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Rules of thumb for new Producers/Editors

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Timothy J. Allen
Rules of thumb for new Producers/Editors
on Jul 20, 2009 at 8:01:35 pm

We have a few interns in our office this summer and I've been passing along a few "rules of thumb" that I hope will help them as they start their career. Some our tongue-in-cheek, but they all could help when the day comes.

Today's tip was "Never label a video file or tape with the word "Final" - it pretty much guarantees that you will have to do another revision.

Yesterday's was "Don't ever go out drinking with co-workers - unless you or your spouse are the designated driver."

Any other practical and immediately useful tips for these guys?

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Stephen Smith
Re: Rules of thumb for new Producers/Editors
on Jul 20, 2009 at 8:36:22 pm

I would say, "Save early and Save often."

Stephen Smith
Lone Peak Productions

Check out the TV Show Open I did.

Check out my DVD Money Making Graphics & Effects for Final Cut Studio 2

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Bruce Lambert
Re: Rules of thumb for new Producers/Editors
on Jul 20, 2009 at 8:45:07 pm

Always have an up-to-date demo reel. You never know when management will decide to "move in a different direction" and your not on the map.

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Mark Suszko
Re: Rules of thumb for new Producers/Editors
on Jul 21, 2009 at 4:08:20 pm

(These are to be read in Michael-Westin-Voice-Over style as in the TV show "Burn Notice")

In no particular order:

Always get the talent's business card, before they leave, or you will be re-doing their lower thirds forever.

Treat every guest/talent you deal with as much care as if they are your childhood hero, no matter how insignificant they may seem at the time.

The power of the approved Creative Treatment document cannot be overstated. In it and from it are all the answers you need, as from a book of holy writ. From it, all good things flow.

Doormen, secretaries, janitors, security guards, all these people are useful to introduce yourself to and to keep as aquaintences or friends. This will become apparent the first time you need to get a loading bay dock door opened outside of normal business hours and the supervisor calls in sick that day, or a breaker pops in the CEO's office while you're setting lights and you need the breaker box found and unlocked, or you need to borrow someone's PC and net access to download a revised prompter script at the last minute. These folks don't have to go the extra mile for people they don't know or don't like.

Don't book shoots that run 4-5 hours thru lunch without a break; it makes everybody cranky. Cranky people make mistakes. They also don't give 100 percent to the effort after the third hour.

Don't book your most important shot first thing or last thing in the day.

If you don't book a rain day, you will end up needing one.

There are no stupid questions, but there are significant penalties that happen to people that pretend to know things they do not, who subsequently get caught, so if in doubt, admit you don't know, get the mocking over with, and ASK.

Tape/storage media is cheap, unless it comes back from the field unused. Over-shoot wherever you can, bring more blank stock than you think you need. You never know what random b-roll or cut-away or sudden shot of opportunity becomes a hugely valuable asset in post. Get room tone at the same time as random b-roll.

Over-pack: it is better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

Slate everything you can, right at the beginning of a tape/file. Use the back of the slate for a white balance target and/or keep a printed color bar chart on it to shoot under actual set conditions. This can be helpful in color correction later, matching scenes and cameras. Electronically-generated bars are not the same as what the lens sees.

When a civilian walks into a room, the first and only thing they may notice is the furniture.
When an operative, um, producer, walks into a room, the first things they look for are: where the power plugs are, where the windows are and where the sun is coming from, if the windows have shades, what the best-looking corner is for an interview shot, what type and color temp the overhead lighting is, what kind of noises there are, and if they can be controlled, how reverberant or "live" a room is, is the artwork on the walls copyright-protected, do the picture frames have glary glass, where the bathrooms are, where the freight elevator is, what the most direct path to the loading dock is, where the parking is, where the bathrooms are, where the closest Radio Shack or Camera Store is, where the closest fast food joint is, and what the office admin or building manager's(secretary)'s name and number are.

Back up projects in layers; i.e., save versions of the master "clean", without any lower-third overlays or titles, versions where the audio tracks are not permanently mixed-down, etc. and label and KEEP these sub-masters. At some point you're going to get a request later to change a graphic or a music track or something, and it is often much simpler to make those changes from a clean submaster than to have to reconstitute an entire project, re-import footage, etc. from original source material that may or may not still exist.

Have your shooters record a brief statement from each subject during the mic check, saying their name and the date and that they are giving permission to be taped. Then afterwards make sure they sign the waivers/releases, without fail. Also preferably on camera. When some guy complains months later about not having given his permission, you email them a clip of them saying they did.

Break a finger before you break a promise. The corollary is, don't be too hasty in making promises to start with, unless you know you can keep them. The longer you keep this up, the larger your rep grows.

Things always take longer than you think to get done, so add on a fudge factor; this is "Scotty's Starfleet Law of Engineering".

Whatever special connector, adapter, or cable you only have one of, that is the one that is going to fail or get lost at a critical time.

