Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


When It's Better to Work Alone

I just got booted for the first time from a film set.

Oh sure, there have been times in the past where I wasn't needed so I got put outside to watch the equipment or make sure a 5k didn't fall through a window. That's rather typical on sets. But, no, I was asked to leave a set I had volunteered my help for and spent a considerable amount of time helping them out.

When the director (who was also acting as producer) first contacted me, he mentioned that he normally works alone and for his upcoming big project he knew he needed help and wanted someone like me who knew my way around film to help. Sounds cool.

A month later I still hadn't heard anything else. I had asked for any information he might have to help me prepare for assisting. Then, the day of a meeting I was told that there was a meeting about the film shoot. So I dropped everything for this guy and went to the meeting. I was rather shocked to find out that filming began the next day, and they wanted people all day for three days this week. Thankfully I was able to get out of my other engagements to help them out.

Lesson 1: If you want to work with others, communicate with them a lot. Some people say you should be in "constant" communication, but that's a tad overkill. At least give your crew the dates you want to film as you figure them out... not the day before.

Lesson 2: If you are typically a Director type, you will need to work extra hard on communicating with everyone on your team because you are not a Producer.

The first night of filming the director showed up 15 minutes after "call time" when he had made it clear that he would show up an hour early to make sure we could just start setting up right when we got there since he did not have storyboards or lighting setups. The next morning he rolled in an hour late.

Lesson 3: Show up on time, especially if you're working with volunteers. If you're paying me my going rate to sit around for an hour because you can't get your act together, no skin off my nose. But abusing volunteers is never a good idea.

Then, when we asked him what he wanted us to do, he would typically tell us to wait until he had thought about it.

Lesson 4: Pre-Production is important. It allows your crew to begin work right away which translates into less time on set.

When we finally got around to setting up lights for him, he never communicated what he wanted. Instead, if we asked him what he wanted he would go off and move the lights himself. Nothing wrong with getting involved, but things would go much better if you let your team do their jobs and merely direct.

Then this morning he pulled me aside and told me, "Luke, I asked that people just talk to me if they had a suggestion. You have been talking to the whole set, and I would appreciate it if you would just talk to me."

Confused, I tried to explain that all of my comments had always been directed only to him so he could make the call. I ended by saying, "I guess I've been too loud. I'll make sure to just make comments to you from now on."

From that moment on, when I had a comment I was sure to speak it in a low voice so only he would hear me. Things seemed to be going fine.

Lesson 5: Just like this director demonstrated, it is always good to pull people aside if you have a problem with them. It was great that he just talked with me so things could get fixed.

Then I was helping set up a light that he had not specifically asked for so we could ask him if he liked it. He came into the room, noticed what we were doing and suggested that instead of "just doing" things, we should be more "inquisitive" and ask the director before doing things. I tried to explain that we were setting up a light to ask him if he wanted it (so he could see it rather than just try to imagine it). He told me to come out into the hall to chat. Once there he said, "This is an attitude thing. You've just been throwing around your film terms and acting like you know everything, and that's not working for me. So, you should just go."

I said, "Thanks for letting me be part of your set, and if you ever need help let me know." I collected my things and walked out.

Once outside, I started laughing.

Lesson 6: It was very good of him to recognize that he was not happy with people doing their jobs without his express direction. It was also good of him to mention that the reason he was letting me go was because it wasn't working for him. The fact of the matter is that I am not a jerk (I can be at times, I know) and that was not the reason for kicking me off the set. It was a conflict with his style, and he recognized that. Perfect. May we all be so gracious.

Lesson 7: Return the courtesy, even if they don't give it to you. Never leave a project making a scene or yelling. Just move on and thank them for the opportunity. Take what lessons you can away with you, but don't try to "win" anything by arguing.

Lesson 8: If you prefer to work alone, do so.

If you are considering making a larger production and you have a history of working alone, I will offer just a few more tips before I close this post:

Tip 1: Utilize people's skills. I have worked with a director who has truly grasped the idea of surrounding yourself with people smarter than you so you look better. If someone knows how to do something that you do not, let them take over. It will only make you look better in the end. And watch those talented people and see what you can learn from them.

Tip 2: Be humble. You know you are not going to be doing this perfectly. Admit your shortcomings, ask for feedback, and stay in a posture of learning. This can be hard to do in a situation of stress, and so all the more reason to be conscious of personal pride that will leave you alone.

What lesson do I need to learn? The big one is probably this: If I volunteer to be on someone's set, I may need to leave my ideas behind. I should have been more attentive to this director's frustration with me "taking over" his set by trying to be helpful. If people don't want you to be helpful you will be much more helpful if you sit back and wait for them to tell you what they want. If they feel like they need to be in control, I need to be respectful of that even if it is inefficient, ineffective, and inane. I signed up. If I truly am there to serve I need to be happy to serve in whatever way they want.

