Fair to Wear

“Production is not a democracy; it’s a military hierarchy”: Production, Roles and Reflections on the project ‘Fair2Wear’

Fair2Wear is a short documentary and digital story about the cultural challenges surrounding Fair Trade clothing in Australia. At the beginning of the production, one of the first steps taken was the assignment of roles. I have discussed in other posts the importance of assigning a producer or production manager (these roles are blurred and often, understandably, merged in small-scale/low-budget productions and thus, I will use the terms interchangeably in this post). The production of Fair2Wear was an exemplification of the case for a producer.

To briefly touch on my work and history, I come from a performing arts background and an activist tradition. Contemporary performing arts are particularly focused on collaborative, hierarchy-free spaces. Activist organisations often work to be overtly democratic. This is ideal for those environments. I am interested in the way that those idealistic values can translate to a film set or media production in an industry that favours hierarchy (Rabiger 2003). That will be the discussion of this post.


We assigned roles swiftly. With the understanding that these roles were somewhat interchangeable we had:

Social Media Manager: Zemmy
Audio: Lise
Director of Photography: Nonny
Technical (Camera Operation and Editing): Jason

What’s missing?
Of production managers, film production textbooks state:

The PM is a neccessity with any size crew… having a PM makes a huge difference to everything and everybody.

…He or she is a business manager who is based in an office and takes care of all the arrangements for the shoot. These include:

  • Being the contact person for the outside world
  • Finding overnight accommodations
  • Booking rented equipment to the specifications of camera and sound people
  • Making up (with the director) a shooting schedule
  • Arranging for the rushes toget to and from the labratory
  • Making transport arrangements and negotiating air and other travel
  • Locating hotels, restaurants, and toilet facilities near the shoot
  • Monitoring cash flow
  • Incubating contingency plan in case bad weather stymies exterior shoothing
  • Hustling and preparing the way ahead

The PM’s work lightens the load for the rest of the crew and helps them keep up the pace of shooting without distractions.

— Michael Rabiger. Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics. 2003.

I have included Rabiger’s full list of PM responsibilities because it perfectly highlights the importance of a producer/production manager. All of these responsibilities were unaccounted for in the production of Fair2Wear and this became our largest (and potentially, only) hinderance.


For example, when it came to the designation of tasks outside of our predetermined roles, we took the democratic approach that I’ve been used to in other fields. For production-based tasks, it quickly became apparent that we were initially too democratic. At the beginning of the process, we aimed to arrange shoots around the timetables of every party. This included every member of our group, as well as the subject/model/interviewee. We would share the communications responsibility, meaning that the interviewee that we were communicating with could expect a reply from anyone of us. We would go back and forth, CCing one another into emails trying to find a date and time that suited everyone.

This did not work. (To no surprise).

Having a producer responsible for communications and timetabling would have meant earlier shooting and a cleaner production schedule. Having one point of contact for external participants avoids confusion and builds rapport. We learned this throughout the process and towards the end, found a balance.

Collaboration: The Balance

Here’s where my Democratic conditioning starts to set off alarm bells. Is assigning a producer simply defining hierarchy? Is collaboration hindered by having somebody tell others what to do and when and where to do it?

“There is a fine line between gaining the benefits of collaborating and making the situation worse.
 Chris Huxham & David MacDonaldIntroducing Collaborative Advantage: Achieving Interorganizational Effectiveness through Meta-Strategy1992. pp. 50
In her Ph.D. dissertation defining the meaning and measurement of collaboration, Ann Marie Thomson identifies a key factor of collaboration to be the joint creation of rules and structures (2001).
Partners who seek to collaborate must understand how to jointly make decisions about the rules that will govern their behavior and relationships; they also need to create structures for reaching agreement on collaborative activities and goals through shared power arrangements. These ideas are at the heart of collaboration…
— Ann Marie Thomson & James L. Perry. Collaboration Processes: Inside the Black Box. 2006.
Thomson & Perry are describing how structures and shared power arrangements are essential to the success of collaborative decision-making (2006). This can be translated to collaborative work, also. What this highlights is the way that structures and power arrangements can actually add to the collaborative nature of a project, rather than be to its detriment. It explains how there is not, necessarily, anything undemocratic about a producer, for example, delegating tasks or making timetabling calls. They are simply playing their role within the collaborative structure and can be beneficial to the time management of the project:

The most costly resources of collaboration are not money but time and energy, neither of which can be induced. Huxham (1996) distinguishes between two sorts of time that anyone who has collaborated will recognize: actual time (e.g., achieving mutual understanding, building credible commitments and goodwill, and negotiating bases for action and coordination) and lapsed time (coping with accountability issues and other organizational priorities outside the collabo-

— Ann Marie Thomson & James L. Perry. Collaboration Processes: Inside the Black Box. 2006.


Collaboration and democratic, hierarchy-free structures are beautiful things. Designated roles and shared power arrangements are beautiful, also. Reasonable delegation should not be something to shy away from. As we have discussed, it can actually be to the benefit of a collaborative process. It should be noted, however, that this is a very thin line to walk and balance is integral. Delegation can quickly turn to dictatorship. Walk the line with care. Try to find the balance.

Collaboration cant be rushed. [It is] very energy intensive. You have to be willing to invest inordinate amounts of time at low productivity to establish relationships and trust building.

— Ann Marie Thomson. Collaboration: Meaning and Measurement. 2001.

Works Cited

Huxham, C. (1996). Collaboration and Collaborative Advantage. (C. Huxham, Ed.) Creating Collaborative Advantage, 1 – 18.

Huxham, C., & MacDonald, D. (1992). Introducing Collaborative Advantage: Achieving Interorganizational Effectiveness through Meta-Strategy. Management Decision, 30(3), 50 – 56.

Rabiger, M. (2003). Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics. Waltham: Focal Press.

Thomson, A. M. (2001). Collaboration: Meaning and Measurement. Bloomington: Indiana University.

Thomson, A. M., & Perry, J. L. (2006, December). Collaboration Processes: Inside the Black Box. Public Administration Review, 20 – 32.



The whole fam editing away and hard at work for #fairtowear

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Fair2Wear on Instagram

Digital Story & Proposal






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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

*Featured Image Credit:
Fair to Wear Project


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