The True Life of a Fixer

Few careers seem more suited to variety than that of a Fixer – the local person responsible for bringing all the elements together for a television series, documentary, commercial, music video or photo shoot. They help productions save both time and money by allowing them to hit the ground running and not worry about logistical issues.

The job requires a deep knowledge of locations, strong organizational skills and an extensive database of crews, equipment rental houses and vendors. For those that love working behind-the-scenes on a new production, it is an ideal job. But the work is demanding as a Fixer is always looking for the problem to solve. Nor is it a guaranteed ticket to landing work. Many Fixers need years of experience in many production roles to have the depth of knowledge necessary to be successful.

“I don’t see creative briefs and scripts anymore. I see jigsaw puzzles. You see the whole production through the eyes of ‘what do I need to shoot here’, not just ‘that’s a cool concept,” said Kent Youngblood, Fixer and Owner of Denver-based Movie Mogul Productions. “The weirdest thing about the job is how detail-oriented you become. I’m constantly thinking about the hundred different pieces I need to find solutions for. It can drive my wife crazy.”

Every Day is a Challenge

In the first six months of 2022, Youngblood worked on two large documentaries for European networks, each with their special challenges. For the BBC – Studio Ramsay coproduction Trailblazers, he had to provide over 30 different locations and activities, crew recommendations and transportation options for a three-week shoot. With a crew of 40, there were a lot of moving pieces. The shoot schedule was aggressive and each day was a company move to a new location. From a dusty bar in Cheyenne, Wyoming to the summit of Pikes Peak, it was a project of epic proportions. Work on the documentary series started in January and continued until the shoot concluded in April.

A month after completing Trailblazers, he was off on another huge documentary, this one for France 3 television called Pack Your Rucksack. Although the journey through Colorado was similar, this project had a much smaller crew and needed additional support for a French-speaking crew. One major challenge was working with national parks across Colorado. Due to staffing shortages and limits to what can (and cannot) be done on park land, getting answers was difficult and required persistence. In the end, having the production designated as “Low-Impact Filming” was critical to success.

By the end of June, Youngblood had travelled over 3,000 miles throughout Colorado and consumed “at least 100 Starbucks orders and way too many fast food drive-ins. It was an epic six months of travel. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”

Questions and Problem Solving

Every production has its unique requirements and it is the Fixer’s job to come up with solutions to those demands. Years of experience and intimate local knowledge help a Fixer anticipate most production needs but that doesn’t mean there aren’t surprises. Requests can range from the challenging:

Can we get 250 pounds of camera equipment up to the top of the Great Sand Dunes National Park? Yes… with sledges, plenty of time and lots of manpower.

To the absurd:

Can we summit Long’s Peak in March with a crew of 20 people? No… with a crew unaccustomed to an altitude of 14,259 feet, deep snow drifts and freezing temperatures, it’s a safety hazard.

Even then, production companies will still try to attempt the impossible. The Long’s Peak climb was only canceled after five mountain climbing companies confirmed Youngblood’s concerns.

The Thrill of Accomplishment

The feeling of working on an intricate puzzle and clinching it with the final piece is gratifying. “I’ll walk into something and go, ‘This is it’,” said Youngblood. “Everything together: the locations, the crew, the equipment, the travel arrangements… and all under budget. It’s a thrill and a relief.”

Above all, one of the best parts of being a Fixer is how every project is different. “In one month I worked on a network documentary, a music video for a major label, a Vogue fashion shoot and an immersive experience for Netflix,” Youngblood said. “The variety is hard to beat. And the people you meet along the way are awesome.”


For further reading:

The Role of a Fixer

Filming in Colorado

If you’re looking for a Fixer now or in the future, reach out to Movie Mogul at their Contact page.

Filming in Colorado

Colorado has been a hidden gem for film locations for quite some time. With a rich history of filmmaking, it has been featured in such classic films as True Grit, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Filmmakers have know for years that Colorado is hard to beat when you consider its varied terrain provides the perfect stand-in, no matter the setting. Alpine peaks, rolling plains, lush forests, epic sand dunes, and modern cities are all mere hours away from one another. Because of this, Colorado can easily double for parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Aspen Mountain Independence Pass Crystal Mill in Marble

Beyond the varied locations, Colorado has many other advantages:

Great Weather

The state has over 300 days of sunshine and when stormy weather comes through, it moves on quickly. An average altitude of 6,800 feet above sea level provides mild winters and low-humidity summers creates crisp, cool nights. This allows production schedules to run on time with little threat of weather delays.

Quality Crew

Colorado has an enviable track record of hosting productions from all over the world. There is tremendous depth in every crew position as well as a number of equipment rental vendors and full-service production companies in the state to support them. The Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media (COFTM) offers a bevy of programs and resources for out-of-state productions.

Affordability

As compared to states on either coast, Colorado is a bargain for filmmakers. Equipment rentals, crew rates and travel expenses are lower than production hubs in California, New York and Georgia. Not only is it an affordable state for production, the quality of life index is one of the highest in the nation. And Colorados’s rich history and diverse landscape provide numerous reasons to visit.

Incentives

After lagging behind behind its neighbors when it comes to providing film incentives, Colorado has a $6 million film incentive. The state allows companies that film in Colorado to receive up to a 20% tax rebate if they spend a certain amount on qualified expenses, such as crew wages and set construction.

Rich History

Colorado with its striking mountain and desert landscapes has provided the backdrop for many old silent westerns dating as far back as 1898. It has continued to be the location of choice for films like The Hateful Eight, Fast and Furious 7, The Long Ranger as well as numerous commercials, music videos and documentaries.

To take advantage of any state, you need a company well-versed in production logistics, location scouting and permitting procedures. As natives of Colorado, we know the state from Grand Junction to Burlington, Fort Collins to Trinidad, and every place in between. We are skilled production coordinators that have experience in all aspects of film and television production. We also represent a variety of filming locations in Colorado, as well as local studios offering full production services in Denver. If you need a Fixer on your next shoot, drop us a line.

Production Incentives Update: How 2022 is Shaping Up

Whether they are a financial godsend or a revenue burden to states, production continues to boom because of film incentives and tax credits. However, the challenge for any producer is to stay up to date as incentives are in a constant state of flux… or disappear entirely. This list represents the latest information since our last film incentive post.

