This summer has been really busy, as I write this I’m scoring another short film, project managing two small game projects, and the usual myriad of volunteer work and business. Recently, the Agape Villages documentary was completed and published. It was certainly a learning experience filled with visions, decisions, delays and workarounds.
I learned quite a few things on this project as it was my first time managing and producing something of this scale on my own and not part of someone else’s production. So the next 3 articles are dedicated to this project experience and the lessons learned along the way!
Small Budget, Big Ambition
This project initially came to me in October of 2013. I had been contacted by someone at the agency who was related to some friends of mine who had obviously told them about me and that I do video production. After a few phone conferences and an in-person meeting I let the client know that for their budget (very constrained) I would look for a team who could do it for that amount and if I could put together anything, I would commit to the project. Luckily I have connections to quite a few colleagues eager to build their portfolio with work.
Within the first few weeks I had a solid idea of the project, the scope of the production, and a team I would be relying on to help produce. Initially, the core team was a collective 5 man crew (including myself). Hearing them give the commitment to the project I proceeded forward with contract and initial payment invoice to get the project under way. We started in November with pre-production, planning and talking out all the production points, what gear we had collectively to accomplish what we were after.
Here’s the first major lesson I ran into. The idea of doing a production, and actually working on a production are two very different things. Even though I had experienced, observed and absorbed quite a bit in the previous projects I had worked on there is nothing close to experiencing project management and producing first-hand. Our first order of business to start production required getting the agency to provide us with the interviewees. In this unique case, dealing with a foster family agency meant all of the fosters who have been through their program would be just barely of age to give legal consent to be on camera, and it was up to the agency to select who they would send us. The worst part, all of these kids were full time students whom are also working, and during holiday season that literally put a stall on the production schedule.
I kept in good communication with both the crew and the client agency to keep things moving smoothly and await any word that we would be able to start scheduling. It went from January to March of 2014 just to select and start communicating with all of the fosters that would be getting interviewed. Here’s where the 2nd lesson revealed itself.
Vision versus Execution
In my initial contract I had figured for a small project like this - and as little paying as it was, to plan through November, shoot in December, and hit Post production (including writing custom music) in January. I figured it would have been completely feasible and I put a tentative deadline in the contract for a first delivery for client review on January 31st.
I’m reminded of a quote, “There is nothing further from reality than our expectation of how it should be.” And it’s never rang more true than now. Thankfully, the client agency was in no hurry to get the finished product and since I had been keeping in good communication and letting them know what was happening every step of the way, the only pressure was simply completing the project. It bummed me out that we were going so far beyond my initial schedule, but taking the time to reflect on the vision and letting go of what is out of our control made it easier to stay focused on the task at hand. The team I had put together was still willing to put in the work and shoot the interviews.
With the client agency helping get the ball rolling with the interviewees finally, I asked my team to help with location scouting. We had several ideas collectively that myself and several team-members set out to get pictures of and share with the group to discuss which held the best potential for interviewing young adults. Our first location option was Stan. State but last minute that option fell through. In February Christian had scouted several locations on campus and made contact with the campus administration about potentially filming there. The initial contact sounded promising, but a week before our scheduled shoot date I had Christian follow up with his contact on campus and to get a letter or written permission to be on campus shooting, which was promptly met with barring information: we would have to schedule with the campus permissions at least a month in advance and have to pay $1500 to be permitted to film on campus. That was 1.5x our client’s entire budget so that option quickly went out the window.
Our other location option had been on and off the table for a couple of months as the connections with the administration at this church in Modesto that Rafael had been scouting were not completely solid. This led us to bypass this potential shooting spot several times during scheduling.
The team also mentioned scouting Picasso’s Deli as they had connections to the place in Modesto, and the initial scout was fairly quick but also double duty as a location scout for a friend’s potential film production later on. We would eventually circle around to this location for a shoot later but for our first scheduled interview it didn’t quite match the mood we were after.
Out of all the locations we had scouted, the final one on my list I scouted was in Manteca. Crossroads Church was massive and thankfully the pastors there were more than helpful despite the church’s facilities being quite busy all days of the week. This one would prover rather tough to coordinate with later on.
After several location scouts during March and April, the new major struggle was trying to coordinate not just my team’s schedule (they all have day jobs), but access to the locations, as well as the interviewees we would need on camera. With our first shoot date coming up very soon we settled on Agape’s offices to shoot the company’s mission statement and interview with the director of the branch.
In the next article, hitting production and beyond, including the snags. Stay tuned!