Thursday, April 22, 2021

 Listening 

 

One of the more difficult crafts that an actor must hone is the ability to listen 

and react to their fellow actors in-character.  You often hear that from actors 

in interviews as they explain the progression of their craft.  Listening and reacting 

appropriately adds to the reality that the audience needs to suspend belief and buy into the programs conceit. 

 

You would think that listening to a conversation and reacting as our selves should be natural but on a lot of shoots it’s not.  This is especially true when non – professional talent are being interviewed.  Oft times the interviewer will show up with a list of questions and rattle them off without listening to the reply which can be very disconcerting for the talent.  They are already in a precarious situation, surrounded by strangers standing in the dark with a camera pointed at them and a boom mike hovering overhead.  Without positive feedback or a clear indication that what they’re saying is being understood, doubt starts to creep in and nerves start to fray.  The best interview performances come from an energetic conversation where both parties talk to each other, listen and react.  Engaging conversation starts with a willingness to explore a topic, to be truly interested in the subject matter and to regard the talent as an expert that needs to be heard.  Active listening, energetically following up with questions to clarify what was just said inform the talent that you’re involved in the conversation not reading off a list and judging their performance.  It also requires preparation, knowing the subject matter, what points you need to get for the program and perhaps a little bit about the about the talent’s interests to get the conversation started.  It also needs the willingness of the interviewer to jump in and be excited about what they're learning in order to keep the energy level up, to follow up with questions that keep the conversation going while checking off the points you need to get for your program. 


A great Interview starts with preparation, a willingness to engage in meaningful conversation and most importantly listening.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Pre-interview

 


Casting real people

Over the years I’ve been involved in a number of projects where the client wanted to use real people as the star or spokesperson of their program.  Some times they’re employees or star clients or patients that appear to be outgoing and popular with the people that surround them, folks that the client swears will be just perfect.  I think you can see where this is going, things rarely turn out if they’re not tried or tested.  Many a production has gone into overtime as they try to coax, beg or beat a performance out of talent that has no right being there in the first place.  To prevent this, I always try to get a pre-interview session that I can record either in person or via zoom or skype.  Usually it’s about fifteen-minutes.   I’ll try to get them to answer some questions about the projects topic to see how knowledgeable they truly are.  I’ll then have them read a short section of copy to see if I can direct them while they read in case we’re doing prompter work.  When we’re finished I’ll transcribe the interview and send that off to the script writer.  When you can implement their speech patterns and vocabulary into finished copy it’s amazing how well the talent will perform.  You’re literally putting their own words back in their mouth. 
I’ll also cut down the interview into a two- or three-minute piece and present that back to the client with whatever assessment I may have.
When the client sees the results of this piece they are in better position to greenlight or rethink their decisions on talent.  
In this age of Zoom and other on-line video chat programs there is no excuse for not vetting unprofessional talent for performance purposes.
You can spend a few hundred on testing a hunch or you can gamble tens of thousands of dollars and waste hours of production and post production time on a feeling.  








Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Drinking from a Fire Hose.

Drinking from a Fire Hose.

In 1965, Gordon Moore stated “the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention” this observation evolved in the 70’s to become  “the processing power for computers will double every two years “ or Moore’s law.   It might not be 100% accurate but most agree that it feels true.  The use of the term Moore’s law has been lifted from computer science to account for the rapid progression across all areas of technology.
Buckminster Fuller coined the term “ Knowledge Doubling Curve” he suggested that in 1900 the sum of man’s knowledge doubled every century and by the late 40’s it was happening every 25 years, When I was in elementary school it was every ten years, in high school it became every 5.  Today it’s every 13 months and with Artificial Intelligence and access through the internet it’s predicted that the sum of human knowledge could double every 12 hours.  That’s a lot of TED talks to sit through.


In the production industry, the amount of new information, techniques and technology is staggering. The introduction of New Capture, Support, Lighting, Image processing and Distribution innovation is head spinning.  How do you keep up?  If you’re lucky enough to be working on regular basis time becomes a precious commodity.  Most of our days go well past ten hours, then there’s the commute, family time, keeping up on current events and hopefully a little sleep. Being a freelancer working with multiple crews allows a lot of information to be cross-pollinated but what if you’re staff or in a small market that does not have a lot of early innovators?
You need to keep your knowledge base current or you’re walking yourself out of the business.

