If you visit this site from today, 12 November 2017, you will find it in disarray, since I have just moved it to a new host. I have every intention of refreshing and relaunching it. Meanwhile if you would like to see anything that you might have expected to—specifically videos of my work—do please contact me via the Call page.
This is the first of what I intend to be – let’s say an occasional rather than a regular – series of blogs on the topic of “understanding production”. Some will be straightforward snippets of useful information, on things like digital video formats. But more will be on the production process, and on ways of getting the best performance out of your media producer.
But before I get going… a few words of clarification that I may need to refer back to as the series continues:
The people in an organization on whom the responsibility for briefing and supervising a media production falls come from all sorts of backgrounds. Sometimes they are marketing or communications experts, who will probably know much of what I have to say – though they won’t necessarily have enjoyed the viewpoint of a producer. But many, in my experience most, are not marketing specialists. They are administrators, accountants, engineers, general managers, who need the help of media – a video, a presentation, a website, an iPad app – to promote their or their company’s work. Much of what I have to say is addressed to these people. Arguably the communications specialists out there are not likely to be reading a blog called “Understanding production”. If you do, I apologize if you find my observations a little… basic.
I am writing from my personal point of view as a producer. I am not trying to offer generalized advice, which you can find in text books. The underlying principle for doing this is not because I want to share my problems with the world; it is instead that I passionately believe that you get the best performance out of people if you understand what makes them tick, and appreciate the issues they have in giving you the best. Too often in a customer/supplier relationship the dominant philosophy is “the customer is king, and the supplier’s problems are not the customer’s concern”. Fair enough: up to a point. I prefer to think that if I can get a better service from a supplier by understanding their problems and their motivations, and working with them to resolve the former and respond to the latter, that is going to be to my benefit. To give just one, apparently trivial, practical example to illustrate the point: when I book a hotel for a location shoot, I get the cameraman a room that’s as close as possible to the entrance. At the end of a long day’s filming the last thing he wants to do is to lug heavy equipment along miles of corridors. And if he doesn’t have to, he’s going to feel more inclined to do another long day tomorrow. If you feel my thoughts are little more than special pleading, forgive me: my hope is that if you do need to commission a job you might benefit from my sharing them.
A note on terminology: I use the term ‘producer’ as short hand for the organization that makes your visual communications for you. I could say ‘production company’, but I’m deliberately making the point that there is an alternative way of working, which is, dare I say it, to use my services!
I want to start off by the talking about the first act of any production process: the brief. The thing about a brief is that… you don’t need to write one. Let the producer do that. The process of sitting down and talking about what is needed can, and should be, highly productive. It’s the opportunity for the producer to ask questions, to probe and dig to find out the essential elements of what is needed, and to explore what is possible as a solution. And it’s an opportunity for the client to contribute their thoughts and ideas. It should be the cornerstone of every production, big or small. It maximizes the chances that the finished programme will be effective, and that everyone will be happy with it.
I’ll expand on the topic of the brief, and discuss the key issues that need to be discussed in arriving at one, next time.
And I have finally edited some clips from three of my television documentaries. (Their titles on the grid of thumbnails all begin with ‘Documentary’, so they’re easy to find.) There’s one on the North Sea, another on the fjords of Norway, and the third is about porpoises. Because of the longer, more elaborate post-production process for long-form broadcast television programmes it’s always a lot more difficult getting hold of a copy of the end product. And then when you do you have somehow to distill an hour of programme into three or four minutes. This is a process that is much easier for someone who hasn’t actually made the programme, because they haven’t sweated and agonized over every shot. You as the director feel that every single frame of the finished film is there for a good reason, and cutting most of it out feels like abandoning your children (OK, I might be exaggerating a teensy bit here). Anyway it’s a difficult process, so I’m please to have done it at least for these three jobs. These are the documentaries that I have co-directed, as opposed to others that I have written and/or produced.
Some years ago a friend and one-time colleague from my advertising agency days left to start a marketing consultancy. He was called Johnny Wright. Neither he nor I were particularly keen on marketing consultants, but he planned to offer a very specialized service. It struck me then that he had a really good idea. And it still does. Put simply, Johnny’s idea was to offer advice to companies on how to get the best out of their advertising agency.
I have long thought that understanding as much as possible about what you are buying leads to the happiest outcomes, whether it’s a house, an investment, or the 3.30 at Newmarket; or a video. Of course you can never have the skills or the knowledge of the specialists you hire – presumably you wouldn’t need to hire them otherwise. But it has to make sense to understand enough about their work to be able to provide all the information and materials they need to do the job properly, give them a sensible amount of time to deliver the best solution, and judge what is a good price. There are also less tangible issues, like motivation and loyalty. As a manager you wouldn’t think twice about the need to motivate your staff and win their trust to get the best out of them; well funnily enough the same applies to most your suppliers.
Now you’d think the marketing people in companies whose primary way of communicating with customers is mainstream consumer advertising would have a pretty good idea of how the process of creating and buying advertising works. But even so Johnny found that he was able to teach them all sorts of tips and methods to improve their effectiveness, and the quality of the advertising produced.
And that’s what I hope to do in some of the pieces that I post here. Over the years I have worked for many different clients, ranging from those who had never before had anything to do with media as a communications tool and were happy to profess their ignorance, to those who had been closely involved with media throughout their career. I hope that I can offer all of these some useful thoughts about getting the most out of media production, and some insights into the work of a media producer. I make no apologies for these articles being totally subjective. The views expressed will be my own, based on my own experience. Other opinions are available.
If any of my observations stimulate the urge to respond, in agreement or otherwise, please do add your own thoughts.
It is quite interesting to consider the arc of content creation skills over the period that I’ve been working in the business. It was all very specialized 25 years ago. Mastery of any of the technical crafts required specific, advanced knowledge and technique. A film camera needed at least a couple of people to operate it: filming drama needed four. But as equipment became more user-friendly, multi-tasking was made possible. It is not uncommon now for quite sophisticated video recording to be done by two people – or even one under some circumstances. The same goes for editing, with even multi-million dollar movies famously being edited on laptops. But while the classic creative skills of filming and sound recording, editing and graphics have become simplified, and now within the scope of a talented individual, the explosion of media presentation and manipulation possibilities of the ‘digital revolution’ brought about by advances in computing power and online communication has meant that a whole new set of advanced skills has developed. The result is a return to the days when to make a programme, or create a project, it was necessary to assemble a team of people with diverse specialisms. And have someone with the necessary combination of organizational and creative skills to effectively manage the process.
This project has taken a back seat to paid work for too long. But it’s 2012! About time I made use of the service I offer to others: communicating information and ideas.
The plan is to regularly post news, thoughts, and insights that are in some way relevant to my work. I hope others will find them worth reading.
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