Bradley Bernstein is not just a dear friend and my manager (through his company Fast Track Management). He’s been nominated for a Tony award and won an Olivier award for producing theatre and has a lot of experience producing television programming here in Los Angeles. When I told Bradley about “Guys Reading Poems” and our idea to transform its original concept from a new media piece to a feature film and how we were in over our heads, Bradley GENEROUSLY stepped on board to help – as our line producer. He worked tirelessly and went WAY beyond the call of duty. We couldn’t have done it without him. Here’s what he had to say about his function on our film. Some of his tips will doubtless save you time, money and headaches.
Hunter: So Bradley, you did a fantastic job line producing “Guys Reading Poems.” Thank you. I’m trying now to make sure I learn as much as possible as we prep the second feature. So looking back at “Guys Reading Poems” from a line producing perspective, what would you say was harder than anticipated and what would you say was easier than anticipated?
Bradley: Thank you, Hunter. I would say it was a bit more difficult merging the new media project that was filmed a year earlier with the ultra low budget shoot.* I think because no one really had any experience with that type of merger we just had to figure it out as we went. I think the wardrobe ended up being easier for me than I anticipated. We had a LOT of costumes considering our budget. I mean a lot of costumes. But our wardrobe department really came through and I did not feel the pressure at the end of the day that I thought I was going to feel.
Hunter: We spent a good chunk of our budget on soundstage rental. A lot of low budget indies shoot on location, so this was a big decision for us. From your perspective, was it worth it? Do you think indie films should consider soundstages even if it sounds like sticker shock at first?
Bradley: The soundstage approach was the perfect choice for us! In retrospect, I would have negotiated the deal for the stage a bit different but I would not have changed my mind about shooting at one. We saved so much money at the end of the day for our particular film. I think each project has its own needs so there are no specific rules in this regards. I would say keep an open mind.
Hunter: The SAG-AFTRA ULB contract allowed us to work with both union and non-union actors. Did this present any challenges? Any notes for other filmmaking teams here?
Bradley: This did not present any challenges in regards to the actors themselves. You do have to remember there are different types of paperwork to fill out. Educate yourself!!! Make sure you ask your SAG rep lots of questions!! A line producer has a lot of responsibilities and you don’t want to be wasting your time filling out paperwork multiple times because you used the wrong form!!!
Hunter: We had a number of scheduling challenges with GRP, especially with our child actor and all the regulations surrounding that. Do you have any general advice to other filmmakers regarding scheduling? Any advice specifically about scheduling with child actors?
Bradley: OK child actors LOL. This was the first film where I had the opportunity to work with a child actor. I have to say I was a bit nervous. There are a LOT of state rules and union rules! But don’t be scared!!! Everyone I worked with from the child actor’s agent and manager to the on-set teacher were great. They were happy to walk me through the regulations. No one wants to see you violate and no one is there to take advantage. So don’t worry! You just need to understand the rules in advance so you can schedule your shoot appropriately. Kids need breaks on set differently than adults. Also, you need to watch them – make sure they are not getting tired. Yes, there are rules to protect them but you should protect them beyond the rules and account for that in your schedule. We had a 7 year old. He was GREAT. But if I saw him getting tired or a bit antsy I pulled him from set for a 20 minute leg stretch. Know that you will need to do this. It is good for the kid and good for the production. Also – have toys on set (ask the parents what their kid likes)!!!
Hunter: I noticed you switched from one budgeting software to a different program midway through the process. Can you tell us your preferred budgeting software and why? Any tips on using this sort of software?
Bradley: Yeah, this was a time killer. I am not sure I want to name the first software product we used. It was not one I was familiar with. We used it because it was the system my predecessor on the project had used so we felt it would be more efficient to stick with the same program. WRONG! It was buggy! I mean really buggy! Also, stick with what you know. What works for you! Movie Magic works for me!!! I like the program! I understand the program!!! If there is a better one out there, I am happy to take the time to learn it, but right now that is the one that works for me. Here is my tip. There are great online vids that teach you how to use the software. WATCH THEM! Also – Save, Save, Save your changes!!
Hunter: Oftentimes, you served as a liason between the department heads and rest of the producing team. Can you talk a little bit about working with people and the strategies of dealing with the various departments?
Bradley: In my opinion the line producer is the hub for all the department heads. As such, there should be a constant flow of communication between the line producer and all the departments. I like to make sure when in production I am visiting all the departments on a regular basis. Make sure all the heads and their entire staffs are happy. Even more than just being happy, I want to make sure everyone knows they can come to me with problems. I cannot fix something if I don’t know it is broken. There are a LOT of personalities on a film set. Most of the time people don’t know each other before coming to set. So there is potential to make new friends, but there is also the potential to not get along. I am not just running the budget on a show. I am making sure that the wheels and cogs of a set are running smoothly. So if people don’t get along, I need to know and be there to help!
Always stay calm! As a line producer, try never to take sides in disagreements! Listen to what everyone has to say. In the end, you have to decide not was is necessarily good for an individual, but what is good for the entire production. You will not always be popular, but you have a job to do – to make sure the production stays on budget and stays on schedule. Keeping that in mind, you accomplish this goal by continually checking in with your departments and making sure you are informed! You are not only judge, but you are jury and you have to take that very seriously! Most people think the director is the leader on a set but that is not entirely true. The director is the leader of the creative vision and with his/her team runs the set while the camera is rolling, etc. But the director is not running the action off the set and nor should he/she. Part of my job is to keep any/all problems away from the director (as much as I can) so he/she can stay focused on the creative vision of the film.
Hunter: To advise newer line producers, what one line item are they probably underestimating the most and what line item might they be overestimating?
Bradley: To new line producers: You are always underestimating your entire budget! (LOL) but apparently I am supposed to pick a single line item. Geez that is hard. I would say FOOD! Never every skimp on food! Feed the machine and the machine will work! I find that a lot of line producers overestimate how much they are going to pay on cameras/lightening/electrical. That just comes from experience.
Hunter: Some of our readers might be newer to dealing with agents and managers. Any tips on the courtesies or strategies involved in communicating with an actor’s team, especially if they are to be cc’d on information relevant to the line producer?
Bradley: Agents and managers are people too! Don’t be afraid of them! There is really not a lot of interaction between a line producer and a talent rep, to be honest. But on a smaller film, a line producer tends to handle a lot more, so I would not be surprised if you end up having to contact a rep. Just explain who you are and what you need. Most reps are more than happy to take care of you. If the rep asks you something outside of your area, just politely explain that it is not your purview and redirect them to the correct person. Never answer a question that you don’t know the answer to!
Hunter: What has been your happiest memory working on “Guys Reading Poems” so far?
Bradley: My happiest moment was the move in day at our sound stage. I love move in days! All our crew get to meet each other (if they have not already). We get to settle in to our areas (me included). It is like the first day of camp. Finding our way. I love producing film and tv shows. So the first day is the start of the adventure. The last day is the saddest. I want to be a far away from the sad day as possible. I also really enjoy the by myself time during the development process when I first start building a budget. That is my zen time!
Hunter and Bradley talk on a daily basis, occasionally order in pizza from Lucifer’s and are in the process of developing new material for both film and television, including Inside-Out, Outside-In.
*Editor’s note: Some footage was shot and originally registered as a new media project with SAG-AFTRA for “Guys Reading Poems.” We never released that footage because we decided to incorporate it into a larger piece – a feature film. We then obtained permission from SAG-AFTRA to change our contract from New Media to SAG ULB, but with that change caused some practical and paperwork challenges.