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Speed and flexibility with a strong backbone for film production

The time and scale of making most films come as a shock to most of the film-makers involved. It takes intense focus, collaboration, innovation, ingenuity, and high-performing teams, to come through with a great product at the end. Incorporating the “agile principles” will help move the needle enough to peek the film-maker’s interest everywhere. So, what do we mean by agility?

Agility is the ability of an organization to renew itself, adapt, change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing, ambiguous, turbulent environment. Agility is not incompatible with stability—quite the contrary. Agility requires stability for most organizations. Agility needs two things. One is a dynamic capability, the ability to move fast—speed, nimbleness, responsiveness. And agility requires stability, a stable foundation—a platform, if you will—of things that don’t change. It’s this stable backbone that becomes a springboard for the organization, an anchor point that doesn’t change while a whole bunch of other things are changing constantly. A film production environment is constantly changing, often is ambiguous, and turbulent.

A typical film production effort takes up to one year to get up and running to the 2nd year when the film is actually made. The 3rd year is when sales/distribution effort can happen. During the first year, it is the three core members of the team – writer, director and producer – who are actively involved on a regular basis. The emphasis during this phase is to develop the script to a mutually acceptable stage through repeated re-writes of several drafts. They meet in core team huddles to become the stable foundation or anchor for rest of the team when production efforts start. Usually the writer overlaps with the editor through the shoot and then the writer’s role is mostly taken over by the editor, who along with the director does the final story-telling for the screen.

The Core Huddles

The director is the owner of this huddle and the producer facilitates the process. Incorporating the agile principles would mean that the core team will come together on a regular basis in a huddle with clear mindsets about three aspects:

  • Have a focus on continuous learning and building a learning culture at all levels of the production unit. This in turn helps build a production organization where people continually expand their capabilities to understand complexity, clarify vision and improve shared mental models.

  • Facilitate the creation of self-organizing teams that interact with a sample target consumer-segment for insight regularly and work together towards the same shared ambition or goal. The basis for a self-organizing team is mutual trust and respect.

  • Prepare their team leaders to be coaches rather than managers. Coaches empower teams to create autonomy by inspiring confidence and belief, supporting mastery and setting a clear purpose. They hold teams accountable for delivering results and regulate tension for innovation.

During the 2nd year, the core huddles will expand and intensify on more frequent intervals during the pre-production period (which is week 1 – 19 of the 2nd year) as we move towards the actual production (principle photography/shooting). Depending on the agenda, the director could invite the casting director, production assistants, location manager, production design manager, art director, director of photography, or even the executive producer, into the core huddles.

The Production Huddles

These huddles are also owned by the director and facilitated by the producer, starts during the pre-production period (weeks 1 - 19) and runs through the shooting period (Weeks 20 – 25). Agenda for these huddles include topics such as script breakdown, casting, story-boarding, production design, locations, catering, etc. They end up being the catch-all of huddles that brings the new team members on-board the processes as well. These provide the centered leadership by engaging all the parts often to connect with others with empathy, vitality, listening and expression. While the producer leads the team by setting the tone with shared ambition, openness, servant-hood and harmony, the director provides the focus, empowerment, direction, co-creation, optimism and vision. Early on the casting director will be employed to help pull the casting of various roles in the film. In week 6, the director, free from production issues, will start story-boarding with an artist. A production assistant joins the team to share the burden on the producer, starting with breaking down the script, budgets, more calls to make, more paperwork to file, etc.

Week 11 sees the first among the creative team join the crew. The production designer and location manager work together to view possible locations, while they strive to find an overall cohesive look to the film, consider various props and dressings. Very quickly the whole crew will appear and the workload is more evenly spread out. Often the producer might have a crisis of the creative kind and so should keep their eye on the creative elements such as casting, locations, props, storyboards, even on-set direction and coverage. They are a second level directorial control and should be seen as a safety net for the director.

The Principle Photography Huddles

These huddles are owned by the director and typically facilitated by the director of photography (DP). The DP who joins the team a week before the shooting (week 20 – 25) and is responsible to get the right shots into the can. The director is still accountable for the creative vision and timeliness of the shots delivered. The objective is to have the “designed-to-fit” shots, with flexibility to change and be on schedule. All the while they have to be mindful of reduced waste and increased throughput, while continually improving. Typically, the shooting period is when we have all the crew and cast involved. So, it is very possible that these huddles will have extended team members invited into the huddle to address specific items in the agenda. These huddles could continue through the re-shoot period (week 26 – 39), while much of the crew is gone. Hopefully you will get better coverage – better shots as they get well thought out and well lit because of all the pre-planning that went on before the shoot began. You can so shoot more footage, which means there will be more in the cutting room to help make difficult scenes work.

The Post-production Huddles

With the re-shoots over in week 39, the post-production (weeks 40 - 52) begin and goes on until the end of the 2nd year. Often the writer will be out of the loop during this phase and it is the director and the editor who take over full creative control. They work together to cut the movie, bring in the sound, work with the composer for music, complete re-edits, and lock the picture. The film production will pass through a much less creative stage, but it’s a lot of work getting the picture conformed to a very high technical standard, titles, and effects added, and the soundtrack is filled out and mixed. The post-production huddles are typically facilitated by the producer.

The Marketing/Sales/Distribution Huddles

For the sales and distribution to work effectively during the 3rd year, during the post-production phase (week 40-52 of 2nd year) the marketing team will be getting ready with all the press and publicity materials. These include the flyers, websites, posters, images, paper press pack, regular press releases, electronic press kits (EPKs), the CD audio radio EPK, etc. While all this is getting ready, the sales and distribution planning will have to be done as well. The marketing/sales/distribution huddles will again be owned by the director and facilitated by the producer, but will have the entire marketing team involved.

Much of what is achieved through these huddles is governance, which is actually about decision making. We need speed in decision making and stability. We need stability to make good decisions but also to get fast decision making. What has to be stable, for instance, is that you have empowered the people lower down in the team with a clear mandate that they can take the decisions needed. That has to be clear and it has to be a stable element of your operating model. And that stability is provided by the core team that is constant from the beginning to the end – the director and producer – who should be joined at the hip while the director is the creative head and the producer is the business head. They along with the writer and the editor become the backbone that is the springboard for rest of the movie production team. So, again, it’s this combination of speed and flexibility, a dynamic model in a stable frame, that actually gives you true agility.

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