3 | Feisworld

How to Put Together a Documentary Production Schedule (#103)

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1. Clear Up Your Schedule With a Transition Plan

Your time matters. If you have decided to be part of the docuseries production, you have to be available for the entire production schedule, or perhaps only parts of it.

For example, if you are considering funding the docuseries production without being heavily involved in the day-to-day activities, skip to Step 2 below. Otherwise please continue reading.

Since I’m an executive producer as well as an on-screen talent (i.e. Interviewer), I have to travel with the production team and be there for every single shoot.

Negotiating time-off was a big step for me mentally. I knew I wanted to produce the docuseries in 2018, but I was also aware that the funding for the docuseries heavily relied on my consulting work.

My client made the logistics easy enough for me. In turn, I made sure that a) I made the announcement early enough (3 months in advance in my case) and b) I continue to follow-up with the point person and provided him with a detailed transition plan.

2. Work With Your Core Team’s Availabilities

By core team, I mean the people who need to work with you or for you regularly during production. For Feisworld, you are looking at a producer, director and a production assistant.

A producer helps you oversee the entire production process. A director ensures you deliver the result you want without losing the vision and artistic integrity. The consistency for these resources is highly desirable.
When there’s travel involved for production, it’s easier to keep the core team small. You always have the option to hire other team members (production assistant, sound engineers) locally.

The point of keeping the core team lean is to help you more easily coordinate with everyone and put together a master schedule that works. Keep in mind for small budget production, the resources you hire do not work for you full-time.

3. You Might Want to Be Able to Start and Stop During Production, It’s Much More Budget Friendly if You Build a More Compact Schedule and Get Everything Done in the Shortest Amount of Time Possible.

Sure, we know it’s a good idea to take a break, regroup with the team during production. However, by starting, stopping and extending out the timeline will inevitably increase cost (your team need to travel again, you need to find places for people to stay, not to mention the added cost for equipment rentals, meals, etc.)

Our original plan was to shoot 1-2 weeks each month between September and December 2018. Very quickly we realized that it wasn’t at all feasible for our budget.

We went from planning a total budget of $150K to $50-60K. Inconvenience and disappointment aside, it was a blessing in disguise because it taught us how to work with constraints.

We ended up with a 2.5 week (17 days) production schedule between 9/5 – 9/21.

Let’s take a closer look at our schedule: 
9/5 – Travel day for me as I flew from Boston to Vegas
9/5 – 9/9: Feisworld Production Team regroup to finalize production plan. We also recorded a voice intro for the documentary
9/10 – Travel day from Vegas to Los Angeles
9/11: First two interviews in the can with Mick Ebeling and Chris Voss in Venice Beach, CA.
9/12 – Travel day from LA to NYC with 7am flight. We didn’t arrive at our airbnb until 6pm
9/13 – Interview with Bisila Bokoko
9/14 – Interview with Sarah Cooper
9/15 – Interview with Barry Alexander and Cosmo Buono
9/16 – Interview with Dorie Clark
9/17 – Interview with Seth Godin
918 – 9/20 – Feisworld post production kicked off. We had a chance to regroup, talk to our editor German remotely, and even put together a very rough cut of the our first episode, include link.

Day Plan (What we did generally on each production day):
9am – Arrive at guest’s location (home, office, etc.)
9-11am – Setup
11am – Interview begins
12:30pm – Interview ends
1:30pm – We are packed and ready to go

The daily schedule make the overall plan more workable. We often had the afternoon to relax, backup our files, etc. 

4. Change of Plan, Emergencies – What Do You Do?

Ok, the schedule above might seem a bit crazy. We had someone scheduled for interview every single day, and it gets complicated fast when you coordinate with multiple people.

As much as we wanted to be in control, production schedule was still a dice roll. Our guests were very accommodating but there are always things we couldn’t have predicted. On our last day of the shoot with Seth Godin, we had to re-arrange our airbnb accomodating and added tremendous stress to my team.

What if an emergency comes up for any one – yourself, your team, or your guests? Production will then have to be postponed. As for us, we had very little buffer built-in and if things went wrong, we might not be able to make it up at a later time. 

Docuseries production can be brutal physically, mentally and emotionally.
Imagine the producers for the Discovery Channel or the BBC’s nature program, they’ve got that one chance to get it right after waiting for days, weekly and even months.

Good news is that you most likely can make up the stories you’ve missed or find a way to work around it.

Don’t sweat the little things, roll with the punches.

You’ll be surprised that the imperfections are part of the docuseries production process, and they add the twists and flavors or your film like no other. Every human is vulnerable. Let your docuseries speak the truth and celebrate the imperfections that are an integral part of our lives.

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About the Feisworld Mini Series
How to Produce a your First Small Budget Docuseries

This mini podcast series was launched in November 2018 as part of Feisworld Podcast, releasing new episodes every 2-3 weeks with learnings captured and distilled from Feisworld Docuseries. You don’t need a fancy degree or a big budget. Our minis are built in with templates and examples you can use right away. Everything in plain English, and no industry jargons.

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