Whether you're leading a professional production team, or working as a one-person operation, one of the best ways to reduce your stress and increase efficiency is to delegate certain tasks to someone else. If you are a control freak, like most producers, you might have a hard time letting go. The key is to offload the right tasks to the right people at the right time. The goal of delegation is to free yourself of tedious and time-consuming activities that divert your attention from the high-level, high-payoff parts of the process that you should concentrate on.
Still not sure what you can hand off to a helper? Here are five tasks that you can start with.
1) Set/Studio Prep
It's important that you maintain quality control and cast the vision for the setup, but after a briefing to communicate your expectations, the initial placement of lights, set pieces, props and things like the running and taping-down of cables are tasks that an assistant can oversee. I have created a checklist for my studio tech that includes items like scrubbing the memory cards we will use, cabling the camera to monitors, white balancing, and cleaning the prompter glass and camera lens. Because my assistant works from my checklist I have confidence that the bases are all covered without having to actually do them myself. When I arrive to the set I can stay focussed on my script notes and connecting with my talent instead of worrying about the minutia of the setup.
You want the people you shoot to look their best, and that means taking care of wardrobe needs and applying makeup. With a little practice, you can get good enough at this to get by in a pinch, but chances are you are not the best person for the job. Applying makeup for video takes time and skill. It takes an educated eye to select the right hues, tones and shades of powder, and to apply skillful and artful application so that your subject is suitably “not-shiny” without going so far as to look like a circus clown. In my book, this is a task that is worthy of bringing in a ringer. If you can’t hire a professional hair and makeup artist, at least recruit a friend who has experience applying their own makeup. One caution: you want your subjects to look natural, not overly made up, so I have found that I get much better results when working with a friend who is a beautician rather than with someone experienced in theatrical/stage makeup. It is also a good idea to keep this person on set during the shoot, assigning them the responsibility of watching for shiny spots that need touching up between takes.
3) Shot Logging & Notes
There are many things to keep track of during the shoot itself. I have found it extremely helpful to have a team member take ownership of a shot log. This same person typically updates our whiteboard-based “slate” and calls the scene and take numbers in front of the lens so I can focus on content oversight and directing. I use a system where I call out numerical ratings and notes for our good takes. The shot logger lists each take on the log and makes notes on the sheet to identify the best. All I need to do is say “put a star by that one,” “give that one a 10,” or “the train in the background ruined that one, make a note.” When it's time to edit days or weeks later, these notes are extremely helpful. Production Note: If possible, I like to assign the logging to the person who will be the primary editor on the project, that way he/she will will have a clear understanding of the log and written notes.
4) Tear Down & Gear Schlepping
There is a lot of work to be done after the shoot wraps, and everyone will be anxious to get home, so the more hands you can involve, the better. As long as they can function with care, almost anyone can be recruited for tear-down. This includes everything from switching off the lights so they can cool, to peeling up tape, wrapping cables and striking the camera and set. Not to mention pulling the van up to the door so they can begin lugging and loading your production gear into the car. It is great for you to participate in this process, but with a little instruction all of this can begin and a lot of progress can be made while you are walking your talent out and shaking hands with your clients.
5) Footage Transfers
Once you are back in the office, there’s another tedious task that can be delegated to an able assistant: footage transfer. With the shot log in hand, a production assistant can go through all of the raw footage that was shot and import the "keeper" takes to your timeline for the editor. This task of ingesting raw footage can be very time consuming, and does not require creative oversight. Having a helper make these transfers is an excellent way to move your productions ahead without tying up your time.
Chuck Peters is a 3-time Emmy award winning writer and producer. He is currently VP of Production at KIDMO/Rivet Productions.