10 ways Directors must think like a line producer

Posted on August 13, 2014

10 ways Directors must think like a line producer

A no-to-low budget director is a person of many hats and throughout the production, at different times and at the same time be a writer, executive producer, director, line producer and even the editor.

This is just a mirror image of how a no-to-low budget forces one to do more with less money and so the director becomes a fusion doing many of the most important jobs on the set by himself. Usually in a standard or big budget production, there will be a different person in each and every role who are able to devote their time to what their supposed to do. One of the most important jobs that a director must perform with a no-to-low budget production, is the job of the line producer.

It’s easy to imagine the line producer having the main role, since they are in the deep end every day the film is being made and are there for the planning during pre-production. A line producer holds a huge responsibility as they are the eyes and the ears to everything on the set. They’re known as the “fixer” and have to report everything to the producer when major issues come up. They’re also the “line” between the executive producer, director and principal cast and everyone else in the cast and crew.

They have worked in as many positions in a production as possible including being an Assistant Director or Production Manager to get in the position they are in now. A director can focus on working with the actors, sounds and visuals knowing that the production will run smoothly with a good line producer on the line, but it’s their job to act like a line producer when they can’t afford one on set. The director when on set needs to look at everything from a line producers view including…

1. Understand producing means knowing the end result of the project and what it will lead to after it is completed. It’s knowing about how you want your project to be screened and not just the way the story should end. Line producers must keep the bigger picture in their mind to think about how things may affect the marketing, investment and distribution.

2. Knowing how to break down a script, create a suitable budget and a realistic filming schedule. A good line producer can look at a script and evaluate how much it will cost and how long it could take to shoot. Grabbing that skill takes practice and is something you should aim to do even if you can afford a line producer.

3. Knowing what to expect from your crew and the depths of your crew’s abilities with the purpose of limiting friction as they do their job. A line producer’s should be able to know what everyone does and look at job performance to make sure the production is using the hours in the schedule and the money in the budget wisely. Understanding these jobs can help a line producer straighten out any conflicts that can arise within and between all departments. A director who understands the jobs and challenges of the crew will receive their respect and motivation.

4. Prioritize the elements of “mise en scene” based on what problem has been resolved and what task should be taken care of next. Once you have consulted with the director and the producers during pre-production, the line producer knows what elements are the most important to focus on first from the following 8 elements..casting/performance, production design, even location. Costumes, make-up and hair, cinematography, editing, sound and music. Once the line producer knows what’s most important to the director, it’s their job then to ensure those issues are handled efficiently. They then consider the rest based on their budget, schedule and it’s dire status. Keeping all 8 elements in mind throughout the shoot, the line producer can solve issues and problems before they become disastrous.

5. Bring your motivation and your hustle to the set. A line producer must be there to motivate the team to ensure the job gets done to victory. Directors should always leave any attitude at home but even more so

when they are running a no-to-low budget production. Instead of being dramatic and making unfair demands, you need to encourage your team to make it through the no-budget day. Improve your negotiation skills by talking nicely with crew members, location property owners, etc. This will all come in handy when you move up the ladder and are on your way to negotiating with the big shots!

6. Carry everyone’s number on your person or phone. This means having the phone number and details to insurance providers, lawyers, agencies, businesses and organizations in or near your shooting location. Communicating as a line producer can solve problems, from contacting people for information, following up on orders, asking questions, etc. Directors asked to do everything on their own must be prepared to communicate at the drop of a coin.

7. Understand the contracts, ordinances and regulations affecting your production as well as you understand your script. A good line producer should know what affects the production from a legal perspective to do their job well and know what sort of questions to ask. This mainly comes from the repetition of experience but also comes from listening to key contract clauses like the description of services, terms of employment, compensation, illness and capacity, and expenses. Line producers are also aware of permits, intellectual property matters, labor issues, and production incentives that could support the project.

8. Tracking your progress by keeping and studying your production’s paperwork on a regular basis. A line producer is always busy, if their not on the phone, reporting to the producer or working with the cast and crew, their reviewing paperwork. Call sheets, production reports, the line producer needs to know whether or not the production is achieving the scheduling and budgeting goals created during pre-production and changed during production. Even if you’re inundated with having to do a million things on your no-to-low budget set. At the end of each day review what you have done and take notes.

9. Think “safety” when you budget and schedule. There is a great article that reads about working long hours that points out how what we in the film industry take for granted, in terms of long work hours, should be re-evaluated. Safety may not cross a line producers mind at first when he starts to work on the budget and schedule, Safety infact should be in the Top 3. You may ask yourself;

“I’ve got away with taking a risk before, so why should I stress about it now, especially when time and money is difficult to get?”

Well no one will notice a production that may have nearly become a disaster and almost harms the cast and crew but gets away with it. On the other hand, they will notice when disaster strikes and kills people in your production. Aside from the lawsuits that will sink your no-to-low budget film, the deaths and disfigurements of people will weigh on your conscience. As a good line producer who knows that the limits of a person’s ability to produce at peak points diminishes over time, Never let your people do overtime with extremely long hours (12 hours is considered standard but is actually considered standard, more than 12 hours and you’re over working your crew). To pull off certain stunts, invest in time and money. If you don’t have it, then don’t do it or do it another way to save your own back!

10. Even when unsure, act decisive adapt and overcome and always remember that the right decisions are made during pre-production with thorough yet flexible planning. Directors should learn a lot when working on no-to-low productions from line producers. Line producers use their creativity and efficient skills to be effective on the set and directors adopting the line producer’s habits will find their directing abilities enhanced. As a good line producer, you will then be able to handle strong egos, mediate disputes, solve problems that may arise and know near enough everything one needs to know to physically produce a movie.