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Old August 15th, 2007, 01:47 PM   #1
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learning from a job

I'm curious to hear stories from people who've done creative projects, either pro, or not, and how they learned from the difficult jobs. Extra points go to the funniest stories...

I just used my recently purchased Canon XH-A1, and HV20 and other equipment for a music video project as a volunteer for a first time director. I am actually very happy with the results. It looks quite good.

But, it was shockingly difficult to shoot due to a poor communication between the director & I, and various amusing circumstances I can't go into in a public forum...

The problems boiled down to the fact that I was not given direction on how to set up the shots, or a shot list, or anything, and then the director was too frustrated to listen to me offer suggestions on how to shoot it. So, that's a fair assessment.

I did learn ALOT about the process, and how important preparation and communication are on a large-scale shoot (it was huge). And I learned that I may not be able to be a director myself. It seems quite difficult. I am a kick-ass camera guy, though. The footage I actually did shoot looks great! I can't wait to work with a professional director, or even a good student, so that I am given the opportunity to do a shoot with more of my skills utilized.

So, what did you learn from your first job, or your most difficult jobs?
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Old August 15th, 2007, 02:39 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by Chris Carroll View Post
So, what did you learn from your first job, or your most difficult jobs?
That's easy. I can offer two points.

1.) I have had to learn to develop a more realistic expectation of the length of time it takes to edit digital video. If you have watched NLE demos and heard the vendor or demo engineer say things like "You just do this, this, and then this, and boom, you're done. Your project will be finished in a snap"....and you believe that?....then consider yourself a sucker. Demos are made to look easy for a reason...not to mention that they are often pre-crafted for ease of presentation and compression of presentation time. My wife learned to develop a system of taking my estimated editing time and multiplying it by 5 to gauge when I might be available for a family meal. Getting a better handle on when you can deliver a product will help keep healthy client relations.

2.) If you've spent a ton of time and money researching and purchasing expensive and high-quality camera gear, do the same for essential accessories. - including where you buy it. I hit the ground runnin' by making large initial purchases from B&H and was really happy with my camera and sound gear...however I hadn't done enough homework on a good tripod so I hadn't purchased it yet.

Suddenly, a sudden job request came in and I didn't have time (or enough money) to purchase the tripod and head system I really wanted and have it shipped from B&H. So I went to a local mall camera shop and paid about $400 for a set of sticks and a closeout deal on a head. PIECE OF JUNK broke apart in less than 3 weeks. I got nowhere with the shopkeeper "We don't really know what to do....uh, maybe you can complain to the manufacturer and they can fix it for you or something...blahblahblah." Ended up going nowhwere.

Lesson: If you're expecting to spend ~ $20,000 on new quality/durable/well supported A/V gear, don't go shopping for it in your local mall.

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Old August 15th, 2007, 04:16 PM   #3
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Jonathan, I believe that my wife came up with the same formula... coincidence? Probably not...
"... the drama is on your doorstep..." - John Grierson
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Old August 15th, 2007, 04:58 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Jonathan Jones View Post
Lesson: If you're expecting to spend ~ $20,000 on new quality/durable/well supported A/V gear, don't go shopping for it in your local mall.
I had a similar experience. My first wedding gig, I went out and bought a crappy Wal Mart tripod. See, I went to school for post production and was only part of one shoot during my time there. There were a ton of things I just didn't consider because I was so used to having footage handed to me. I figured "a tripod is a tripod."

Luckily, I have learned a ton since then, and while it's always painful to part with a good chunk of dough for accessories, sometimes you just have to because the alternative is a crappy Wal Mart tripod.