The good news is that there are lots of options. Many states have an incentive of some kind to encourage you to shoot your project there. However, applying for a tax credit or incentive can be complicated, especially since every state has different rules and regulations to follow. And not all film incentives are the same…

Film Incentives – Types

While there are five main types of film incentives, they will vary depending on the state.

  • Refundable Tax Credit – Applies only to tax credits. The state will pay the production company in excess of the company’s owed state tax.
  • Transferable Refundable Tax Credit – Can transfer over to a local company so that they can reduce or eliminate their tax liability.
  • Rebate – Direct payment issued to the production company by the state.
  • Grant – Direct payment issued to the production company by the state. Unlike rebates, you do not have to pay any tax on a grant.
  • Bonuses – Some states offer additional perks to filmmakers. Such as for using specific locations, local business, or hiring local staff.

Film Incentives – State by State

Below is a list of all of the states that added to, or tweaked, their incentives in 2021. All listed run at least until the end of 2022.

Arkansas

Incentive TypeRebate
WebsiteArkansas Production
Minimum Spend$200,000
Funding Cap$4,000,000

The Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) will hold a public hearing on proposed revised administrative rules for the Digital Product and Motion Picture Industry Development Act to conform the rule to revisions in Act 797 of 2021.

Act 797 of 2021 changed the rebate program to allow the incentive to be taken as either a rebate or a transferable tax credit. The Act also added an additional 10% incentive for qualifying veterans, extended the program’s sunset date through June 30, 2032, and set a cap on the tax credit of $4M per year.

California

Incentive TypeNon Transferable Refundable Tax Credit
WebsiteFilm California
Minimum Spend$1,000,000
Funding Cap$222,500,000

California’s Basics 3.0 tax incentive program hasn’t undergone any major changes, but it did get some major funding. In July 2021, a legislative bill added $180 million to the program – $90 million for the 2021-2022 fiscal year and $90 million for the following year. This bill also allocated $150 million to be used for renovating existing and building new California stages. The cap remains 20-25% for all crew, depending on the budget.

In addition, the criteria to qualify as a relocating TV series has been relaxed to include series that filmed their pilot episode out-of-state. The tax credit program previously required relocating series to film an entire season out-of-state.

Colorado

Incentive TypeTax Rebate
WebsiteColorado Office of TV and Film
Minimum Spend$100,000
Funding Cap$6,000,000

Before the pandemic, the Colorado legislature was granting as little as $750,000 a year to the state’s film incentive fund. After lagging behind for so long when it comes to providing film incentives, the Colorado legislature allocated $6 million to replenish the film incentive fund. The rebate applies to a variety of projects, including films, television, commercials, and video games. Although $6 million is a record amount for Colorado, the state still lags behind most of its neighbors.

Georgia

Incentive TypeTransferable Refundable Tax Credit
WebsiteGeorgia USA
Minimum Spend$500,000
Funding CapNone

Georgia’s tax credits continue to be some of the best in the nation. The Georgia Film Office reported that more than 360 productions were filmed in the state in 2021. That’s close to the number of productions filmed in Georgia before the pandemic.

All projects get a 20 percent spend. However, they are awarded an additional 10 percent if they include the made-in Georgia logo in the film’s opening and links to the Georgia website on the project’s landing page.

Kentucky

Incentive TypeNon-Transferable Refundable Tax Credit
WebsiteKentucky Film
Minimum Spend$250,000
Funding Cap$75,000,000

The state of Kentucky has new guidelines for its film incentives program, returning it to refundable credits that were scaled back in 2018. Although the funding cap was reduced from $100 million to $75 million, the state is now offering a refundable 30-35 percent tax credit. With the new guidebook, individual projects are capped at $10 million in a calendar year, and a production company can qualify for incentives on a maximum of four projects a year.

Louisiana

Incentive TypeNon-Transferable, Partly Refundable Tax Credit
WebsiteLouisiana Entertainment
Minimum Spend$300,000
Funding Cap$150,000,000

Attempts to both scale back and extend the life of the tax credit in 2021 failed in the state legislature, leaving the status quo in place. Louisiana continues to offer productions with up to a 40 percent tax credit on eligible expenditures. These include resident and non-resident labor.

Maryland

Incentive TypeNon-Transferable Refundable Tax Credit
WebsiteMaryland Film
Minimum Spend$250,000
Funding Cap$8,000,000

Since inception of the Film Production Activity Tax Credit program in 2011, Maryland has incentivized 13 major productions that employed thousands of residents, utilized thousands of local small businesses, and generated an economic impact of nearly $900 million in the state.

Massachusetts

Incentive TypeTransferable, Partly Refundable Tax Credit
WebsiteMA Film
Minimum Spend$50,000
Funding CapNone

Massachusetts provides a 25 percent payroll credit for eligible projects. The Massachusetts Film Production Incentive was updated this year stating that a company’s production expenses in the state, exceed 75% of all production expenses, or at least 75% of total principal photography days occur.

Minnesota

Incentive TypeRebate
WebsiteMN Film TV
Minimum Spend$100,000
Funding CapNone

For the first time, Minnesota offers a transferable tax credit for film and TV production. You can read the language of the bill here. The rebate reimburses up to 25% of eligible Minnesota production expenditures. The incentive is available to qualified feature films, documentaries, TV pilots, programs or series, TV commercials, music videos, internet and post production only. Rebates are scheduled to begin after January 1, 2022.

Montana

Incentive TypeTransferable Non-Refundable Tax Credit
WebsiteMontana Film
Minimum Spend$350,000
Funding Cap$12,000,000

The power of film incentives was on display for every producer to see when “Yellowstone,” the hugely successful Paramount Network series starring Kevin Costner, stopped filming in Utah last year and moved to Montana due to better incentives. The state Legislature raised its cap on incentives to $12 million during the 2021 session, higher than Utah’s $8.3 package. To qualify, 50% of all principal photography must take place in the state.

Nebraska

Incentive TypeGrant
WebsiteNebraska Film Office
Minimum Spend$1,000,000
Funding Cap$400,000

The state of Nebraska has dipped their toe into the water on film incentives. Starting back in October of 2021, the program sets aside $1 million for incentives for feature films that are shot on location in Nebraska and tell a Nebraska story. Projects must use Nebraska workers, and spend at least $1 million filming in the state, to qualify for grants of up to $400,000. The Nebraska law is the first major effort by the state to attract filmmaking there.

