Media Production and professional development – evaluating my creative and technical skills

Urban nature by Rumena on Flickr

Thinking about skills and creativity

There is an interesting list of creative and technical skills relating to media production on Moodle, and I thought I’d write something about each of them to help me understand where I am at in terms of 1) skills and 2) interest. Recently I’ve been trying to think about what I want to focus on in media production; and even though I am always curious to learn something new in all areas, there are a handful of areas I am really passionate about, and I’m trying to identify how I can focus my efforts in developing these particular skills.

This is a rather lengthy post, very much focused on me and what I think about my current skills, so if that’s something you’re also interested in, read on and I hope you learn something new about me or even about yourself.

Ideas & Development

Pitch

When we were asked to come up with a pitch for our short film ideas last year, my pitch was amongst the few that were given as a ‘good example’ in the lecture. I do think I work well with words, and I always want to say something in the most effective and impactful way; also, because of my background in copywriting and marketing, I understand the importance of a short but sweet line of text, so I do enjoy coming up with pitches. The other important aspect of pitches is that you really need to know what you are talking about to be able to sum it up properly.
Verdict:
Interested in writing pitches, have relevant skills and experience; one of the areas I am interested in developing further.

Outline & Treatment

These are both stages of scriptwriting and story development. I do understand the importance of them for a production, but I think there are people around me who are more talented and more interested in developing their outline & treatment writing skills.
Verdict: Not interested in developing my skills in this area; I’d prefer focusing on other areas of media production.

Script

I’ve only written two very short scripts in my life, and I didn’t enjoy either experience. My first problem with scriptwriting is that I am not very good in writing dialogue, so my short film script didn’t have a single line of dialogue. I think in visuals and sound, and I prefer someone else to be worrying about characters and character development.
Verdict:
Not interested in developing my skills in this area; I’d prefer focusing on other areas of media production.

Storyboard

I’ve worked on advertising storyboards in my previous job (but I haven’t used them enough in university projects), and I do enjoy thinking about the structure of a piece of media. Once the content is decided, I can start thinking about the visual and audio treatment of each scene, how the story progresses on the screen etc. I think storyboards are a crucial part of pre-production, saving hours of time and confusion in the production and post-production stages, and I would like to incorporate them more in my current and future projects.
Verdict:
Definitely interested in preparing storyboards and in developing my skills in this area.

Production

Producer

This is one of the roles I understand, but at the same time I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. I always have a very strong opinion about things the producer needs to worry about, I discuss the process with other colleagues who are undertaking this role in their projects, etc. I also do quite a lot in terms of organisation, scheduling, meetings, communication in the team etc., but there is always something stopping me to undertake the role of a producer within a project. Maybe if I share an Assistant Producer role with a more technical or creative role that would be the ideal way to work on a project, but so far I haven’t been able to see myself as just producer in any project. One of the reasons is because I’m not too confident in my people / ‘soft’ skills, but also, I usually get very engaged with the technical and creative side of a production – so if I did have a producer’s role and was constantly thinking about these things, I’d probably end up as a bad producer. Interestingly, when I first began this course I was expecting to go that route, one of my ‘dream jobs’ at the time was to produce concerts and other experiences related to sound and music, but so far I haven’t been able to identify myself with the producer’s role enough.
Verdict: Interested in some aspects of the role, but ideally I’d share it with someone else, allowing myself to also have a creative role within the project in question.

Director

When I first started the course, I wasn’t interested in directing at all. I didn’t feel confident, I didn’t feel I had anything unique to give as input to a project, I didn’t even quite understand what the role involves. However, some of the recent projects I’ve been working on, especially Radio play production (where I was directing), have made me consider this path. It is definitely not my main strength and / or interest, but I feel I need to explore the director’s role, to try and direct in one or two projects. I’ve recently started thinking more in moving image (not just static because of my photography background), especially in the recent shoots I was involved with – where at some points I thought ‘Well actually I have a better idea than the director and I think I know how to work with the team to make it happen’. So especially in projects with a specific brief, if I am in a team where I know / trust the people and their technical skills, I need to have a go as director.
Verdict:
One of the roles I definitely need to try, I’m slowly building confidence in myself to work as a director. Not yet ready for making all creative decisions; however there’s no reason I wouldn’t be an adequate director in projects with set guidelines – starting small and building confidence.

