How to Run a Production Meeting

Dax asks:

I’ve experienced several different production meetings. Two seem to be the most common.

The first AD reads through the script in scene order and then through the one liner in schedule order. if this is correct? If so, should the AD just read the slug lines for each scene and then summarize the scene and elements?

OR The first AD goes through the complete shooting schedule in schedule order, reading all elements? In this case the script is only used as a reference when there is a question from a department head.

Which one of these two methods is most common or correct?

First off, the correct way is the way that gets it done. 😀

Only slightly less facetiously, the correct way is whatever way the AD wants to do it. A lot of people can claim they are in charge, but in reality, when it comes to moment-by-moment decisions, the AD really is the top dog. The AD is probably the only person below the line that can say what the rest of the crew are thinking: “Hurry the fuck up, Mr. Director.”

Cards on the table, now– I have very little experience on big budget movies. I only worked on shitty, non-union, straight-to-VOD flicks before moving into network television. I have no idea what is or isn’t normal on real, professional film.

I imagine it’s similar to single camera television, on a longer time scale. In TV, there’s actually a few different meetings leading up to production. First, there’s the Concept Meeting,1 where the director goes over the the direction he wants the script to go in. Most of the department heads are there, to get an idea of what the look and design of the episode will be.

Those tend to go in scene order, because they’re discussing how the show will (or should) feel from the audience’s perspective. The AD doesn’t exactly run those meetings, but she’s still the one running the shot clock.2

After that, the director often has meetings with each department about the needs of this particular episode. Every element is discussed to the finest possible detail. In TV, the episode writer tends to be a part of these meetings, as well; I don’t think that’s often the case in film.3

Then comes the Production Meeting. This involves every department head (except the DP, sadly, if there’s only one cinematographer on the series), even ones who weren’t there for the Concept Meeting. In my experience, the AD will go through the script in shooting order. They don’t really “read” the script, the way you and I usually think about it. All of the really creative decisions (should) have already been made by the above-the-liners, in conjunction with the department heads.

The Production Meeting is about getting shit done. How do we physically fit the camera inside the trunk? Will we be able to hear the dialogue on the process trailer? Where will the trailers be parked?4

Again, it’s not that they don’t care about the characters or story. Everything will be done in the context of “What’s best for the show?” But the Production Meeting adds the extra wrinkle of “What can we do?” Like Dax says, they’ll refer to the script to make sure they’re answer the former question, but production meetings are much more about the latter.

Lastly, there’s the Tone Meeting, in which the writer, director, show runner, and various other creative types get together to talk about the artistic elements of the episode. What’s the point of this scene, why does that character say that, who is Jon Snow’s mother, really? That kind of thing. I find it strange this meeting comes last, but hey, since when does Hollywood make any sense?

If you’re a PA, you rarely go to these meetings. In fact, the office tends to get nice and quite for a couple (or three!) hours while all of the grown-ups are stuck in a tiny room. But if you’re ambitious, and smart, you should ask to sit in on one of these.

Don’t ask to sit in on episode one; you’ve got too much to do, getting the office up and running. But once you’ve established yourself, and assuming everything really is quiet that day, no one will object.

Bring your notepad with you; take copious notes. Pay attention, and if (when) you have any questions, write them down for later. No one expects you, as a PA, to know anything, so don’t be embarrassed to ask. It’s how you learn.

But during the meeting itself, DON’T SAY ANYTHING. Always keep in mind Joaquin Sedillo’s advice: “You have two eyes, two ears, and one mouth. Use them accordingly.”5

You know how else you can learn? By listening to Crew Call. But that can only happen if you support the Crew Call Season Two Kickstarter. Even a $5 contribution helps.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. In the original version of this post, I confused Concept meetings with Tone meetings. I don’t usually like to edit posts after they go up, but the Internet is forever, and I don’t want someone reading this post two years from now and getting confused.
  2. That’s a sports metaphor, not an actual film term, in case you’re confused.
  3. Because what does the author of the story have to say about the final film?
  4. That’s actually probably decided on the Tech Scout, but it’ll still be discussed here.
  5. Except in this case, pretend you’re Neo, being interrogated by Agent Smith. You’ve got no mouth at all.
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3 Responses

  1. Your outline for the production meeting was pretty much spot-on APA.

    As line producers, I usually hire ADs I’ve worked with, and they know I like going through every scene with the department heads only. Some ADs will just go through by day and not by scene – I’m not crazy about that.

    In the early days of cell phones, I used to INSIST that all cells be turned off – the constant interruption drove me crazy – but most people today actually suffer withdrawal if they have to not text or check their email for more than 5 minutes, so I just ask that they pay attention and if they have to step out make it quick.

    My post on it.

  2. When I was a Post PA, I used to love Production Meeting days. Not only was my boss in a meeting for a couple of hours, but almost everyone that would call our office was also in there. Our post office was even on the other side of town from the P.O., so I even had time to kill while he was in traffic. I wish I wasn’t the only PA in the department though, because I wanted to attend at least one of those meetings.

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