I have made a lot of short films. Sixty or so in fact, at last count.
A lot of them I have written, produced and directed myself, which is good.
But I have not worked on any feature length films…until now.
I was hired as production manager on a very low budget indie film shooting in New Mexico.
If you google production manager, like I did when I was offered the job, wikipedia describes the job as “ the person responsible for the administration of a feature film,” which sounds very, very vague.
While I have been in charge of everything all at the same time, it was a first for me to be in charge of just one part of film production and not every part…. and honestly it was sometimes very difficult to balance what I wanted to get involved with with what I was tasked to be involved with.
I’m not a megalomaniac, at least I don't think I am, and my husband may well have a very different take on that particular subject. But letting go and standing back and not making endless suggestions was a more difficult task than I had anticipated and lesson well learned!
I suppose what I am trying to point out is that we cant always been in charge of everything, surprising as that may seem, and just because we are only responsible for one part of the process does not necessarily mean that everything will fall apart, much as we might like that to be the case if we are really truly honest.
The larger the production the more people there must be involved to make it work.
Which means that the roles become more specific.
So I began the production basically bringing in crew and some cast, and utilizing my experience working on location with a small budget. I was also given the responsibility of payroll, probably because no one else would do it, and by the end of the production I was sorting out catering too. Just like any other low budget film, you take on multiple roles if you want get the film finished and also if you want things done correctly, or sometimes at all. Stepping in when you can see things are not working out is part of the process and should be part of the expectations on your part and on the part of the producer. However, there is a skill in jumping in without stepping on toes…and one well worth learning, or your well-intentioned ‘help’ can easily blow up in your face.
In the end the film takes on its own individual life, and you watch out for it. Not just because it’s your paycheck, but also because you want to take care of it, you want the best for it, and you will find out very quickly who amongst you feels the same way and who couldn't give a ****.
We were mostly very lucky regarding the ‘respect’ for this film. There was some mischief, I suppose there always will be, which is a shame. But people are people, and some are ridiculous. This will never change, and you can never figure out why some people do what they do and I have learnt over the years that it’s best not to try. You just do what you need to to get things done and move one. Those who are difficult are best left to their own devises, and that’s one less person on your Christmas card list or your list of “who I will work with again,” which for me is one in the same.
I think what I learnt most keenly on this project was that I was capable of much more than I had anticipated and to not sell myself short. Whether a film has a $50 budget or a $200,000 budget or a $200 million budget, it's all the same in the wash and after this experience I can certainly be sure that I could produce at any level without feeling out of my depth at all. The bigger the budget the more stuff costs basically, but its the same recipe, story, actors, crew, location.
I think those of us who work with tiny budget films think these big budget monsters are just that, monsters and we wouldn't know how to deal with them. But I think that’s completely wrong and undervalues the skills we create working with no money, and the more I work with other people and, particularly on other people's projects, the more sure I am of my own skills and my own value.
And there’s the thing I think, the ‘value’ thing…and what is value anyway?
Value used to mean money, but the older I get the more I see value in very different terms.
The value of something can be based on many things: Its importance in your life, its history, its future, its impact on your life… none of these things change if something costs more, or less.
So value yourself, your skills and your experience. I really do value myself and my skills far more highly after making somebody else’s movie in the New Mexico desert.
Nobody knows anything really, they are all just faking it…and sometimes that can work to your advantage.