Camera

This is an interesting case. I am very confident with cameras, I understand most of the technicalities when it comes to camera operation. I have very strong theoretical and technical knowledge about cameras, I am often the most confident person to set up the cameras on a shoot (even if I’m not a camera op in that particular case). I’ve gained some valuable experience already filming with a static camera, I’ve filmed a few events both around university and as part of my job. The only area I am not confident yet is using cameras in live action situations (such as a news report or documentary), or when there is any sort of camera movement. I don’t have enough experience with panning, zooming, focus pulls, etc. – generally, I can set up a camera, frame, think about lighting etc., then press Record and it will be good – but I am not confident making any changes while recording. I think there is a good opportunity for me to start experimenting here – also, it won’t be a massive learning curve as I only need to improve my skills in some aspects of camera operation. What is more, even with the skills I already have, I think I can be a good D.O.P. – I don’t specifically need to be a great camera operator but if I understand the whole process and impact of visuals, I can definitely go that route. I’ve already worked with a D.O.P. on a few shoots, which made me understand and start to love this role.
Verdict:
One of the skills I definitely need to develop; it’s interesting, I enjoy it, I understand it – I just lack experience and confidence in some very specific aspects of camera operation, and I just need practice.

Sound

This is one of my main areas of expertise and interest. More and more, I am positioning myself as a resource and expert in the area of sound production, especially in our student projects. I am always thinking more in sound than in visuals; always more interested to learn something new about sound than anything about visuals. I have a very strong theoretical background, and a bit of a legacy – my father was a sound technician, and he’s taught me all the basics. You can say ‘it’s in my blood’ – I do have loads more to learn, but I think I’m much more ahead of other people on our course. More often than not, I see people who genuinely don’t understand sound. Maybe it’s because we’re not taught enough about it, or the emphasis is always some place else. I do think people with no visual thinking might have been able to develop it just by coming to the course, but I’m not sure I can say the same about sound.
That said, I’ve attended all the skills instructions (plus additional ones) that had anything to do with sound, and I’ve always been asking questions, asking for advice and / or feedback on the sound for productions I’m currently working on, taking additional sound modules and turning some of our media tasks into sound projects. I am deeply interested in natural sound, both capturing it at source and also editing it in post-production. I’ve also noticed that it’s easier for film makers to find someone to write the music for their film (especially animation), but it’s much more of a struggle to find a person that’s focused on natural sound.
Verdict:
Definitely one of the main (or the main) role that I need to focus on. I am deeply interested and motivated to develop my skills and knowledge further. Also a good niche in terms of positioning myself as an expert / specialist.

Lighting

One of the roles that is more overlooked even than sound (there, I said it). That’s the skill we’ve had the least instructions on, a role no one usually thinks about (even less than sound!). How does that relate to me? I’ve always worked with natural (or existing) lighting, and it is very rare that I think ‘mm, if we put additional light here, it would make the shot better’. I do understand natural lighting, but it’s much more tough for me to think in terms of ‘what if we put that light there’. That said, once someone puts some lighting on, I can then think about it and correct it, but it’s more of a ‘trial and error’ approach for me. Plus this makes it all very time consuming. So I’d leave this to someone more passionate and with a better understanding and interest in lighting than me.
Verdict:
Not interested in developing my skills in this area; I’d prefer focusing on other areas of media production.

Editor

I was only introduced to the concept of video editing a few months ago, but I am quickly building confidence. I have a good understanding of the technical skills involved, I can work well with the main editing software packages, and I’m starting to experiment a bit with techniques and more creative uses of video editing. I’m building upon my previous knowledge of editing sound and working with photography images, so editing seems like a natural extension here. I do need to develop my skills further, especially in terms of narrative and storytelling – but it’s definitely one of the roles I enjoy and am interested in.
Verdict:
Definitely a skill to develop further, that I am deeply interested in. I need to challenge myself with specific briefs / stories, and to work on editing for the purpose of narrative.

Legal / copyright

In terms of UK law, I am not very confident. I do not know the media laws, neither am I familiar with the laws applicable to media productions (such as filming in public spaces / events etc.). What I am good at, however, is understanding and applying copyright rules in terms of sound and music. This has always been my primary interest, both on a personal and professional level; I also based my latest coursework on copyright in the music industry, so I did lots of research and gained new knowledge in the process. In most projects, I am the one who is most concerned and interested in dealing with copyright issues, permissions to use, licenses etc., and people have started coming to me when they have a question in that area.
Verdict:
If I go that direction, I need to focus on copyright in sound and music. It is relevant to my other main skills and interests, so I’ll be gaining more knowledge on this topic anyway. I enjoy and understand it, and I’d happily work on it in more depth if a project needs it.