New Jersey

Incentive TypeTransferable Non-Refundable Tax Credit
WebsiteNJ Motion Picture
Minimum Spend$1,000,000
Funding Cap$100,000,000

Under the film tax break program, the state compensates producers for filming scenes in New Jersey and buying in-state goods. Murphy signed one expansion in January 2020, and another as part of the $14.5 billion economic subsidy program he approved earlier this year. State officials have used the program to attract such productions like “Joker” and “West Side Story.”

The yearly program cap on digital media productions increase from $10 million to $30 million, while the tax breaks for those kinds of productions increase to 35 percent of the expenses incurred in South Jersey in an effort to draw productions beyond the New York City area, and 30 percent in the rest of the state.

New Mexico

Incentive TypeTransferable Non-Refundable Tax Credit
WebsiteNew Mexico Film Office
Minimum SpendNone
Funding CapNone

As one of the first states in the U.S. to offer production tax incentives, New Mexico offers a refundable tax credit of 25% for spending on state film crews, goods, services and other eligible expenses. The rate can be as high as 35%, depending on where it’s filmed, among other factors.

The 25% tax incentive is also applicable to nonresident talent, given certain criteria are met. Best of all, New Mexico does not have a minimum spend, which makes it even more attractive to independent productions. Credits toward film productions were estimated at $109 million for the year ending in June 2021, and $52 million the prior year.

New York

Incentive TypeNon Transferable Refundable Tax Credit
WebsiteEmpire State Development
Minimum Spend$250,000
Funding Cap$420,000,000

Production companies may be eligible to receive a fully refundable credit of 25 percent of qualified production costs and post-production costs incurred in the state. There is a maximum of $5 million per year that can be allocated for the additional 10 percent credit on qualified labor expenses. The New York Commercial production incentive allows for online commercials to qualify as well, a boon for branded content companies.

North Carolina

Incentive TypeRebate
WebsiteFilm NC
Minimum Spend$1,000,000
Funding Cap$31,000,000

North Carolina has a strong history with the entertainment industry with incentive programs dating back to 2014. However, the program is evolving as the 2022 state budget adjusts the financial qualifications TV and film projects must meet in order to receive financial incentives from the state.

North Carolina has reduced minimum spend requirements for tv and movie projects and increased their spending caps with close to $30 million available in funding. The 25 percent rebate is available for “qualifying expenses and purchases made by productions while in-state.”

Oklahoma

Incentive TypeRebate
WebsiteOK Film
Minimum Spend$25,000
Funding Cap$30,000,000

In July of 2021, the state launched a new film incentive program that’s nearly quadruple the size of its current program. It’s part of a vision by lawmakers to turn the Sooner State into a production powerhouse. The program offers film and TV productions up to a 38 percent rebate on money they spend in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma’s base cash rebate is 20 percent and productions can increase the amount with boosts meant to spur long-term investment in the state. For example, there’s a two percent bonus for TV pilots and a five percent bonus for a full TV series season. There’s also a five percent boost for production companies that commit to making three films in three years. There’s an additional boost as well for filming in rural Oklahoma or a soundstage as well as doing post production work in the state.

Oregon

Incentive TypeRebate
WebsiteOregon Film
Minimum Spend$1,000,000
Funding Cap$20,000,000

Oregon has become increasingly well-known over the last few years, thanks in some part to the rebate program in the state. They offer qualifying film or television productions a 20 percent cash rebate on production-related goods and services paid to Oregon vendors and a 10 percent cash rebate on wages paid for work done in the state. An additional 10 percent is awarded if the shooting occurs outside of the Portland Metro Zone.

Tennessee

Incentive TypeGrant
WebsiteTennessee Entertainment
Minimum Spend$200,000
Funding Cap$13,000,000

Legislators in Tennessee approved a new incentive program in April of 2021, creating new sales-tax exemptions for “qualified productions.” The program is not first come, first served and grant awards are based on the discretion of Tennessee Entertainment Commission. As an interesting side note, companies must post a notice in local newspapers where the filming took place after principal photography, telling the public of the need to file creditor claims.

Utah

Incentive TypeTax Credit and Rebate
WebsiteFilm Utah
Minimum Spend$500,000
Funding Cap$8,300,000

A cash rebate can be given to projects with less than $500,000, where at least 85% of cast and crew are Utah residents. Currently, Utah has a capped incentive of $6.79 million and can be combined with a $1.5 million cash rebate. A bill in the state legislature is attempting to raise the annual incentive cap to $15 million, in order to remain competitive with surrounding states. It is currently in committee.

Wrap Up

Although film incentives can be intimidating at first, the benefits are obvious. You can save a lot of money on your production by applying for one. The cost of production is always an issue and producers need to keep them in mind while budgeting. States want you to choose their location over others, so don’t be afraid to send them over any questions. If you need help with your application, reach out to the individual state film commissions where you’re interested in shooting.

The Role of a Producer

Production is complicated process, especially in the advertising world. Beyond the challenging budgets, logistics and schedules, there’s the added responsibility of working with clients.  Timeframes are challenging. Creative might arrive just before a shoot. And with so many moving parts, it’s not unheard of to arrive on set with little preparation.

It’s up to the producer to make sure that everything runs smoothly. No matter how big or small the production, the producer keeps everything on-time and under budget. That description, while accurate, doesn’t begin to describe the role of the Producer. Who are they? What do they do?

For example, while it’s not unheard of for multiple producers to be involved on a project, there is often just one. Ultimately, the size and complexity of the production determines how many producers are involved. Let’s take a look at three types of producers: the Executive Producer, Line Producer, and Creative Producer.

Executive Producer

If you’re producing a major commercial for a big brand, chances are you’ll need an Executive Producer on the project. An Executive Producer is focused on the financial-side of production. They might be the head of a production company or contributed/secured funding for the project. As stakeholders, it’s their job to make sure things go well.

But even with the financial stake, when it comes to the day-to-day production the Executive Producer is more hands-off than Line Producers and Creative Producers.

Line Producer

A Line Producer joins a project in the early stages of pre-production, and without them, no one would get hired and no locations would be booked. When the concept is approved, it is the Line Producer’s job to execute it.

