produced for you, you know or you’ll quickly discover that a producer is worth every penny to help you stay focused on the job you’ve been hired to do…create the photo(s) to achieve the clients objective.
Recently I received a phone call from a good friend (Mike Lewis with mike2swim) and great photographer who needed help producing a shoot that he was hired for. The shoot was going to take place over 7 days, would involve 3 still photographers and 1 videographer for an international client who was shooting for their annual catalog.
The mere size of the shoot was a little daunting at first and I was being brought in with only a couple of weeks before the shoot, where I would have prefered a couple of months. But once I was able to review the preliminary schedule and start working through the logistics of the shoot, I started to feel like this was a shoot that I could produce and that all individuals were happy in the end. What I want to share, are the things that I learned and will help me in the future for when the next opportunities presents themselves.
PLAN – That’s what the producer is hired for and a good producer will take the time to plan accordingly for the three things that go into every shoot; the people, the places and the things. Places, make sure that locations are ready for your arrival. People, are where they need to be and know what their suppose to do. Items, are in place so they can be accessed easily to not take away from the shoot.
Years ago when serving in Denmark as a LDS missionary a companion of mine told me about the 7P’s and it’s stuck with me for the last 20 years.
7 P’s for Success: Proper Previous Planning Prevents Piss Poor Preformance (Production, in this case) – Military Adage
The more planning that can go into a shoot before it happen will allow you to adjust and make corrections and hopefully even enjoy the shoot when it’s happening.
On a commercial photo shoot its routine to have a “pre-pro” meeting or pre-production meeting the day before the shoot to make sure everything is ready. As the producer, if you’re not already ready the day before the shoot, than you’ve already failed.
Here’s a few things that go into the planning process: location permits, photo equipment, lighting equipment, travel, weather, safety concerns, emergency response, financial budgets, time management, insurance, personnel, model/talent, extras, food (crafty), coffee, call times, communication channels, stylists, light, props, schedules, call sheets, scouting, assistant’s, wardrobe, digital services, post-production, sleep and anything that’s needed to help achieve and create the photos/videos, which also means everything that isn’t planned will probably be needed….which leads me to my next topic.
ANTICIPATE! – Anticipating the need of the photographer(s) to keep the pace of the shoot going, can not be stressed enough. If the photographers can keep up with the task of taking the shots and all the pictures get taken, then the client will achieve their goal and at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that matters, happy clients. When the client is happy it supports the value of everything and everyone else who had a hand in achieving that goal. Although anticipation is part of planning, you need to be able to have the resources available to you on-set or near by to keep you focused and on the task at hand.
TROUBLE SHOOT – This is not anticipation, because troubleshooting happens unexpectedly, because as “trouble” happens during the shoot and things don’t go according to plan, even though you tried to cross your “t’s” and dot your “i’s” things still come up and don’t work out as expected. Your ability to quickly assess the situation and provide the solution is what can actually make a photo shoot and keep it from falling apart.
I’m not sharing this advice because this is something that I do perfectly, but these are the thoughts that are running through my mind as I’m producing my own shoots or for others.
A few real situations:
- location permit requests being turned down and you have no other options but that one location.
- trying to create a sunny summer day in the middle of the winter.
- finding specialty items (vintage automobiles) and having them shipped in from out-of-state for a two our shoot.
- working with little kids that hate being in front of the camera.
- accomplishing a 100 shot list in a 30 shot day.
- moving heavy equipment up flights of stairs or long distance by mere man power.
- Having 32 people on set when you were told and only planned for 18.
With this specific shoot in mind, the biggest thing I would do differently would be to get at least one PA (Production Assistant) if not two. A PA can help you produce so you don’t have to wear too many hats. I learned this the hard way because I was trying to produce the shoot, get the coffee ordered, take the lunch orders, be craft services on set, move equipment (heavy equipment), run DT and back up drives, photo assist, and be the rental house. I felt the weight of the shoot on my shoulders and I didn’t want to let anyone down, especially a good friend. Crew call time was at 7:00 AM so I was usually there by 6:00 AM at the latest and I had an hour drive each way, so I was usually up by 4:30 AM. Not the worst but when you wrap at the end of the day and you have to break everything down and load it out, you’re usually the last one to leave (first to arrive and last to leave). I had an hour drive back home, I had to unpack and repack for the next day, go shopping for craft services for the next day, send out call sheets. So I was in bed by midnight usually and averaging 4.5 – 5 hours of sleep. The first couple of days wasn’t bad but halfway through the shoot I started to crash it took and it took a toll on me.
I took on too much by myself and I should have trusted others and brought on an assistant / PA. I like to be hands on but delegating is an important trait to have when trying to produce, something I defiantly need to be better at. Although there was challenges along the way, I had a blast producing this shoot, working with a great friend, meeting some amazing new people. In the end, the client was happy, and that’s all that mattered!