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    From Chaos to Collaboration: An Indie Producer’s Guide to Streamlined Digital Workflows

    Producing quality productions from Indie Films to Studio & Streaming Series as an independent Line Producer comes down to one thing, workflow.

    After being in the business for two decades working on scripted indie films, television series, documentaries, and commercials as a producer and production manager I’ve refined my workflow practices to the point where I can go into every new project with confidence in my ability to get things up and running smoothly.

    It’s a learned skill that comes with time and experience.

    And what I’ve learned is that without a detailed and specifically defined digital workflow, you and your team will not be able to keep up with the hectic pace of production, or, worse, you could fall behind. 

    Consider the importance of your payroll and accounting workflow. If your approvals aren't timely, you could miss payroll. Or if your team is not gathering and reporting all expenses, you could go over budget or be under budget, and not even realize you had money available to spend on things you wanted to shoot but didn't. 

    Workflow matters. 

    With the right workflow, your reports become more accurate and you make better decisions that put as much money on the screen as possible.

    Defining workflows isn’t an easy task.

    Each production, you’re essentially starting from scratch. Consider that film and TV productions are composed of freelance crew and artists, and that all of your experienced team members have worked with other producers, directors and department heads that have their own way of running productions.  

    Everybody needs to be brought onto the same page with each and every new production. In my experience I’ve found the best way to achieve workflow harmony is to work together as a team department by department.

    Here’s the four key steps I follow to achieve workflow harmony on every new project I take:

    Define expectations

    Each production needs a specifically defined workflow that is unique to it because there are so many variables in production.  

    For example, your project could be funded by an independent investor, production company and/or a studio and each might have different expectations.  Since the cast and crew is determined both based on budget and the type of story you’re telling, getting in alignment early in the process is an absolute must. 

    At the beginning of any new production I consult with the production executive and producing team to understand their expectations in regards to what information they need to do their jobs effectively. This includes what type of reports and data they require, turnaround times, and the format of the information.  

    Take production executives, they often require a specific Chart of Account Order on the Cost Report to standardize the view of data and information across all of the projects they are managing which creates efficiencies in decision making and collaboration to ensure that as much money as possible is going on the screen. 

    The bottom line is you’re looking for synergies across the board, and it's imperative to nail these down as early as possible, in coordination with key team members, as failing to do so could result in either unrealistic expectations or unnecessary conflict down the line. 

    Set a clear vision  

    So you’ve defined expectations, now it’s time to establish a clear vision on how to achieve and meet those expectations. 

    To continue with the example of Cost Reporting, to deliver a quality Cost Report in alignment with the time and resources the accounting workflow for Payroll, Purchase Orders, Check Requests and P-cards, it needs to be defined with the production accountant, production supervisor, payroll accountant and the rest of the accounting staff.

    During this process I share the requested deliverables from the executive team and discuss with the accounting team what is required, what digital tools are available, and potential challenges there are to achieving our goals with the resources at hand. 

    This is an important and empowering step of team building because it enables you and your team to be proactive in providing solutions instead of only reacting to problems as they come.  

    It can really set the tone for the rest of the team on how you plan on working together to follow your vision.

    Define approval flows

    Payroll is one of the most important parts of the process because it is a significant percentage of your working budget and if your payroll team works efficiently with the software, it will speed up the coding and approval process which can aid in maximizing the dollars put on the screen. In addition, within the payroll function, approval flows are important for the timely delivery of paychecks to cast and crew. 

    Many team members are involved in processing payroll, creating purchase orders, check requests and P-cards which are all crucial to achieve a reliable Cost Report (remember those?)  

    The size of the budget, crew, and the union status will affect the approval flows and turnaround times when it comes to people getting paid properly and on time.  

    On projects employing union cast and crew there are specific deadlines outlined by the unions that productions need to respect, so a good starting point is to take the weekly deadline and figure out how much time you need for each step to get it done on time.

    For example, on most productions I will include myself, the production supervisor, production accountant, payroll accountant and department head as part of the approval workflow. Once this is discussed with the team we will document our procedures and share them with the crew as part of the onboarding process. 

    We do this so the entire team knows exactly what to expect. From there we're ready to implement permissions by role and department.

    Create a feedback loop

    You can have the best digital tool in the marketplace but if your team does not use it as intended it slows down the entire process. Regular check-ins with your team on how things are going, addressing concerns, and asking for feedback is incredibly important. 

    The tools can accelerate or hinder your team and their morale, so make sure you actively listen to their solutions and implement what you can.

    Only part of the puzzle, but a big one

    Establishing a well-functioning digital workflow is an essential aspect of any production, but it is not the only piece of the puzzle. Since most productions use various tools such as scriptwriting software, budgeting tools, scheduling applications, and document distribution platforms, it is imperative to create a clear road map for your team by setting expectations and thoroughly documenting them.

    That’s how to create effective communication and as a result, hopefully make it just a little easier to complete the difficult task of making film and television.

    If you’d like to learn how GreenSlate can help improve your digital workflow, see a demo or contact a GreenSlate rep.

    Claudine Marrotte

    Claudine Marrottee is a Producer / Filmmaker with over 20 years of experience in the industry. She is a member of the Directors Guild of America and credited as Producer for 23 titles.

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