Project Management in the Motion Picture Industry

Interesting paper by the Project Management Institute from 2008 that surveys the state of project management practices in the motion picture industry. The entire paper is worth a read for two reasons. Firstly, it frames the challenges of production into traditional “project phases”. Secondly it compares film production to other creative endeavors (video games) and other industries (pharmaceutical R&D). Below are a list of highlights with my thoughts in bold. Now if only I had access to the underlying research…

  • The motion picture industry, not often represented in the project management discourse, is an industry that is expected to provide a unique perspective for the study of project management. I chose to research film project management due to its wide appeal yet limited presence among project management references, academic sources, and published literature. This paper attempts to uncover and capture the significance of project management practices to the motion picture industry. My goal is to contribute these findings to a wider project management community.
  • DeVany (2007) also compared film production to pharmaceutical research, where both industries have had statistically similar results in producing successes.
  • They asserted that traditional management strategy was inadequate for explaining the existence of the motion picture industry, whose project-based and mobile structure left parent organizations such as film studios lacking long-term knowledge, experience, and permanence. I am curious to see how they compared production to traditional manufacturing. Contrast with the smiling curve.
  • They used interviews with a small number of film professionals to show the importance of trust, available hierarchy, and trade jargon to the efficient operation of the film crew as a virtual enterprise.
  • In a study of more than 300 films to determine whether marketing could overcome poor quality, Hennig-Thurau, Houston, and Sridhar (2006) found that quality was the stronger driver of long-term revenue. Reminds me of the quote from James Cameron: “No audience was ever won over because a film came in on budget.”
  • Simon (2005) explained that the management of creative projects such as film production involved specialized leadership skills. Such as…
  • In a controversial and more extreme position, Zackariahsson, Walfisz, and Wilson (2006) asserted that a formal project structure actually inhibited the natural creative process. This assertion wasn’t adequately proven by their work in the area, which was limited to a single case study. Interesting!
  • Because of her background in formal project management, Cheklich was able to bridge the two professions of project management and film production, drawing parallels and reiterating the importance of financing, scheduling, budgeting, and communications.
Table 1. What Film Phases Map to the PMBOK® Guide?
Source Film Phase Project Phase Comments
Brook, 2005 Clevé, 2006 Postproduction Executing, closing Production and postproduction overlap; editing of raw film, sound, effects, printing, delivery
Worley, 2005 Postproduction Controlling Primary phase; less risky synthesis stage


  • As a primary concern of project management professionals, risk management appears to be a key and driving force behind the practices of today’s film production projects.
  • Their answer to the financial risks endured by remaining in a much less lucrative, unstable, and unpredictable movie market was to restructure the business of filmmaking into what it has primarily become today, a purely project-driven business Does this represent an opportunity for studios to hire cheaper labor by offering stability and healthcare?
  • [Studios] They were free to utilize a broader resource pool of talent, and they were free to control the amount and frequency of films they undertook (Jones, Lichtenstein, Borgatti, Hesterly, & Tallman, 1999). Both benefits theoretically would appear to mitigate the greater financial risks of film production experienced in today’s business climate. However, Phelan and Lewin (1999) arguably claimed that this flexibility was more costly to the studio.
Table 3. Who is the Film Project Manager?
Too many cooks? 🙂
  • “The producer’s role is to turn story ideas into profitable cinematic entertainment, and to persuade others to share in his or her commercial and creative vision”
  • In addition, an entire staff known as the production office is typically required to perform project management duties (Producers Guild of America, 2005
  • In many cases, the unit production manager handled the logistics of production while the line producer worked to manage payments to contractors and vendors during production and served an accountancy role.
  • Motion picture production has been deemed similar to other industries such as software development and pharmaceutical research. … What makes motion picture project management different from many other industries, however, is the degree or intensity in which these fundamentals are applied, and by whom. Film production is unique because it is a logistically complex and difficult undertaking, much like waging a small war. Urgh… the comparison to violent endeavors really needs to stop.
  • Primary research in the form of a motion picture industry survey, with an adequate sample size, would help to clarify, expand, or dispute the findings in this paper.
Categories mediatheory, Pipeline, Post ProductionTags ,

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