I started out as many photographers do.
I fondly remember lugging gear into an old Ford Explorer, barely making it back to Beau Photo Rentals in time to make their 5pm close, lugging all the gear back out into their shop and onto the storage shelving. Alone.
Once in a while a friend, or my brother would help me in this endeavor, but a lot of the time it was alone. On friday nights I would pick up battery packs, heads, various light modifiers, a honda generator, boom stands, c-stands, sandbags, reflectors, flags, extension cords and would get half way home before realizing I'd forgotten the pocket wizards.
At Beau, when you rent on a Friday evening you get the gear till monday morning for a 1 day rental fee. Why is that such a great thing? Because for the price of a 1 day rental you get a potential 5 set ups.
1 shoot Friday night, 2 Saturday and 2 on Sunday...at least thats the way I started out. Shooting 5 setups in a weekend is a mammoth task but it was amazing for portfolio building. I would shoot dancers on Saturday, fashion or head shots on Sunday and maybe a band Friday night. In the beginning, if I could get the rental fee covered I was happy.
The real challenge was pulling it all together, most of the time on my own. Not to mention hauling the gear into my 16th floor apartment at the end of each evening.
Thats how I learned production...and producing. It was a jumble of coordination between hair and makeup, studio, assistant and models, as well as the numerous beer runs in leu of monetary payment. I think you need to pay your dues in life and I have no qualms about paying mine.
Things are different now, of course. Doing everything on my own is no longer feasible. As I grew in my craft and started receiving commissioned work the sheer amount of organization would leave me no room for the type of stress free, unbounded creative space you need when you're shooting.
So as they say; when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I found a producer.
A producer, if they're good, provides one overarching essential service: To provide you, the photographer with the backup and un-diminished support you need to do what you do best: take beautiful pictures.
In the beginning I admit that I often ignored the need for a location permit, for example. If somebody said anything, we would just pick up and move on somewhere else, easy. Nor did I worry too much about post production schedules, because well, their weren't any.
Then, all of a sudden people want to start paying me, go figure. And with that came a whole slew of responsibility, being unprepared was no longer acceptable and my producer took that burden off my shoulders.
A few things your producer will do for while you're shooting and focussed on delivering your best work:
-make sure all location permits are in order
-deal with cranky models who don't like the hotel you've booked them
-deal with modeling agencies
-work a deal with the tow truck driver who's about to tow your car because you can't read signs
-make sure the advance cheque is deposited (you did make sure you got an advance, right?)
-negotiate price and cost with the agency when they realize they need a 5th setup shot (you only agreed on 4)
-book your flights
-organize the power point presentation for your pre-production meeting with the agency
-write the job cost estimates
-make sure you don't go over your estimate
-phone for a new head because you've blown one
-feed you and your crew
-chase down your balance cheque
-organize a wrap party/dinner/drinks for you and the agency after the shoot (this one is important, an agency expects to be taken out...after all they just paid you $50,000 to shoot a pair of sneakers.
anyway, there's a million other things a producer does, but you get my point.
If you have an overseas/out of town shoot, you'll probably end up hiring a local production service company to do the above work.
I've learned that part of becoming successful is developing good delegation skills. You simply can't do everything so you need to find backup, someone that has your butt...because at the end of the day, its your ass on the line. If your shoot messes up...its 100% you.
As with most of the things I write about on this blog, this advice comes out of the hardships derived from experience. I have disappointed a few (not too many, thank goodness) clients in my time simply because I thought I could handle more than I was able to.
Your next question is probably: well, where do I find a producer? You'll be surprised: Usually the best producers don't necessarily have photography knowledge per se but rather a great sense of order and good, effective communication skills. They are people that like to be in charge, are often creative thinkers and most importantly great problem solvers. A lot of producing after all is simply problem solving.
If you think about you probably know someone like this but more often than not you might want to search around for a production company or a freelance producer. They're out there...and I highly recommend them.
Well, that's it for now, I'm off to the kitchen to produce myself a beer. Till next time ;-)