Anywho, long story short, I had to do most of the day handheld. It was like The Bourne Ultimatum Boring Wedding Version.
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Old August 15th, 2007, 05:41 PM   #5
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One of my earliest movie shorts taught me a huge lesson in dealing with actors and time management. A lot of the movie happened at night, so we planned to shoot four Friday nights from sundown (about 9:00 PM) to 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, than sleep in Saturday morning and get our daytime shots those Saturday afternoons. Well, my one actor had absolutely no commitment - he would show up an hour or two late (or not at all) after calling only a short time before the shoot was scheduled. It was a very low budget shoot - there was no rented equipment, we were shooting at my house, and all the actors were volunteer, so we weren't loosing any money by waiting, but I was trying to get this movie in to a small film festival and I had barely enough time to shoot it. We did not make one of our scheduled shoots. Sometimes we were able to shoot on the evening that we had planned, but the start was delayed by several hours. Sometimes we shuffled around the schedule to do parts that that actor wasn't in. The thing was, I was too inexperienced to see that, when he did show up, this actor wasn't really committed to acting and (even though he was a phenomenal actor) he was giving a very half-hearted, so-so performance. The good news is that with a lot of determination and pressuring the actor to do some extra in the last week to make up for what he had wasted during the month before, we did get the movie done in time and it was accepted as a semi-finalist in the festival. Oh, and I only got the DVDs in the mail with ONE MINUTE to spare because my computer was giving me fits trying to get a good render of the movie.

Lesson's learned:

1. Know your actors as much as possible. Are they committed to the project? Of course, you can't always know as much as you would like (this actor seemed committed before we actually started shooting), but try to get to know your actor anyway.

2. Even if your actors are volunteer, they must sign a contract detailing what they will be expected to do.

3. If you have a sharp deadline, plan extra time for shooting, lots of extra time. If you don't use all of the time you've allowed, great! But if you end up needing it, having it there will save you lots of headache and (depending on the nature of the project) money.

4. Don't wait to plan post-production until you get there. If you are doing the editing yourself and you have never worked on a project of this scale before, make SURE your machine is fast enough for to be able to handle ALL of the footage your project will incur. Of course, if your project is more professional in nature, this is a moot point because you will probable be using some professional post facility which will be able to easily handle your job - it's what they do for a living.
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Old August 15th, 2007, 09:24 PM   #6
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To chime in with some more, knowing every little thing that can go wrong. And sometimes you don't know what can go wrong until it bites you in the ass.

For example, my day job is in community television. A few weeks ago we were doing a production of a local baseball game. My job was to get in touch with the town and ensure we had adequate power for our mobile. I called up our contact at the town - he was on vacation. I told the fellow who was filling in for him that we needed this much power, at these outlets, at the baseball diamond. Said, "No problem. They're always on but I'll make a note to ensure that you've got enough juice."

Later that week I went to the office to pick up a key for the gate to the diamond, and on the envelope it said "power will be on."

I thought, "Good, we're all set to go electricity wise."

We went out that Sunday night and of the four outlets at the diamond, only one had power, and it wasn't enough to power our truck. My first thought is, "What was I supposed to do? I was told we would have power."

Anywho, we were left to power the truck via generator and the production went on, thank God. But afterward I realized just what I should have done.

I should have went out there the day before to test for power. I should have gotten the emergency contact name while I was talking with our contact (all of the numbers I had were either voicemails or automated machines). If I had did those things I would have either had the time to address the problem, or been able to get in touch with someone immediately who could.

But it's one of those things that you don't learn until it happens to you. In my wildest dreams I would have never considered checking the power the day before. But now, when out at a remote location with no staff around (just the two baseball teams and our team of volunteers) I'm going to make damned well sure we have electricity.

Thankfully my supervisor was good about it. He shouldered some blame because he knows I am a recent grad who doesn't have the field experience to know to check for this kind of stuff, and he should have told me to do so. At the same time, though, it was my responsibility, and now that I made that mistake once I will not do it again.

Anywho, the morale of the story is to take extra care in recognizing what can go wrong, and do whatever you can to ensure that it doesn't go wrong BEFORE you show up with a mobile and a load of volunteers.
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Old August 15th, 2007, 09:24 PM   #7
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excellent lessons

I am happy to hear that the problems I ran into in my shoot are pretty normal. Dale, I also was doing a night shoot, on set outside, and instead of starting at 9:00 pm, we often didn't start until 1:00 or 2:00 am! Then we shot until after the sun came up to make up for the lost time. It was also mostly volunteer, and the crew and actors ended up just standing around for hours waiting for shots to be set up. Scheduling and sticking to a shot list is so important!