While Executive Producers are the ones that secure the budget, Line Producers focus on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of a project. Budgeting, scheduling, booking a crew, sourcing equipment and other logistical details are all responsibilities of a Line Producer.

Creative Producer

A Creative Producer focuses on the creative details and logistics for production. They work alongside (and oftentimes hire) writers and directors to turn the project’s concept into a reality. While every producer knows how production works, the Creative Producer is understands this process intimately. They also act as a liaison between the director and client to make sure the client’s vision is being presented correctly.

From the start to end of any production, at least one producer makes things happen behind-the-scenes. But how does a producer’s role change throughout this process?

A Producer’s Role On And Off Set

The standard answer to a producer’s role and/or responsibility boils down to this: If a producer isn’t personally carrying out a task (i.e., creating a budget, casting talent, hiring a crew, etc.), then they are overseeing it.

The producer’s day-to-day job can be broken down along the three phases of production, pre-production, production, and post production. Their responsibilities change depending on what phase a production is in.

Pre-production

Pre-production on a commercial shoot encompasses all the tasks that happen from the initial project pitch to a client and all the way to right before cameras start rolling. The timelines are typically very short, lasting only several months at most. Producers work closely with a client (i.e., a brand or business) and become their point of contact throughout the process.

Depending on when a producer joins onto a project, the concept might or might not already be developed. Either way, the producer ultimately gives (or doesn’t give) the green light for pre-production to start and bases this decision on the budget parameters provided by the client.

If the concept requires a bigger budget and/or expensive resources that aren’t available, the producer point that out and offers possible solutions. During these budget negotiations, the concept is goes to the next step and becomes a script. The budget is adjusted to meet the needs of the script and approved by the client.

Throughout pre-production there are an assortment of details producers must deal with. For example, every project needs production insurance to issue Certificates of Insurance (COIs) to vendors in order to rent the gear you need to shoot the commercial. Other paperwork to gather includes crew deal memos, location agreements, talent agreements and setting up payroll.

It’s not glamorous, but all of this work gets the production ready to roll in a safe, legal, and efficient manner.

Production

After all the work done in pre-production, a producer delegates a lot of responsibility to the director and assistant director during production. The assistant director will usually send out a call sheet every day of the commercial shoot. But if the team is small, this responsibility could fall on the producer.

Other than that, a producer’s main responsibility in production is to oversee the progress and to put out fires. This can be anything from running behind schedule, missing a piece of critical equipment, and health and safety issues such as a COVID outbreak on set. It’s the producer’s job to come up with solutions to these problems and keep the production on time and on budget.

The producer also works closely with the director, department heads in the crew, and the client to make sure that everything that was planned in pre-production comes to fruition. Much of their day is spent managing client expectations and getting their sign off on takes. When the client is happy, the set is an easy place to work.

Post Production

Post Production includes video editing, audio mixing, motion graphics or visual effects, color grading, and quality control. A producer may handle this process, depending on the size of the production company. In larger operations however, a separate post producer position exists to have an expert focusing solely on this process.

Attention to detail and great organizational skills are needed. Multiple versions are created for broadcast and social media. Closed captioning and subtitles are addressed. And while the producer deals with all of these elements, they must deliver the spot under the tight deadlines inherent in the fast-paced world of advertising.

Final Thoughts

A producer helms every successful production and commercial shoot. They manage communications with the client, handle the budget and schedule, deal with unforeseen problems and oversee the project’s progress. Organizations like the Association for Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) are a great resource and provide guidance on many production issues.

Not only is the producer responsible for getting the project off the ground, they’re in charge of seeing it through to the end. It’s not a job that is suited for everyone, but that’s why the producer is a critical part of any production.

The Role of the Producer is part of our series that looks at various roles within film and television production. Also check out our Fixer, Cinematographer and COVID Compliance Officer posts. Each goes into detail about a key position on set.

The Role of a Fixer

Ever heard of a Fixer? You might have heard them referred to as a Production Coordinator or local Producer but the term originated in journalism. New correspondents in an unfamiliar location would often hire a Fixer to help with logistics, translation, transportation and travel. Although more common outside of the U.S., a Fixer offers support at every stage of a production. From location scouting to securing crews and equipment, Fixers are the driving force behind commercials, documentaries and feature films.

How Can a Fixer Help?

The best fixers have years of experience, local knowledge and industry connections. What does all of this mean for you? Put simply, your production will run like a well-oiled machine. Although every project is different Fixers help in the following areas:

Location Scouting: Their knowledge and familiarity with locations in the area they live enables them to overcome language barriers, connect with local crews and keep locals happy.

Location Permitting: Every country has its own film commission and permit application criteria. This involves a lot of complicated paperwork. Fixers handle it, relieving the production company of the stress of permitting.

Hiring Crews: Fixers have strong working relationships with leading crews in their area. This includes Directors, Cinematographers, Producers, Camera Operators, Sound Mixers, Grips, Gaffers and even PAs. They can add individual crew members to your team, or put together a full crew that’s perfect for the job.

Equipment Rental: Whether you need a single piece of equipment or an entire gear package, Fixers can help. They have relationships (and accounts) with all the leading equipment rental houses in their area. Because of these relationships, they can get the best rates, which they’ll pass on to you. Many Fixers also have their own production and equipment insurance.

Why are Fixers Important?

Fixers are particularly important for unfamiliar locations. Through the professional relationships and networks that Fixers have developed over time, they help productions save both time and money by knowing where to find the services needed at different budget levels. Productions are able to hit the ground running and not worry about logistical issues.

As mentioned, Fixers are excellent at scouting filming locations, assisting with filming permits, arranging travel and accommodations, and providing recommendations on how to keep the production crew and equipment safe in this time of COVID.

Managing your Fixer

Establishing roles and responsibilities up front make working with Fixers easy. Checklists and lists of expectations keep clear communication between the production and the Fixer. Depending on how many responsibilities you give a Fixer, make sure not to overwhelm them with too many tasks. The Fixer can only do so much. Make sure they are not setup to fail due to a lack of producing experience or financial resources.

Finding a Fixer that can be your ambassador to their city will vary in cost from location to location, but the assistance they provide can be invaluable.

