Leadership in Production: Dispatches from the Field

March 31, 2022

By Celia Williams, VP, Production

I’ve been blessed my entire career with what I can truly say are exceptional bosses. Sure, a few might have benefitted from management training, but for the most part, each brought a unique point of view and way of conducting themselves that served to inform the kind of producer I have been and the department head that I am now.

Luckily, the ultimate training ground for leadership was the very core of my job as an agency producer – hundreds of shoots. Being on every imaginable kind of set provided an abundance of remarkable training. To engage with large numbers of crew, talent, clients, and agency team members was an unrivaled lesson in what it means to be a leader.

The job of an agency producer is to be the eye of the hurricane; the calm in the storm of activity swirling around a production. Not only is the producer’s role that of managing budget, timeline, and final deliverables – it’s being the interface between the agency and the production company, casting director, editorial house, post facility, music company, audio facility, and third party signatories. And within the walls of the agency, it’s the interface between Creative, Business Affairs, Talent, Account Management, Finance, Legal, and Music Supervision. Further, years of doing this has taught me that building a rapport with our clients is also incredibly important. Ultimately, if you’re doing your job right, clients will look to you for your guidance and thought leadership. 

Journalist Walter Winchell, writing about marriage, penned a phrase that has been adopted by the U.S Marine Corps. “Never above you, never below you, always beside you.” It expresses the camaraderie and devotion that Marines hold for each other, especially in combat. For me, it embodies my view of leadership. Strength is in standing shoulder to shoulder with those you are tasked to lead. If and when the need arises, step out of the line and take responsibility. Take the proverbial bullet.

What does “beside you” look like on the day-to-day, particularly now, in our highly distributed, hybrid work environment? Here’s my personal leadership model for 2022.

Share something of yourself.

Projects keep producers out of the office a lot. To make the most of face time, open yourself up. Our CEO Andrew Robinson is an extraordinary example of someone who isn’t afraid to get vulnerable to keep us engaged and inspired. When he presented his Growth Plan for 2022, he started with a story that happened early in his career, about a regrettable decision that reflected poorly on his much-younger self. He shared this painful and embarrassing memory to elucidate his character and priorities for today. That day, through our computer screens, we got to know him better, and knowing him better brought us all closer together.

Keep your word.

When you say you’re going to do something, do it. This sounds simplistic, but following through can be incredibly difficult when schedules are packed and the hours in the day are lean. If you want to build trust and dedication within your team, keep your word.

Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Socrates’ Three Sieves make sense in every work and personal environment. Production can be stressful and there are moments when it’s tough to refrain from verbally cutting loose. Before you speak, take a moment and put it through the filter of truth, necessity, and kindness. It takes discipline and practice, but it’s worth it.

Commend the successes and support through failures.

It’s important to praise the successes, but even more important to support through failures. Oftentimes, people forget that production is a business of human beings and there will be moments when mistakes are made or things can’t be controlled. Early in my career I had a production that simply seemed doomed. Cameras fell into waterfalls. Cars went into ravines. My creatives were at each other throats. That’s not even the half of it. When I returned from the shoot, I announced to my boss that I was quitting, that I couldn’t control what had happened and I had thus, failed. He paused before he spoke and then said, “Celia, if everything continues to go perfectly on your shoots, you will never learn anything.” I will never forget what he said, or how supported it made me feel.

When your team shines, you shine.

This is perhaps the easiest insight of all. When your team is doing well, you, as the manager, shine. Let the successes of your team be theirs and build their careers, so they are stronger in their roles. Ultimately, their successes are yours and you are theirs…never above them, never below them, always beside them.

[header image credit: Alex Lombardi]