And thankfully, I'm not responsible for capturing or editing the footage for this job. The director chose to shoot pick-up shots on a tiny Sony DV camera, instead of with my Canon equipment, and he didn't seem to get it when I informed him that the deck for the capturing HD 24f that we had shot has to be the same brand as the cameras, and all footage should be in the same format. He also chose to record green-screen scenes onto 4:2:0 color-space DV tapes instead of just using the HV20 in 4:2:2 straight into the pc that I had set-up. I don't know how good the composite shots or final editing will turn out. So, I'm actually glad I'm not going to be involved in any of the post-production - it seems like a huge challenge.

I did my best to use what I learned from this forum, and found that I ran into many issues that I already had read about from other users here.

I can certainly say I learned so much more from the errors made on this shoot than if it had gone smoothly, so it was great experience.

Last edited by Chris Carroll; August 15th, 2007 at 10:42 PM. Reason: re-considered my wording
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Old August 16th, 2007, 07:02 AM   #8
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Needless to day, I feel your pain, Chris. Wow, it seems that I got off easy compared to you! And at least I was the director, so I had a little more control over the image acquisition process... :) I forgot to mention that I learned a LOT about what to let slide and what to retake. Because of the before mentioned difficulties, there were times when I was just worried about getting the shot done and moving on to the next shot and I was not concerned enough about getting a GOOD take. The result is that my main actor's performance was very tepid - which could have been remedied if I had been willing to say "No, that's not quite it - put more energy into it and say the lines like you mean them." He was (and is) a great actor; I just wish I wouldn't have wasted his potential. You never realize how much of the actor's performance depends on the director until you look back and realize how much more you could have gotten.
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Old August 16th, 2007, 02:08 PM   #9
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My lesson learned on narrative fiction is to take the time to rehearse. I wrote and directed a short this spring. I'm happy with how it turned out. However, later I adapted the script for stage and submitted it to a local community theater's one act play festival. It opens tonight. I'm not directing it, but I've been to several of the rehearsals. When I did it I only rehearsed twice, a read through and a blocking, mostly because I was taking my cues from my actors who didn't feel like they needed any more time because they knew they'd be able to do as many takes as they needed to on the day. For the stage version they've rehearsed at least a half a dozen times. I wouldn't have made all the same choices that the stage director is making, but boy are they reaching emotional levels that I didn't come close to.

When I do my next one that's the lesson I'm bringing with me.
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Old August 16th, 2007, 02:17 PM   #10
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Ah, yes - that's another good lesson that I learned on said movie. You think you can always to another take, but things like audio cueing and the emotional expression of the actors (as you said, Kris) can never be as good as they could have been had rehearsals been implimented.
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Old August 18th, 2007, 09:25 PM   #11
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Basic things you need for a shoot:

Script, shot list, story board(optional, but very helpful), good communication, being able to learn, being able to think and function under stress and still have a positive attitude. Playing well with others is key. Someone else was writing about that in this forum.

It's not just the gear, it how you are and who you are. Sorry, that you and the director weren't interfacing all the way. That's a process that can be instantaneous, or may take a little while. It can be hard because you have what you imagine a scene to be and the director has something that may sound the same but you find out that it's completely different.

Pre production planning is also crucial because a lot of the technical, logistical and other kinks can be worked out. Scouting locations ahead of time and checking things like power, where the light comes from, possible bad reflections from other buildings, checking there is enough space for your production crew, etc. Any sound issues? Is there going to suddenly be construction across the street form your location? Talking to people in the area will amass information and help you later when you are shooting. Taking scouting photos helps visualize what goes where.

Rehersing the actors helps get them up to speed and they can digest the script and make it their own, given enough time.

Be sure you have whatever releases and permits are required. Prodution insurance is needed if you are renting and often if you are shooting in a location.

Parking & transportation. How does the production travel? What vehicles, at what times to and from what locations?

Communication. On set, off set. Walkie talkies can be incredibly helpful.

When shooting, rehearse, block and light is a good formula to follow. Get your lighting roughed in, block the actors and get the camera blocking and then fine tune the light, if you are doing narrative.

Having a First AD to run the shoot and a Line Producer, or Production Manager to manage the logistics is of the utmost importance. These people run the production and make sure everything is running smoothly and everything is on time and hopefully under budget. This leaves the director the space to direct and not worry whether lunch going to get cold and if there is enough ice for the coolers.

