Growing up watching films made me idolize actors and directors for the vision, emotion, and storytelling they would bring to life. As I started my career in film school, my appreciation for other crafts in different departments of the industry broadened. I realized that film is a collaborative effort where all the pieces must fit in order to finish the jigsaw puzzle.
As my school program went on, I became attracted to the production department; I was UPM (Unit Production Manager) for our very first short film for a digital cinematography class. What caught my attention was the ability to be aware of everything that happens in each department. I considered myself to be good with people and at being organized, so it seemed like an appropriate fit.
My interests in this department, which I consider to be underrated, started to grow. I was like a kid at a toy store; there were many people to look up, books to read, interviews to watch, and stories to hear. I began researching production managers and production coordinators and learning more about their jobs.
I was lucky enough to meet Steve Cainas a little over a year ago. He’s a production coordinator who’s a graduate from my alma mater and happened to work on my all-time favorite television show, Lost. I am grateful he took some of his busy time off to answer some questions regarding a day in the life of a production coordinator.
How important is deal making and negotiation on your job, and how does it change depending on the project? Are there any advantages and challenges by being in your position?
Huge part of my job and an important skill set. No matter what size production we always have a budget that must be adhere to. Everything is negotiable. Obviously working on an independent film with a limited budget creates much more deal making on the daily basis. The advantage is to establish long lasting relationships with vendors so that you can call upon them to help resolve a situation efficiently and cost effective.
When negotiating with other people, how do you separate the person from the problem? Has there been a time when you had difficulty controlling your emotions in order to get something?
Not at all. It's always important to keep a business relationship when negotiating with people. I keep my personal life private from my professional life. You have to be strong, aggressive, and confident to succeed at this job. Shy and quiet regretfully does not work in a position when you have to manage people and resolve chaos on a daily basis.
What strategies do you use when negotiating with others. How do you get to your objective criteria and what are some tips or suggestions you may have for someone who is in a similar situation?
I always have the other person see the WHOLE picture, not just a slice of it. For example, I might ask to reduce a grip package to $5,000 that originally was quoted at $9,000. Seems substantial, but I make sure to point out that it's not a 2 week rental, but rather a 26 week rental that will result in $130,000 of revenue! My current project is an HBO series that is filming the first season. I make a point to share that the show might, very well, be in production for several years and that I would like to maintain a working relationship with this person or vendor that potentially will last for a while. That always opens their eyes.
Could you share a moment when you had a hard time coming to an agreement or getting what you needed for a project, but ended up being successful? How did it impact the project, and what would have happened if you hadn't been able to obtain what you were looking for?
As a Production Coordinator, you are constantly solving problems. Recently I needed to make a deal with a vendor from California to provide power generators. My budget was $50,000 for something that truthfully should cost $100,000. I had to find several other competitors that were interested in the business to bid the project, thus creating a "bidding war" that at the end resulted in getting the equipment that I needed for substantially less and meeting my budget.
Something new that I learned is how important it is to find many competitors when you want to obtain something; at the end of the day, you want to get the best deal. It’s about letting one party know that its competitor has a sweet deal in order to find a better one from them. Another crucial thing that I am working on is my aggressiveness and confidence. I’ve learned from working as a personal assistant that there is always a way to get what you want as long as you’re firm and negotiate effectively. There is no reason for anyone to intimidate you.
I’m glad I’ve already started to set my foot on the door and that I’m slowly learning from my mistakes. It’s interviews such as this one that remind you to open your eyes a bit more. This is the first of many more that I am planning on writing once or twice per month. Hopefully you gained some knowledge from this blog post by someone with twenty years of experience in the industry.