Production Expertise

From Colorado to Utah, from Wyoming to New Mexico, our team has travelled all across the Rocky Mountain West. We are skilled production coordinators that have experience in all aspects of film and television production. We also represent a variety of filming locations in Colorado, as well as local studios offering full production services in Denver, Albuquerque and Salt Lake City. If you need a Fixer on your next shoot, drop us a line.

The Role of the Fixer is part of our series that looks at various roles within film and television production. Also check out the Cinematographer and COVID Compliance Officer

The Role of a Cinematographer

You love movies (and who doesn’t), so you’ve decided you want to be a Cinematographer. Great! But what does a Cinematographer actually do? If you say shooting with a camera you’re only half right. There’s so much more that goes into it… and we have the scoop!

The main role of a Cinematographer is to communicate the script visually with the audience in mind. It’s visual storytelling at it’s best. From an operational side, the Cinematographer is the person who actually gets shoots the film, TV series or commercial. But there’s more to it than that. They are also the head of the lighting and camera departments which is a big deal. Still, that doesn’t really tell us what we need to know. The best Cinematographers work closely with the Director to help the director realize their creative vision, through composition, framing, lighting and camera movement.

The EFTI School of Photography in Madrid produced a very stylized version of the job a few years back.

The workflow of a Cinematographer comes down to the fundamentals phases of production: Pre-Production, Production and Post-Production. The project is essentially conceived three times and it’s the Cinematographer’s job to help shepherd the project through the first two phases and then provide input on the final one.

Pre-Production

In the world of filmmaking, cinematographers can be described in different ways. It all depends on how they interact with the camera. If they are operating the camera, they’re a Cinematographer. If they are instructing someone else to operate the camera and more focused on the overall look of the shot, they’re a Director of Photography (DP).

A Cinematographer’s work starts long before a frame of video is recorded. It’s here the Cinematographer has to make some crucial decisions about the look and feel: Questions such as whether to shoot on digital or film (which is rare these days)? What type of camera is the best choice to capture the Director’s vision? Should they shoot in color or black and white? If color is used, will the colors be saturated or faded? Are they going for a more realistic tone or an expressionistic one? What role will camera movement play in the shots? You’ll also assist in sourcing your crew and equipment to get those shots the Director wants.

As the Cinematographer and Director meet to answer all of these questions prior to shooting a bond is formed. Filmmaking is highly collaborative business so it’s critical to get along well with your Director and be on the same page. If things work out well, you’ll see the relationship continue which is why we commonly see the same Cinematographer/Director partnerships in movies.

Production

Cinematography is one of the most complex and challenging facets of filmmaking, especially during principal photography, when everything gets hectic. Not only does the Cinematographer have the biggest crew on set, but he also has to be in continuous communication with the Director and the Production Designer in order to make sure that everyone is on the same page with how the film will look.

For each scene, the Cinematographer decides on the best combination of cameras, filters and lenses, as well as where the cameras will be placed, what the lighting should be and when the scene will be shot. On large films, several cinematographers may oversee different camera set-ups. Others may serve as second-unit directors, shooting background or locations without the actors.

Post Production

Once everything is shot, the cinematographer’s work is largely done. You hand over all your footage to an Editor and let them work their magic. With the vast majority of projects captured in digital RAW formats, manipulating exposure and color is easier than ever before which reduces the involvement of the Cinematographer in post. While Editors and Colorists are masters of their trade, it’s still a good idea to stick around to make sure the film retains the look envisioned by you and the Director.

The Skills Needed

“A Cinematographer is a visual psychiatrist, moving an audience through a movie…making them think the way you want them to think, painting pictures in the dark.”

Cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather, Annie Hall)

Cinematographers are both technicians and artists. They are in charge of the camera, its angles, the exposure used, and production style all enhance the storytelling. But they also must deal with the strengths and limitations of the camera equipment. Even today’s advanced cameras can’t reproduce an image the same way our eyes do, so the Cinematographer must compensate for this inconsistency.

Understanding file formats of media is another consideration. ProRes is one of the most well-known and widely used video file formats. Raw video also exists, but is often cost-prohibitive.  It also adds significant increases in budget due to additional processing time and equipment requirements.

Perhaps the most important aspect of a Cinematographer’s job is their ability to work with others. They never work alone. And they constantly rely on others to help them achieve their goals. Any production requires collaboration. But a Cinematographer must be both committed to their work yet flexible in their approach.

Compromises always have to be made so a lot of the job is looking at the day and realizing what is vital to capture. The easiest way to communicate with the Grip and Electric teams is through making lighting plots and revising them as necessary. It’s the Cinematographer’s job to make sure every shot is usable and flag them when they’re not.

Anything can happen on a film set. So being able to adapt during production is a key trait of a successful Cinematographer.

Learning Cinematography

There are lots of great resources and associations out there to get more information. Here’s a few that we recommend:

The Role of the Cinematographer is part of our series that looks at various roles within film and television production. Also check out our description of the COVID Compliance Officer

Health and Safety Protocols during the Coronavirus Pandemic

For film and video production companies, the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) offers a lesson in the contagion risks facing workplaces that need close proximity and interaction to function. Social distancing is almost impossible when offloading equipment, setting up camera and sound gear, applying hair and make-up, or getting into a 12-passenger van to get to the next location. And careless sanitary conditions on set have long been one of the production industry’s dirtiest secrets.

The sad state of hygiene on set has largely been accepted as part of the job. But when productions started shutting down nationwide to slow the virus’ spread, a debate emerged on what a safe (and sanitary) set looked like. Until now, having hospital information on a call sheet and a Set Medic on bigger productions was often the only health and safety protocols in place. That’s not nearly enough.

At some point, production will ramp up again and when it does, COVID-19 protocols need to be put in place. Although extra preparation is required, establishing a hygienic working environment is both possible and easy to implement. Here are some basic protocols to follow.

Common Sense Hygiene

Although there’s lots of information circulating about the virus, it’s best to follow what the health authorities are reporting. The CDC and numerous state authorities have issued recommendations to help prevent the spread of any respiratory disease. The nature of the production industry suggests additional guidelines, including:

  • Determine is anyone can effectively work from home during prep, shoot or wrap.

  • Keep workspaces clean. Disinfect them daily. The CDC recommends using diluted household bleach solutions or alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol.

