• James Stranahan

Suggestions for Avoiding Problems During a Film Production

It would be nice if I could tell you that every film production I’ve managed has gone off without a hitch, but it’d be a lie. I do my best to run a tight ship, but trouble happens anyway. Sometimes a light goes out right in the middle of a crucial scene, usually when the actors were really nailing their lines. Other times the hotel is overbooked, leaving us calling around town to find somewhere else to put our very tired crew members. It’s just inevitable that “something” is going to go wrong, but thankfully, there are things you can do to minimize it.

One idea I live by and emphasize to my crew is that problems never go away. They’re like that funny sound coming from the engine of your car: they only get worse as time goes by. So, I don’t care if it’s the light that dims in and out before finally getting strong again or the refrigerator that feels a little too warm: report it as soon as you spot it. Otherwise, in the rush of the production, it’s too easy to put up with a small problem that gradually grows worse and worse until suddenly, there it is: disaster.

Next, get used to the weather being in charge. You might, if you’re lucky, be able to trust the weather reports about 70% of the time. You’ll never know when that 30% will hit and ruin your shoot unless you’ve got the ability to switch to plan B. A wise producer is able to make use of the time by switching to an indoor schedule so that the production keeps flowing. Depending on your budget and film, you may be able to shoot everything in controlled environments and make your own weather with tricks or effects. The right choice for you will depend a lot on your scouting of the location before the production even begins. Know the weather patterns for the time of year, weigh them against your movie’s plot and needs, and decide ahead of time what is most cost-effective and efficient for the film.

We’ve all heard of movies that have fallen months behind schedule, a nightmare no producer wants to deal with. You will want to set up your dream schedule, then cross it out and make it realistic. Factor in extra time because no matter how professional everyone is, things are just going to happen. It’s better to have a few extra days factored in that can cover the unexpected delay than to have the production fall behind, making everyone stress and snipe at each other.

Safety is paramount, as we all have sadly heard lately in the news. Cut no corners with this. Make sure that those who are in charge of stunts and potentially dangerous props are well-trained and have a set system for keeping cast and crew members safe. I also recommend building in extra time for the filming of stunts, which are usually complex and can take an entire day to shoot. Stunts are very physical, so your actors and doubles will need time to warm up for them. Providing enough time to complete their shooting will minimize accidents as well.

Reducing the number of problems during a film production is possible if you plan well, hire the right people, and remember that there is no such thing as a small problem. And, of course, when something hits the fan and the production stalls, be ready to jump in quickly, sort it all out, and get the wheels turning again. It’s your job as the producer after all, so be the leader your crew needs, and you’ll finish the production with a movie that you deserve to be proud of.

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