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8 Lessons for Skinny and Smart Production

As a young production company we have come a long way. We want to share some of the techniques and approaches we use to overcome the challenges we encounter in our growth.

1. Find Your Counterparts

Our team was built on a chance encounter at Southeastern Filmmakers. That encounter led us to explore the strength and weaknesses within our team and try to involve more people who could fill in those weaknesses and make Bold Horse stronger as an organization. When trying to grow on your own, the most important thing is to find your counterparts — those people who you can grow with mutually in order to improve as a whole.

Every production you work on is an opportunity to grow your team. When we have team-members who are freelancing on outside productions, we always tell them to keep a sharp eye out for fresh talent. Working on other productions is the fastest way to find other people who could be your counterparts, and if not your counterpart, perhaps a mentor.

2. Be Self-Aware

It’s very important — especially when starting something new — to step back and take a good, hard look at yourself. You should be able to answer these questions honestly and quickly at all stages of your growth:

  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • What is my current strength goal?
  • How can I get closer to that goal?

When you know the answers to those questions, not only are you also enabling yourself to grow faster, you are also setting yourself up to be a better teammate for someone else who may want to grow with you.

3. Working Small

Don’t underestimate what you can produce on your own. Right now, Bold Horse has only two full-time team-members. Between the two of us, we have handled whatever is thrown at us. In the occasional situation where we need a 3rd set of hands, we bring in some of that fresh talent we were watching for earlier. For the most part, a two-person crew is all you need for getting started. Don’t wait until you have an opportunity for more people before you start making things, otherwise that opportunity may never come.

4. Sufficient, Efficient, and Responsible

Gear, expendables, rentals, even trash bags and paper towels, are 100% your responsibility when on set. Making sure that you have a sufficient amount of resources throughout your production is something that is important to plan. While you grow as a young producer, managing expectations is a vital part of your client relationships. Giving your client a clear outline of what you’re going to accomplish, and furthermore giving them a clear feeling of comfort in your planning comes down to little details like having trash bags to clean up your crafty/props/etc. as you leave a set.

5. Know Your Gear

There’s a common misunderstanding among entry-level filmmakers that having expensive gear is necessary to create a film. We are in the era of films like Tangerine, which was created entirely on iPhone. Your ability as a filmmaker is not defined by what you are using, but by how you use it, and how strong your story is.

That being said, it’s vital that you know exactly what you can and cannot do with the equipment at your disposal. This is important at all stages of production, but perhaps most importantly when you are creating your shot list. You need to know what shots you can and cannot pull off before you write your gameplan for the day. Another reason knowing your equipment is so critical, is by knowing your equipment, you know the best next investment to make that will increase the range of things that you can create at the best price.

6. Use Your Slate!

Slating is so important for starting out filmmakers, for a variety of reasons. For starters, by learning to properly slate, you are learning the key skills necessary to be an efficient 2nd Assistant Camera on a large set. Not only that, but you also create a sense of professionalism when your client sees you slating for your projects. There are few iconic objects that people visualize when they think of cinema more than a slate. Slating is also important for teaching yourself to plan your shots ahead and to edit according to that plan.

7. Have Craft Services for Client Shoots

Hanger is a real thing. If you want to see what a set in total chaos looks like, tell your crew they aren’t going to be fed. You have a responsibility to not only feed your crew, but when on-set, feed your client as well. Even spending $20 on crafty can go a long ways. We have a simple philosophy when it comes to deciding what to buy for crafty. We make sure to get one of each:

  • Something Sweet
  • Something Salty
  • Something Chewy
  • Something Crunchy
  • WATER WATER WATER
  • Don’t forget paper towels and hand sanitizer

We were on a set for a project for a client where we made it clear that we had refreshments available and they were very pleasantly surprised. Next thing we know, on our next production with this client they asked us at one point if we had refreshments available. Sometimes it’s necessary to set the bar before your client does. After that experience, do you think that client will work with another production company that doesn’t supply crafty? We don’t think so.

8. The Debriefing

This is probably the closest thing we can do to giving away our secret sauce here at Bold Horse. While this is a technique that we use regularly, it’s not a secret that this is a productive thing to do to accelerate your growth. After every production we have a very honest debriefing session. It’s a time when everyone needs to be able to be vulnerable and responsible for the things they did right, wrong, or otherwise. When debriefing with your partner or team, it’s very important to make it clear that this process is a “safe-space” for constructive criticism, and to also balance your criticisms with praise. Give your team members a chance to recognize their own flaws or mistakes before you point them out for them.

  • What did we do well?
  • What are we most proud of?
  • What did we do not-so-well?
  • What are we not proud of?
  • What would have made this project go better? (Equipment, People, etc.)

By debriefing after every project you make sure to never repeat your mistakes, and you also build a closer relationship with your team.

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