  • Limit specific areas of the set to essential crew and personnel.

  • Require frequent and thorough hand washing by all crew, without exception.

  • Maintain social distancing of no less than 6 feet whenever possible on set. Have crew wear masks when that’s not possible.

  • Respect 12-hour turn arounds for all departments so people can get enough sleep.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has an excellent fact sheet on coronavirus that’s clear and concise. Attach it to call sheets and post on set.

On Set

Once on set, COVID-19 should be one of the first things talked about at your Safety Briefing. Stick to the facts, don’t offer opinion or spread rumors. Distribute a Health and Safety Protocol sheet to crew and place signs around the set explaining not to shake hands and to let the Producer know if you are feeling ill. Some commonsense measures include:

  • Have payroll, waivers and talent/location releases all done electronically with no paperwork exchanging hands on set.

  • Limit specific areas of the set to essential crew and personnel. Create policy of no Visitors on set.

  • Allow one department at a time to “step in, step out” of a set up, before the next department.

  • Provide masks, gloves, sanitizing wipes, tissues, and hand sanitizer in production spaces.

  • Place signage around restrooms and food services to wash hands and be clean.

  • Self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and report to your department head if you are sick or experiencing signs. Stay home when you are sick.

Set Medic

The Set Medic is often the medical provider hired on larger productions and works as the first aid department head. They are an excellent resource to research protocols for safe filming and can also help in creating a Health and Safety protocol sheet for the production. Every state is a little different, but there are health and safety bulletins used throughout the industry.

Schedule a time at the Preproduction Meeting (or sooner) to have your Set Medic fully explain all health and safety protocols to cast and crew.  Then empower them, and the Assistant Director, to enforce all rules (firmly but gently) on shoot days.

Wardrobe, Make Up and Hair

Taking certain precautions when applying makeup can keep everyone involved safe. Disinfect and sanitize any tools (tweezers, scissors, brushes, etc.) or products to make sure they are hygienic. Other tips:

  • Keep the number of people in makeup room/area to a bare minimum.

  • Work stations need to be cleaned between each user and distanced a minimum of 6 feet apart. Make-up chair and its handles should also be sanitized.

  • Before and after hair and make-up session, both talent and make-up artist are required to wash or sanitize their hands.

  • Applicators are not permitted to be reused on different people. This includes mascara and lipstick.

  • Ensure only wardrobe department touches clothing until it’s decided what the actor will actually try on.

  • Disinfect jewelry, glasses and accessories with sanitizer that will not cause damage.

  • All background extras, should wear their own clothes and dress from home. If that’s not possible, production should provide dressing facilities that allow for social distancing measures.

Craft Services and Catering

The area where your crew congregates also needs special attention. Get everyone to wash and sanitize their hands prior to eating any meal. As with production spaces, wipe everything down any time someone not on the crew touches it. Use paper towels to clean surfaces instead of repeat-use towels. Other to-dos include:

  • Buffets are not permitted. Meals and drinks must be served as single serving portions. Individually boxed meals are ideal but realize some may prefer to bring their own food.

  • Stagger meal times to decrease number of people getting food and seating simultaneously. Have food served to crew, as opposed to allowing self-serve.

  • Sanitize your hands before touching craft service equipment, including inside ice chests, the handles of serving utensils or other commonly shared surface.

  • Use suitable utensils, spatulas, tongs, deli paper, dispensing equipment, or gloves for food.

  • Communal ready-to-eat foods (chips, nuts, candy, cookies, etc.) are not permitted. Remove any bowls or canisters of snacks that crew could reach into. Provide snacks in individual, prepackaged portions or put them in plastic bags or Dixie cups for people to take away.

  • Reduce and streamline the variety of beverages. Offer the capability to refill an individual’s reusable water bottle without contact between refill source and bottle.

Fighting COVID-19 on set cannot be taken lightly. It requires a paradigm shift. Although the specifics will depend heavily on the type of production, new procedures and protocols rooted in safeguarding health need to be adopted. By creating cleanliness standards, we can reduce the risk of exposure on set.

If you’d like a copy of the in-depth Health and Safety Protocol sheet we distribute to our crews, please email us at info@moviemogul.tv

Keeping Your Business Afloat During Lockdown

Like many of you, we saw our work dry up fast when Coronavirus (COVID-19) spread across the nation. As the weeks tick by it’s easy to become frustrated, waiting for stay at home orders to end and the country to get back to work. But with an uncertain future, it’s important to find ways to take advantage of the present. We’ve used the term “creatives” to describe ourselves… it’s time to earn that moniker in a whole new way. Here’s how!

Shift Your Vision 

A canceled shoot doesn’t mean the content can’t be created, it means it must be created in a different way. Focus on project prep so you’re ready to roll when things open up. Turn your dialogue scene into an animation, and your in-person testimonial into an infographic. Ask your editor, “How can we visually present this project in a different way?” Motion graphics artists, graphic designers, and animators build their careers on solving such challenges.

Remember, you don’t have to halt all jobs in process. Problem solve. Find creative solutions to offer your clients and salvage your projects (and the all-important income) the best you can.

Leverage Remote Work

One unaffected area of business is digital postproduction. While everyone is working remotely, editors, colorists and animators are still fully capable of accomplishing any project. All color grading, digital retouching, photo compositing, animations, and video editing can still move forward. Think ‘outside the box’ by:

  • Compositing assets into new designs and ads

  • Creating animations out of video projects

  • Re-cutting previous video shoots into new promos

  • Using archival or stock footage in new ways

Prepare for the Future

At some point (hopefully sooner than later), production will resume. With that in mind, there’s no reason you cannot plan for future shoots. Although we don’t recommend asking to hold dates for shoots at this point with the possibility of moving them, there’s plenty that can be done in preproduction. Items to work on include:

  • Estimates and budgets

  • Storyboards and mood boards

  • Script drafts and initial shot lists

  • Talent searches

  • Virtual location scouting

Many shoots have already been postponed which means our calendar for late April, May, and June is starting to fill up. Please reach out to schedule your shoot or discuss a future project.

Learn Something New

When working remotely, what seems like an eternity of free downtime can easily get taken up by the most menial of tasks. Reading emails, doing laundry, organizing (and reorganizing) your desk. While those things need to be done it’s also an opportunity to sharpen our skills in new areas we know that we need.

