We were recently reading a great article from a blog called ‘Videothink’ entitled “The Competence to Recognize Incompetence in Film and Video.” We were struck by how difficult (and scary) it would be to for an agency to choose a production partner. After all, there are literally tens of thousands of individuals and groups on the internet that claim to be professional video production companies. Given the blinding number of options, it is a formidable question.
Step one of any search is obvious: look at the work they have done and take the basic steps to research their background and reputation. While it does take some effort, there are numerous helps like the local ad club listings. Don’t just rely on these companies’ rankings on search engines like Google. Make the effort to contact creative directors or businesses represented on their Show Reel or website.
However, what struck us about the article are the deeper strategies suggested in evaluating a production company partner. The harsh reality is that no matter how well a production is produced, there will inevitably be unforeseen creative, technical and logistical obstacles during the process. It is simply a reaffirmation of Murphy’s Law: a deluge breaks out on what was to be a sunny exterior shooting day, a camera flash card that won’t transfer, an all-important line that was omitted from a shooting script or a talent stuck at an airport. To anyone working long in the production business, the laundry list of obstacles is huge but a given. To address this uncertainty, the article suggests three areas to affirm a production company’s competence: problem solving competence, experience competence and technical competence.
‘Problem solving’ really has two faces. One face is bidding and preproduction where your potential production partner has the golden opportunity to offer their creative options to your boards or communication goals. Given any two-production companies, there should be a least two different solutions proffered. One company may figure that a shooting solution must lie in using a green screen while the other may see a perfectly doable and affordable solution “in-camera.” One company might advocate 2D graphics, the other 3D. This will be your first real insight into how a company and director think and the competency behind that thinking. On larger spot commercial projects a standard protocol is for directors to submit a “treatment” as to how they would approach your project. Regardless, you should be very wary of anyone who claims there is only one solution to a given production challenge. “This is the only way…” or “The way we have always done it…” are red flags. The second face of problem-solving is a temporal one. There is always a very real possibility that there will be snafus on the set. In fact, count on it. Inevitably there is a considerable amount of production money on the line on a shoot day adding to the overall stress. You will want to know that your production team can keep it’s cool in these situations. The last thing you will want is a director who turns into a screamer or a producer that melts down.
We live in an era that does not always place a premium or even offer perfunctory validity to ‘experience.’ The subtext of so much thinking is that somehow experience will stifle the creative process or individuals with great experience will be “locked-in” to a stodgy way of thinking. While experience does not necessarily beget creativity, certainly competence cannot be derived without experience. But in the necessarily collaborative process that is video production, experience is a multiplier force. In even the most modest productions, there are numerous hands touching the process. Writers, directors, producers, gaffers, best boys, sound technicians, editors, makeup artists, location scouts; all these people bring a variety of different experiences to the table. Inevitably, the best production management acknowledges that every production member’s experience can be used to achieve a better product. The best production companies do not place their egos in the way of experienced thinking. Indeed, the best companies actively surround themselves with experienced crew and collaborators. Over the years, some of the best suggestions to us have come from a variety of crew positions by people that simply have a ton of – experience.