Saturday, November 01, 2014

Professionalism and the Post Production Paradigm

Image courtesy Michael Hilton
In the world of post production, a common organizational model is a partnership whereby one partner assumes the role of creative lead, and the other handles production and business affairs.

Naturally, in order to grow a successful company, a creative lead must actually possess the artistic talent to deliver.

The same, however, can't always be said for the person who sits in the Executive Producer seat. This is not meant to be  a snarky criticism; everyone starts somewhere. It only becomes a criticism if a given person ignores the call to develop the professional practices and a modern management skill set that is commensurate with their role.

For far too many people, the title is one that they endow upon themselves, long before they develop the skills or experience to back it up. And all too often the title is erringly limited to describe a role or function.

In fact, the title of EP should not only indicate a person with a specific set of competencies, but also indicate that that person is a role model, demonstrating behavioral traits that instill confidence, rather than anxiety, in those in his or her charge.

We also hope to observe a person who inspires a growth mindset throughout the workplace; and the informed capacity for employing tactics in the service of strategy, not simply staff in the service of tasks. Neither Bossiness nor bitchiness make for effective leadership, but rather the ability to influence change by rational means and example, not to mention the intelligence and second nature core capabilities that can only be developed by rigorous professional experience.

Neither is shortsighted leadership development limited to the production department.

It is not uncommon, for instance, to discover that a highly accomplished Creative Director hasn't developed his or her management skills to the same degree as his or her aesthetic capabilities. This is typically the case when the work is award winning; the staff belittled and miserable.

Mind you, not every Creative Director or Executive Producer need take a leadership role in the organization.

Whether your job is simply to build relationships or make awesome stuff or manage projects, that's often responsibility enough. It's only when one's responsibilities expand to include the direction of others that it becomes of paramount importance to the organization that such skills be acquired and developed.

Unfortunately, some creatives mistakenly think that organizational analysis, operational insight, communications abilities and management competencies evolve in parallel with their commitment to creative excellence. These things may come natural to you, but if not, they don't come bundled with Filemaker Pro, Movie Magic of Adobe Creative Suite.

Likewise, neither Avid nor Autodesk, nor Bootstrap or Final Cut, –a talent for sales, interface design, storytelling or scoring to picture–, necessarily endows the owners of these tools and talents with the characteristics of capable leadership. Similarly, a talent for navigating or manipulating office politics is also not a substitute for modern business acumen.

Nor is simply 'getting things done' synonymous with an effective, efficient management skill set. Getting to other side of the river, for instance, may be your goal, but if while accomplishing it you manage to burn the bridge down behind you, it might be time to rethink the efficacy one's practices,  processes. and people management skills.

Speaking of unqualified placements, it’s not unusual to learn that many creatives who launch production or post production companies decide that, –after years of honing their craft–, that the most appropriate person to handle their business is an as of yet unqualified best friend, sibling or spouse.

This is not to say an unqualified but otherwise passionate friend or spouse should never be allowed to take the lead. A trustworthy ally, especially one with a natural ability to network, is a tremendous asset.

However, it should then be mutually understood that an inexperienced person who assumes this role will then demonstrate visible effort into acquiring and exhibiting those additional professional skills and characteristics that are commensurate with their responsibilities.

It's an industry trope that the cranky boss doesn't understand why everyone they hire eventually becomes unhappy and unproductive. Eventually, instead of being a magnet for talent, the organization becomes a disorganization with a reputation for a revolving door of tired, fired or fleeing staff.

I’m not talking about conflict or push back over ideas and processes, of course.

Rigorous debate regarding a given production strategy, or a or pointed discussion about specific personnel performance issues are very necessary to growth and success of any creative venture. I’m talking about irrational thought being allowed to run rampant because one or more primary stakeholders leverage creative talent, a knack for sales or simply naked ambition and their authority as an primary stakeholder as a reason not to adopt a modern management skill set becoming of their responsibility as a leader in a professional organization.

Are you that person? Here's how to find out: if everyone around you eventually strikes you as dull or incompetent, it may be, to paraphrase an old beer slogan, mirror time.

In the meantime, here are several key professional behaviors we might expect from ourselves and our production and post production colleagues:

  • Professionals don’t simply acquire talent; they gather a community around shared values.
  • Professionals don’t simply execute orders; they inspire others with a common purpose.
  • Professionals don’t simply burn through human resources; they practice effective communication skills, share knowledge, reward contributions, build confidence and value long term relationships.

Professionals want to do the best for their clients and their teams.

Ask yourself: Is the business growing because you've attached yourself to a star creative or brand (hopefully you have), or is that growth also supported by your own expertly conceived contribution and ongoing execution of a purpose driven strategy?

Do people work for the company or do they contribute to it?

Are you identifying and hiring core talent with  long term view, because you believe they will contribute to the organization's development and knowledge base, or are you simply moving SVA grads through design and edit suites on their way to their eventual humiliation and termination?

That doesn't mean everyone you hire will prove themselves worthy or necessary of being a long term participant of your organization, but it does mean that you are committed to building a sustainable, compatible and enthusiastic team. Likewise, while errors vary in degree of harm to a given organization, the mistakes commensurate with inexperience should be absorbed as an expense levied by the company  in order to insure that its staff develop into seasoned and superbly competent creative professionals.

Three components of a healthy relationship are:
  1. Honest Communication
  2. Trust
  3. Respect
–And that doesn’t change just because you work on a film set, in an office or sound design studio, out in the field or you push pixels at a VFX shop. Nor does it change because you're the studio assistant, a mid career producer, the managing director, the EP or CD.

If you're not an owner or partner, you might ask yourself if you're happy for the success of your colleagues, or do you fear them as internal competitors? If you choose the latter answer, what role might you play to change your environment for the better? Alternately, perhaps this should suffice as a wake-up call and you should begin planning your exit for a healthier organization.

Naturally, some competitive spirit is  useful, even necessary for an organization and its members to remain at the top of their game, but what we should observe is competition for the best ideas, practices, programs and products –not  elements of subterfuge that threaten to derail careers or possibly threaten the health and stability of the organization.

To be fair, certainly, a friend, sibling or spouse might indeed be the perfect person to take on as a partner, whether as a producer or as a creative. The industry can provide many positive examples of such professional and personal unions. But if one or both partners is not otherwise qualified, and both individuals are determined to undertake this adventure together, then the two of them should, at the very least, arrive at a means, a measure and a timetable by which to ensure that each fulfills his or her obligation to reach a professional standard.

Remember also, emotions are contagious, and they tend to resonate from the top of the organization downward and outward, so whether you're the boss or just starting out as an assistant, you owe it to your colleagues to arrive to work attentive and happy.  If you do just that and nothing else, you're guaranteed to increase job satisfaction and productivity among those in your charge, and external satisfaction from your customers (The Contagious Leader).

The fundamental question governing your professional purpose must be not simply begin and end with 'How do I ignite economic growth', but 'How do I create value for our entire community?' And if the faces change frequently, you may want to ask yourself if you actually know how to build a community.

If you make this kind of personal commitment, I think you'll soon find yourself surrounded by a team of people that doesn't just want work for your company, but they'll also want to contribute their lives and their talent to it.


Articles in this series:

Professionalism and the Post Production Paradigm
Crisis Management and the Emotionally Intelligent Producer
The Problem with Post

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