While we hesitate to recommend YouTube tutorials because they’re often full of bad information, there’s still a lot that can be learned there. It’s an easy way to get introductory material on a subject. And while most software applications have a free trial period, many learning platforms (Lynda, Pluralsight, Master Class, Sundance Institute) also offer free trials. If you get something good out of them consider staying on once the trial is over.

Give Back

Production companies have always played a role in times of crisis. Although we all love to shoot spots that look beautiful, right now content is king. Offer practical help to brands and not for profits. What are they working on right now? What messaging are they trying to communicate? Would creating a user generated content approach provide the raw materials for that message?

With our free time, we worked on a coronavirus PSA campaign, called The Cure is US, creating over 90 video messages in four weeks. The work won’t make us rich but making a difference trumps the almighty dollar in these times.

Bottom Line 

It’s going to be a tough few months for the production industry and none of us really knows what the future holds. But film and television production thrives on Murphy’s Law – we are always ready for things to go wrong at any time. That resourcefulness is going to be an asset as we try to figure out what comes next.

No one understands working through problems better than us. No one. Together, we can get through this.

Going Remote in the Face of Coronavirus

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc, the pandemic has accelerated the deployment of remote-working options to such an extent that many clients and production companies may never look back.

In the past, production companies lost out on projects because either the client didn’t want (or was unable to) fly out for the shoot. But what if they can see what’s happening on-set from their office? Streaming the live camera feed from the shoot directly to clients might be the best solution to keep productions moving forward.

While the concept of streaming video has been around for quite awhile, it seems particularly relevant now for film and television productions. Clients don’t have time want to wait for months to have health concerns resolve themselves. They’re on a tight delivery schedule. And travel expenses are always an issue in any production budget. With the right streaming technology, clients can get their projects shot on their timeframe and save money in the process.

The first step is determining what the client wants to view. Do they need to see the camera feed or just dailies throughout the day? The choice will affect the amount of remote workflow involved. In either case making your Video Assist the point person is a must. While the main role of the Video Assist is to provide playback to Video Village, they are ideally positioned to get your video footage to remote clients.

With the abundance of streaming technologies in the market, there are many different options to choose from. Let’s talk about three of the most common solutions.

Video Conferencing

Many services provide video conferencing, including SkypeZoomGo-to-Meeting, and BlueJeans. These services generally have fees associated with them, so research carefully and make the client aware that they will be responsible for this additional expense. Note that the on-set bandwidth of the wireless network plays a major role in video quality. Recorded video looks much better than streaming video on these services and can affect the way the client responds to the work.

Also note, many wrap-up insurance policies do not cover transmission failure. Given that, you should identify this activity in the special risks exhibit of the wrap-up insurance addendum, and/or have the agency indemnify you for costs and delays related to transmission.

Video Streaming

Live video streaming from set is a popular choice but like video conferencing, it requires a steady and reliable internet connection on location. Most streaming options offer the ability for client, agency and other team members to join and watch video shoots in real time. The difference comes in whether the solution is hardware-based, app-based or a combination of the two.

At the low-end, the elgato Cam Link 4k is effective and simple. It has an HDMI port on one side and a USB port on the other. When you plug the camera into the HDMI port and the USB into the computer, your camera will show up as a webcam. Stability is an issue, however, as this system requires occasional restarts for no apparent reason.

For a more substantial solution, Blackmagic Web Presenter is a hardware-based solution that gives you multiple input options that you can switch between. Similar to the elgato Cam Link, you need to plug in the HDMI in and connect the USB into a Mac on set, running FaceTime. The Web Presenter then becomes the “WebCam” for almost any popular streaming software (YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Twitch, Skype… even FaceTime). Any number of viewers using their phone, tablet or laptop can call in and watch the video. It also has USB interface for audio equipment, so you can hook your mic into it.

Using video assist hardware like QTAKE is another popular option. QTAKE has been used for years to stream video playback on sets where camera location and Video Village are separated from one another. Numerous vendors push the QTAKE video output to the cloud so clients in other locations can view the footage with a web browser. By installing a steady and reliable Satellite Internet connection on location, we’d be able to set up a VTR, switcher and encoding service such as LiveU or AWS Elemental to upload a feed to any streaming platform available

Turning to web services, Virtual Village provides an internet-based portal that securely delivers video to any internet connected viewing device. Stream to your phone, tablet, laptop or set up your own village in a client’s office. Virtual Village even offers concierge service! Although only currently available in popular filming destinations like Los Angeles and New York City, and countries like Mexico, Brazil, New Zealand and Spain, they say that their system can be implemented wherever you need it.

On the software side, OpenReel is an app that enables producers to remotely capture and live direct video anywhere. The technology allows footage to be recorded locally on your device, ensuring that the full quality is recorded and then is sent directly to the cloud. It works on both Apple and Web-based platforms, allowing you to remotely pair with another phone or tablet. Quality control, video and media teams control capture, and you can drop into editing right from the app.

Immediate Dailies

Dailies have been part of filmmaking since the dawn of the industry. Digital technology has impacted the way dailies are processed, making them downloadable and streamable. Now companies like Moxion provide software to share your dailies with all crew – on and off set, across multiple units – instantly. Using QTAKE, clients can review footage from set instantly on any device or even via their Apple TV app.

As an added benefit, editors can start editing seconds after the camera has stopped recording, allowing them to quickly share assemble edits back to the Director on set. That aids the creative process and dramatically reduces the cost of pickups later in production.

Remote Postproduction

Remote postproduction is fast becoming a viable (and sometimes preferable) workflow for many teams these days, according to Frame.io. For editing, platforms such as Frame.io, Vimeo, Filestage.io, Wipster and others provide tools for version control, change requests, tracking status and approvals. This can make it easier to communicate with clients, complete revisions faster, and have higher-quality content out the door quickly.

Remote post also works well for VFX studios. For smaller VFX teams, they can upload assets to an off-premises destination, where artists can easily download what they need to their home computer and upload their final shots or elements. Larger studios may have their teams access a VPN to connect remotely to their on-premises workstations and use a remote desktop solution like Teradici.

