During the course of the Professional Experience module, my main focus has been working with sound. I joined a number of projects that needed sound crew for recording on location, I helped record a few lectures and turn them into audio podcasts, and acted as the Sound Director in a studio environment. Later in the module, I also assisted in editing a 50-minute documentary film, and took the Producer / Assistant Director role for a training video.
The biggest project I took part in was the Big Screen Olympic Videos as a Sound Operator. I learned a great deal of technical details about my role, but I feel in this presentation it is more relevant to talk about the transferrable skills I gained.
In this project, I learned a lot about communication on set – how to talk to the director, to the producer, how to look as a professional team member in front of the interviewees. I learned this the hard way – by doing it wrong, and by seeing other team members doing it wrong. I now know that directors have a lot on their mind on set, so they would be grateful if you help them out, but only if you do it the right way, by talking to them in private and not in front of the whole team, and especially in front of the interviewees.
From this project I also learned a lot about the producer’s role and how it can make or break a shoot. There is a fine line between having too little control and trying to control too much, which often makes your team feel powerless and disengaged. I think if I were in charge of the project, I would have organised things in a very different way, and most importantly, I would have tried to improve the communication between the Executive Producer, Team Producers, Team Directors and the sports clubs.
What this project also taught me was that I don’t need to feel responsible for everything. I often found myself being too proactive, willing to help everyone, and making sacrifices in my personal life only to attend a shoot. What is more, with me being the first point of contact whenever a team needed help with sound, we weren’t allowing the other sound operators to learn their roles properly, and we weren’t allowing the teams to see they had a problem that needed dealing with. So the Executive Producer, me, and a couple of other people from the project ended up doing much more than necessary, putting too much pressure on ourselves and still generating low quality results.
A lot of this learning came very handy in the BMW / Mini Olympic videos, another project that I am part of, again as the main Location Sound Operator. This project is organised in a different manner, having one Executive Producer, one Director, one Director of Photography and additional producers, which makes everything very clear and straightforward. The core team works on all the communication with the client, planning the creative side, organising the shoots, arranging locations, etc., while the technical crew literally just show up on the day and get the job done.
In this project I feel very challenged, but equally, I feel supported and relaxed that we have a competent and understanding director that is open to advice and knows when to take charge. I am learning a lot from the core team and the way they are handling the project, especially how they make sure the crew know what to do, how they are using people’s best abilities, and allow for each crew member to release their potential and be as professional as we wouldn’t even expect we can be. Even if you have the best technical skills in the world, they can only get you so far – but with the right attitude, you can really flourish in your career. I want to incorporate that in my professional practice, and I am doing small steps every day to become better at this.
A problem I have faced with all the additional contacts coming as a result of me delivering good projects is that often the projects clash with other commitments, so, I have found myself turning a lot of these opportunities down and having to find someone else to cover the events for me. This made me notice how hard it is to refer people, and how much you need to consider when deciding if someone is the right person for the job.
Throughout the projects I’ve been involved with I’ve noticed again and again how important it is to work with the right people, with the right attitude. I realise I am not always the best example, and I know from having to recruit people for projects that attitude is something I consider more valuable than technical competence.
Of course, basic technical understanding is always essential, but I believe you can teach anyone about the technical side of things – once you have people with the right attitude and motivation for the project. People who are reliable, collaborative, willing to learn, open to feedback and striving for quality. The ability to balance between being easy-going and focused, between being friendly and professional, is extremely valuable, and is something I am consciously working towards, as I realise I don’t always achieve it.
I feel I also need to include a point that might sound a bit dangerous to discuss – unpaid projects. I have noticed that the projects where the most problems arise are big, unpaid projects involving lots of people. Students jump on them because they seem like an easy way to put a big name on their resumés, and organisations like saving a few pounds from the budget by not having to pay for the work.
I agree it is a good learning experience, but more and more I am starting to feel that getting yourself involved in such projects brings low impact and lots of unrecognised effort. What is more, the imbalance of responsibility and engagement in such projects is huge, with a handful of people doing all the work while they need to deal with a big cohort that isn’t as engaged or motivated.
In projects the organisation is not paying for, the engagement of the company is also often low, which results in unclear briefs, bad communication, and stress for everyone involved. The quality of the work suffers as a result, so the client ends up with something that took a lot of people and time to produce, doesn’t look as they wanted, and cost lots of energy to manage.
I feel that I should keep away from such projects from now on, and make sure I only join projects where my involvement would make a difference – both to me and the client. I also feel that smaller projects are where I can have the most impact, so I will aim to focus on those.
What is more, I have already started to notice small paid projects tend to involve less work, less people, more focus, everyone tends to work more effectively, and clear boundaries are set what you have to do and what you don’t have to. This makes them much more enjoyable and you usually end up with good results that fit the purpose. Also, they can easily lead to future work from referrals, repeat orders and happy clients, which makes them even more worth it.
There is something I have learned about myself as a media practitioner, that makes me feel a bit uneasy but I think it is relevant to my professional development to mention it here. I know I can be a good crew member, and I can be a good Producer or Assistant Director, as I always want to support the Director in delivering a good project, but I am still nowhere near the skills and attitude needed to be a Director myself. I find it challenging to talk to crew members with confidence, to not sound too harsh, but also to not sound too weak. I also find it hard to work on the overall concept of the project, and keep finding myself concerned with small details when the bigger picture is not yet clear to me. There is still a lot I need to learn and incorporate in my professional practice until I can be a Director.
Reflecting on what is next for me, I realise that in a few months’ time I would need to be working on my Final Media Project and I want to make it good. I am learning a lot from other people’s FMPs as I have been helping some of them, and being in constant contact with others. Most of the projects I worked on this year have been in teams with students form year 3, so inevitably I know a lot about how their projects are going, what problems they are having, what works and what doesn’t. I need to make sure I take into consideration and put into good use all this knowledge and experience that I have been gaining from both working with them and hearing about their projects. I am already thinking about things like funding, audiences and potential collaborators.
What has also become apparent to me, is that I will soon need to decide which main direction I want to pursue within Media Production. Even though I enjoy and feel confident with more than one role, and I can still do more than one, if I want to become good and known for something, I will need to focus my efforts and specialise in one main area of media production.
This makes it easier to position yourself as a specialist, makes it easier for people to remember what they can call you for, and also makes it clearer for you as a practitioner what choices you should be making when you have more than one opportunity to take. What is more, when you do have one main area of expertise, you can focus on working on high impact and well paid projects in this area, while still pursuing smaller projects where you develop your other skills.
This would allow me to change direction easily when I feel I need to do it, and would allow a transition from one direction to another to happen more smoothly – sustaining myself with projects in my specialist area while gradually moving towards the new career direction.