Angst Alleviation

When one witnesses a Producer, on the Day of Show, moving fast, running around, walkie-talkie against the ear and in heated discussions with crew or cast, putting out fires, sweating, being extremely busy; one is likely witnessing a Producer who is under-qualified for the job s/he has taken and who is in way over his/her head.

A Producer who knows the job and is good at it has resolved or circumvented all foreseeable problems, has all teams built and briefed, tech is spec’d, riders are filled, script is familiar to all support players by Day of Show. On that day, the competent producer awakens refreshed, confident, with everything in order…fully abreast of the status of all components of the production, having thought through the myriad possible negative eventualities and, if necessary, prepared to switch to Plan B….or C…or…

“Producers” who are swamped and busy on Show Days are, IMHO, the sort that give actual, good Producers a bad name. A competent Producer’s time on Show Day is spent in handholding the client and being available to make last-minute decisions for the unforeseen eventualities. Show Day should be calm.

All these “shoulds”…

Yes, actually: Show Day ought be about tiny tweaking of the production, final adjustments, dealing with water main breaks and recalcitrant smoke alarms…not building the show.

No angst.

There are three, primary things among the hundreds on the original To Do list that have and continue to serve me and my productions extremely well in the run-up to a show. And, here they are:

One Document

From the moment plans begin for a production of any magnitude, a single document is created to which only one person has editorial access and on which each and every single component and action of the production is included. If it’s going to happen, it’s on that document; if it is not on that document, it does not happen. I call this my “TimeLine;” it includes all components of a runsheet, production schedule and script.

It works, fantastically.

From the beginning, with the very first decisions, every meeting is listed (along with where and when, who’s attending and who’s responsible for seeing that the meeting actually happens), every site visit, every delivery, every parking slot and load-in time… As the production grows, the document grows, and begins to reflect every call-time, every warning, every cue and every speech or bit of script.

In my productions, whether I am creative producer or director, I generally build and maintain this document, myself. Something changes; it only becomes official when it shows up in the TimeLine. Someone wants to change their script; that needs to be reflected on the TimeLine (or the change will likely not show up on the TelePrompTer).

In this way; I know what components are not showing up on deadline and who isn’t delivering, I have a clear sense of timing – of how long the show runtime looks, how tight the schedule is, where there is play and where we are going to need to shave or cut something.

I recently was a part of a production where the client showed up on the day of the show with new scripts (in new typefaces) with no indication of what had been changed and what had remained constant. No one knew the status of the script until the dress rehearsal, and even then the show was in flux ‘til the last minute. We pulled it off, but a central, respected and adhered-to document such as I use would have alleviated this dynamic.

Every addition or change goes through one person, the fulcrum, and is distributed as a pdf.

Production Meetings

In parallel with the development and maintenance of the TimeLine Document is the Full Team Production Meeting. To me, this is obvious; a Gimme. But I have been surprised at the number of times I witness Producers who short-circuit their own productions by dismissing the importance of this complete forum, in advance. Instead, they seem to hold information as valuable in its secrecy and dole out details on a “need-to-know” basis.

I’m the opposite; I believe that information is most valuable when shared.

Thoroughly communicating with all teams on a production is no substitute for getting everyone (and, by that, I mean EVERYONE) involved in the production in the same place at the same time to talk through the script, minute-by-minute. In my experience, these documents very often define moments and action down to the half- or quarter-minute; not only giving the team a compelling sense of timing and order of show, but also making clear the flow of activity for each, individual component or person from offstage arrival to onstage performance, and back again.

This exercise, conducted a few weeks prior to the show (and again, a day or two before) gives everyone from Craft Service to Stage Manager the very clear picture of what is to happen when as well as where everything and everyone else is at any given moment. VERY handy when something goes awry and a quick substitution is needed. Everyone knows who and what is where and can make informed, professional decisions or suggestions and substitutions on the fly; not depending on finding a higher-up to assess the situation.

A thoroughly-informed crew of professionals is invaluable; and will make the Producer look damn good in some of the most difficult situations.

They can also save the Production money.

As different teams (electrical, technical, staging, lighting, props, whatever) share their load-in requirements and logistical pieces of the puzzle; I have witnessed, time and again, the spontaneous suggestion from the contractors to save the production money by sharing truck space, adjusting or trimming load-in and load-out times, all sort of cooperative logistics borne of being in the same room. Usually, after the full talk-through of the script, the group splits into break-outs for at-the-moment problem solving.

This also makes for an exceptionally cohesive production team. Darn handy at Load-in and through the show to Load-Out.

Production crews very often get quite a chuckle at my TimeLines…and they also keep and save them; as these documents reflect the vision for the show and communicate, at an almost visceral level, the tightness with which the show must run…and, it generally does run just that tight.

Listen

Finally; listen.

To everyone.

You never know.

Never assume one knows what another is about to say. Listen before formulating a response. Listen.

This serves the Producer and the Production in two (of probably hundreds of) ways.

First: solutions to problems can show up from the most unlikely places. Back when we were having a full production meeting for Closing Ceremonies for the Gay Games in NYC (Cyndi Lauper, Patti Labelle, Phyllis Hyman, Armistead Maupin, Sir Ian McKellan, 300 Jerry Mitchell choreographed dancers and 11,000 athletes – just a little show), we encountered a problem that we were having trouble navigating our way through during one of these production meetings.

Suddenly, from the back of the room where he’d been sipping coffee and eating a donut, one of our drivers growled out, “…Well, back in the day, when we were touring Carol Channing in ‘Hello Dolly,’ what we did was…” and he offered a great solution to our dilemma.

You never know; listen.

Ten extra minutes of listening can save hours, days, thousands of dollars.

The other thing about Listening, the magical thing, is the transformation of the group dynamic when it is practiced.

Here’s a Truth: when people feel authentically Heard, they become far less likely to resist and far more likely to accept and embrace whatever the results or outcome of a conversation or process.

IF they feel authentically heard.

This means, on the other hand, that we must listen, authentically. Until the statement or idea is out, communicated, fully articulated. There can be no answer-building until the thought is fully expressed.

A Producer (or any leader) who does this will

  1. likely learn something new or see a new perspective, more times than not, and
  2. experience far less, if any, resistance to the final decision when it is made, even when it is not in alignment with the original arguments posed against it.

A Professional Crew will respect the fact of your Listening and is likely to be more supportive of the project and deferential to the Producer, ongoingly.

Plan, plan, plan and listen, listen, listen; then, make your best decision and move forward. Just don’t forget your TimeLine!

9 thoughts on “Angst Alleviation

  1. Kile, I have such fond memories of the events we did together, and will never stop feeling grateful for what you taught me about the value of a detailed TimeLine.

    I feel like I’m growing too old to enjoy that “last minute” adrenalin. And I’m grateful to you for having taught me the skills to help avoid it (most of the time!).

    love to you,

    Marilyn

  2. You have certainly gotten to the real bottom line.
    I remember when I had the opportunity to run my first film shoot. It was a time when I literally know NOTHING about the film industry but a lot about business and people.
    Even before the call of “ACTION” my set was organized, all hands were on desk and there was an air of confidence and calm that I haven’t seen since – with the exception of the time I worked with you during the production of the SATE Conferences.

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