Okay. At the risk of affecting my relationships with current or past clients, these two segments will focus on the producer – director relationship in an industrial level television/video market. The information is important should you find yourself at this level, which is more likely than filming a Hollywood blockbuster. The reason this information is important is because on this level, there are more variants in producing a TV/video production. And you usually have no control over these variants. Some of these realities may occur during your next project, at whatever level you’re at. So this may give you an idea of what to expect.
When I was still teaching, an adult student asked me what the formula was for making and editing a production. Formally educated, she was taking the course to fill a new position and was accustomed to an outlined curriculum. What she wanted was a strict guideline of how to go about producing a project from beginning to end. My answer was that there is no set procedure other than getting what you need. It is an organic process and every production is different. Accustomed to more formal educational practices she became frustrated and dropped the class. I assume she purchased a book.
I didn’t mean to be so vague, but I was only telling the truth. You cannot use one formulated procedure to complete just any old project. I wish it were that simple. The frustration that student felt stems from the common misconception many people have of what we do for a living. Most people relate what we do with the finished product they see in their leisure. In other words, how can it be work when it is so much fun? Get used to this perception from those who do not actually work in this industry.
In my twenty years of educational and government television, almost every client I have worked with thinks that all I do is show up, set up a camera, have them say the lines, and slap it all together in editing. Somehow, some way I will magically produce an entertaining and thought-provoking piece that everyone will line up to watch. They usually don’t think much effort is required to produce a quality program like they see in a movie theater or on major television networks. After all, what we do is easy, right? Even watching the special ‘insider’ outtakes on movie DVDs give the impression that it is all fun and games.
Now. Imagine me walking into your office and commenting that your job looks easy. That all you do is answer the phone and push papers around. What would you say? I would probably hear, “Who do you think you are? I’ve been doing this for over twenty years! What I do is complicated work that requires years of knowledge and experience.” Hmm, I could say the same thing. The reality is that in order for the average person to enjoy what they are seeing onscreen, it requires many months of planning, writing, coordination, organization, and efficiency.
There is an old saying in this business, “For every two minutes shown in film or television, twenty minutes were left on the cutting room floor.” When you watch one close up of an actor in a movie, what you are not seeing is the time it took to set up and light that single shot. Never mind about the funny retakes when the actor made a mistake. When the shot is complete, the crew will stop, move equipment, set up and light for the next shot. And do not think that they are just leisurely going about doing it. When it is time, the crew jumps and rushes to get this done quickly.
The camera is set up. A stand-in comes in. They light for the shot, make adjustments. Check and recheck. Then the actor comes out to say the lines. This happens for every scene you see in a ninety-minute movie. Every shot requires that the camera must be repositioned, and each scene will require different lighting. Lighting for a close-up is not the same as for a long shot. It takes even more time to calculate these adjustments for film to determine what filter and iris setting to use.
But hey that’s only in the movies, right? It can’t be the same for television, or music videos, can it? Keep in mind that music videos, dramas and sitcoms are also filmed. Programs like game shows, interviews have to be thought out, scripted and planned. Even reality shows are scripted to a certain extent. They have to be. Otherwise while they are fumbling around trying to think of what to do or say next, you’d get bored change the channel or leave the movie theater. The finished product reflects many hours of planning and execution prior to completion. Why do you think it looks so good?
This same effort is required even when it gets down to the industrial level like government or educational television. Only on this level, you are not dealing with people who are familiar with the work you do. Because most people’s perspective of what we do is entertainment, many do not consider it actual work. There’s no sense in getting frustrated over it, and don’t get on a high horse attempting to sternly correct their ludicrous way of thinking. This is the first obstacle you must understand and learn to live with. It’s part of the job.
In most instances money is not exchanged in education or government television. Occasionally there are farmed-out productions on special projects, but usually everyone connected with the project is staff or non-profit. If money is exchanged, it is usually shuffled between department budgets. Most clients I have worked with are departmental managers, representatives or Public Information Officers (PIO) wanting to get an important message out to the general public. Therefore whoever is in charge (producer) is usually inexperienced in what is required to produce a TV/video production. They may have a degree in journalism or communications. They may have had a few TV classes. Maybe helped out at the TV or radio station in college. Maybe even volunteered at the local public access channel. But very few of them in this market level have ever actually produced (managed) a complete TV/video program.
It is these people whom you’ll answer to, your client-producer. In the next segment I will explain the different personalities of client-producers you may encounter. Depending on your particular situation or project, there are different ways to interact with them. Stay tuned.