Life of a Production Coordinator: 3 Things I Learned on my Last Video Shoot

Whaddup virgins, it’s been a little while since we’ve had a post. But I swear, I have a good excuse! The past 5 weeks I’ve been traveling with the BOSSES at Spirit Animal on a corporate production that’s taken us to Portland, OR and Montreal and Toronto in Canadia land (pretty sweet, eh?), New York and Chicago.

Given our absence, I thought I’d be a sweetheart and share some of my reflections and lessons learned on these shoots. Maybe I can save some of you virgins a headache or two on your next shoot (or maybe you’ll still want to learn the hard way like the rest of us).

Don’t Rely on Local Drone Operators for Scouting Locations

drone sunset
One of our droner worthy sunsets

For each of our shoots, we hired local drone ops – because drone footage gives clients “droners” (that’s what we call drone boners). Given that different cities and countries have mixed laws on where and when you can fly and who can fly, we felt it was best to leave it to the local pros to operate and capture footage (getting arrested in a different country for flying a drone isn’t on any of our crew’s bucket lists). Upon booking the drone ops, we contacted them with questions about local spots that were great for capturing the types of shots we were looking for.

While I could write an entire post on what we learned in the world of drones (keep your eyes peeled for that in the future), I wanted to share the biggest takeaway that caused us the most stress: do your due diligence and scout shooting locations for yourself prior to the shoot.

We had minimal downtime during our travels (think: arrive one day, shoot two 12-hour days, hop on a flight home). Some drone ops were really great at providing location recommendations. We even had one who sent us a detailed digram of when the sun would be setting from which direction and he absolutely NAILED it in terms of location scouting.

Unfortunately, relying on local drone ops for one shoot kind of bit us in the ass. We had talked with the drone ops leading up to the shoot about a location where we could catch the sunset and include a nice Toronto skyline. They recommended a location, and after a day shooting around the city we set off to meet them for an awesome sunset drone session.

When we arrived however, we found the location to be buzzing with people (prohibiting us from flying close to our subject) and our golden hour light was blocked by trees. Long story short, we made due with what we had (and the footage is still drool-worthy), but failed to get the types of shots we had in mind. If we had someone scout the location the evening before, we would have identified these problems and could have found a better location to get the footage we were planning to capture.

Know your Shooting Locations and Typical Traffic Patterns

When you’re running a production, whether you’re a local or completely new to a location do yourself a solid and familiarize yourself with all of your shooting locations, travel options and traffic patterns. I don’t care if you know your left from right, when you arrive on set you better know your surroundings like you’ve lived in the damn place from conception.

Our 2-day shoots typically consisted of a set location one day, and a guerilla-filmmaking style on the second, that had us driving and walking around the cities. In Portland, literally every location was MAX 12 minutes apart (being from Philly, you can’t imagine how glorious that was for us). Montreal and Toronto are real cities (sorry Portlandians), so planning different locations actually required knowledge of the city’s routes and traffic hiccups.

My recommendation? Ask locals (luckily our subjects were locals) and plug in your commutes at the corresponding times on the day prior using Google maps to see how long it’s actually going to take for you to get from point A to point B on a typical day. This will allow you to schedule accurately and keep your crew on track to film everything in the allotted time slots.

Keep your Crew Fed and Cool

filming in montreal
Food kept the crew happy in Montreal

Before starting production, my boss gave me a sound piece of knowledge: the most important part of your job as a production coordinator is to make sure that everyone is fed.

It sounds silly and kind of pathetic (really?? that’s the best thing I can do???). But anyone who has worked 12+ hour days in production knows how amazing those fleeting moments of food are. A small break to reenergize and fuel up before jumping back into production is necessary, and if you don’t plan properly, you’re going to have a lot of pissed off people who aren’t going to work hard for you.

In Portland, I learned quickly how vital coordinating food and drink was with a crew that wasn’t our typical team and definitely dropped the ball on snacks. By Montreal I made sure there were healthy snacks (fruits and bars for energy) available throughout the shoot, water, coffee for the morning and sweet treats to lift the morning mood. Still, there was one occurrence where our DP was running around with a Ronin for hours and I didn’t have any water to give the poor guy. It didn’t happen again.

All of our shoots were hot, 2 of the indoor locations didn’t have AC. Making sure there was water for the crew and our subjects was the difference between everyone hating life and everyone being able to laugh and complain about being sweaty and smelly.

Overall, I felt like the Mom of the crew trying to make sure everyone was well fed and taken care of. But as long as I did my part in making sure stomachs were full and thirst was quenched, being the Mom wasn’t so bad.

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