By Invitation Only: How to choose your production company
by Bobby Amm. You don’t hire a nurse to do open-heart surgery; you hire a trained, experienced, and reputable heart surgeon who can carry out precise valve replacements in their sleep. Finding a producer for your commercial should be no different. Remember that, with what may appear to cost less upfront, you often get what you pay for in the end. Here’s four reasons why.
The success of a production company doesn’t just depend on its creative mastery. It’s also defined by its ability to budget effectively. And that means having a deep understanding of what things actually cost in the industry.
Experienced producers know where to find the right resources, where to save money when the budget calls for it, and how to negotiate the best deals. This stems from years of experience and established, trusted relationships with long-standing suppliers.
Because of the significant expenses involved, commercial production also comes with great risk. Experienced producers ensure that everything and everyone involved are covered if anything goes wrong. This means knowing when and how to take out special insurances for the crew, stunts, and valuable equipment.
Inexperienced producers, however, don’t always know how to manage a production budget. This may result in too little being budgeted for, expenses exceeding the allowance, the wrong equipment being ordered, high-risk assets not being insured, etc. When you’re dealing with high-profile projects, the knock-on effects add up.
Production companies know the professionals in the industry; they know who is best for the job when it comes to skill and experience.
Directors, for instance, are specialists, and have taken a great deal of time and effort to hone their craft. Successfully directing a 30-second commercial isn’t an art alone; in many ways, it’s a science. Every frame counts. Everything from the imagery and storyline, to the cast and camera technique, makes a difference.
Directors are also hired for a specific skillset. A technical SFX director knows how to shoot with post-production in mind. Conversely, a comedy director may not be good at shooting babies or animals (which are skills on their own). As with any career, it takes a long time to build expertise and reputation.
Post-production isn’t without its complexities; editors have specialties, too. So a music video editor may not be able to cut a beauty ad. Don’t pick a generalist in-house editor to cut a niche R2m commercial — the difference is often notable.
Also, without experienced directors and producers who understand the post-production costs (such as transcoding, digitising, editing, grading, etc.), the expenses can accumulate fast. This is something production companies have systems in place to manage.
Production companies aren’t just a part of the industry. As the experts in the field, they’re constantly keeping up-to-date with trends and technologies, they’re highly connected, and they have reputations that matter. They also follow a strict set of guidelines sanctioned by the Commercial Producers Association (CPA) to ensure working conditions are fair and safe.
Make sure you work with a CPA member or you may fall victim to an unscrupulous play for whom industry rules don’t exist, experts are taken for amateurs, specialists are replaced with generalists, key elements are taken lightly, and production quality — the magic some of us have worked lifetimes to perfect — is what suffers most.
Bobby Amm is chief executive of the Commercial Producers Association of South Africa (CPA), the trade association of production companies that produce television, cinema and internet commercials for the local and international market. After a brief stint in journalism, she began her career in the industry at the Consultative Committee for the Entertainment Industry in the early 1990s. She first joined the CPA in 1997 but left three years later to join a production company. After finding that she missed the big-picture perspective of the CPA and the interesting issues which continuously perplex the production industry, Bobby returned to the CPA in 2003.
“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on MarkLives.com. Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.