I recall a pleasant chat with one of the founders of the 48 Hour Film Project about producing, how so much of producing means making lists, and how I often fell into that role.
“Someone found out you were responsible, huh?” she said, knowingly.
Upon consideration, ‘someone’ figured that out over 20 years ago, when I first started being a crew chief and then stage manager for theatrical productions. Being a stage manager led to training stage managers. When I transitioned to proverbial dayjobs, one of the recruiters was befuddled.
“So wait a minute, you’ve led small teams of people to accomplish tasks with limited resources within a budget. How does that translate to office work?”
Okay, they didn’t say that verbatim, but what they said was just as clueless.
Wherever you go, in whatever industry, you have people who need to plan, organize, and simply ensure things get done. They can be called producers, project managers, stage managers, or ‘the boss’ (though often they don’t have the authority of a ‘boss’). And just as there are incompetent leaders and organizers in every industry, so too are there plenty of bad producers. But I’ve come to love the good organization and foundation in planning that allows one to deviate from the original plan while staying true to the original vision.
Naturally, many other people see the deviations and decide there was no need for a plan in the first place. Sigh.
I’ve often described stage managers as the person who, if they’re doing their job well, you never think about them while you watch the performance.
I’ve tried to reconcile my zeal for planning with my love of storytelling and I believe that last point is key. While not necessary in every work nor in every moment or paragraph, good writing and directing –and certainly producing– is when those tasks disappear and the audience is transported by the story.
What I love in producing is the problem-solving. What I love is getting people to have the energy and space to do their best at the things they do best. That’s good project management, that’s good leadership.
Even if you’re not technically the leader.
So expect plenty of articles and musings on how to better plan, organize, and continuously improve whatever it is you may be doing.
Projects are stories in search of a happy ending. Some people are astounded I will say that with a straight face, but I firmly believe it to be true. Because what’s the alternative? Any endeavor you undertake will be miserable? Anything worth doing will never be easy or easier? You can never improve anything?
More people can be the hero and heroine than they often take themselves to be. And when you think about all the things we must do and are asked to do in our lives besides what we’d rather be doing… wouldn’t you rather more of those stories have happier endings?
I know my answer.