Production is a tough business to learn.
Of course you can go to film school to learn film theory and camera techniques, but the nuts and bolts of running a shoot, it’s tough to find a teacher.
Most people assume the only way you can learn is by being on set and watching how the machine runs. This is the way I learned, and this is the way everyone I know learned.
A couple weeks ago I got the chance to hit up the AICP (THE ASSOCIATION OF INDEPENDENT COMMERCIAL PRODUCERS) seminar, and I was blown away. Everything I had learned (and more) by years of being on set had been condensed into a two-day workshop.
I had walked in with low expectations, hoping I would glean a few things here or there, but was floored by the two days.
The two days consisted of five sections, outlining the production process. This seminar was technically for commercial specific productions, but nearly all of it can be transferred to indie filmmaking.
PART 1: CREW AND LABOR UNIONS (AICP BUDGET)
This section was one I was actually looking forward to the most. Dealing with unions as a small Producer can be scary. There are so many little things you need to keep an eye on all the time.
I knew from my experience working the accounting department on big productions. If you look at the timecards for the union folks, you can see just how intricate these rules become.
Meal penalties, forced call, turnaround time, these are all foreign terms to most people. If you are producing a shoot with union crew or talent, you need to know the ins and outs, or you could face big fines.
The AICP presenters went through the overarching issues with most small productions and how to tackle each. During my years working in production, the unions have always had a bad rap, but they’re there for a reason.
In terms of something bad happening on your set, it’s often much easier to deal with a union than a lawsuit. The unions came from a time when there were so few rules and regulations on sets that people died working on films.
Even today, non-union shoots have gone sideways and people have been hurt or killed. The unions exist to protect the workers. When you think about it, most of their rules are common sense. Unfortunately, many people lose their common sense when working on a set.
PART 2: THE BID (AICP BUDGET FORM)
The bidding process was foreign to me. This is a process used often by commercial production companies.
I know the bidding process can sound tedious, but I was fascinated by their reasoning behind every number. They took us through a working budget that had been proposed by a commercial production company to an advertising agency.
The budget we were shown was detailed down to the penny. My biggest takeaway during this section were the markup costs. I look at a lot of budgets and never see where production companies are actually making their money.
Since this is a business that needs profit in order to handle the overhead costs of the business, where does the profit come into play?
I learned that every line item has a 25% markup when they present their budget to the agency. There is also a 3% insurance cost on every line item across the board. The agency will usually try to negotiate down from the 25% markup, but this markup is important to keep the production company afloat.
Sometimes, the production company will cave and go with a lower markup, depending on the project. If the project is important to the company creatively, then it may be in their best interest to take a profit cut to work on a really cool project.
PART 3: PARTNERING WITH THE FINANCIAL DEPARTMENT
I know this sounds super boring, but it was actually incredibly informative. This section covered incredibly useful topics. For example:
- Knowing your reporting requirements for employees and independent contractors
- Forms and legal requirements
- Production insurance and insurance certificates
I would’ve scoffed at this section at one point, but now I’m fascinated with it. These are the issues that can destroy a business and having them correctly in place for ShoHawk will take use one step closer to being the type of production company people want to work for.
PART 4: BOARDS TO BROADCAST
This was the big section — it was the sizzle of the entire weekend. During this section we had a working production company take us through the entire process of receiving storyboards from an agency, to the final broadcast spot.
The entire process took about three months total – they first bid the project in late July and the spot was completely edited by the end of October. The entire process looked a little something like this:
- Agency contacted Production Company with storyboards, asked for a bid.
- Production Company put a bid together, took about three total working days. They found out that they were bidding against two other production companies / directors. This is common – it’s called triple bidding when you bid against two competitors.
- They hear they’re awarded the bid, they’re given a week to compile a shooting schedule before they move into casting, location scouting, hiring crew, etc.
- They are given 4 days to complete the shoot for two 15-second commercials, and one 30 second commercial.
- Production is given a couple weeks to completely wrap files, pay crew, etc.
- The edit takes about a month and a half for all three spots and goes to air.
There is an incredible amount of information I’ve left out and the only place you can get this is by actually going to the seminar. I would’ve paid a ton of money to go to this section by itself. It was that good.
PART 5: DIGITAL PRODUCTION BID
This section was just as interesting as the others, but a little shorter because the bidding process for digital is very similar to bidding physical production.
At the seminar we were taken through a digital production bid for 15-second commercials that were completely digital. These are the types of commercials you would see entirely made from graphics for something like a sporting event.
While I really enjoyed the presenter in this section, it was a lot of what had been laid out in the previous sections about the bid form and bid letter.
If you want to fast track your production leanings, this is the place to start. I took away an incredible amount of knowledge from this weekend – I would suggest taking a look at their calendar and signing up as soon as possible!