5 lessons we learned about production coordination snafus

Yes, there can be production coordination without tears. That doesn’t mean it goes flawlessly and that no problems arise. It just means you know how to handle the glitches with aplomb.

Now there’s a word you don’t hear much these days. Unlike the words “Oops!” “Are you kidding me?” and “Dammit!” which are frequently heard while a company is trying to pull together a video shoot. That’s because there are wild cards that can pop up in just about every step of the process.

It’s best to be honest. There are some things you just can’t anticipate, at least not specifically. You can take precautions to deal with some of them, but a few will just throw you for a loop with little chance of a graceful landing.

Just another day in paradise. Putting out fires is part of production coordination

Just another day in paradise. Putting out fires is part of production coordination

Let’s start with the least aggravating problems. These are the ones that cost you some time but don’t put you irrevocably behind schedule. For example, you think you have your crew lined up, but three days before the shoot one of your camera operators calls to tell you she can’t make it. Something about contracting SARS during a trip overseas. Whatever. At least you have three days to find a replacement.

This is Tip #1: Always have backups for every crew position. Have people who are reliable and can be flexible if called for short notice. People, being the quirky and inconsistent creatures they are, can be the worst wild cards of all. If you are using actors, make sure the casting company can help you get a replacement if the someone cancels at the last minute.

Now let’s suppose your camera operator tells you that she was shooting another project and dropped her camera from the top of a ten-story building. Or, let’s suppose a leaky pipe from the office above yours floods the closet where you store your lights and ruins them. Tip #2: Always have backups for crucial pieces of equipment. That doesn’t mean you have to double up on everything, but have a plan for quickly (within hours if needed) getting your hands on spare equipment. Whether you arrange a deal with another production company to be each others backups, or know a place where you can rent just about everything on short notice, make sure you have a plan in place before you need it.

Other problems can take more time to solve. Just like people, the weather can be quirky and inconsistent. The forecast calls for a 30% chance of showers on the day you need to shoot a critical scene outdoors. Sure, that means there’s a 70% chance it won’t rain, but if it does, it might not rain for just 30% of the day. It might pour down for hours. This brings us to two other tips. Tip #3: Be as flexible as possible when shooting in unreliable locations. This is chiefly for outdoor shoots. If it’s raining on a shoot day, try to salvage the time by shooting any other indoor scenes you can. It may take time to regroup after getting to the new locations, but it’s better than wasting the entire day by calling off production altogether. Sometimes, that’s the only thing you can do.

So Tip #4 is: Have pad time built into your shooting schedule. That’s pad time, as in extra time, not pad Thai the noodle dish (though if you have craft services you should have a plan for what to do with the food if you have to cancel a shoot day. Time to clear out the fridge!) For every three days of a shoot, you may want to have one extra day in case you need to move part of the shoot or do re-takes. We understand this can be a burden to some of the crew, especially those working for a flat fee rather than daily or hourly. They might want to work as many days as possible every week and won’t be too happy about keeping an open day that might not be needed if everything goes as planned. But it doesn’t hurt to ask. Many of them understand the need for flexibility, and also understand that the more willing they are to work with you, the more likely you’ll be to use them on future jobs.

Pad time should also be built into the pre– and post-production phases. Should any step, such as scriptwriting, graphic design, or editing take longer than expected, this can help you keep to the schedule you promised your client. And if you don’t need the time, it always looks good if you can tell the client: “We’re actually ahead of schedule on that.”

Perhaps the most important tip has to do with those circumstances you can’t alter. Maybe the rainy weather that forced you to cancel the shoot on Tuesday also produced a tornado that demolished the buildings you wanted for a backdrop. You have to find a new location, and it may also mean you have to rewrite part of the script so the new location makes sense. Tip #5: Be willing to let go and move on. Do the best you can to salvage the rest of the project. Sometimes this just means pushing back the deadline for delivering the final product. Sometimes it means making major changes to the video. When a circumstance arises which simply can’t be controlled, you have to hope the client will understand. What can be controlled is your reaction. Pitching a fit and stressing out is only going to make things more unpleasant for you and anyone caught up in your outburst. It won’t alter the situation and only wastes precious time that you could be using constructively to find solutions.

The good news is, even a disastrous problem with the video project can be a valuable learning experience for you. You may not appreciate it at the time, but it ultimately will help you rethink your approach to projects in the future so that when the unexpected rears its ugly head again, you’ll be in a far better position to deal with it.