In this article, you will learn seven tips and tricks, plus some bonus tips to manage a collaborative filmmaking project.
Like any creative field, collaboration for filmmakers is essential. You need to find ways to engage the people you’re working alongside and share ideas and tasks with them. That could mean the client who’s funding the project or the creative team that’s helping to execute it.
While these filmmaking collaboration tricks will help you to manage your project remotely, many of them are transferable to your in-person collaborative projects, too. Whatever your workflow, these tips will help to turn the creative and technical steps of filmmaking into something that’s easily actionable for everybody involved!
1. Agree on a Creative Brief Before Starting
A good creative brief will outline the approach you’re going to take to achieve what you’ve been hired to do. It should describe the creative concept and important objectives or instructions that have been agreed on by you, the client, and your creative team.
It’s important that everyone is on board with what is possible to accomplish with the time and budget you have. Make sure the final brief is accessible to everyone throughout the project through a file-sharing tool like Google Drive.
2. Agree on How You’ll Communicate
The most successful collaborations involve clear communication with everyone involved. So, choosing a tool or platform to keep all of the important updates for your project will contribute to its success. You can use whatever tools you are used to using, but you may find that designated spaces for certain types of communication work best.
Creating a Slack channel for quick messages may help to keep your email inbox neater, while a project management tool such as Asana could help to keep your team’s to-do list organized. When it comes to file management, a platform like Google Drive will help to keep files organized and accessible to everyone.
When you reach the post-production stage, a tool like Motion Array’s Review is another way to keep up your clear communication. Review keeps an easy-to-navigate overview of all of your and your client’s notes in one space. Plus, it’s much more functional than sharing revisions over email or another text-based platform.
Sending out updates in bulk decreases the chance of a message slipping through the gaps and being overlooked and is more time-efficient. Overall, though, the important thing is that the team and client are committed to being consistent with the methods used to communicate.
3. Create a Shared Timeline
This could be anything from a simple bullet point list of deadlines on a shared document to a sophisticated chart in project management software. Whatever you choose, have one timeline with the tasks and deadlines that everyone is working towards in a place that they can see. All project management tools are made with this in mind.
For those of you who do not have a project management tool, here is a handy DIY tip to create a visual timeline. Create a shared spreadsheet on Google Drive and label your columns as the days/weeks of your project. List your tasks in the first column. Color code the cells in the middle, or write notes in them to keep track of how long each task should take, and their deadlines. Link to the spreadsheet on your chosen communication platform so anyone on the project can refer to it at anytime.
4. Don’t Be Afraid of Calling a Meeting
While many of you know calling too many meetings is counterproductive, the opposite is also true. Clients are often hesitant to agree to meetings if they’re busy, and your team may feel the same way, but meetings will save you time and confusion in the long-term when used correctly.
In the early stages of your project, it’s important that you call at least one meeting with the client. Here, you can clarify expectations for the project as a whole. Even if you need to compromise and this is just a quick phone call, it will ensure that nothing is left to assumption. Avoid leaving this stage purely to email communication where points can be misunderstood or slip under the radar more easily.
Meetings with your team should also be used wisely. It may also be time to call a meeting when you’re experiencing a lot of back and forth overwritten messages to clarify something. At this point, it’s probably quicker and less confusing to jump on the phone for clarification. If the confusion involves several points or people, it is probably time to call a (focused) team meeting. Encourage everyone to use this time to bring any non-urgent questions they have collected since last seeing the team to make the most of this time when everyone’s together.
5. Utilize Visual Aids to Communicate Your Ideas
It’s not easy to talk about visuals using words. If you’re experienced in filmmaking, you might thrive at this; it doesn’t mean your client or certain team members will get it.
This is where sketches, moodboards, and storyboards come in. Be prepared to think outside the box and use whatever kind of visual or audiovisual media you need to communicate your vision and ideas.
6. How to Communicate Revisions Remotely
If you don’t already have a designated tool for video collaboration, where clients can review and approve cuts, you can consider using Motion Array’s Review. Motion Array is the all-in-one video makers' platform with royalty-free music, templates, stock video, and more, including Review. This tool lets you comment at specific timecodes or even specific frames and replaces the need for you to teach your client how to read timecodes and pass you back a list of feedback, which can be confusing.
With Motion Array’s Review, you upload and send the latest cut to your client. They simply need to pause the video when they have a comment, type it in the text box, and post it. Plus, they can even click on the video to add a marker so you can see exactly which area of the frame they’re talking about. From here, you’ll be able to respond to comments or check them off when you’ve applied their feedback on your new cut. To make things even clearer, you can upload your new cut as an updated version of the same video. Navigation between versions is clear and intuitive, so your client will never need to juggle multiple video files on their computer again!
Of course, you should still be prepared to hop on the phone to double-check any final details if necessary. As always, you still need to make sure that the client understands from the beginning how many rounds of revisions they’re getting and what happens if you reach that limit.
7. Get an Introduction to the Other Stakeholders
On a lot of projects, there will be people on the sidelines that you’re aware of at the start of a project, but don’t start interacting with until later on. These could be stakeholders in your client’s business, members of the creative team you’re working with, or third parties.
The last thing you want on a fast-moving project is for the moment to arrive that you need one of these stakeholder’s input, but you’re stuck waiting for your busy client to share their contact details. So, avoid this by getting a list of these people’s names and details in your first meeting.
You may find it even better to ask the client to introduce you. This can help to speed up cooperation further down the line when the stakeholder is expecting your message and knows who you are, even if only by email.
Overall, this trick will make you more agile in your collaboration. Plus, it will likely earn you some respect from the client for being proactive and foreseeing what could potentially slow you down.
Working With Remote Contributors
Sometimes, when the production stage is done remotely, you will have remote contributors creating and sending you video or audio files. Whether these contributors are seasoned filmmakers or not, you need to give them some direction.
This is where some of the ideas from tip five will come in handy. You may also find it useful to create an FAQ page or document that you can share with your contributors. This is a great way to save you time.
If you are working with contributors that have little to no experience with filmmaking, it might be even better to create a video that actually teaches them how to set up and film the footage in the style that you want.
Be Ready to Adapt Your Ways of Communicating
As a filmmaker, at some point, you’ll probably have a client who struggles to use technology. When you rely on digital tools to carry out your remote workflow, this can be frustrating for both sides.
Don’t cave in and change your workflow right away, but you might want to consider being flexible for the good of the relationship with the client, as well as being able to receive their feedback and keep them updated. So, weigh the pros and cons as you think of potential solutions. Consider things like the length of the project and who else is going to be affected if you change the method for some or all of your project communications. Is it realistic, and do you have the time to teach the client to use your tools?
Now, you have a range of tips that should help you to become a better filmmaking collaborator in your remote projects and beyond!
Perhaps you’re already practicing a lot of these filmmaking collaboration tricks, but remember not to get set in your ways. Always be ready to use your initiative and change it up when you see an opportunity to simplify what you and your team are doing. When it comes to the filmmaking process, the technology should serve us, not the other way around.