Clay VanNortwick, Line Producer, on Production Management, Problem Solving, & the Benefits of Diverse Experiences.
January 31, 2016
I like to joke that I am from nowhere… since I’m a Navy Brat and bounced around a lot. One of the places we landed was Northern Virginia.
Through a series of random events, the high school I attended had ended up with a fully functional, hi – tech (for the time) broadcast facility, with the ability to patch cameras and audio in from the auditorium.
They teamed up with an educational network in the area.
The result was that in addition to two years of learning to shoot and edit and produce the morning announcements in the style of the morning network news, I was able to crew actual national broadcasts (about 15 hours) before I even graduated high school.
I was one of those students that was hardly engaged by school, so I spent the majority of my free time following the studio engineer around and learning how every component worked, how to re-wire the entire studio, and how to play with every toy.
It was sort of inevitable from that time on.
First Job in the Entertainment Industry
I think that would be an Art PA on an indie film called ‘Ladies Room’ that was directed by a young woman from Brighton Beach Brooklyn.
At the time (maybe you still can), you could get out the bathroom windows on to the ledges way up at the top of One Centre Street (the Manhattan Municipal Building).
Sitting out there on the six-foot wide ledges 30 or 40 stories up, and looking out over the city with the crew, is where I learned the real appeal of the business is that it’s like summer camp.
We get to meet amazing people, spend an amazing few weeks together, and gather a few unforgettable stories before we move on and hope that we see our friends at camp again next year.
Exploring new places, experiencing new things, and trying crazy foods.
When it comes to film and television, I’m a sucker for quirky and bold.
I don’t think I can actually say that I WANTED to line produce, it sort of just happened.
Realistically, my motivations in life are that I never want to be bored, and that I love wrapping my brain around puzzles.
In production, every day is a brand new challenge, and climbing the ladder presented a sort of political puzzle that for whatever reason specifically engaged me.
One thing just lead to another…
Impact of Technology
As a producer technology improvements just increase the number of tools available to do the job, and the pace at which technology is changing has effectively created a new pillar of the job.
Stay up to date.
Line Producer - Duties & Responsibilities
Overall, my job is to map out a plan for a show, negotiate a budget for that plan, then to hire, organize, and manage all the people places and things the Executive Producer needs to attain their vision, while protecting the profit margin for the production company (those last two tasks are rarely aligned).
Also, setting up the company with all appropriate insurance policies and procedures, and all appropriate legal contracts, and to deliver the final product to the network on schedule.
Typical Working Day
If things are going well, I manage an assembly line.
If things are going less than perfect, I’m a mechanic that sometimes has to invent the tool needed to mend the gears.
In most departments, common sense and a desire to work hard, and a desire to learn are all you need.
Realistically, you don’t even have to have any knowledge or experience about the business itself.
That’s what the time you’ll spend PA’ing is for.
Down the line - if you want to be a producer, you have to know a little bit about a lot (in the real world, I don’t mean in the business), and you have to be able to know when you don’t know, and then figure out how to figure it out.
Current Career Goals
To be choosy. To be picky. This job takes too much of your energy to not believe in what you are doing.
Working only on projects you believe in is not a luxury you have in the beginning.
Lately I’ve been fortunate enough to land on projects that truly excite me.
Top Memories in the Entertainment Industry
There are so many, but a few of the highlights are:
Scouting locations in the Mexican jungle on an ATV.
Feeling the ground roar and the air shake as I watched 18 foot waves come in to one of the most famous surf spots in the world.
Nearly being arrested for the actions of a cast member. (Which actually is not the most intense law enforcement encounter I’ve had on the job…)
“One drink at the comber”
Walking through the main Piazza in Florence late at night, knowing that the impossible task that had occupied me for a couple of months had finally been beaten (and every other single moment of the 90 days I spent in Rome and Florence)
Tripe in Florence. Squid ink pasta and local white wine in Cinque Terra. Shrimp trucks on Oahu. Pork slider truck on Maui. Street tacos in Cancun. Alley tacos in Cabo.
Watching Seth Mcfarlane and Eliza Dushku sing Karaoke at “Porn Star Karaoke” If you haven’t been, you haven’t truly acclimated to Hollywood yet.
My hardest lesson was learning to let things go; specifically, learning to be OK with it, and let my mind rest, even if everything wasn’t scratched off the list.
Experience teaches you that certain problems will work THEMSELVES out and that certain problems WILL be solved tomorrow, so don’t stress about them today.
As a producer, in a lot of cases, it’s the stuff that is completely unrelated to the business that has been important to successfully creating something.
Personally, I believe the more versatile your experiences are, the larger your pool of knowledge is, the better you will be able to handle the random and unpredictable challenges you will face.
I’ve had several mentors along the way, and realistically, I don’t think you can succeed with out one.
These are the people that trust you enough to take a chance on you, and share what they’ve learned form their experience so you can cross a few of the mistakes you are bound to make off the list without making them.