Similar to television and feature production in many ways, commercial production is also very much a world unto itself. While there are individuals who have the ability to jump back and forth between the two realms, many choose to build their entire careers within this fast-moving industry. Production schedules are much shorter, crews are smaller and salaries are generally higher. The paperwork is similar yet different, and instead of studios and networks, you're dealing with advertising agencies and clients. A commercial starts with a client who hires an advertising agency to promote their product or service, and the agency decides to include at least one commercial spot as part of its advertising campaign.
My friend Christine Evey has been a commercial producer for years, and she's one of the best. She explains that commercials are like tiny movies, only much faster and more intimate. You're on any one project from two weeks to two months, and working on such a tight schedule, you've got to be extremely organized, because there's less time for error. A great number of variables must be taken into consideration, things happen quickly and at any one time, something can easily go wrong. It's a fast and furious environment, and you have to be able to make decisions on a dime. Commercial producers are responsible for virtually everyone and everything on a commercial film set. The best of them remain calm under all circumstances as they tend to be the first person everyone seeks out to resolve problems, to vent, or sometimes, just for a sympathetic ear.
The qualities you should possess to do well in this position are the ability to hide any concerns or fears and handle the stress; diplomacy; major people skills; excellent management and creative problem-solving skills; a proficiency in budgeting and an understanding that complaining is not an option. You need to be ultra resourceful (just figuring it out) as the word "no" is only a last resort. You must be prepared with an alternate solution or be extremely resolute when there isn't one to be had. Christine amazes me in the way she can set up a commercial production unit anywhere in the world and assemble a terrifically talented crew on what seems to be a moment's notice. She warns that it can be a thankless job, but an exhilarating and addictive one. From my perspective, she stands out among the crowd. No matter what type of project she's working on, Christine is gracious and respectful of everyone around her, whether they're advertising "creatives" or PAs. She gives of herself, doesn't take anything or anyone for granted and is immensely appreciative of her entire team. I am also inspired by the way she unselfishly steps out of the spotlight to let others shine.
The way to start out in this field is to land a job as an intern or PA on an individual commercial or with a commercial production company. Christine suggests that you offer your time for free on your first job. Her advice is to get in and show them how indispensable you can be, and then stay that way, adding that there are always others who would be thrilled to take your place. She also recommends remaining a PA for at least a year, enough time to get grounded, get the lay of the land, figure out which ladder you'd like to climb and make some valuable contacts.
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