I have a lot of experience writing scripts, but I had never taken any initiative to get a script made. I liked the idea of just cranking out scripts for other people to make. “I’ll let them worry about producing it,” I thought. “I’ve already done the hard work of coming up with a story and semi-coherently putting that story on a page.” After seeing very few projects come to fruition and still naively thinking that the “hard work” had been done, I decided to be a little more hands-on with Bagmen. It’s a short script at about 7 pages and could easily be shot over a weekend, so I figured it would be the best way to experience the life of a producer (on a very small, manageable scale).
Before I go any further, I want to clarify that I’m not the sole producer on Bagmen, as I was guided along very well by my co-producer, Zack Gross, and my director, Nathan McFarland. In reality there were three of us to split the producing work among and this project wouldn’t have happened at all without their help.
As a first-time producer (and the writer), I wanted to share a few things I learned during our two-day shoot and the process leading up to those two days.
Save the date first.
From my limited involvement in other projects, I know that trying to wrangle a dozen people together at the same time is a nightmare. Schedules will never align perfectly and most of the stress will end up falling on the organizer (or producer in this case). Because of this, Nathan and I decided on a shooting date before involving anyone else. Thus, rather than trying to find a weekend that worked for everyone, we sent out the date and found people who could work with our schedule.
Take off Friday.
We scheduled the shoot for Saturday and Sunday to accommodate cast and crew schedules, but I decided to take off work the Friday before “just in case.” Our farm location, WeatherLea Farm, allowed us to drop off equipment Friday, so that we’d be ready to go Saturday morning. I considered taking a half-day because “there’s not that much to do…” Well, I’m glad I took off the full day, because between running errands at Costco, Lowes, Target, and a costume shop, picking up equipment at George Mason University with Zack, and getting stuck in traffic on the way to our farm (which is about an hour away without traffic) my day from 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM was spoken for. Sure there are a few errands that could’ve been done a week or so in advance and next time I will, but there will always be last minute things that need to be done.
I should have bought the hand warmers.
Early Friday morning I stood in a Costco holding a box of hand warmers. “Nah, people will bring gloves and it probably won’t be that cold.” I was wrong about the gloves [see “Pack a suitcase”] and I forgot about wind chill. Although Saturday wasn’t too bad, the temperature dropped about 15 degrees and the wind picked up to about 20 mph on Sunday. In a general sense, if there’s something you think you might need. BRING IT. The hand warmers would have been heralded by all cast and crew.
Pack a suitcase.
Even though I did not buy the hand warmers, I knew it was going to be cold. So, filled up a suitcase with a bunch of hoodies, coats, hats, and gloves. I own about a dozen pairs of gloves (not because I have some crazy glove-addiction, but because I can’t stand searching for gloves). I figured it would be good to have a few extra pairs on set just in case someone needed a pair. EVERYBODY NEEDED A PAIR. I dropped the ball on the hand warmer situation, but at least our boom pole operator didn’t have to hold a cold piece of metal with bare hands.
Know your equipment.
A good portion of a producer’s job is to make sure the shoot is running smoothly and most of the time that means running between locations or cars or bags to grab equipment your crew needs. It helps a lot when you actually know the difference between certain items. For example, I know what an XLR cable is and how it differs from an electrical cable. One thing I realized while on set is that I know very little about cameras and lenses. At one point someone asked me to grab “insert specific lens here with numbers and millimeters” and I just stared at him for a minute before replying, “Is it the white one? If it’s not the white one, I’m not going to know which one you’re talking about.” Through being on set I learned a little more about some of the equipment (although “aperture” still perplexes me) and I’m sure next time I’ll absorb some more info. Especially as a writer-producer, get in there and learn something – Even though my ignorance was hilarious on set, it did slow things down sometimes.
Learn how to drive stick shift.
Since we were on a farm, we had to do a lot of car shuffling from place to place, which means that a lot of times I ended up driving other peoples’ cars. We had a surprisingly high percentage of manual cars on set – Fortunately I drive stick, so it was no issue, but if I didn’t I would’ve looked even more helpless than when I was asked to grab the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L lens.
Be the first one on set.
Especially when you have the only key. You don’t want actors making you look bad by showing up first (ahem…Nicole).
Take off Monday.
After three 14-hour + days of prep, production, and clean-up, I really wished I had taken off of work on Monday. On the plus side, at least I have an extra day I can use on the next production…
There are a ton of other things that I could add to that list, but this is a blog post and I probably lost you about 200 words ago. As a final thought there’s only one phrase a producer needs to know when on set: “How can I help?”
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