“Assumption is the mother of all f--k ups. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong”.
Franziska Wagenfeld, Independent Producer
The advanced skills workshop we had with Franziska was one of the most informative sessions I have attended to date. She was informative, frank, and knowledgable. What she also was, however, was inspirational. The way she moved, the way she spoke, the way she addressed us – every inch of her being indicated that she was a woman in control of her destiny. I liked the way she addressed us, I liked what she had to say, and I even liked that she scolded me for showing up quite late (I had a Room With A View RRR radio show clash). She was authoritative, yet gentle, and an inspiration for any of us wanting to be producers. It was refreshing, and nice, and made me take even more note of the things she had to say.
One of the biggest lessons that was drilled into us in this session was to never assume anything. By making a film, one has to be prepared for all sorts of things to go wrong. Unfortunately, with filmmaking the ‘buck’ has to stop somewhere, and everything that goes wrong is ultimately the producer’s responsibility. This taught me a lot about accountability and the role I will need to take in the creation of our short film. I always felt that the reason that my Film-TV 1 film was not successful was that I wasn’t as assertive as I should have been in the very beginning – I was just learning, after all. Franziska’s comments brought to light the cold hard fact that I think we all already knew, but sometimes refuse to acknowledge: when things go well, it’s to the credit of the director, cast and crew, but when things go wrong, it all comes down to the producer. This knowledge is vital in the creation of any small production, and it’s important that everyone knows it. There will be times in the production of this film where I will be forced to ‘put my foot down’, to follow my own gut feelings and descisions, and to disappoint other people by turning down their ideas or making certain executive decisions. However, this is something necessary that needs to happen for the growth of the project. As Franziska said, every element of filmmaking is creative, and producing is about more than just balancing books. The decisions I make about the viability of the production (or specific idea) will definitely creatively impact the film, artistic decision or not. Hopefully we will have such a smooth working dynamic that not too many problems will arise. However, I have to be willing to sometimes say ‘no’ for the sake of the film, and hope that the rest of the crew will eventually respect that.
I also took a lot of note about the organizational methods she employed in order to keep everything running smoothly. After the writer has written the script, it needs to be broken up into one scene per page (even if the scene is only a sentence long). This is so it is easy to add amendments by simply adding or swapping a page. She also said to print any new ‘edition’ of changes on a differently coloured paper, so it’s easy to see if everyone is on the ‘same page’ or not when going through the script together, as having an old version of the script could lead to someone making a huge mistake. Another colour-coded idea was to go through the script and mark different elements with different colours – one for location, one for art department, and one for wardrobe. In this way, you can easily distribute information to the relevant people, and also make sure that nothing crucial is forgotten. Everything that is in the script HAS to be put down onto the call sheet, under the responsibility of each separate department. Even though we may not have that many ‘separate’ departments in our small production, I think it would still be useful to employ this method as a good practice and a great way to keep track.
Finally, one of the most important things she shared with us was to physically express gratitude and send thank-you cards, with everyone’s signatures, to anyone who gave you anything for free or assisted you in any way. Franziska said gratitude was essential as it built positive relationships, and also meant that the people who helped you were more likely to help other filmmakers, creating a community that continued to share and help each other rather than cutting people off due to bad experiences. This message was important for me because I realised that my actions could not only affect my future networking but also impact everyone else in my field, so it was important to be respectful and careful in asking favours and how we behaved.
All in all it was a fantastic session, and I will be definitely taking more advice from professionals in the future as I have so much to learn!