Video production class weblog: day 9--vibing, ketchup, and the art of becoming an effective film crew

After the arrival of the third alumni (Morgan Honaker, hailing from the University of Texas at Austin) who spoke for the frequently neglected importance of sound in cinema, the video production class then had to turn to the week-long project of crafting the big 10 minute video. Some of the students seemed to dislike the switch from learning to making. They started vibing each other, undermining their efforts at screenwriting and preliminary shooting.

Doom, doom, doom. As I gave into despair, my colleague put together a nice mini-lecture the next morning about "vibing," and the dangers of not being professional:

"What is the most common way student films screw up?

According to James [one of our alumni], the key to making good movies is passion. The biggest mistakes in student films is lack of passion.

But is that the biggest mistake?

Thinking of my own former life as a student and then a professional free-lance musician. Where does a gig go wrong?
  • didn’t show up
  • showed up late 
  • didn’t practice their parts (played the wrong notes, slowed down rehearsal—assuming we had the luxury of a rehearsal)
  • screwed up the “vibe”: rolling eyes, arguing, making it clear they’d rather be somewhere else
  • only last on my list would be “lack of passion”
A lot of stuff gets in the way of passion in the real world
  • I’ve played my share of weddings, Christmas gigs, and corporate jobs
What happens when you find yourself on the shoot, and for whatever reason you’re not passionate about it?
  • you don’t like the story
  • you want to be cinematographer but are stuck holding the boom
  • you wanted to make a sci-fi movie but the group decided to go with a documentary
  • you don’t get along with other group members
(This isn’t just about making a student film. This is life.) 

  • show up, do quality work, have a good attitude, keep the project moving, get hired for the next job
  • eventually you’ll make more contacts, get to choose which projects to work on, get better funding, and yes, make stuff you’re passionate about (and even then there will be days you don’t want to go to work)

1st: what not to do, Today and throughout the rest of location shooting
  • don’t accept crappy acting performances, crappy lighting, etc
  • don’t whine, complain, shoot down others’ ideas, or be a nay-sayer
  • it’s fine to have legitimate differences, and to come up with new ideas on set, but avoid making a habit of second-guessing 
What to do:
  • be prepared with shot lists, story boards, props, etc
  • set up the shots well with good lighting, thoughtful mis-en-scene, solid blocking
  • keep working at the shot until you get it right, with good performances
  • keep doing it until you have three quality takes
  • then, move on and set up the next shot
How to think like a working pro:

  • show up, create a quality shot, move on
  • build it up the project one step at a time
  • contribute productively
  • think before second-guessing!"
Joe's presentation ended with a link to David Bowie's 1969 "Space Oddity" video as a pioneering effort in early music video work, and then the two class groups got going on their individual shoots. I assisted one crew with a dolly shot of actors walking forth and finding that they have no internet access anymore (before the supernatural shifts in lighting, darkness, and the wicked scratching sounds would drive them, frightened, some soon to die, into my office).

Today, I'm pleased to report that, aside from the nasty smell of the Squirrels leaving ketchup (as fake blood) on my office door (after one brave soul has the evil supernatural force bash her head against the small glass window), the student directors have taken command, and their crews function like highly focused creative teams. Perhaps I overreacted earlier in the week. Today, I watched today as one young woman made herself cry now that her character's coming to accept the serious possibility of one in their party of three will die within ten minutes no matter how much they mock-sword fight, try to escape from the theater, or scorn the demonic man who routinely yells out "5 minutes left," "4," "only 3 to go," as they search for some solution in order to survive. 

Will the two student production teams finish their films in time? Will they ever learn to stop saying "We'll fix it in post"? Why didn't the Academy include Carol as one of the best picture nominations? What were they thinking? Why didn't I win the Power-Ball lottery? I may answer some of these questions later.