Supervision in a Complex World – Discussion with Kerry McDowall and Brad Goodman

When you overwatch a team of editors on a feature film, there’s lots of things you must consider. Who can do what, how soon can it be done, and in some cases, how much CGI it can take, and all the new content with the ever-changing infrastructure to take on the latest technology ranging from Adobe to the frighteningly accurate AI. It seems like there’s so much going on. Just how does one deal with all of it?

Who better to ask then Kerry McDowall, and Brad Goodman, some actual post-production producers who are well known amongst their fellow members of the Vancouver Post Alliance? Whether you’re a post-production supervisor or a post-production producer, or anyone working in post-production, you need to be ready for anything, and know what to do. The responsibilities of post production producers include being brought on in the beginning of the budgeting phase to actually put their own spin close to where things are being greenlit. You are looking at the overall budget for post-production. It includes all the costs for sound design, composing, visual effects, then finishing like the colour grading and creating all of the deliverables. 

In this position, you’re involved in prep, you oversee editorial during shooting, and then the baton gets passed on from line producer to you to see the project through and you’re the one doing the cost reports for the network and production companies, and creative producers. That’s the budgeting side of it.

Creatively, this position obviously builds out a team. You are wanting to make sure you have great editors, great assistant editors to support them. You’re the one who’s advising which sound studios and finishing houses to use, you’re really helping to build this team that brings their a-game and makes the best possible product. 

You’re also the creator’s eyes and ears when you are in the mix. From supervising sound mixes, to colour reviews, and some post-producers give edit notes and are more involved in the cutting process when the producers and networks are trying to lock picture. That just really depends on the relationship the post-producer has with producers on the project. 

Ultimately, it’s not one single path a post-production manager or supervisor takes, there are lots of parameters, and such a position starts out with involvement in the pre-production process. Responsibilities there go from hiring the editor, to figuring out the workflow with the cinematographer. When it’s not finding crew, it’s setting up the editing room and distributing the dailies.

With Production Management, You’re the one who is working with the network and creative producers on the reality of how long it’s going to take from shooting till release. You’re advising them this many months for this project, you’re creating milestones that are achievable, and that schedule, especially on series, puts you in the position to ensure things aren’t moving and nothing is missed, things aren’t snowballing out of control. 

The last piece of the puzzle is being really diligent and understanding all the intricacies of a schedule for a post-production project. When you lock picture, it’s going to affect everyone. Sound, composers, visual effects, colour grade. You have to make sure that you’re aware when something shifts, that’ll ripple the WHOLE project. There’s three things: 

-It can be on time 

-It can be a bit-sized quality

-It can be on budget or under budget


You never really know, you could only ever have 2 of those 3 things and understanding that process is also a really key value to have in the back of your head when you’re dealing with all of these things all at once. But you can also have a seat back during the production process, and sometimes monitor the dailies or helping the editors with issues the production team can’t completely fix. Other times you could be working with the producers in helping see the project all the way through.

When it comes to struggles, you have to be tech enough to enjoy new cameras, especially on a budget and need to be able to read people and different personalities, and understand how to deliver not negative information but not always positive information to these big players and give it to them in a personable way, and depending on how the people’s personalities are, is what kind of angle you’re going to go. When you need to vocalize that things are running late, or nagging network for notes. If things don’t keep moving then everything will implode. 

What especially helps is understanding what everyone’s roles are, with who is going to be an advocate, and who has an interest in sorting things out. It can be hard to get everyone on the same page. The process can be different between TV and features, and you must understand timing. Less time means less costs, but is the talent given enough time to do a good job? That’s something to really focus on.

The job can be really stressful so a really good post-production producer can handle those stresses in a very controlled but urgent manner. You have to be able to rise to 200% in the snap of a finger in regards to busyness and stress levels. You have to be able to handle it in stride and be a calm presence. That’s what makes a good post-production producer and supervisor. 

Estimating and putting prep budgets together, do malleable schedules and track those things. They’re not mistakes, they’re just things you have to figure out while collaborating with other departments and fix. 

Sometimes it’s really hard to crew up depending on the time of year. Sometimes the city can get really busy and your go-to team might all be on different projects when it’s time to crew up. 

You’re constantly dealing with external forces that are all tricky. You’re constructing the skeleton and you just hope in the beginning that you have the right amount of money, time and resources to scaffold around the project. In this role, you have to assume things will go astray and plan for those things in advance. 

When getting work, It’s mostly about self-promotion, networking and making connections is really important in what role you have in the film industry. 

When a project gets greenlit, it’s a rush to find everyone for a job, then people under me have to self-promote. You’re always knocking on people’s doors, asking them what they’re up to and if anything’s coming down the pipe. But a lot of times, it might be an editor that reaches out to a post-production producer and say they’re available. That’s how we all end up getting work, keeping your finger on the pulse the best you can.

Union productions, however, can dictate who or what can work on a show given their affiliation. There are plenty union designation rules in BC, but not as many in US, but that’s another story. Moving on, it all depends on what production the director is working on, whether it’s a tv show which in that case they have a short amount of time in editing, to a feature which has lots more time for editing to get done. The main factor is the networks the directors work with as these networks have lots of editors to work with, and sometimes will broker multiple show deals with a post-facility. In conclusion, it’s a combination of when a show is being done, who is available to work on it overall, and a creative approval process in the whole thing as well.

The Vancouver Post Alliance is a networking society for all of these freelancers who don’t work full-time and are in a dark room for 12 hours a day. It’s really hard to chat to other people about other projects and what’s going on. In the VPA, it’s also great to create this sense of community that really didn’t exist before. It’s also making sure that we are stronger together, then studios and networks see us and understand that the talent is here.

Because post-production doesn’t quite happen by everyone coming together, it’s all created in singular areas, the role of VPA has helped give the government an understanding of the post-production market, how many people are in it, and it helps people come together to understand what they all do. Chances are, you could work for somebody for about 5 years until they retire and you’ll need to find a new connection to keep going. 

VPA has really helped create a community for post-production personnel and secondly, they are working to let buyers of post-production services inside the market know about a good community that’s accessible to anybody in the world. You might find some supervisors there, and eventually you’ll be one too. But it’s important that you know what you’re doing if you want to pursue supervision in this environment.

So when it comes to supervision in this increasingly complex world, there’s some important things to remember while doing so:

  1. Be prepared for unexpected changes
  2. Promote yourself to get steady work
  3. Think fast
  4. Stay calm while working

Just remember those tips, and you’ll be managing well as either a post-production supervisor or a producer. If you’re not a producer or supervisor, but still work in post-production, it’s good to follow these tips while doing so. Who knows? Maybe within a matter of time, you WILL become a supervisor or producer if you do.

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