Compare Project Management Styles for Media
What are the differences between managing a media project (e. g. making a film) and managing another sort of endeavor? The defense of a legal case shows both differences and similarities.
At Vjeko.com, writer Vjekoslav Babic outlined the secrets of Hollywood project success in the context of a review of James Persse’s book on that subject. Babic was comparing media production to IT development, and found there were:
“8 important similarities between movies and IT:
- Both deal in intangible product development.
- Both are shaped to directly address a deadline-oriented business need.
- Both require significant investments.
- Both are built against a specification open to change.
- Both rely on specialized production protocols and technologies.
- Both require the integration and collaboration of specialized teams.
- Both require careful analysis, design, execution, and integration.
- Both must be thoughtfully delivered to their target audiences.”
Babic further noted, “…it distills down to a simple framework of five phases: development, preproduction, production, post-production and distribution.”
“…development roughly corresponds to project initiation, with pre-production mostly having to do with project planning. Other three phases could be mapped to project execution and monitoring.”
“In first three phases, most revolves around the script, the Hollywood’s equivalent of requirements document, and although Persse found out that the script also changes, it tends to be more of a holy scripture than requirements are in IT. For Hollywood, it is much easier to set Big Requirements Up Front….”
At Creative Skill Set, the definition of a Production Manager includes, “Production Managers are in charge of the ‘below-the-line’ budget. This covers costs relating to the crew and the practicalities of running a production.”
Things differ in the legal field. Let’s look at a moderately-sized insurance case, an automobile accident. It’s a left-turn case, where the client (defense) made a left turn in front of the plaintiff’s vehicle, causing a collision. Both parties are at fault although the percentages differ. For sake of argument, this will be a jurisdiction where comparative negligence is the law, e. g. there can still be some questions and plaintiff fault isn’t a sure-fire loser like in a contributory negligence jurisdiction.
The project manager is the attorney handling the claim. The purpose of the project needs little clarification: it is to either win the case outright or limit the amount paid by the insurance carrier (and the client, too, if damages exceed the amount of the policy). Similarly, the purpose of a film project is to make a movie. It’s not to make an artistic statement or even to make a profit, although those are favorable collateral consequences. Similarly, the purpose of defending a lawsuit is generally not to make law although that can also be a result.
For filmmaking, the goals and objectives are more on the profit side. Movies are made in order to meet financial projections, often to satisfy shareholders. In the law, the goals and objectives are to save insurance company money but also to garner experience for more junior attorneys and to build favorable reputations for lawyers with any level of expertise.
Scope for films is to make the one picture, or the three pictures in a trilogy or whatever the contract says. For legal cases, it’s just the one case, and it often does not include appeals if the matter gets that far, mainly because appeal work tends to be more specialized. Scope usually does include impleader (adding more defendants) for cross-claims or third-party claims which may be other sources of settlement or verdict funds. In the automobile accident fact pattern, if the traffic lights were mistimed or were not working at all, defense might wish to implead the town or its maintenance company. This might be seen as scope creep; the prudent law firm will allow the impleader if it is likely to provide a substantial benefit (note the ABA Model Rules of Professional Responsibility require a zealous defense; hence what in other projects would be seen as scope creep may very well be necessary under ethical considerations. The Model Rules have been adopted by many American jurisdictions).
Budgeting is strict for filmmakers. For attorneys, a balance must be achieved between keeping costs low and mounting an effective and zealous defense. Costs can be lowered with having paralegals perform research and more junior lawyers attend preliminary hearings and motions. Budgeting can be a dimension of time for lawyers, too, as a carrier might want an older case settled during the next quarter or might push for settlement if billed hours exceed a certain amount. Unlike in many other disciplines, budgeting in the law may be desired but not possible under ethical considerations.
The expected benefits for both disciplines center on reputation. For a film production company, a completed project could signal future development partners (actors, screenwriters, etc.) that the company can make an award-winning piece of art, or churn out a cheap film quickly to take advantage of a hot news story. For a law firm, a favorably concluded case can demonstrate a thorough understanding of the law or an ability to settle for less.
Success for both disciplines looks a lot like completion. A finished film, under budget, is the desired end result for a production manager. For lawyers, success is a closed case, and not necessarily a win. And then, for both, it’s time to move onto another project.