Cameras, Sound, Lighting

Camera Types / DSLR

I have worked with and am confident working with Sony Z1, Z5, PDX-10, NEX-VG10.
I am also confident working with Nikon D90, and have been working with Canon 5D and JVC GY-HM700CHE – although I haven’t yet filmed anything with a 5D or JVC.

Set-up, White balance, Focus, Composition, Using tripods, RAW / JPEG

Understand and confident with all aspects; a small learning curve for advanced use of tripods.

Audio recorders

Confident using the Marantz recorders; I understand the Zooms so just a small learning curve while I figure out the device controls.

Editing

Confident with the technical aspects of editing both on Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro; Also working with Adobe Audition for sound editing.

Lighting

Dedo – I understand the technical aspects; have worked with them on a handful of projects
Reaheads – I need more hands-on experience
Blonds – I need more hand-on experience
Set-up – a small learning curve until I figure out the device controls; I do understand the technical aspects.
Health and Safety – My main concern as far as lighting is involved; since I am not confident enough to use them creatively, I usually focus on making sure they are not a hazard on the set.
3-point lighting – Not my favourite type of set up, but I understand it and can do it. A bit time consuming when done by myself though – I prefer to work with a team on setting it up.

Post Production

Logging – Confident with the process and understand the significance of the task; I also enjoy it, surprisingly enough.
Assemble – I pride myself with a very good media management system, which then helps me to be confident with my assembling skills.
Final Cut – My attention to details is extraordinary, this of course helps me in putting together a good final cut. I do like having other people’s input at this stage, especially the director’s opinion.
Compression – I understand the basics and more advanced concepts of compression; through lots of trial and error and additional reading I’ve developed a system for myself to work on compressing video for online distribution.
Sound editing – My main concern from logging through to compression. I understand the process and always aim to have the best possible sound quality for the project; I also go the extra mile and create a stereo soundscape when the project could benefit from it.
Titling and graphics – I have a good understanding of typography and the importance of text on screen; My copywriting experience, proofreading skills and branding expertise also help me in developing good titles. In terms of graphics, my principle (and skills) right now are ‘simple but effective’.

Distribution

Setting up a website / blog – I am a specialist in website administration and web content, so a media project is safe in my hands.
Archiving a project for future use – I’m always working on improving my backup system, but I pride myself for my tidied up and easy to search through archive.
Press release / press pack for a project – A small learning curve on the specific guidelines for each particular use; Generally a good sense for marketing, branding and PR, what is interesting and attention-catching in a project, and how it can be marketed.
Creating trailers – I have a bit of experience with this, and basic understanding of the process; more experience needed if I’ll be working on a trailer specifically.
Using social media for promotion – A keen twitterer and blogger, also using spaces such as Vimeo and Flickr creatively to promote projects I’ve worked on. I understand the significance of social networks, and am confident in using them. Facebook, though not my favourite tool for promotion, is also in my bag of tricks.
Screening a project – I have only screened my projects in university environments, does that count? Of course I need to work more on this.
Submitting to film festivals / competitions / awards – I almost did this with one of my personal projects, but I would have been filming somewhere else on the day of the event, so I ended up not contacting the organisers. Definitely need to work on this one.

Conclusion

Even though there’s lots of room for improvement (plus we learn until we die), I do feel confident working on media projects. I think I am at an adequate stage just halfway through my degree, gaining more specialist knowledge and developing my skills this year in a more focused way.

This exercise was very useful for me in order to understand where my strengths and interests are, and which areas I can invest less in. I’d say the areas I need to focus on are:

  • Sound production
    No doubt about this. I need to gain more experience in recording natural sound, working in different environments, using a variety of microphones and recording setups. In terms of editing, I need to be more courageous and experimental and try to understand filters and sound processing techniques – and, of course, start applying the knowledge and mastering my skills.
  • Storytelling, directing and creative use of camera and editing
    It’s time I stop focusing on the technical side of things and start thinking more conceptually, looking at the bigger picture. I definitely need to work on my creative side and start not just recording images and sounds, but tell stories with them.
  • Soft skills and creative leadership
    I need to learn to develop healthy and working relationships with people in the teams I am part of. There’s no point in being ‘the most confident’ on the technical side but then to have no trust in / from the team.
  • Time and stress management
    Anyone who knows me personally can agree with this. I’ve never had a clear focus, and I’ve rarely been able to set the right priority to things and projects, so I hope this exercise here can take me one step closer to a focused and purposeful professional development.
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