Feed the crew and talent. Taking care that there is enough food and water is also very important. If you aren't going to pay people, at least feed them well. If you are paying them, feed them even better. Ensuring that basic needs are taken care of can make the difference between a nightmare shoot and a shoot that was "interesting".

Paper work. Make sure you have all your necessary paper work from call sheets, to directions, to permits, to contracts, to crew/talent contact info, to posters and press kits. And yes emergency info is good.

A "can do" attitude is also helpful, it can sometimes rub off on others. Often it's when we are challenged that we do our best work. Giving people attitude usually backfires. Especially with people with limited, or no power, like security guards, angry neighbors and the like. As a friend of mine used to say: "You catch more bees with honey, than vinegar."

Always bring a spare

Always bring more tape, hard drives, batteries, etc than you think you'll need. Better to have too much, than not enough.

Plan your whole shoot from start to finish, including post and distribution. Who will be seeing it, how and where? Often how something gets shot is determined by working backwards from the distribution media. Shooting HD is overkill, if the piece is going to be highly compressed and streamed on the web. But if you will be doing that and the client wants to give a DVD to their clients, or something like that, then look at your options. Film Festival? What format(s) do they accept? Film only? Tapes DVDs?

Listen to that little voice that's bugging you. Take a minute to see what it's telling you. Listening can prevent the "I should have done X" later on.

The more you do, the more you will learn. To always be learning is the key. Keep your eyes and ears open. To be able to learn from anyone, or anything is also invaluable.

When you get the call for a job have a list of questions to ask the prospect. Who, What, When, Where, How and Why? You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing them. Often you are also educating them.

Don't be afraid to say "no". I was glad when I turned down a job that a prospective client wanted me to shoot. What they wanted was not in my "style" of shooting and what they wanted was almost completely the opposite of how I do things, so I gave them a couple of names of other people I thought might be good for that job.

Check the weather and bring your raincoat anyways.

Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance

Dress appropriately. We were shooting in a food plant a couple weeks ago. My friend and I knew it was going to be hot, so we wore shorts. When we showed up, the plant manger informed us that we had to wear pants. Luckily, there was a Walmart not too far away that was open 24 hours, so we were able to get nifty looking cargo pants for fifteen bucks at six in the morning. People will give you respect if you look respectable.

Research. Knowing the people, the area, the available resources, the material you are working with puts you in a strong position. Knowledge is power.
Mark Sasahara
Director of Photography
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Old August 20th, 2007, 01:10 AM   #12
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Really incredible advice!

I have to thank everyone for the responses to my question. They were better than I hoped and I plan to apply this new knowledge on the next project. I am an art school drop-out, doing these volunteer jobs as a way to learn DV and build my portfolio. It's much cheaper than film school! But, my lack of real training is still a hurdle.

I have one big lesson that I learned from this project, but also a few design and illustration jobs I've done since art school. I need to be aware of my actual abilities and limitations at the time I take a job, and be willing to admit if something is over my head. I have occasionally taken on big, ambitious projects that often involve me learning new skills on unfamiliar equipment. I don't usually mind doing that as a volunteer intern, but some projects I've done, like this one, may have suffered from my having to learn so much so quickly.

This particular piece was my first time doing video camera-work of any kind, which sounded reasonable since I realized I was working with an inexperienced director, and it would be 'shot in the backyard'. But it was far more ambitious and complicated than I expected. The director has a very large backyard...

Definitely, we needed a good AD and/or production assistant. We didn't have that on this shoot, and it was an oversight. Our brilliant choreographer stepped in, and actually helped me set up the shots, showed the cues to the actors and extras, and helped the director bring all the final elements together on-set. So, she was a god-send.

I think on real consideration my issues were more from my own inexperience than with the director and the overall lack of good planning. Many things I did realize were going awry, and I probably should have solved the issues better at the time. But, we did actually pull it off, and I'm still friends with the director. We are even talking about the follow up project...

The project in question will take a while to edit. Sometime 'after Burning Man' is what I was told. I will try to put a link up, and would love to get feedback, and criticism.

Thanks for all of the very thoughtful responses. To a schlub like me, It is invaluable to hear about the proper work-flow of a shoot from actual working pro's
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