Getting the best from creative commissioning 

by simonrleach

Having been increasingly approached for advice on pre-production, I thought it might be useful for me to highlight four things that as a commissioner you definitely don’t want to overlook. 

1. I’ll have one of those. Stop. Ask yourself: if you love what ‘X’ does why not work with them? It seems logical but if you love what a particular creative does, whether it’s a director, a stylist, a photographer or a retoucher, why not get them involved from the start of your project? You already know you’d like them to be involved in what you are planning. Having an early conversation gives you the opportunity to fully engage them with your ideas. It also allows you to benefit from their contacts as well as their expertise. What attracted you to them was probably their previous work. That work they will have produced with a wider creative team. It is more than likely they will be happy to help you source the rest of the crew. This has the added benefit of giving them (and, by extension, you) more confidence to get the maximum from your brief. Securing the most appropriate and capable creative team? That’s a big job taken care of! And, not only is it one important job done, their specialist experience may save you time and money by avoiding potential issues early. It may also help you make decisions that maximise your available budget. However, if you are still not entirely sure who you want to work with, then read on… 

2. Location or studio? Where you decide to shoot is almost as important as who you are shooting with. Studio is admittedly easier. It’s easy to book a space, you don’t have changeable weather risks, you can blast the music and there is a constant supply of coffee (at least there is on my shoots). Job done! But, a word of caution. Do you have the right space? Do you have the room you will need for all the requirements of your project? Have you allowed enough time? In a studio it is easy to try to cram too much into one day. Rushing compromises results. Going into overtime means budgets can very quickly get out of control. Shooting on location can be more exciting and give more visual interest, provide a better visual narrative and ultimately result in more audience engagement with your resulting visual assets. But be aware, you can’t just shoot anywhere. Some spaces, an increasing number in fact, look like public spaces but are actually on private land and require permission for shoots. The same goes if you have certain buildings as your backdrop. Even in fully accessible public spaces, if you have a large crew with equipment, cases, tripods, lighting stands and anything else that constitutes a potential obstacle then you are likely to need a permit. This is usually arranged through a council, but don’t forget to inform the police and highways, if it is not an integrated part of the permit application process. Be aware that making such arrangements takes time, requires specific information and proof of liabilities insurance. 

3. Insurance. Any professionally practising photographer worth his or her salt will have public liability and employer’s liability. Most also have their photographic kit insured (it is expensive stuff, after all). Depending on your brief, you may wish to request the photographer insures your products/samples (for example, via ‘good in trust’ insurance), that’s if you are not insuring them yourself. Yes, it’s really boring to have to think about such things, and I hope you will never need any of it, but have you thought about the consequences if you don’t make sure this stuff is in place? Claims for liability could come back on you, especially if you have taken responsibility for organising pre-production. Think about it. If you have booked the creative team then you are, in effect, their employer for the duration of the shoot. You are the responsible party. Claims of negligence will come back on you if you don’t take appropriate precautions. Sometimes budget restrictions make skimping on such things or working with a friend an attractive option. When you find yourself going down this road stop and think about who pays if their kit gets damaged? Who will they look to to pay for repairs? You. It was, after all, your production.  

4. Health, safety and security. Ostensibly as tedious as insurance to the young and exciting entrepreneur with heart and soul committed to a creative idea; however, it is something you must consider or the consequences may come back to bite you. Have you taken the appropriate precautions not just legally, but physically? Permits may be subject to any equipment meeting certain conditions, but overall have you ensured you are clear of any potential negligence and ensured your team is using safe equipment, in a safe manner? Equipment might be insured should it “wander” or be damaged, but your real frustration will be from the delay to, or failure of your production, if adequate precautions are not taken. Avoiding the use of insurance may seem simpler, and I am not trying to tell you that you can’t handle making the arrangements yourself. What I am saying is that whether you do it yourself or have one of your team do it, the arrangements do need to be made. In the end, most of this is just common sense, it’s not difficult to work out, but it is easier, quicker and perhaps less costly when you have it embedded in your processes so it becomes second nature. Furthermore, if you can draw on your teams’ experience, engaging with them early on, then they can help you avoid mishaps and costly delays. Do not feel bad about asking for guidance. If you have a professional team with you then they will be pleased you asked and able to help.  

Remember, you’re creating assets for your brand and you understandably want the very best. You want to jump ahead to the good stuff: the creative bit. So, get the legal requirements dealt with early to allow for the creative engagement and enthusiasm that will make your shoot a success. Encourage your team to show off their talents and passions. Allow them to enable you to achieve a result so much better than the one you would have achieved alone. By using professional and experienced individuals I hope you’ll have an enjoyable experience not a costly and time consuming nightmare. 
For more thoughts on commissioning :