If you make a point of always bringing your crews little snacks or free sodas or whatever, unbidden, you become their hero and they will go the extra mile for you. However, if you ever make the mistake of pointing out you are doing this, it all becomes worthless. Never acknowledge the charity you do; its just how you roll.

Never accept free food or treats from the clients/talent on set unless checking first to see if there is enough for your whole crew. You take the last one of whatever it is. The horses eat before the soldiers, the soldiers eat before the officers. If you don't think this matters, or that anybody on the crew will notice, you are dead wrong... and they will find a way to prove it to you when and where you least expect/can afford it.

If you wait until thirty minutes before the fedex pickup to start making dubs, or after your engineer goes home, that's when the dubbing system will develop some fault, the edit system will hang, or you will suddenly notice a typo in the graphics that has passed everyone's notice for three days.

Dress code: slightly-over-dressed/more formal than the others makes you stand out to the unknowing as the leader of the bunch.

Keep an email trail, document everything you do and say with clients.

Producers have a lot of minutiae to deal with, from parking to catering to booking time to collecting production elements and tracking paperwork to writing scripts and treatments. No single one of the myriad of jobs you do is that big of a deal, and nobody will think the job you do is hard for any of those single little things. It is the totality of the minutiae, dealing with everybody at one time, and keeping all the items on track in a schedule, that is the challenge. Keeping organized and disciplined is the key. The goal is to be so organized, that if you are hit by a bus on the way to the shoot, anybody could pick up the dented and scuffed binder of your notes from the accident scene and carry on with a successful production.

Always maintain an attitude of calm and unflappability; the crew look to you as the "answer man" and if you show fear, indecisiveness or ignorance, or act unprepared, they will mutiny on you and start going off in all different directions, making changes to the plan. Keep them all together by keeping YOURSELF together. They can smell fear.

Keep a binder. While it's a virtual and electronic world, back it up on paper, against the day your PDA gets lost or stolen, batteries fail, the server crashes, or some other technical trouble happens.

Whenever the call time is, be there ahead of it, preferably first ahead of everyone. Don't be too busy to help break down and carry some gear, if the crew doesn't mind.

When editing with a room full of client people, all of whom act like they have authority to order changes, but the changes all conflict, ultimately, you only answer to the guy/gal who signs the checks. Refer the decision to that name; the rest tends to work itself out.

When the client rep suddenly takes the project in an unexpected direction, save a version of the project file up to that point, and open a new version/instance of the project from that point forward. Chances are you will re-visit that backup later.

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Timothy J. Allen
Re: Rules of thumb for new Producers/Editors
on Jul 22, 2009 at 4:07:41 pm

I would also add...

  • Take at least a basic course in project management. This will be more useful to you than you think. If nothing else, it helps you speak the same language as your client when you are talking about scheduling and project deadline constraints.
  • Related to that - "Don't be afraid to present a document that spells out the agreement between you and the client and get them to sign it." You don't have to call it a contract, but it goes a long way towards keeping the scope of the project in check.
  • If there is a problem that could negatively impact the project - whether it's a technical issue or "customer relations", don't wait for it to grow before addressing it.
  • Take time to celebrate your success with your team and your clients. It doesn't have to be an extravagant party. Just take a few moments to acknowledge that the project is done and how you appreciate each person's specific contributions. In addition to making your partners know they are valued, it creates a sense of closure for the project, which gives people more energy for the next project.

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Eric Nicastro
Re: Rules of thumb for new Producers/Editors
on Jul 22, 2009 at 8:05:37 pm

Always always always get things in writing. Don't rely on a handshake or a verbal agreement. It will save a lot of confusion if someone has issues with payment or scope of work if it is clearly stated on paper all the details of your relationship with you or your client. And when you present something like this to your prospective client, more than likely they will appreciate it and see you as an organized person who is on top of things.

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Alan Lloyd
Re: Rules of thumb for new Producers/Editors
on Jul 22, 2009 at 10:36:52 pm

The earlier you catch (and admit to) your mistakes, the easier they are to fix.

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Gav Bott
Re: Rules of thumb for new Producers/Editors
on Jul 23, 2009 at 1:32:57 am

Repeats of what has gone before, but mine:-

First in - last to leave.

Food is the key to keeping on schedule/on quality.

Record everything about the project, and keep at least two copies.


The Brit in Brisbane
The Pomme in Production - Brisbane Australia.

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Sean Smith
Re: Rules of thumb for new Producers/Editors
on Jul 27, 2009 at 5:29:28 pm

If you are running late, which you should never do, call the producer immediately. There is a lot of money on the line on production days. If you do walk onto set late, DO NOT have a cup o' Starbucks in your hand. This adds insult to injury.

My company:
My movie:

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Andy Stinton
Re: Rules of thumb for new Producers/Editors
on Aug 27, 2009 at 10:38:13 pm

My favorite around here with everyone is quite simple and covers many of the above..
Presumption is the mother of all screw ups..

How may times have I heard from the latest mistake? " But I thought ( fill in blank) had done ( fill in blank).

Andy Stinton
Corporate Video
Live & Stage Events
Business Practices

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