15 things I have learned about making a film

See Point 9 – hobnobs matter.

Here is what I have learned so far about being a film producer:
1. Get a recommended fixer on the case early on, especially when making a film in another country. You may follow all the formal procedure correctly, pay up your fees etc, but they know the informal politics and how things get done in practice. This will save you the 3am wake up panics. They still may not produce or help you get what you need but you will feel that at least someone else is helping you.
2. Film-making entails seemingly endless types of insurance, some of which depends on the contracts of your crew (i.e. who is liable for what and who) and where you’re filming, and what you’re insuring.
3. Cameras don’t operate themselves but need specialist camera huggers that come accompanied with a big box of ‘consumables’ which are seemingly sharpies and batteries and lenses that cost more than your mortgage. Camera huggers (aka first assist, camera operator, focus pullers), if like Gary, are the jewel of your crew.
4. Whatsapp will be both extremely helpful and the bane of your life. Remember to leave your phone in another room or be woken at 6am (looking at you Dusan) to messages from Tanzania.
5. Lots of people from the film world have useful advice. Lots of this is helpful, kind and well thought out. Good people.
6. Lots of people from the film world will tell you you can’t make the film you want, on your budget, with your crew. This is less helpful and akin to Professors shitting on early career researchers (thanks for pointing this out colleague Lee).
7. You get used to spending money, lots of it, filling in forms for the money spent, and keeping multiple spreadsheets in different colours.
8. Being a Producer means your job is to pick up the slack for everything. This means writing shooting schedules, chasing payments for crew, phoning HMRC to ascertain that everyone who tells you they’re self-employed are self-employed (this was a particularly low Monday in January), filling in medical ethics forms about clinical trial recruitment (yes, really), reprinting lost visa forms, responding to queries from everyone all the time. I did not anticipate or want to do any of these things six months ago. I still don’t want to.
9. Hobnobs, coffee and beer will always set the appropriate tone for a meeting.
10. You will learn that colour theory matters and purple means someone is going to die. I am reassessing purple in my wardrobe.
11. Colleagues will be supportive and amused by your project, and also pull the ‘impressive, but rather you than me’ face. I also find myself pulling this face at myself. Colleagues are also a good source of wisdom when you encounter hurdles.
12. Good friends are essential to this process. They read stuff, give excellent feedback (shout out Lucy, Amy, Gem and Kieran), and generally send positive vibes. I may get ‘it will all be alright’ tattooed onto my boyfriend’s forehead to save him having to repeat it every day.
13. Planning to make a film in Tanzania tells you a lot about the Tanzanian state and politics. It will lead to a fruitful period of academic thought and ideas.
14. The film industry knows what everyone does and recognises people for particular skills. These skills and this recognition are fiercely protected. I like that. It’s refreshing to work with a sector that protects its labour.
15. I like being an academic and never wanted to be a film producer. But the thrill of seeing my academic work in a screenplay and take aesthetic shape is quite something.


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