This was my first project with the new Fresh@CU Media Production company within our department. After the initial few emails about the brief, a meeting was arranged with Spencer James and everyone who was interested in working on the project.
I was actually surprised by the number of people who turned up – I expected a few more people to come to the meeting, considering this was a paid project (though I had to specifically ask about this, so maybe not everyone knew), but only 6 people showed interest. Another thing, however, that surprised me more, was the way it was decided who’d work on it.
The initial message had said a team of 3 people was needed, and it was stated in the meeting that our involvement would depend on our engagement with the brief and pitch. As it turned out, there was no selection process, and in the end everyone who showed interest automatically got added to the team.
I felt this wasn’t quite the best thing to do – first, because the more people you add to a project with an (arguably) fixed budget, the less each team member is paid. What concerned me more though, was the fact that we weren’t selected by any other criteria rather than just showing up, which isn’t a good enough way to decide who is capable of delivering a project. I did expect even the most basic selection process – but maybe it is also a learning curve for our tutors to be giving students more ‘serious’ projects, and they keep running the pattern of trying to give everyone a ‘fair chance’ to get involved. I do think that from a project management / working with clients perspective this isn’t the best way to handle things, but I will expand on that later in the blog.
So at the initial meeting, we were given the brief and we started discussing ideas, how we can approach it, how to keep the video relevant to the client’s needs, etc. In essence, we were expected to produce a 5-10 minute video that shows top 10 things to consider when creating a video. It was intended for internal use of an engineering company, so that when their employees use video to communicate between each other, they can use the medium of video more effectively. It was meant to be aimed at beginners, and to be informative, but also entertaining – so it can keep the viewers’ interest for its whole duration. The idea we agreed upon was using the QVC concept – we’d be ‘selling’ a camera, whilst demonstrating what it can do and how each function can help you achieve a good looking and informative video.
Right from the start, Tom Barnes and myself were showing proactive interest and engagement with the project, and we had a clear idea of how we wanted to get involved. Once the question of potential roles within the team was raised, he clearly stated he wished to be directing, and I was interested in being the producer and coordinator for the group. Gov Singh showed interest in being DoP, and Andrew Veremu and Leyla Khoja wanted to help with camera work. Dean Atkinson was the other person who couldn’t attend the initial meeting, but he wanted to get involved. In the end, Tom and Dean ended up working on the script, which worked quite well. I think it also worked well that I was motivated to be producing – first, because usually that’s something people are not quite interested in (but this can make or break a project), and I do think I can do it quite well. What is more, after my experience in doing both producing and directing in a previous project, I know how much better things work out when the director has a dedicated producer to rely on, so they can actually focus on the creative side of the project.
A bad part of the initial meeting was that already one of the team members was showing lack of commitment – not paying enough attention during the meeting, not informing themselves about times for the next meeting, etc. Having worked with them before and having similar experiences, some of us expressed our concerns about it, because we thought it was a risk for the project, and, to be frank, if we couldn’t see commitment, we preferred to not work with the person in the first place. It’s not about commitment that much, as it is about reliability – I think this is a crucial part of being a professional in any field, especially in the media industries. What is more, we know this person is very good in their individual projects, but they don’t always engage well in teams – and we were sensing this was the case here, too. Because, when you sign up for a group project, you are expected to work as part of a team, and this person was already showing a lot of signs they didn’t see themselves as part of the group – resulting in us not quite seeing how they could fit in.
We did express our concerns with the tutors who were handling the project from the client side, and we clearly stated we prefer to leave this person out of the project, but we weren’t given permission to act upon our concerns. This made us a bit nervous, as this was a potential weak spot in the team, and we had to make sure it didn’t jeopardise the project. I do feel I need to explain something – I think that a small and dedicated team always works better than a big team with less motivation. It’s not about having an ‘extra pair of hands’ – the more people the responsibility is spread amongst, the less responsible each team member feels. There is a big difference between working with 3 people and working with 6: when in a group of 3, you know that if you don’t do your part, no one else will so you feel responsible and you own your part of the project – and in a team of 6, there is this false relaxed feeling that ‘someone will sort it out’ – resulting in less accountability in the team members.
The good thing though was that all the other team members were showing strong commitment; what is more, from working in previous projects we knew that between ourselves we had a good mix of talent, skill and motivation, so we knew we’d pull it together well, no matter the number of less committed people.
So after the group got sorted, it was decided that Tom Barnes and Dean Atkinson would write the script, and they had a first draft by the end of the day we had our meeting. We also decided we’d dedicate the whole of Thursday to pre-production, and Friday to production (the meeting was on Tuesday). I made the initial equipment booking with essentials – camera, tripod, sound equipment etc., and Leyla and Andrew started working on sourcing locations for filming.
By Thursday there was a newer, improved version of the script, which we finalised by the end of the day. This was crucial as it would inform all other decisions we had to make. Tom and Dean collaborated very well in the scriptwriting process, I was helping out with technical clarifications, and everyone else in the team was adding bits and pieces that we thought were relevant.
On Thursday we also had the task to finalise a location and the set design, which, again, Andrew and Leyla were dealing with. We had a bit of a hiccup with this, as miscommunication resulted in a failed booking of the TV studio, but in the end we changed the plan and decided to use the photography studio instead.
We also had the task to source actors (since the shoot would be the day after). Tom and Gov had made some attempts to find actors (we’d need two), but to no success. On Thursday I took it upon myself to resolve this, I posted a message to my contacts in various social networks and started contacting people proactively. This experience reinforced that it’s not until you start to contact people that you get results – especially in a short space of time. Casting calls can take forever for people to notice, to decide to contact you, etc. So what we were doing was literally phoning up people if they would be available, then briefing them and arranging their involvement. Gov also thought of people he could approach, and he ended up sourcing one of our actors, Dan. I secured the other actor – who would be the main presenter – Dale. I’d worked with him once briefly, and from other projects I’d seen him involved with, and being part of a production team I highly respect, I knew he’d be a good fit – both because of his acting abilities, and because of his media production background. What is more, he has a very professional attitude around organisation and reliability – clearly stating when and how he would be available, etc. It is always good to work with people who are relevantly predictable in their reliability – and act responsibly towards the project and the team.
By 4 pm on Thursday, we had all we needed for the next production day – everyone knew what they were responsible for, we had decided on the roles within the team, we had a basic shooting order, actors, locations, and props sorted.
This was the first project I had been part of that, after the pre-production meeting ended, there was nothing more to clarify, and there were no frustrations and worries for the production day. For me, that was a big step forward, and I was very proud of the way I was handling my role, not creating unnecessary stress for myself and the team, and being on top of things. I also had trust in the team, I knew how much we could rely on the group members’ professional attitude (which, to be honest, was very high), and whatever problems would arise would be proactively and professionally handled by everyone.
So we all set out to meet fresh and excited, looking forward to our production day on Friday.