Before you read this article, humor me and ball up a sheet of paper. Throw it into the air and try and catch it with only one hand. Then switch hands. Then use both hands. Bottom line, you will catch the waded up paper ball more easily, and often, with both hands. You can catch a ball with one hand, but with both hands your odds increase dramatically. This is how I like to describe the relationship between a producer and a director.
I was lucky enough to land my first job as a full producer in a top 30 market. I was a rookie “kid” paired with veteran anchors and directors. These directors taught me a tremendous amount about “producing” in that first job. They caught my rookie mistakes and without chastising me, worked around them live on TV. After the newscast they took the time to sit with me and teach me how to prevent the same problem from happening again. Soon after, I worked in a top 20 market. Same scenario: The directors talked me through any mistakes. I quickly learned the person I needed to align myself with was my director.
After that, when I interviewed for producing jobs, I always asked to meet the director before deciding on a gig. If that person and I didn’t click, the job wouldn’t work. I felt that strongly about the connection of right and left hand. By requesting to meet the director right away, I also usually gained a loyal ally. I showed respect even before getting the job. This went a long way toward establishing a solid relationship. Don’t get me wrong, I sometimes had knock down drag outs with directors over mistakes on the air. But because they knew I had a basic respect for the job they did, we could work through the differences.
Producers and directors have something important in common; they are both responsible for a lot of things they have very limited control over. If a reporter steps out of a shot just as you take it live, you both get in trouble for taking the pic even if you cued the reporter. If master control gives you the wrong time for a commercial break and you miss a meter, you are both in trouble. This is often where producers and directors play the blame game. Don’t fall victim to this. Both producers and directors tend to be control freak type personalities. Sit down and decide who is responsible for what. For example, once I established IFB, my director would check the live shot, if the reporter did not respond, the director had final say on taking the live shot or going straight to the package. It was faster that way, since the director had a finger on the button, or control of the TD sitting right beside him/her. Bottom line, let the director manage the technical elements while you focus on content and timing. Again, consider the right hand/left hand analogy. You would not cross one hand over the other to catch your paper ball. Set up who’s making the call on what, then, support each other.
If you are still not convinced that this is a crucial relationship to establish, let’s talk breaking news. There are times when breakers happen so fast on live television that you simply cannot tell everyone who needs to know what you are doing in time. An example: police standoffs. I was once boothing continuing coverage of a standoff when the SWAT team showed up. The GM and ND came in to have a philosophical debate over what to show. They kept interrupting me as I tried to give directions to the production crew and more importantly the anchors. My director knew how I thought because we talked so much about breaking news and had set up clear roles. Several times he was able to “take over” while I listened to the bosses. He literally knew what I was going to say, before I could say it. If we had not developed a strong relationship, with mutual respect, things would have fallen apart on live TV. We were consistent with each other, and knew each other’s job needs. The right hand was able to catch the ball, while the left hand was tied up. It is a crucial relationship whether playing catch or putting on a live broadcast!