Life Lessons Learned From Video Production

I’ve spent my entire career in film and video. I’ve worked for two different companies and I’ve had probably 10 different titles, but for the last eight years I’ve been focused on planning and managing productions. I work with my clients to determine a budget for their project, hire crew in the field, and generally make sure the whole project stays on track. Of course, not every project goes according to plan. In fact, a lot of times you learn more from the projects that don’t. Recently, I was reflecting on just how applicable to every day life a lot of the lessons I’ve learned actually are. Whether I’m planning a small event, a large event, a trip or some small home repair projects, I have years of production management experience to lean on.

Plan Meticulously
For me, planning meticulously involves thinking through every moment and every step of a project as it’s going to unfold. If I’m flying a crew somewhere, I’m thinking about how they’re going to get to the airport, how many bags they’re going to have, what airline I should fly them on (a consideration that often relates to how many bags they’ll be bringing), and what size car they’re going to need when they get there. I’m thinking about how much time they’ll have to get lunch and whether there will be places to get lunch near where they’ll be. Will they bring everything they need or will they need to hire local gear? What travel accommodations will make their lives easier (adjoining rooms, first floor rooms)? What will the weather be like? What clothes should they bring? Essentially I try to put myself in the traveling party’s shoes so that as little is left to chance as possible when it comes to the schedule and the budget. I want to minimize the number of small problems they might experience on the road so that they can concentrate on filming.

In my private life, I’ve helped organize a number of big trips with friends (20+ people) and I’ve followed much the same process. When is everyone arriving? Who can share car rentals or cabs to/from the airport? How should we split up rooms to minimize the cost for everyone? When traveling with friends, the goal isn’t to maximize productivity, it’s to give everyone the ability to just relax and have fun once they arrive. If everyone knows where they’re staying each night, how they’re getting around and roughly what they’re going to pay, a lot of the hard work has been done. The goal is to leave no one stranded without a ride to the airport or sleeping on the floor because of poor planning.

Include Contingencies
Not everything is going to go according to plan. When planning a production, I budget for hours of overtime even when each shoot day should be short enough to avoid it. You never know when travel will be interrupted, an interview subject will be delayed, or file transfer will take longer than planned. I recently had a crew travel to Wyoming for a shoot and based on the weather, they needed to upgrade their car rental to a four-wheel drive vehicle. It happens. I’d always rather pad a budget and be able to bill the client less than planned than have to ask for more money.

Everyone who has ever done a home repair or “DIY” project can probably relate. Take what you think it’s going to cost, add some percentage as an “overage” or “contingency” and consider that your real budget. If you come in under budget, fantastic. If you don’t, at least you were prepared for that possibility.

Let it Go
All the meticulous planning in the world can’t prepare you for every possible thing that might happen. I had a long-running project that filmed in February each year. After a few years of sending the crew to locations in the northern half of the country and having weather related issues nearly every single year, we decided to film the next year's project in New Orleans. This was the year we would avoid weather issues! Right as our crew arrived, Louisiana experienced an unprecedented ice storm and most of the state closed down. You just can’t plan for everything. When those types of unforeseeable issues arise, all you can do is adjust on the fly and try to come up with creative solutions. My crew did just that and still managed to capture great footage.

I’m originally from Rochester, NY, one of the snowiest cities in North America. Nearly every Thanksgiving and Christmas for the past 20 years I’ve traveled back to the great white north to visit family and as you can imagine, I’ve had a lot of weather-related travel snafus along the way. A few years ago, I had an evening flight on December 23rd and the weather looked gloriously clear from DC to Rochester. I arrived at the airport nice and early, lined up to board and then saw the dreaded word “canceled” scrawl across the ticker at my gate. Mechanical issues. As the airline crew lined everyone up to re-book with on-site representatives, I got in line and got on my phone. Soon I had jumped the line, getting one of the last seats on a flight the next day. Unfortunately that flight was to Syracuse, not Rochester and it would have forced my Mom to cancel nearly all of her usual Christmas Eve plans. While standing around with a group of stranded passengers, someone said out loud “You know, we should just rent a van and drive ourselves tonight.” I jumped on the suggestion and quickly booked a 12-passenger van with a rental agency in the building. Soon, 7 strangers and I were en-route to Rochester on a bizarre, if pleasant road trip (the picture below is the weary band of travelers and our trusty van at a stop in Gettysburg). I got a refund on the half of the plane ticket I didn’t use which covered the van rental costs and gas with $50 to spare. More importantly, we all made it to Rochester in time for Christmas Eve festivities. When things don’t go to plan, getting mad won’t solve anything…shrug it off and get creative.

Work With Great People
I have a great roster of production professionals that I hire again and again, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally hire new people for specific projects. When I need to hire people I haven't worked with before, I rely heavily on world of mouth recommendations from people I trust and so far, that’s worked really well. I put great trust in the people I hire and they give it right back. They know that if they hit some unforeseen issue, I’ll work it out for them (upgrading to four-wheel drive) and they’ll do the same when it’s something out of my hands (reformulating shoot plans when stranded in an ice storm). I believe in paying people fairly and being flexible and in return, the crew people I work with show me the same respect.

The same principles apply when planning things with friends or hiring work done around the house. Work with the people you trust and who are on the same page. When planning our mega trips to Florida, a small group of us who like planning things and generally approach planning in a similar way took the lead. We were able to work as a team and plan a great trip. I have large group of friends in Washington, DC and many of them are relatively new homeowners. When looking to have work done on their homes, they solicit the group for suggestions and have had great luck with referrals.

Planning video productions is a lot like planning anything. If you spend quality time thinking through everything up front, plan for contingencies, adjust (sometimes creatively) when you’re thrown a curve ball, and work with great people you’ll see success.

Work With Great People
I have a great roster of production professionals that I hire again and again, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally hire new people for specific projects. When I need to hire people I haven't worked with before, I rely heavily on world of mouth recommendations from people I trust and so far, that’s worked really well. I put great trust in the people I hire and they give it right back. They know that if they hit some unforeseen issue, I’ll work it out for them (upgrading to four-wheel drive) and they’ll do the same when it’s something out of my hands (reformulating shoot plans when stranded in an ice storm). I believe in paying people fairly and being flexible and in return, the crew people I work with show me the same respect.

The same principles apply when planning things with friends or hiring work done around the house. Work with the people you trust and who are on the same page. When planning our mega trips to Florida, a small group of us who like planning things and generally approach planning in a similar way took the lead. We were able to work as a team and plan a great trip. I have large group of friends in Washington, DC and many of them are relatively new homeowners. When looking to have work done on their homes, they solicit the group for suggestions and have had great luck with referrals.

Planning video productions is a lot like planning anything. If you spend quality time thinking through everything up front, plan for contingencies, adjust (sometimes creatively) when you’re thrown a curve ball, and work with great people you’ll see success.