Films are projects. What does this statement mean for a film production in practice? What can the film business learn from the project business?
French film pioneer Abel Gance (1889-1981) is reputed to have said that a filmmaker’s “task is to put a sun in every frame.” However, a director can only succeed in this if he can count on organizational support. Filmmaking is teamwork. And often a logistical nightmare reminiscent of a major construction site.
You need to know
- Every film project is not only a film, but also a project. While film unites all aspects of artistic creativity, project work stands for plannability, stability and organization.
- The better the production of a film or video is prepared and organized, the more energy the artist involved can devote to creativity. If you have to deal with adversity all the time, at some point you can’t think around the corner.
- The process of a film project has three phases: Pre-production, production and post-production. Each of these manufacturing phases comprises a total of 8 different stages.
Film projects have prototype character
Not only image films and product videos, but also web videos and most CEO videos have prototype character. This also applies to the first episode of serially produced testimonials or CEO videos. The commissioned film shares this characteristic with the feature film.
Quite a few producers describe themselves as “fire extinguishers”, like the late producer Bernd Eichinger, and see one of their most important tasks as organising the telling of a story. Organizing means project work. And it has its pitfalls!
Not sexy, but essential: project work
Project. The term alone sounds exceedingly unsexy to creative ears. Nevertheless, it is necessary to regularly remind oneself of what it means to be active in the project business. Yes, pure project work is not very glorious. It should and even must be! Because where true creativity runs riot, stable framework conditions become relevant for success. Anything else is unprofessional.
But beware: When planning and executing film projects, classic project management always means a temptation to map complex processes with even more complex planning tools. Especially when it comes to movies. And detached from the question “how long does a video have to be?”.
Creative projects also require special flexibility in project planning. #”Tents instead of palaces” must be the motto.
Short reaction times and adaptive project management are required and thus advanced project tools are combined with experience knowledge and film competence. At the end of the day, the film budget should not be invested in project management expenses, but should be visible on the screen, TV screen or smartphone.
What is a film project?
Let’s take a closer look at the individual parts of a film project. It must be said in advance that in theoretical explanations of project business, it is always only the differentiated implementation with reference to the respective task that produces a practicable result, just as in the case of any film project, conclusions cannot automatically be drawn about the type of project simply on the basis of the film name that requires explanation. (For more information, see the article Defining Film Types).
The project manager, producer or assistant director is usually faced with a whole range of challenges at once:
- He knows when the film project must be completed.
- He knows the video calculation and how much money is available to him for this.
- He knows the quality specifications and goals.
- He knows the risks
- He knows about the strengths and weaknesses abilities of his employees.
In order to harmonize all these parameters in a well thought-out way, it is advisable to work through a film project in a structured manner using a checklist of seven steps. This is irrespective of whether the film project aims to have a worldwide impact or is only planned for a small market such as Switzerland.
Checklist for a film project
1 Project analysis
At the beginning of every film project there is an analysis of the task. If a production stop occurs later in the project, the cause is almost always due to inadequate project analysis.
- Is the scope of services clearly defined?
- Was the project objective clearly formulated?
- Has the project been coordinated between sales and the customer and the production company?
- Are the project risks called by their names?
These tasks are to be solved by the director as well as the producer.
2 Project planning
In project planning, activity planning and process planning take place. Time estimates are to be prepared and a schedule transferred. Ideally, work packages can be bundled and assigned to the designated project team thanks to deployment and capacity planning. Based on the project structure, the cost planning and the project documentation are determined. In the film, the assistant director is called in at this stage of the project at the latest and committed to the next steps.
3 Project start
Now, at last, we are ready to go! A kick-off meeting initiates the start of the project and prepares the actual start of work. The team members get to know each other, the history of the project is explained. This project phase also includes the classification of the film project with the client, the explanation of the most important project features (e.g. confidentiality) and the commitment of all participants to all relevant rules and procedures.
4 Implementation of a film project
Once the film project has been set up correctly, the only thing left to focus on in the project management is problem solving. Despite all the problem-solving competence, it must never be forgotten that solving problems is only ever a means to an end. The sole purpose of any film project is to satisfy the client!
5 Project management
Just as railroads follow set tracks but still need a driver, film projects need a guide and leader along the way. The project manager ensures internal coordination processes in this phase. He integrates the customer in all important questions, is responsible for location determinations and additionally controls cooperations and subcontractors. He is also responsible for change management.
6 Control in the film project
Project control manifests itself in cost and project effort control, performance control and quality assurance. Depending on the scope and complexity of the project, the associated reporting is more or less extensive. Project control must be an issue in every film project in this world.
7 End of project
At the end of the project, the film project is usually far from over. After the project has been completed at the client (project acceptance / approval and debriefing), final internal organisational tasks have to be carried out. These are accompanied by a technical project evaluation and a provisional final business calculation. If public relations work accompanies the project, experience has shown that this can continue well beyond the end of the project. That’s another reason why it’s useful to keep in mind.
Film project: The human factor
After technical and organisational competence, human and interpersonal factors always have a major influence on the success of a project. It is not without reason that director Markus Welter calls himself a “tamer in the flea circus of affectionate professional idiots”.
Therefore, regardless of all theory, project managers should also consider motivation, leadership and communication as an important foundation of any project work. If you don’t enjoy contact with people, you will otherwise have a hard time in the industry.
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