What does it take to run the boutique production company behind some of the most watched and recognizable content on the internet?
To find out, we asked successful media entrepreneur George Wasgatt!
First off, George’s background. Originally a film major at NYU, George switched halfway through his undergraduate studies to obtain a degree in neuroscience. After graduating, George joined Bleacher Report for five years where he focused on creating video content supporting NBA coverage.
George then ventured to Condé Nast for three years, directing and developing concepts for brands such as Wired, Glamour, Vogue, Architectural Digest, and many others. Next, as his directing career took off, George went to Netflix.
Most recently, George started his own boutique production company. While a dream come true, behind the glitz and glamor (like meeting JLo!), much of the day-to-day involves people operations—hiring, managing, coordinating, paying people. And, to do this right, you need the right software!
Before we dive into the tools a successful boutique production company needs to succeed, here are a few examples of George’s work:
Ok, let’s dive in!
Hiring on Screen and Voice Over Talent
You can’t run a production company, or a shoot, without the right people. So, where do you hire them and what tools do you use?
First you need to look at your budget for a given project. For larger budget productions, the preferred method is still going the old-school route—calling agencies for rosters of talent. This method is used for productions where you want named talent and have a budget of $100,000 to $200,000 or more for talent.
For lower budget productions, George recommends using websites such as CastingNetworks to find voice over actors, hosts, and extras. The costs are significantly lower, about $1,000 to $5,000 a day or less for the talent. However, as George explains, the downside is that it is significantly more work to find good people.
First you have to create a project with a rate and breakdown of what you’re looking for (funny, serious, or somber, sports acumen, etc.). Using this type of platform, you can include a description of what you’re looking for, and ask prospective hires to read 30 seconds of the script. Submissions will be from lower-level agents as well as talent. George then makes the selections himself for the in person video or voice over casting session.
For the in person casting, you can also leverage this software. When someone comes in for an audition, you can pull up their profile, and then sync the live video to their application for later review from yourself or a colleague.
Managing everything in one platform allows you to to find the right people, stay organized, and importantly meet any pressing deadlines for a shoot
As a side note, these websites are free to use if you are posting a project and rely on the actors to make money. There is a lot more demand for actors to get jobs than there is from people like you looking to hire undiscovered on camera and voice over acting talent. In fact, some of these platforms will charge talent to apply for jobs, and then also take a percentage of their pay.
One pro tip here: If a budget allows for it, hiring a casting director makes life a lot easier. This person can run with the talent discovery and selection process while you focus on storyboards, location scouting, etc.
Many times a casting director will utilize the tools we are talking about in this article. Because they are so specialized, they usually leverage all of the best HR platforms. In, fact, networking with or hiring a casting director for the explicit purpose of learning from them is a great way to make sure your HR Tech stack is in good shape.
Tools to Hire Crew Members
For hiring crew, George’s preferred method is to hire through friends and people he’s worked with in the past. In fact, he immediately saves any new contact into his phone with the type of role they’d be a good fit for in order to search later on.
He does point out that in an ideal world, you’d have your own CRM where you can keep track of people who’ve done a great job on crews you’ve worked with in the past. This allows you to quickly find and hire the right people who you know are great.
Beyond your existing network, George has used websites such as Mandy before but only for lower-level jobs, such as a production assistant. Even with lower-level jobs, the onus is still on the employer to do their homework. Thankfully, Mandy allows jobseekers to link IMDB, resumes, add recommendations, and George highly recommends doing a thorough review before hiring.
However, where someone’s personality or expertise is important, George prefers getting someone you’ve worked with before. As he explained, for some positions, such as a DP, where the stakes are simply too high, hiring someone unknown or new could result in too many pitfalls that could damage an already high stress process.
For unscripted or documentary filmmakers, George recommends VideoConsortium for talent. The website generates email listings and includes a Facebook group specifically for the space. Even if George doesn’t know the person, he trusts the network.
Lastly, George has also used Fiverr before for storyboards and other basic design work. Although Fiverr gets a bad name due to the quality of many freelancers on the site, George has had success finding really talented people on the website as well. And if it doesn’t work out, you’ve wasted a very small amount of money.
Lastly, hiring is changing with AI just like every other aspect of software. You may want to leverage some of these new techniques to build your People Operations function, especially if you plan to do more than 20 hires a year.
Payroll Tools for Boutique Production Companies
The easiest way to pay is to hire a payroll company such as EntertainmentPartners or MediaServices. Fundamentally, like all payroll companies, they are there to make sure people get paid, and on time. They require payee’s documents, send payee’s the money, and make sure everyone gets their tax documents. These payroll companies are responsive, and a real person will answer your questions quickly if you have something come up on a shoot.
What sets the companies apart from vendors like ADP or Gusto is how well their systems are built for the nuances specific to the entertainment industry. For example, the payroll systems understand and adjust for the payment requirements for unions, such as the The Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTA).
As George explained, SAG-AFTA has specific rules for employing union members, such as how long their members can work per day, the length of time for meal break times, etc. The payroll companies also have timecards for talent and crew, and their payroll systems can factor in additional complications anywhere from residuals to kit fees to mileage (for union and non-union members, which is apparently also different).
If you are doing a non-union job, you will most likely pay talent through a union paymaster. This person will accept the payment, take a small fee, and then pass along a percentage of the payment to the union in order to cover dues, insurance, taxes, etc. Again, your payroll provider will take care of this.
In terms of the fee, the payroll companies either charge a flat fee or a percentage of payroll. However, the percentage of payroll is often if the budget for payment is over $1 million but for smaller budgets you can expect at least of $1,000-$2,000 per project to start.
A new entrant here is WrapBook. This entertainment payroll offering has a very modern look and feel. Plus, they just raised $100 million from Tiger Global, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and the former CAA CEO. They are a new entrant but already seem to be everywhere!
Project Management Tools For Media Production Companies
As George will tell you, people management isn’t just about hiring and payroll, you need top tier project management to make each production a success. Not staying organized means a poor end product, and a very low likelihood of working again with that client.
To stay organized pre-production, production, and post-production, George commends Airtable. The software is a great way for groups of people to track multiple videos in multiple verticals, across multiple projects.
Through Airtable, it’s possible to look at everything related to a video, including captions, file locations, etc. You are able to create administrators for the projects, limit permissions, and add groups. You can also go back and filter depending on the video title, subject, date of creation.
This solution also makes it easy to search old projects if you’re looking to dig up assets that can help you in your current workstream.
For smaller teams and smaller projects, Google Sheets is a less powerful tool that can work to keep track of what project is in what state.
Creative Asset Management
This one isn’t strictly people management, but is essentially a Production company’s team collaboration platform: asset management.
The use cases are fairly straightforward and familiar to anyone in film: Let’s say you have a video, and you need to send the video to the client. You want the client’s notes, and then you want to get the notes back in a central database where everyone that needs to be able to see the notes can view, like, and respond.
The bottom line is that these solutions allow your production company to share files, control who can view them, collect feedback, collate information, and iterate the product until the final version.
That’s a wrap!
If you’re running your own boutique production company or have aspirations of starting one in the near future, we hope this has been a useful rundown of the core tools you’ll need to manage your people across your business.
These may not be the first thing you start thinking about when you dream of building your own firm, but they are the foundations that allow for maximum growth and creative output. Good luck!