Working Towards the Perfect Fit

Making the whole greater than the sum of its parts is a fundamental aspect of videomaking.

Making the whole greater than the whole fits, too.

0ne night, after a long but pleasant day of shooting, a member of the production crew and I went out for a drink. The shooting had gone well, and everyone involved was enjoying their work on the project.

The conversation turned to the feelings one experiences when immersed in video production. She asked me what my theory was to account for the special nature of production work.

Since I’ve always taken special pleasure in watching a crew perform-choreographed as carefully and gracefully as any ballet, if working right-I said my first guess would be that production work tends to bind people together, and the camaraderie that develops is probably what makes it so satisfying.

My second guess was that production work, by nature, is piecework, and that this in itself is satisfying. It has a definite beginning, middle and end; we can watch a project progress from an idea to a completed production.

Unlike many other areas of endeavor where the job is much the same from one day to the next, production work provides variety and a sense of accomplishment-similar to that experienced by a carpenter, artist or architect. A sense of craftsmanship.

In short, the synthesis of a program from all the varied elements that go into it, combined with the interplay of the people involved, contribute to making a program greater than the sum of its parts.
My associate agreed with the analysis, but she had a pet theory of her own. Having earned a Ph.D. in psychology, she had studied the human mind extensively.

Her premise was that video production is one of the few types of work that requires us to use both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously: the left half governs physical control and mental acuity, the right half governs creative and aesthetic processes.

Video production requires a lot of physical activity and coordination. At the same time, one must constantly consider the creative and aesthetic processes.

My associate suspected that these dual demands give a thorough workout, leaving people with a mental rosy glow similar to the physical glow one has after a good day of hard work-a healthy and satisfying form of exhaustion.

Production Puzzle

Though each job involved has an individual emphasis and a special set of requirements, to a certain extent all share the same set of demands and require similar attitudes and abilities.

This is the gestalt of the production process, the interweaving of the parts so they fit together perfectly and complement each other. Each separate piece of the puzzle means little until it is fitted in with the others.

Individual crew members see only their own tree, whereas the producer and director must not only examine each of the trees, they also must maintain the distance necessary to see the forest.

To fit the pieces together successfully, there are three fundamental areas of concern with which the team, both individually and collectively, must deal.

There’s the management aspect: the special purview of the producer, and on down the line. Even the beginning production assistant will have a specifled set of duties and will have to exercise
some creative administration in order to get the job done efficiently.

Part of the key to successful management is delegating authority and responsibility, and encouraging initiative among crew members. This practice not only results in a more efficient operation, it allows people to grow in their positions.

Then there are the creative aspects. Again, everyone involved in a production should be encouraged to offer suggestions, though in the proper context and at an appropriate place and time.

The creative process starts with the original concept and carries through to the final edit. It should rarely be locked firmly in place until the last fade to black is made. The technical side, meanwhile, demands the attention of the crew members directly responsible, the director and other staff.

With the hundreds of details involved in even relatively simple productions, and the synergistic way in which everything must fit together, it’s more than just helpful for everyone to watch for the details that can slip by. It’s necessary.

Technically Real

Engineering factors are of tremendous importance. Unless the equipment is properly maintained, connected and adjusted, the results simply cannot be successful.

Engineers rarely receive adequate credit for their work, since we often don’t think of them until something breaks down. It takes a special sort of person to give equipment the attention and care it deserves.

I remember editing a show in which the producer was under terrific financial and scheduling pressure. Every time he came into the editing room the equipment stopped working properly; as soon as he would leave, everything would go back to normal. I wouldn’t have believed it except that I’d seen this happen too many times before.

After one tense half hour of trying to make a single edit in the producer’s presence, I took a gamble and leaned over to whisper to the director.

“Look, he’s tired. Why don’t you see if you can get him to go home?” She nodded, and I think had some notion of what I was thinking.

The director succeeded in sending the producer off. Once I knew he was out the door, and without changing anything on the console, I hit the “record” button. The edit went down perfectly.


Personal Glamour

The popular perception of video production relates almost totally to entertainment, yet most of today’s video is for business and educational use.

In this field, the glamour is personal: it’s the feeling you get when you walk into the studio in the morning before anyone else has shown up.

As you leaf through the script, you envision how the show will look when it’s done.

That’s the real glamour-the knowledge that a good number of hours, days or weeks later, after a lot of hard work, there will be a program with a life of its own that serves the purpose for which it was designed.

Creating material for this extremely powered video medium is a serious business. At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind the fact that if you’re doing it right, the work is fun.

The pleasures are private, mainly to be shared among the crew. Others will look at your work and say, “that’s nice.” They’ll never know how much work was involved in getting the program on the screen.

If all the jobs are done well, and the production comes out the way it should, none of the hard work will show on the screen.

The program will look as if it had been done effortlessly, and the audience will find it difficult to understand why a ten-minute prognm took two days to shoot and 75 hours to edit-or how a thirty-second commercial could possibly require a crew of thirteen people working for three days.

A friend of mine, an artist and art teacher, once explained why any piece of work actually takes twice as much time as the actual execution entails.

Once a project is completed, it then takes an equal amount of time to sit and study it, analyze it, criticize it and-if all has worked out well-grin at it for awhile.

A true artist and craftsperson is never completely satisfied with the results, and will constantly look for ways to improve the next project.

Lon McQuillin is a writer, producer and director with more than twenty years experience in television production. He is the author of The Video Production Guide, from which this article was excerpted.

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