Ever been curious about what a day is like on set of a marketing production shoot? If so, you’ve come to the right place—if not, well, you just might be after this light reading.
When it comes to marketing, production can mean anything from print pieces and photography to web video and TV commercials. And it is indeed true that no two days on set are the same, but here’s what a typical day-in-the-life might look like through the eyes of an agency Producer.
6:00 AM - Time to Get the Day Rollin’
No matter how early the call time is to be on set, I always wake up well before my alarm on a shoot day. I chalk it up to excitement sprinkled with a tiny bit of nervousness. Excitement because shoot days are the best part of the gig and you get to finally see everything come to fruition, but nervous because you now have to put all of your prep to the test and execute.
90% of what makes a successful shoot day happens in the pre-production stage. There is no such thing as overplanning, no potential curveball too wild to have a solution for. Put in the work, trust your prep, and come shoot day you will wake up more excited than anxious.
7:00 AM - Arrival and Set Up
As most Producers would echo, I always plan to be the first to arrive and the last to leave on any given set. Whether it’s on-location or in a studio, ideally I have scouted prior to shoot day and am familiar with the ins and outs of the space I’m working in.
After opening up the location and unloading the often completely full trunk of random props and gadgets from my car, I spend the first few minutes mapping out the flow of the set: walking through the main shooting spaces, as well as identifying the best spots for craft services, wardrobe, hair and makeup, talent and client home base, video village, etc. There’s a strategic approach to making sure these spots are accessible by all yet as out of the way as possible for the production crew moving about throughout the day.
Next comes getting the crew loaded in and situated. We usually have about an hour before the client team and the talent arrive, so we use this time to get ourselves organized, set up for the first shot and do a final review of the plan for the day. It’s the responsibility of the Producer to make sure the entire crew feels set up for success—and that includes everything from providing printed shot lists and schedules, to giving them pointers on working with a specific client or brand.
It’s also on the Producer to help bring the energy and set the tone for the day. Shoot days are exciting, but they are also lengthy and challenging—it’s important to get everyone comfortable around each other, maybe put on some upbeat tunes (but only when no audio is being captured!), and bring a positive attitude from the get-go. It’s essential to get the day started on the right foot and keep morale levels high from action until wrap.
8:00 AM - Getting Started
Once clients and talent start to arrive, the day kicks into overdrive. Making everyone feel welcome on set and showing them where the essentials are is the first step. Then, talent goes off to wardrobe and hair and make up, the client gets settled and grabs coffee or a bite, and the crew puts the final touches on prep. We often go over the plan for the day as a full team (crew, agency team and clients alike) one last time—highlighting what we are capturing, our goals for the day, and processes for review and feedback.
The final piece—and perhaps the most important one—is securing client approval on art direction, framing and setup for the first shot, as well as talent’s wardrobe and styling. Trust me, even though we’ve talked about it several times by this point already, getting a final thumbs up on those items before rolling will help prevent avoidable stress and setbacks to your day. This applies to every new shot and set up throughout the shoot, but is especially important for the first of the day.
9:00 AM to However Long It Takes—Action!
Now that everyone feels prepared and excited, it’s time for action. For the next 8-10 hours, the team works together as a well-oiled machine to execute the creative vision. As a Producer, I have a handful of core responsibilities to juggle throughout shooting to make for a successful day. These include:
- Keeping the team on track from start to finish. It’s my job to ensure that everything on the shot list gets captured and nothing falls through the cracks. It’s also my responsibility to keep tabs on the time and make sure we’re on schedule. Part of that is judging when we can overflow a little on a setup or when we need to keep moving, and finding a balance that works for each team and project.
- Streamlining the communication and feedback through the ideal chain of command. There’s a lot going on on set, and sticking to proper communication channels is key for efficiency and for avoiding confusion. Most times, the client should communicate feedback and comments directly to the Producer, who then brings it to the Art Director, and then finally to the Assistant Director or Director (depending how many roles are on set).
- The Producer should identify the 1-2 clients who are the primary feedback givers and decision makers early on. Every shot needs client approval before moving on, and the last thing we want to do is have to back track or get road blocked because of too many cooks in the kitchen. Knowing who to go to for the final call is helpful for keeping things moving in times of conflict.
- Managing talent. Unlike a larger production like film or television, there’s typically no talent management role on a marketing shoot. It’s up to the Producer to tell talent when and where they need to be throughout the day, prep them on wardrobe, get all documentation taken care of (release forms, contracts), and answer any questions they might have about the production.
- Keeping the client team engaged. This sounds obvious, but sometimes they’ll need a nudge to keep eyes on the screen when cameras are up and rolling. After all, the content we are shooting is for them, not us – and we want to make sure everything we produce feels authentic and accurate to their brand, and that we don’t miss anything.
- A lot of the day is spent checking in with them to make sure they are feeling great (not just good or fine, people) about what we are capturing and keeping them tuned in over the course of a long and tiring day.
- Maintaining a collaborative rhythm with the creative team and the director. Whether it is needing technical support on a setup or asking how we’re doing on time, each member of the team should be able to look to you as their calm and collected point person. While Producers are technically not a creative seat, we are an extension of the creative team and a Producer’s opinion should be welcomed and valued.
- Staying one step ahead. A lot of being a Producer is constantly looking ahead to the next section of the day and anticipating. Anticipating needs of the production team, anticipating needs of the client, or anticipating hang-ups that might arise and thinking through practical solutions before they happen. This keeps the day flowing and maximizes the value of the time we have on set.
5:30 PM - That’s a Wrap
Once we have secured client approval on the final shot, and agree as a team that we’ve captured all we need, one of the more exciting parts of being a Producer arrives: The “that’s a wraaaaaap!” call. Sometimes, I generously give the honors to a client or another crew member, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t extremely satisfying.
After the wrap call followed by ensuing claps, hoots and hollers, shut down mode is initiated. Talent is released (but don’t forget to get their clothes back if they are sourced wardrobe!), camera and lights start to come down, and the space gets totally reset. One of my biggest priorities is to always try and leave locations better than how we found them, and that can be tough after a busy day of shooting. Every trinket, piece of furniture and picture frame needs to go back where it belongs (hot tip: taking photos at the start of the day is very helpful), and every chip bag, water bottle and paper towel needs to find its way to the garbage. Leave no stone unturned and no gaff tape on the floor.
6:00 PM - Final Checks
After the crew and the art department are completely packed up and heading out, I do one last solo walk through of the space. More often than not, I’ll find something that was missed. Either way, as the Producer, I am the liaison between the shoot location and the agency, and when I leave and lock up (the last one out, remember!) I want to be confident that it looks like our team was never there.
And then – exhale. Executing a shoot is hard f*cking work. A successful day on set takes a complete effort from a ton of people, and no single role is more valuable than another. But man is it rewarding to get to the end of it and know that all the work put in is valid, and we’re a part of making something cool.
6:30 PM - Celebratory Hangs
Last but certainly not least comes the fun. After a full day of being on your feet and bouncing around, it’s time to relax and celebrate all we’ve accomplished. Most shoots end with a wrap dinner (and probably a brew) with the client team, the Producer, the Director, the Creative team and the agency Account team. This is the opportunity to debrief on the day, enjoy tasty food, and get to know each other more as humans – all things that make for better work in the future.
Okay, maybe this was medium reading and not light reading. Anyway, as I mentioned, no two days on set are the same. But there are lots of commonalities across them that provide an indication of what being a Producer for a marketing agency might be like. Hopefully this helped bring a little bit of insight into that world, and you learned a useful thing or two.