take control

Hello, person of the planet Earth.

So, film is all about teamwork and collaboration. It’s about different people linked to each other, trying to make something amazing happen.

And when one of these links tries to be another link or just disconnects from everyone else – well, the potential amazingness of the project becomes lower and more impossible to achieve.

I’m writing this post in relation to the first assignment for our Production Theory and Practice module at university. We had to make a 30-second advert. They paired us up with someone on a random principle – one of the people had to produce the project and the other one had to direct it. The crew we had to pick on our own, as well as the product/place/service we advertise and everything else connected to the production itself.

As this blog is sort of a personal space, I try to be completely honest. Which is why now I’m going to let you into my brain and I’m going to talk about my genuine feelings about how this assignment went. One thing I have to make clear before I start is: I don’t dislike anyone on our course. I do believe that different people click together in different ways. The fact that I didn’t click with someone doesn’t mean I don’t like them or the work that they do.

Okay, let’s continue.

I took up the role of a director instantly, since that’s what I would like to do (or so I think now). My pair was fine with being the producer and we started pre-production. Of course, the first thing we had to do was to think of what we want to advertise. We decided that we had to let ourselves take some time to think about it. By the evening I had 2-3 ideas and I shared one of them with my producer, who said he didn’t have any idea at all. Then we had some production meetings and we kept throwing ideas at each other, some good, some awful – and then I thought of an idea for a Durex condom advert. We accepted it purely because we had nothing better.

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The job of the director includes creating a storyboard – this is one I created after the shoot itself, because our original one didn’t include some of the ideas we had on set.

Then I started thinking about who I’d like to be in my crew… And my producer told me he already got some people. I was a bit… I don’t know, surprised of why he didn’t ask for my opinion first, but I told myself it’s fine, and so we continued. I explained my idea and how I wanted it to look, what props we’d need. Needless to say, I didn’t have any say in how our actors looked – so I just had to go with what the producer had picked out. Since the scene I had in mind  had some badass guys in it and someone had to be shot, I wanted a leather jacket that could add to the atmosphere and which we could make to look like it’s been burnt by a bullet. My producer said we don’t have one so we had to opt for one of his shirts. My thought on that was that we could’ve spent more time on looking for props in order to make the scene more believable, I was annoyed that he had made so many decisions without me already, and the one part of which I was responsible – mise-en-scene and what was on screen – he brushed off quickly without hearing me out properly. He kept saying it will be fine and that we didn’t have enough time to work on it as we should, of which I didn’t quite agree – sure, time was pressuring us, but a good job could have been done if more dedication was present.

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The bullet “wound” on the shirt didn’t look anywhere near how I imagined it would look like – something I should’ve thought more about in pre-production stages.

Anyway, the time of shooting was decided after I had to persuade my producer that we had to shoot in daylight, rather than midnight. I kept silent about the other things I wasn’t happy about because I didn’t want to cause problems and tension between us. So we set the date and time, he booked the equipment, and we started shooting.

I was the director, right? Well I certainly didn’t feel like it during the shoot, because other people kept stating their opinions and doing things they shouldn’t have – such as the DoP and Producer calling out “Cut” instead of me, they kept deciding whether we need sound to be recorded or not, whether to mark a take or not, and kept making little comments during a take that ruined the whole thing. I still kept silent, but I felt like I was nothing important – I felt more like a runner rather than a director – and that threw my (non-existent) self-esteem in the trash. The actors were good and they were doing (just) their job, as well as the sound recordist – I’m glad to have had them on my team and I think I would work with them again. It will probably be fair to mention that my producer did his own job pretty good – he had recce shots, risk assessments, a well done Power Point presentation, as well as every other paperwork he needed to do – he did it well and in time and I’m glad to have worked with him. Perhaps next time I should voice my opinions more and I should do my own job better.

After the shoot, I went home to look at the footage.

And I instantly felt disappointed and angry at my own self.

Because of me not standing behind myself and not putting my foot down, the footage now was badly composed, it was way overexposed and, because of the wrong white balance, the picture was terrifyingly blue. The sound files were dated as of 1 January 2008 (a simple mistake, happens to anyone), and good takes were often ruined by someone else directing the actors mid-take by yelling “That was too late”, “You did that too early”, or yelling “Cut” and “Don’t cut” right as the magic was happening. I definitely think it is my fault, maybe because I didn’t say anything for most of the time and I wasn’t a bitch when I should have been.

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A shot from the advert footage – because of the sun and because of the wrong setting, it looks overexposed and way too blue.

Well, there’s nothing that can be done now!

Except in post-production. I’m glad we have such a good editor, because I know he works well and he makes things happen. I’m now waiting to see the finished project and I’m hoping for the best.

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Now, because of the assignment’s brief, I had to work on 5 other project along with mine. I was the sound recordist for 2 of them, DoP for 2 of them and an editor for one. I saw how different shoots went and I can be a little relieved that I’m not the only one going through hardships. I may have even been overstepping my work in a few of them. Overall, I think I clicked well with most of the directors and producers I worked with. Because I had much input in many of them, I’m quite excited to see the finished projects.

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A shot from one of the ads which I was a DoP for. You can see the product in the background – I purposefully wanted it there, so the more observant people would know what the ad was about even before the product itself was mentioned. (Thanks to the director for letting me have so much freedom with the project!)

This assignment was definitely a huge learning experience. It also gave me the opportunity to work with people I haven’t worked with before, and, consequently, gave me ideas about who not to work with in the future. All in all, I’m glad I took part in so many other projects and I hope I did a good work. One big lesson I got from all this is to voice my opinions more and to put my foot down more when I need to (and when I have the right to). It’s very unlikely to do something magical in film on your own, so working with people you like and people who inspire you and help you move forward is essential. One of my biggest mistakes on set was not letting people know how I feel about what we’re doing. Next time I have the freedom do decide what will be shot I will definitely be more certain with what I want and how I want it to be done. I will also try to be more connected to everyone else and to make sure everything is how I want it to be, or at least the best it could be, before shooting. I will also make sure that my connection with the producer is especially good, because us two are the two most important people in a production and our disconnection can affect the finished project. Good teamwork is rewarding. Now I can say I know this from experience and I’m proud of myself to have taken something out of such a stressful project.

Dear reader, I hope you learned something from my mistakes. Put your foot down! Especially when it comes to your own visions and ideas. Don’t let people ruin them – let them suggest some things, after all, a suggestion and an idea are never too much – but don’t let people shape your ideas how they want. After all, your brain is your own.

Until next time, 
Gabriella

Edit, 1 hour later: I saw the finished project and I’m glad to say I like it. The colours are a bit off, but that’s inevitable with such overexposed and wrongly balanced footage. Our editor did an amazing job and I’m happy that this project is over!

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