producing documentary books

Producing Documentary Books: Building a Team

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Building a team is the next topic in my Ultimate Guide to Producing Documentary Books blog series. My experience is that the best groups follow a chain of command system and winning teams have superstars. I’ve learned about teams in a number of ways. First, I am the youngest of seven children, which alone must make me an expert. I was often teased about an answer I once gave when asked to explain the Golden Rule: “Do what the other guy wants.”

We want happy workers who know how to drive!
We want happy workers who know how to make new roads!

Growing up, I played team sports and joined various school clubs. I was also exposed to major motion picture filming at a young age. Understanding crew positions—and watching crew members work and interact with each other—formed the foundation for how I view teams. I became aware of the level of professionalism that was expected of each department. There was a genuine feeling of respect for how each crew member approached their craft. Excellence, plus an element of surprise and creativity, was expected and demanded for every task. The other takeaway was realizing that everyone was aware of where their orders came from and who had the final say in decision making.

My rules for building a team start with work ethic. I am looking for people who go the extra mile with a smile. Next are people who constantly connect. By that I mean they check in all the time with a simple, “I’m on it and you’ll have it tonight,” and there is never any chasing them for deliverables. I also look for resourcefulness because all types of breakdowns will occur. I think what irks me most are continual excuses as to why something didn’t happen that must and will happen anyway. I don’t tolerate late because the whole team suffers. Don’t offer assignments to people who can’t work under the pressure of publishing deadlines no matter how perfect they are for the project otherwise.

Ways to gauge a potential team member’s capability and methodology are to ask their references calculated questions and search deeply through past accomplishments for clues. Someone who doesn’t show up anywhere on the Internet would make me suspicious. There also has to be a sense of willingness and professionalism from the first encounter. I’ve been turned off by the way a person answers the phone when I’m calling. I think it’s down to seven seconds now for making a first impression.

Two more rules for building great teams are: (a) never assume, and (b) get it in writing.

Contracts for writers need to spell out precisely what they are to deliver, who they are to interview, the manuscript length, supplemental text (glossary, index or bibliography), royalties, revision requirements and deadlines. The photographer’s agreement outlines the services they will provide, the term, the compensation, allowable expenses and license of rights. All other work-for-hire team members need some type of scope-of-work outline (by email is fine) or make sure agreed upon terms are written into invoices.

This is a typical list of team members for a one photographer bio-pic documentary book:

  • Director/Publisher
  • Project Manager/Packager
  • Writer
  • Introduction Writer/Guest Writers/Caption Writer
  • Photographer
  • Assistant Photographers/Digital Assistant
  • Digital/Retouching/Post Manager
  • Hair & Makeup Stylists
  • Set Designer/Props/Wardrobe
  • Book Designer
  • Photo Researcher/Licensing Manager
  • Copy Editor/Proofreader
  • Design Assistant/Office Assistant
  • Finance Manager/CPA
  • Attorney/Legal Advice
  • Sales Director/Distributor
  • Marketing Manager/Publicist

Team members are often friends first or they become ones during the project. It’s a good feeling to call on and count on friends. But hiring and working with friends brings an added responsibility, one of caring for your team in a deeper way. Take a minute and review these 18 ways to live the Golden Rule. My next post will be Assigning and Structuring Photography. Number 12 of 33!

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