Film Producing: Timeliness is Next to Godliness

If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. 

I love this adage. I live by it. What surprises me over and over is that others don’t. They don’t even recognize it. But being on time is one of the simplest forms of respect.

When working on a film set, the first assistant director is a time piece personified. Without them, directors and crew would run overtime without a second thought and then wonder why it’s midnight. First ADs keep everything running on time and lobby to move on to the next scene. Their nights are filled with call sheets, schedules, and stop watches timing how long each scene will take to film, how long each light will take to set up, and how long the actors will be in make up.

TimeTime is money. The projects I have been privileged enough to produce have all been low-budget with no wiggle room on funds. I’m no Michael Bay. I can’t call up a studio and ask for a blank check to be wired over for thirty-seven more explosions on any given day. What I am is a producer who works hard in making sure we stay under budget.

For example, when a shoot goes over time, I have to feed the crew an additional meal, so my catering budget suddenly goes “in the red” in the space of three hours.

But filming is fun. Playing with all the gadgets and exploring the characters is what movie-making is all about. It’s the reason we do this. True, but movie-making is also a business, and there is no room for stalling on set. Time is free until we run out of it.

Many people think filmmaking starts on the first day of principal photography. This is a common misconception because, if anyone is getting paid to work on the project, payment begins on day one. However, the director, producer, writer, cinematographer and first AD are working several weeks in advance (usually for no or little pay) on preparing for the shoot. This is “pre-production.”

Planning equals preparation. Preparation saves time, and thus, money.

Rehearsals help the director work with the actors so there is no character development conversations on set. Scene breakdowns help the cinematographer and the first AD plan what will be shot each day. Shot lists help the grips and gaffers set up lights and rigs, a process which can take hours. Location “recces” are scheduled to scope out the space you’ll be filming in. Where are the electrical sockets? How high are the ceilings for lights? Is there running water for the bathrooms?

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However, time is not only measured on set.

Your time is your most valuable asset. All of the projects I have worked on thus far have been paid for with time and passion for film. I have not yet made this a money making career, but that’s okay. I’m making a name for myself and “paying my dues.” I’m working with wonderful people and creating contacts for the future. So, for these projects and films, my time is my only bargaining chip.

But it’s when my time is taken for granted, I get irritated and demotivated. I have found time in my day to dedicate to a project, so it’s not unfair for me to assume others have done the same. Meetings start late because colleagues have strolled in without a care in the world. Others have been canceled last minute and never rescheduled for whatever reason. “Oh, let me call you back in fifteen minutes” turns into forty-five. Or the most common, a “more important” phone call is taken during a meeting.

While I’m sitting on a call or in a meeting, I am taking time away from doing anything else. I could be looking for a paid opportunity, working on another project, or even taking time for myself to enjoy life.

There is another adage that comes to mind here: you get what you pay for. Is it because I’m not getting paid that my time can be taken for granted? Because others get paid in this industry, does that make them superior to me and thus more of a priority? Is my time worth less?

Since I’m still learning and “paying my dues,” I often let it slide and chalk it up to the industry. But how long do I accept the blatant disregard for my time and energy? Passion only goes so far.

Maybe this makes me old-fashioned. Or maybe, time really is money, and money is always in short supply. But you know what is even more scarce?

Time.

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