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What has Project Management to do with Film and Video Production?

What has Project Management to do with Film and Video Production?

Film and video production is an industry rarely mentioned or referred to in project management literature, PM training or source material. However, these industries are excellent examples of project-based industries bursting with interesting challenges for project managers.

Years of working in the media and film production industries as a producer with Project Management Professional Certification, has made me want to draw attention to the similarities between the roles and responsibilities of a project manager and a producer.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as ‘a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result’. The production of each film or video is a project in itself and project management is therefore a crucial part of these industries. The phases of film production projects can be compared to project management processes defined by the PMI as illustrated below:

There are no real recognised clear internationally standardised rules or models for how to make successful films and some independent filmmakers do produce films singlehandedly. However, the focus here will be on larger film projects or commercial video productions.

Producing films by developing the project, taking it into production and finding a market for the finished product is generally a team effort and requires a wide range of talents, experts and skills to achieve the best result. As is often said ‘teamwork makes the dream work’!!

Perhaps the lack of references to the film industry in project management material is due to the absence of the title of ‘project manager’. Despite the absence of that particular role on film production teams, a closer look at the responsibilities of a producer and project manager shows the similarities of the two roles.

PMI defines project management as ‘the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.’

Similarly, a producer is usually responsible for taking the project from development through to production and distribution. The key responsibility of the producer is to secure funding, create an environment where everyone else can flourish and excel, while steering the film project from beginning to end by bringing together all the required elements and talents. Similarly to the project manager, the producer is often the first person to get involved with the project.

As the project develops, a wide range of people become involved in the project and the producer will steer the process. Close to the production phase, the producer will be responsible for defining the value of the film project and compiling a budget before production can begin.

Producing a film can be a complex endeavour and many different people and personalities are involved-just to mention a few practitioners: 1) scriptwriters, actors, directors 2) production and post-production crew 3) investors, bankers, broadcasters etc. 4) marketing, sales distribution and other promotional services.

Like the project manager, the producer is not expected to be an expert in all the above-mentioned areas of film production but should have in-depth knowledge of the industry and lead, delegate and control all the various elements to keep the project on track. Stakeholder management is a crucial skill and the best producers do not only have technical knowledge and expertise but also have valuable connections within the industry and acquisition, which can make or break the project.

Unlike project managers in other fields, however, the producer has little control over the final product or result. The film industry is unpredictable and trouble-shooting, stakeholder management and crises handling are some of the most required skills from producers.

Stakeholder management include communication and handling of crew, talents, investors and executive producers.

Film production companies are inherently project-based organisations, which makes them dynamic and flexible enough to adjust to a project of any size. However, it also means that they lack traditional organisational structures that deliver the strategic advantage that other more traditionally structured organisations have.

The lack of such organisational structure is made up by a recognised hierarchical structure, based on roles and responsibilities amongst all those involved in a production. For example, practitioners hired on a film project are ‘experts’ in their own fields and everyone is familiar with the ‘line of command’.

However, this does not mean that challenges such as vision vs. budget, egos etc. do not often occur. A good producer should know how to balance these and how to lead the way to achieve the best result possible within the scope and budget available.

Film financing can prove to be a real hurdle and poor financial planning for costs and cost overruns during pre-production can have significant impact on the quality of the final result.

The combination of the vision of an ambitious director and inexperienced producer can result in mistakes and miscalculations. For example, underestimating costs, which spiral out of control run a real risk of putting the project in danger of failing to sustain quality in post-production and thereby also the final result.

The role of the film producer is, taking all the above elements into account, in many ways similar to that of a project manager. They are both key to making all components come together and to ensuring that projects are successful.

Project management in film and video production offers valuable insights into one of the most demanding and ever-changing project-based industries, which forces project managers to think outside the box. Therefore it should have a place amongst other industries referred to in project management material.

By S. Sommerlund, Producer