POV (Perspective)
Mindful Producing
  • Friday, Aug. 9, 2019
Kristoffer Knutson

Perhaps you’ve noticed that mindfulness is quite popular lately. There’s an array of guided meditation apps available, motivational book titles are being released regularly, and there seems to be a renewed interest in techniques of self-reflection first defined over 2500 years ago. But as commercial producers, we’ve always been at the center of quiet awareness.

Mindfulness is a key trait for any producer leading a team through the complexity of a production schedule. It’s essential we know what’s going on, all the time. We sit and we watch and we listen. Like contemplative masters, we take in the conversations around us without judgment (well, usually) and wait. Eventually, we calmly offer sage insight and pithy statements when the time is right. We say things like, “That’s a fantastic idea, but the reality of the situation is we don’t have the budget for it.” Or, “Fun! But remember the last time you wrote triplet babies into a scene?” That’s karma none of us need to relive. We bring our heightened awareness with us on location, to the edit suite, and when presenting rough cuts to clients. Taking it all in. We see everything and contemplate outcomes because we seek to know the truth.

Truth is what we find amidst the ordered chaos of production. It’s what we distill chatter down to in order to make things happen. It’s the real intention behind the work and it’s usually driven by the media buy. We look to match effort with outcome. We sift through the ‘what ifs’ of budgets, timelines, and network approvals to find the clearest path to fruition. We study directors’ reels, imagining what the overtime was like on that job or what the original script read like on another. We bring this wisdom to our calls with production consultants and our pre-bid meetings. And we do this because we want to make good work. We understand the role we’ve taken on as producers and we give ourselves over to it. 

Because if mindfulness is meant to bring a greater appreciation for the human experience and its struggles, then we’re downright Buddhas. We always put others’ needs first. It’s our job. It’s essential that we bring patience to a project because we recognize that everybody is arriving on set with different needs, despite us all working towards the same outcome. If we’re not centered then no one is.

Swirling around us are the anxiety-ridden egos of our creative teams, fixated on being recognized by their peers. Riding in their wake is our account team, desperately trying to keep the attention of nervous clients who show up carrying longer and more demanding lists of deliverables. And then there are the directors who, in all fairness, seem to be more in tune with the natural order of things lately then they ever were in the past. Add to that the EPs, reps, line producers, actors, editors, composers, travel agents, restaurant hosts, and - yes - even our families, all with their own self-interested demands. As producers, it seems that there’s always someone who needs something from us. And, like the selfless Dalai Lama who finds joy in service, we sacrifice our needs for the goal of leading others towards happiness.

One common insight among all mindfulness trainings is that everything changes. In production today, projects are coming at us faster than ever and with shorter timelines. Communication plans are requiring us to do more, with less. At this moment, your role as producer is more important and valuable than ever.  So continue to walk the path. Be a guide to your teams and clients and treat them with calm patience. In the end, you’ll be that much closer to Nirvana - and maybe even that piece of hardware for your mantle that your ego is really in it for. 

Kristoffer Knutson is a producer at Minneapolis-based agency MONO.


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