Take a cue from people who have already implemented remote workflows. Flourishing communities for post professionals to network and join projects already exist, from Blue Collar Post Collective to the Editors Subreddit.

Costs Involved

As far as cost is concerned, there’s a wide range of available pricing. Depending on what you’re looking for, you can find streaming options for anywhere from $250 to $10,000. With such varying price tags, it’s important you know exactly what you’re getting. As you talk to vendors, be sure to ask these questions:

  • What’s included in the quoted price?

  • Additional costs for increased viewership or storage?

  • Additional costs for extra features?

  • Startup costs such as cameras and equipment or one-time fees?

Film and video production has been behind the curve in using remote working technology compared to other industries but that might change in the post-virus world. Workflows that free staff and crews to focus on higher-impact creative tasks will allow production companies to leverage the best talent – wherever they are in the world.

Production Incentives Update: Where We’re Going in 2020

Whether they are a financial godsend or a revenue burden to states, all agree that film and television production is booming due to film incentives and tax credits. The challenge for any producer is to stay up to date as incentives are in a constant state of flux… or disappear entirely. Here’s the latest on some of the notable state film and television incentives.

California: 3.0, Here We Come

California is about to have a slew of new changes to its production incentive offerings, with the Film & TV Tax Credit Program 2.0 ending in June 2020 and Program 3.0 launching in July. The Golden State will get $330 million to go into their incentives pot. Finally, independent projects with budgets under $10 million will have their own basket of credits to pull from. This is a major development, as the current program has large and small independents competing for the same film incentive funds, sometimes to the detriment of the smaller ones.

California will also roll out a new career-based training program as well as having a new requirements showing efforts to hire more women and minorities on productions. Production must also sign a pledge condemning any sexual harassment on the job.

The state will additionally have a brand-new incentives bonus for areas outside Los Angeles. This has become a trend happening in more and more states. It helps spread production through a state and create good faith for legislators whose districts lie outside a production area. Look for The Golden State to see an increase in independent production next year, due to these filming incentives enhancements.

Georgia: Winds of Change

Georgia’s generous tax credits have sparked a billion-dollar production boom but there are signs that might change. State Republicans are looking at reducing film production credits — the largest pot of tax incentives offered by the state — as a way of avoiding some of the serious cuts to a $27 billion state budget ordered by Governor Brian Kemp.

While Georgia’s incentive program is not the richest in the land, their tax credit system has no cap and is easy to apply for. All you have to do is slap on the peach logo! If that were to change, Georgia’s status as a film hub would be in doubt. Keep an eye on the upcoming legislative fight over incentives.

Illinois: On ‘Chicago Fire’

In an effort to attract more film industry jobs and spending, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed legislation last year extending film tax credits through 2026. The incentives, which give companies 30% tax credits on production costs and salaries, were set to expire in 2021. It’s good news for a state that needs good news after so much bad publicity. Studios look at every dollar spent and as Dick Wolf, creator of Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med had told the governor earlier this year that “if the tax credit goes, we have to go.”

Louisiana: Blue Bayou

Louisiana continues to be a tempting destination for film and TV producers and the state’s 25% – 40% tax credit, which is partially refundable, usually seals the deal. However, much like Georgia incentives are getting a push back in certain circles. A study last year shows that taxpayers are losing roughly two-thirds of the money they put into the state’s film tax credit program. With repeated budget shortfalls and cut spending in areas like health care and education, the Louisiana legislature could turn its attention to “Hollywood on the Bayou” for answers.

New York: Start Spreading the News

New York recently had some welcome news for branded content specialists as in 2020, they will allow for online commercials to qualify for the New York Commercial production incentive. This forward-thinking expansion will broaden the New York incentive outside the traditional broadcast commercials they currently cover. New York also made a slight change for tax credit programs which affects the overall credit allocation. Any New York credits dispersed in 2020 will have a .025% reduction applied to them that will in turn cover diversity job training in the state.

Montana: Incentives Are Back in Big Sky Country

Montana’s production incentive came roaring back earlier this year. The state resurrected a transferable film tax credit that provides a tax credit for 20% of production costs for projects shot in Montana. A trifecta of bonuses can bring that film credit up to 30% and even higher. They have a low minimum spend of only $50,000 and $5 million in the incentives tank, ready to go for productions in the area.

Mississippi: Re-Incentivizes Non-Resident Labor for Productions

Mississippi had become one of the forgotten states for production in the last two years since their production incentives program stopped qualifying non-residents working in the state. However, in April of 2019, they brought that element of the incentive program back, allowing non-resident payroll to be considered as part of base investment and eligible for a 25% rebate. Expect production to increase in the state as a result.

New Mexico: BACK ON TOP with Latest Incentives

As one of the first states in the U.S. to offer production tax incentives, New Mexico continues to lead by example. As it stands now, New Mexico offers 25% in a refundable credit on any qualified-spend items purchased through New Mexico vendors, as well as any New Mexico resident wages.

The 25% tax incentive is also applicable to nonresident talent, given certain criteria are met. Best of all, New Mexico does not have a minimum spend, which makes it even more attractive to independent productions. The funding cap also doubled, from $55 million to $110 million.

The new version of the tax incentive retains the 5% TV bonus. So as long as a show has at least six episodes and spends $50,000 per episode in the state, producers can realize a combined return of 30% in refundable tax credits. Veteran shows like Better Call Saul and Longmire continue to take advantage of this offering. Pilots may be able to capitalize on the TV bonus incentive as well.

OTHER STATE Film Incentives Get Fund Increases

Pennsylvania received $5 million increase to their already impressive $65 million funding pool. Hawaii managed a massive 43% increase to their $35 million cap, ending at $50 million and with hopes for more next year. Rhode Island also received a $5 million bump to their $15 million pot. Illinois has extended their program to 2026, Arkansas extends theirs to 2029, and Ohio continues to fund its program.

Colorado’s production incentive recently received a much-needed boost to its film funding program, adding $1.25 million to the pot. They now have a $2 million dollar funding cap on a solid rebate program. Applicants can still get 20% on all labor and spending incurred in the state. They hope the bump will bring some new shows to the area and give rise to an even larger increase in funding next year.

Making Their Way Back

North Carolina and Florida are working hard currently to bring work back to their filming communities with help from their production incentives. We look forward to tracking their progress in 2020 and beyond.