Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

What CEOs can learn from film producers

We are currently reading an interesting book – Design thinking for school leaders by A.Gallagher and K.Thordarson. The book explores how sustainable change happens in traditionally unchangeable education industry in the USA. Apparently – there is much that contemporary change agents can learn from ‘film producers’. Producers get stuff done effectively and efficiently.

A film producer guarantees the delivery of films that we all enjoy watching. To get a movie to the theatre involves coordinating, mostly in sync, multiple and constantly shifting processes and individual roles. Functions and roles have to be carefully brought together to produce scenes in a movie. Even more vexing is the need to bring under one functional team the various personalities, front and backstage, that partake in producing a movie that is worth its name.

And when we looked up the role of a film producer, wanting to compare it with what a CEO does at a company, it occurred to us that the two roles are very similar. What a CEO does at an organisation, the film Producer also does to get films to the theatre.

Perhaps, film producers should be called film CEOs or, is it the CEOs that should get a new name – value producers?

So, what does a producer do?

“A producer acts as an executive decision-maker on a television or movie project. As a producer, you would have many duties, but chief among them would be acting as the creative sparkplug and displaying an entrepreneurial spirit that would allow a film, television show, or commercial to be created as quickly and efficiently as possible. As a producer, you would be responsible for making the business- and budget-related decisions of the project. The producer is responsible for shaping the project, from script selection to hiring a director to approving any major changes to the film or television show.”

Like the CEO – producers get the helicopter view of the business all the time. Able to observe from the balcony, they see all the teams, players and their individual manoeuvres. They relate group/individual goals and tasks to the end point/s on the journey – in this case, a film or movie on the movie theatre screen.

Producers know who is not pulling their weight towards the end goal, those creating too much noise in the system, and since we are all different – the strengths and weaknesses different people bring to the table and how much they contribute to the thrust needed to achieve the ultimate goal

The fallacy that the two honchos do the same job:

While the CEO and film producer perform similar jobs, the CEO has a lot to learn from the producer. The two work in different environments, context and culture – and they approach their business differently.

The producer is very hands-on and with no time to waste and the peer, for reasons beyond this blog’s scope, gets embroiled in complex process and discourse. Compared to the producer, the orthodox CEO doesn’t always see reason to rush business – and if they do, they may not have the OD. mighty to see it through

The film producer teaches the orthodox CEO, the things below:

  • Agility; producers work with fixed project time frames. They move quickly and in a seamless manner. They think both efficiency and effectiveness and their affinity for timely delivery is inexhaustible. They are adept at cutting out bureaucracy – bureaucrats are the sponsors of corporate dysfunction and missed visions and missions
  • Thinking outside the box; producers have to think on their feet and don’t have time to consult and call meetings to discuss problems. Solutions to problems are required instantly. They have to deal with challenges as and when they happen – endless meetings and the ensuing corporate tittle-tattle is not their thing. Actually – producers are typical rule breakers. They dare do what needs to be done to get to the finishing line effectively and efficiently
  • Time is always of the essence; producers think time-time-and time as well as efficiency-efficiency-and efficiency. They have to deliver specific projects on time and in budget – simple! Moreover, the work has to be of good quality and within an acceptable cost range. Efficiency and effectiveness at its best
  • Focus; producers think one project at a time and do it right. Rather than doing ten projects and not doing any of them right. It’s the battle of quality versus quantity and we know who will always come out on top – yet we still refuse to learn from our experience
  • lock-stock-and-barrel towards a common end goal; producers don’t spread their teams too thin. They mobilise all human and financial resources available to them towards one project – line producers, supervising producers, segment producers, and field producers are all directed towards a common goal in a specific time frame

So, while CEOs and film producers do the same job, the former is constrained by corporate rules and a culture that allows decision latency; while in the opposite corporate space, producers have tight deliverables driven by specific project timelines and cost boundaries. Decision-sustenance is driven by goal clarity, fixed timelines, and resource-boxing

The above is what separates orthodox CEOs and their producer cousins – clear, resource-boxed, specific and time bound deliverables as opposed to a cacophony of projects and tasks, mired in zig-zag layers of process and corporate power dynamics.

Let us leave you all with a simple task for the week – tomorrow, Monday, review your week’s task list and group your tasks under two or three (if you want more, so be it) umbrella projects. Establish how many projects you are trying to work on at the same time and how effective and efficient you are or have been thus far. How mobilised and coalesced are the teams towards achieving a common objective?

We bet – you will discover that you are doing too much, but at the same ask where all your effort is expended; we suspect that ‘tangible outcomes’ of your sweat may be hard to come by – and that finality is not the ultimate outcome but a work process in its own right

CEOs need to re-engineer the workplace – refocus employee energy towards smart tasks and create, formally or informally, a task clearing mechanism that is driven by the belief in doing few things at a time but do them right and conclusively

Think projects and teams at work!


2 responses to “What CEOs can learn from film producers”

  1. This one I understood straight away… 😉 😉😏 Great piece!
    Love the analogy/metaphor of the producer and CEO. Nice to know the corporate world can take a leaf out of the creative world in efficiency.

    What would you then say is the role of the Film Director comparable to in the corporate world.


    1. Haaaaa Peter – you had to get this one indeed! I suspect the film director would be the COO at a typical corporate entity – but I need to check that out


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


%d bloggers like this: