The term “production” in the context of making movies is a deceptively simple one.  In reality, the duties and responsibilities that fall under the remit of the production manager and coordinator are vast and far-reaching in their scope.  “Production” also implies that the tasks to be carried out only relate to the physical making of the film.  On the contrary, production is about the bigger picture, as it were.

Bringing The Team Together

It’s about viewing the film-making process as a journey, and working to keep the wheels in motion from the very beginning.  From interviewing and hiring a crew, to liaising with relevant Unions; and from managing budgets to keeping your staff motivated, the production department is such an integral element that without it, the picture would simply not happen.

Hiring the Crew – Where do you start?

When the credits roll at the end of a film, the sheer number of individuals involved in creating it becomes apparent and the task of recruiting them all may appear overwhelming.  Even before considering the process of interviewing individuals for the very diverse roles required on a film set, there is a more fundamental decision which needs to be made; that of the type of crew you, as the production team, wishes to hire.  This choice is between a crew which consists of Union or non-Union members.  As with many aspects of film production, each path has its advantages and disadvantages, and we shall discuss some of these here.

The Union Pathway

Unions are bodies which bring members of a specific skill, department or job together.  By joining a union or guild, the employee gains a certain degree of protection with regard to working conditions and pay scales, for example.  If the production is going to hire a workforce comprising Union members, then this has several important implications.  Firstly, and very positively, the various Unions you approach have contacts with a huge number of industry specialists with very particular and sought after skills.

Working with unions immediately makes the task of getting your crew together much easier.   Given the nature of their organisation, unions will also have a stabilising effect on the budgeting process as they have standardised contracts regarding pay scales for their members.  Controls of this type are desirable, but can be a double-edged sword if the production coordinator is not “on the ball”.

Unions require particular agreements to be signed prior to their members beginning work on a picture.  These agreements can be extremely lengthy, detailed and thorough in their specifications.  If a production coordinator is not fully aware of their contents, transgressions of their terms could have the potential to make life very difficult.  For example, if shooting is running late and an early start is scheduled for the following day, certain union agreements could stipulate that financial compensation is due.

A good production coordinator knows that these contracts are, in the majority of cases, negotiable and should liaise with the Unions to this end.  It’s important to give careful consideration to the points of the agreement which do not work for you and your production; you will have to concede some, so be prepared with a prioritised list so you don’t lose out.  Negotiations need to happen at the earliest possible stage of preproduction, and any changes to the union contracts agreed upon firmly before you sign.  And by signing, some unions assume a commitment for all future productions to be signed to them also, so beware of that!

The Non-Union Pathway

Coordinating Production

Given that we’ve explored the potential pitfalls of working with different unions, we should discuss the alternative path of hiring personnel which are not affiliated with the Unions.  Non-union production is certainly a great deal more flexible.  As a production team you will have much more freedom to schedule your shoot according to your needs.  Moreover, without the unions’ involvement, it’s possible to amalgamate certain jobs into a single position and therefore reduce outlay on payroll, which is always desirable.

Whilst you may be working on a non-union production, it is still valuable to be aware of how unions operate.  Their strategies for protecting workers’ interests are effective and so are a good model to follow.  Simple gestures such as ensuring that your crew has easy access to refreshments, or organising shoots effectively so that start and finish times are reasonable can go a long way toward creating a positive and productive working environment on set.

A Big Part of that Positive Working Environment…

The Craft Service Person is an incredibly important element in generating an environment where cast and crew are happy and able to work effectively.  It can often be the job of the Production Coordinator to hire this individual, or a recruitment company can fill the position.  The basic job description addresses the provision of refreshments for cast and crew between meals, but in reality, the position is far more complex and demanding.

Despite being an entry-level position, the list of abilities and attributes is extensive.  The Craft Service Person must be passionate about the production as they will be first on set (preparing the coffee for the cast and crew on first call) and will often be the last to leave; they should have first aid skills and a clean driving licence; they need to be competent in budget management as well as able to manage stressful situations and deal with demanding people.  This individual can affect and influence the atmosphere on set more than you would think and so it’s crucial you establish a good relationship with them from the beginning.

Offering mentoring and internships

The Craft Service Person usually works the longest hours of everyone on set and does one of the hardest jobs.  Yet the opportunities to learn about and observe almost every single aspect of film production are vast and make them sought-after positions.

Other individuals interested in the film-making process may apply for places on mentoring schemes or positions as interns.  When well-managed, mentees and interns can provide very valuable services to the production and learn a great deal about the industry, thus contributing to the general wealth of film-making talent.

You’ve done the hiring, so what about the firing?

So after all the preparation and planning, you have assembled the members of a successful crew.  In an ideal world, no issues would ever arise regarding the poor performance of an employee.  However, realism inevitably trumps idealism and unfortunately, at some point, you may have to fire someone.

This sort of decision is never taken lightly, and for more reasons than it simply being unpleasant (finding replacements for crew at short notice can be costly in financial and logistical terms).  The key to handling situations such as these is fairness, not firing someone out of anger or stress.  Your job is to maintain the integrity of the production and if someone is compromising that, you must look at it objectively and make a decision.

Keep it together…

The demands upon the production coordinator of a film are significant.  It is a role with diverse responsibilities, requiring a skilled person to carry it out successfully.  To manage the array of personalities present on a film set is an unenviable task, but one which must be carried out effectively to maintain morale.   By developing positive and productive relationships with your crew through praising their efforts and respecting their contributions, you will foster a team ethic which will propel you to success.