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Tips for Producers and Production Managers

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AshleighBioRecently, I was asked to make a budget for a Television show in the 3 to 3.5 million dollar range. I was excited to prove myself to show runners and a network for whom I had never worked. At the same time, I was scared beyond belief because I also had to prove myself to myself. I had never made a budget for a television show of this scale. I had worked as a Production Manager on shows of this size and I’d made many Indie Films, Web Series and Short Film budgets. I’d never dealt with this… 22 multi-cam episodes and 3(ish) million to work with? This is awesome…still scary, but awesome! But wait, how much does that Jib cost per day? Per week? How much do I pay the guy who operates the Jib? How much does it cost to rent a stage? What about all the fringes? Don’t forget to fringe all the cast and crew. Oh no, what are the current fringe rates? What about insurance? Oh god, I think I need to sit down…

I was starting to freak myself out. I had to stop and take this one step at a time. All the years of doing my own projects made me realize I had the power and experience to get the answers I needed.

I’d like to offer a few pieces of advice to anyone who wants to move up the ranks to Production Manager or Line Producer (or any job really):

Pay attention.

What is the point of putting in all those crazy hours and making very little money if not to learn? I know that in my career as an intern, Production Assistant, Producer’s Assistant, Production Secretary, Assistant Production Coordinator, Production Coordinator, Production Manager and Line Producer, I never took a job for the art. Sometimes you just need a paycheck, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from that experience. You can almost learn more from a show with no money than one that can throw money at any problem.

Even though I have made several budgets for various web series, no budget, low budget and “Huzzah! we have money to shoot something ” projects, each one is completely different and comes with their own issues. Pay attention to how the Director, Assistant Director and the Director of Photography handle getting through a huge page count day with lots of background actors and a location that you only have that one day at and you have to be out by midnight. Pay attention to how the make-up artist solves the problem of tattoos just not applying correctly and the scene takes place in a tattoo parlor. Pay attention to a location you are working at, perhaps you will need a similar location in the future? Treat each day as a learning experience and you may not even realize how well prepared you are to take that step up.

Make friends.

Okay, so you don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but I recommend keeping a working relationship with as many people involved in your production as you can. You know, while you are paying attention and trying to do your own job!

Making and keeping contacts can really help you in the future. You know that location you shot at on a previous job? It might be perfect for this other shoot. Hopefully you were able to meet and keep the contact info for the person who runs the location.   Instead of taking weeks looking into locations and driving across town to see how the sun looks at dusk, you could turn it into a phone call or two.

Make sure to keep in contact with your crew members because as a PM or LP, surrounding yourself with smart hardworking people will make your show run smoothly and hopefully on budget.   If you work with a great Key Grip on a shoot who you think works hard and you trust, get their contact info and make sure you call them in the future. A fast editor can save you a ton of time and stress. If you work with one whom you respect, let them know and keep their info handy. Being able to hire people you respect and trust is a lifesaver. It will save you time and money, while allowing you to focus on other issues.

Ask Questions

While creating a budget of this size, I was able to call on many Department Heads and Vendors I had worked with before (and would hire or work with again) to help me get realistic numbers for my various budget lines. Part of this process was asking them a lot of questions to help me understand why their costs are what they are.

Asking questions is so important. It’s not only to make sure things do not go awry, but it’s because having a career in the TV/Film production world is not about just knowing what you are doing. It’s also about knowing what everyone working with you is doing, and how the two affect each other.

It is all in the details

If you are making a budget, be thorough. Put in your various lines, don’t just put in $10,000 for costumes. Think about how many people will be working in that department. Will you have a Costume Designer and a Costume Supervisor? Will that be the same person? How many days will they be working? Should you stick some Overtime in there for any late shoot days? Will we have to get anything laundered? What about costs of specialty costumes? What about anything we have to rent? Will they need gas money?

There are a ton of things to think about when budgeting each department. Pay attention and work closely with the departments. Ask questions! The time it takes upfront can feel like a time suck, but imagine if you didn’t budget for tailoring and your whole project takes place on Wall Street? Men on Wall Street wear tailored suits. Tailoring is costly.

The little things that are not thought of in the beginning can really add up, and if you can account for them upfront, you should be good.

Obviously each production will be different and you will run into your own set of obstacles. Hopefully these tips will help you as you navigate the industry and help you while moving closer to your career goals.

Ashleigh Nichols

About Ashleigh Nichols

Ashleigh Nichols resides in Los Angeles with her husband, Eddie, and their Chihuahua mix, Nova. Together they work on their own projects as a wife-husband directing/producing/writing team. Through Owlet Pictures, they created the web series Coffee Shop Squatters, and the award winning short film Summer of the Zombies. Ashleigh is also working on a dramatic feature and creating a new web series, set to shoot later this year. While not working on her own projects, Ashleigh is currently an in house Production Manager at Ampersand Media. Before going in house she Production Managed several shows/Pilots for Comedy Central, HBO Go and Vh1, some of these include: The Jeselnik Offensive, The Burn, The Ben Show, Brody Stevens: Enjoy It! and Parental Discretion S2. Ashleigh is also honored to have Co-Produced the indie film The Historian, currently touring on the festival circuit.