Oh yes, I have a lot of learning and growing ahead of me as well.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


A Movie Without Video

I was recently sent the following Machinima video: "Among Fables and Men".

What is so interesting about this video is that it was created without screen video capture technology (at least, it could have been done without capturing motion). This means that even if you don't have a fancy bit of screen recording software, you could make a movie like this one with nothing more than "Print Screen" (Windows) or "Grab" (Apple).

Once again, and if you didn't notice "Among Fables and Men" won for best Drama video, if you learn to use the tools you have you can make absolutely fantastic movies. This reminder comes at a good time for me. Last night I was on the phone with one of my mentees trying to trouble shoot his new Adobe CS3 Production Suite. Since I don't own the software yet myself, it's really hard to troubleshoot. I had no problem fixing his other issues while sitting in front of his computer, but on the phone it is nearly impossible. I was frustrated because I felt like the tools I recommended for him were letting him down.

However, what I told him was true as well: Learning new software takes time. Editing (filmmaking, as well as most other technical endeavors) requires that you learn your tools. Once you know what you're doing, no matter what tool it is, you can fly. Sure, certain things (like customizable hotkeys) can make things even faster, but you first have to know what you're doing.

Which reminds me: I need to write up a tutorial on how to make a movie without a camera. "Among Fables and Men" may be the perfect impetus to get me to do that. I think I'll start working on that now.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


A Quick Lesson from a Cool Show

I've been watching the First Season of "24". It's a lot of fun and very well put together. However, with all their steadycam work and multiple cameras you knew it had to happen sometime. Lo and behold, I came across this moment (I added the arrow):

That is very much a cameraman in the shot. I wouldn't have even noticed him at all if the girl wasn't supposed to be alone at this moment in the action.

Could the editors have gotten rid of that moment? Absolutely. They could have blow up the image just a tad and moved the clip around to cover him up off screen, or, since this is "24" and they already use cropped images within the screen, they could have simply cropped him out entirely. But they didn't. Why?

I'm going to assume they noticed and it was consciously left in. It could have been that they knew that their footage was going to be presented in 4:3 with Overscan anyway and weren't concerned with it. Perhaps they realized that it probably wasn't worth the time to fix it because the majority of people wouldn't notice anyway because what's more important than perfect images is your story.

But even if they did miss it somehow, guess what? People still love "24", they still purchase the DVDs, and they still rave about it to their friends. If anything, people may talk about it more because of that little goof. I mean, I wouldn't have written this post if it wasn't there.

Another prime example of how story trumps technique every day.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Recording Session

Last Friday night we had a mini-recording session for a band I know. I told myself I had to blog about that experience, but I didn't get around to it till now. Better late than never, right?

So, you'd like to think that two guitars and one vocal track would be a simple setup, especially since I was going to record only one at a time, but no such luck. Granted, my system is set up for editing not recording and I hope to one day have a DAW, but that's a long time in coming, me thinks. All that to say that it took an hour before we were ready to jam. Why did it take so long? Three reasons:

1. Incorrect connectors. For some reason the 1/4" input on my USB interface doesn't work but we didn't have an XLR for one of the guitars, so we tried several different ways of patching through, but kept keeping noise or nothing at all.

2. Inexpensive/lacking tools. I haven't put much money into my audio recording equipment yet so we often get erratic results and a realization that we're missing something.

3. General ignorance. Add the previous two to my already limited audio knowledge and you get a lot of head-scratching which adds up to time spent fiddling.

Once we got a signal we were willing to work with, we put down the first track. Then we played that back in the headphones while we got the next track. However, we found that the two tracks drifted in and out of sync. We tried recording again, this time beating out the time while the musician played. There were still problems.

We ended the night recording a single guitar track and the accompanying vocals. It sounded good, but we decided to do more research before we tried again.

Thus far we have found that the "screeching" of the guitar strings that was giving us trouble was likely due to the strings' age and just needed to be replaced.

Hopefully our next attempt will go better. But I must say, despite the frustrations and failures, I had a blast.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Adding Color

I've been shooting with my XL H1--her name is Sonyia, by the way--quite a bit over the past week. I've been meaning to get some side by side comparisons for you of the difference between using her Custom Presets and just letting her take over, but I love the color so much that I forget to switch it back. However, I did remember to do a comparison shot of the sky. I'm sorry that it's only demonstrating blue, but you get the idea:

Without Custom Presets:

With Custom Presets:

When I remember to turn off the Custom Presets on a picture that has more colors, I'll post those images as well. But for now, let me just leave you with a picture that was so full of color I forgot to turn off the preset:

Please note that these images have had no color tweaking whatsoever. None. That's how they come out of my camera when I set it up correctly. It's blowing my mind, let me tell you.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor