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VOICES | In the Trenches

Project managers learn the challenges of making a movie.

By Rhonda Wilson Oshetoye, PMP, and Laurence Cook, PMP

MAKING A MOVIE IS A PROJECT. Yet when our project management firm undertook a film for the first time, we could find little information about project management in the movie industry. Instead, we had to discover on our own how to implement project management methodologies in this field.

When BJG Media Productions hired us for the indie film A Choice to Yield, our project managers facilitated the initiation discussion with stakeholders. Once stakeholders agreed on the scope and budget, the team began the initiation process.

Planning was a nightmare at first, as we tried to learn the ins and outs of moviemaking. With minimal guidance and without historical documents, the team struggled to understand the depth and cost of every task. We learned through intense research that the closest position to a project manager is the line producer. Once the line producer responsibilities became clear, planning began to roll. Planning sessions shifted to risks.

We created a risk management plan with high-, medium- and low-risk factors and associated costs for each. From changing actors to planning the use of venues, the cost of change is a huge variable for movies. One venue change can cost up to US$15,000 for a three-hour shoot. The tension between the director's vision and the reality of managing the budget for unknowns is a serious issue, and managing the director became the highest and most costly risk of the entire project.


Project plans had to be solidified before the first scene could be shot. We broke the plan into phases. From there, our team planned everything from the script review to the casting call, identified resources, procured equipment and enacted a communication plan. We planned movement from set to set, coordinated with a caterer and signed venue contracts.

Next, we distributed the shoot schedule and wardrobe requirements to each actor, gaffer, cameraman, associate director and other production support personnel.

Project execution entailed early morning pre-shoot meetings and post-shoot assessments of the shots—including immediate lessons-learned discussions, schedule adjustments and revalidating resource assignments. This process enabled us to manage every aspect of filming with regard to contract agreements, set requirements and payment distribution.

The need to reshoot scenes required significant adjustments to the schedule and budget. While we'd expected some reshoots, we didn't expect as many as were required. This sent the budget spiraling, and pushed us back to planning. To mitigate cost and overages per scene, we made specific adjustments for future shoots. We reduced lighting costs by shooting night scenes during the day and simplified makeup requirements. We also had to renegotiate a few contracts, make backdrop construction changes on location and modify venue-use agreements. As with any project in execution, budget awareness took precedence and required strict focus.

This paid off when the project was successfully completed 2 percent under budget. In addition, our firm has been asked to manage another movie project.

Of the many skills project managers bring to the film industry, the most important are managing change and controlling the supporting tasks of filming. The orchestration of multiple moving parts requires a project manager's ability to adapt and overcome obstacles. In moviemaking, the unknowns are huge and unpredictable, but the project manager's skills and training are a great fit for managing the process. PM



Rhonda Wilson Oshetoye, PMP, and Laurence Cook, PMP, are practicing partners at RLO Enterprises, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

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