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Updated: Dec 17, 2020

nothing beats being prepared for a project

entry no. 26

For many years I dreamed about having $10k, $50k, or even $100k project budgets. It's exciting to think about the creative things we could do with bigger budgets. Money grants us the ability to solve a lot of problems, but it also increases the stakes. What if, when I get one of those opportunities, I'm not prepared to handle it or worse, I get one, and it doesn't look any different than what I've already done. Maybe there are a few actions we can be taking now, that cost nothing financially that could help us level up projects easily and prepare us to manage the dream budgets.

I'm a firm believer in the power of clear information, communication, organization, and a well-oiled process. For the most part, all of this is free, but cost us the most valuable and impactful resource, time. How we use our time has a direct reflection on our outcome. It's the ultimate accountability tool. I try to operate each day, project, and touchpoint with the idea that I'm moving the needle of my business forward incrementally in a healthy, sustainable way. I wanted to share a few tips we've gained over the years that have made the most significant difference in our shoot day effectiveness.

01: SHOT-LISTS In the beginning, it was all fun and games and projects had less risk. It's easy to miss the carefree fun of jumping in and making something brand new, but what we don't miss is the 20 hour days we often found ourselves in because we just went with the flow. We started to reduce the time on projects the most when we started hashing out more concise shot-lists. It's not that we needed something to tell us what a project should look like, but removing the guesswork of what was required dramatically help us stay on task. Shooting what you know you need for a project to be complete and seeing it all check-off eases minds for all parties.

This has evolved over the years, and everyone does it a bit differently. I'm not sure there's an entirely correct manner, but we have a way that works well for us. I think in terms of lighting and set design often. These make up our scenes for a project, and each scene has shots within it. We always start with band-related shots, because it creates more momentum for us and takes up the most time. Building our day like this lets us set the shot-list by terms of priority and opens up more freedom on the more creative shots. Start simple and work you're way up. It builds confidence and usually gets the action starting quicker.

02: CALL SHEETS The next item is call sheets. These come in many shapes and sizes, and I think some producers get lost in what their real purpose is. As freelancers, we've been plagued with the 11p call sheet for a 6a call time. This is a real issue. Call sheets do several things, but the easiest way to look at them is information sharing and alignment teams. Every successful production wants to be efficient, on time, and feel like a team with chemistry, so as creatives, we should be doing our best to use the information to create power. This can be as simple as a schedule, contact info, location and job description, or very thorough with specifically assigned tasks. The more projects you do, the more issues you start to identify and solve beforehand, proactively.

When I form a call sheet, I start from a place of basics; client, project type, date(s), schedule, team names and roles, client names, and talent. This is basically a CALL SHEET 101, but we usually take them a few steps deeper with camera tech, lighting details, scene details, shot lists per scene, mood boards, team, and client to-do list, and goals of the shoot. We do this because it allows us to proactively answer questions, be accountable, and, most importantly, saves us time. Call sheets are a great visualization exercise, forcing you to estimate tasks and become more in-tune with your day. That's been a big way I reduce my pre-shoot nerves.

03: PREP DAYS Whether renting, using your gear, or a hybrid of the two, prep days are a valuable thing, and you should definitely be doing them. Admittedly for years, we did the bare minimum of charging batteries and maybe loading a vehicle the night before. You can get by, but today I know how I work best and what reduces my stress. It's prep days. Knowing I have every tool loaded days before a project, everything is charged, paperwork is done, and I'm waking up and heading to set to get right to work is freeing. It allows me to be present in execution and not worrying I missed something and will have to find some creative solution around a critical piece of gear or delay the schedule.

For us, the projects vary in terms of prep, but before every project, we look over the needed items on the call sheet, pack the cases, charge the batteries, test cables, pre-rig our camera and wireless monitors, load up the cars and pack our hard drives. Our prep days usually take us anywhere between 2-8hrs depending on how extensive the music video is and how many technical pieces there are. It's pretty obvious, but the biggest take away is how much time this creates on production day for a less rushed start, but to me, it always translates to safer productions. I've hated some projects I've worked where the team feels pushy and rushed at the sake of getting set, so we emphasize this step to ensure our team can take their time and freely communicate with the team for the best success rate.

04: COMMUNICATION Everyone under the sun says communication is important, but what type of communication and what topics? It's easy to have a casual call or text chain and call it communication, but how is it positively affecting your projects success rate. We've also had our share of being on set and lacking clarity on what the goals of the project were, leaving us working reactively to every new situation. Communication is anything that shares information to empower, inspire, and prepare our team, client, or talent for the project at hand.

We do a few things in specific manners for a handful of reasons. Once we have the call sheet, rentals, and prep for a project placed, we like to do production calls with our team. In these calls, we go over the call sheet specifics, their roles and responsibilities, critical things I think they can do best for the project, and leave the floor open for questions or concerns they have. In addition, we like to explain how the project came to be and what it means for all. A considerable part of our team culture is to treat everyone with respect and seeing eye to eye. We believe transparency opens the door for trust, and that is what makes our set experience so enjoyable for all involved.

Nothing really beats being prepared for a shoot. This list works for us in a way to reduce stress, mentally prepare, show our work, and create alignment for all parties. The reality is a few years back; we seriously thought the only issue we had was limited budgets, and that they were holding our creative thriving. At that time, we had some variety of these exercises in place, but we decided to double down and start preparing like we were working on more substantial budgets. It cost us time, but it paid off because we started seeing increase efficiency, more passion, and respect from our team and an overall increase in our creative quality and ability to perform. None of these things are sexy, but for us, they are essential to the success of our projects.

These tips can be applied if you're a large team or small. Even if it's dipping your toes one project at a time, we think this is these are helpful. The best part about these is you'll see the value each time and be able to refine your approach project after project. To help get you started, we've created a downloadable document available here. Download it and tell us how it works on your next project.

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