NAB, Cine Gear and product seminars have always been a great place to learn about new products and technology plus they provided the added benefit of networking but even those can’t keep up with the pace of innovation.  Trade publications, On-line tutorials, Message boards, Blogs, Internet journals and Apps are available but how much time do you dedicate to them. The only way to drink from a fire hose is to divert little sips from the plume.  Break it down into smaller bits and consume when you can.

Like all good habits you need to incorporate your knowledge updates into life without becoming obsessive.  Make a list of the journals, message boards and blogs you like, then create a schedule to visit each one.  Three days a week I spend 15 minutes over coffee checking out journals like Creative Planet, H.D. times and Phillip Bloom’s blog.  If I see something that requires a deep dive I’ll circle back the next day to reread and absorb that information.  Every night before I pick up a book I’ll check out a message board and any digest emails from the news groups I belong to, again if something requires a closer examination I’ll write a note to myself to follow up on it on a day off.  If I can relate something I read to a client’s need I’ll drill down with a visit to the manufacturer’s web site, other blogs and I’ll try to find video on YouTube and Vimeo to see controlled tests and operation tutorials. 

You need to stay current on technology and where it fits into your workflow if you want to be relevant in your market.  The amount of information being thrown at us every day can be paralyzing but if you make a habit of breaking it down into smaller bites you can stay on top of it.


See you at NAB!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

In Praise of Ex Officio

This past January I had an assignment in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  It was a quick little job, in and out, couple of interviews, b-roll and some scenics for local flavor.  It would take four days to accomplish, two on the ground in Brazil and two travelling.   It’s the type of assignment I get all the time.   It took four phone calls and a couple of emails to set the production.  Two trips to New York to apply for and secure the visa from the Brazilian consulate along with an obligatory stop at B&H.  The travel arrangements took all of 10 minutes online.   Since this was a run ’n gun type of gig I needed to travel light.  I wanted to bring 2 gopros to rig on cars for city driving shots, a Canon DSLR with lenses for B-roll and time-lapse, tripod with fluid head and 2 axis time-lapse head, data kit and hard drives as well as three changes of clothes, hiking boots and shaving kit.  I managed to get everything into a carry on backpack and one wheeled utility case that weighed less than 50 pounds.  Since I was headed into 90+degree weather traveling on two crowded flights for over 12 hours I decided to wear and pack my Ex Officio summer clothing.   I prefer the Bugsaway line as it seems to be the lightest and provides the dual purpose of warding off insects while  providing SPF 30 sun protection.  The clothing also wicks moisture away from your skin and dries quickly.  Let's face it when you work in tropical conditions you're going to get wet, with cotton you'll be wet all day, with this type of clothing you'll be wet and dry as conditions change and for some reason that I can't fathom they seem to keep the smell factor down to a tolerable level.  So all packed and prepped for a quick little international gig what could go wrong?


It was 17 degrees when I parked at the Philadelphia airport at 6 AM.  I dashed inside to get warm  and went to the baggage counter to check my bag.  I have been a tiered traveller for over 20 years, that status allows me to check in at the first class counter, gets me priority boarding and my bags fly for free.  When I checked into the American Airlines counter I watched them put a Priority VIP tag on my case and saw them put it on the belt.   I would not see that bag again until two days after I arrived back from Brazil.  My flight left at 7:30 AM and arrived in Miami a few hours later.  A quick walk to the international terminal and off to Brazil.  Around 10:30 PM Sao Paulo time I landed at GRU made my way through immigration and waited at baggage claim for my case.   It had a priority tag so it should be one of the first bags to hit the carousel. Two hours later after exhausting all local contingencies the American agent finally looked through the system to see where my case was.  He could see it left Philadelphia but had no idea where in Americans system it could be.  We exchanged numbers and I took a 55-minute taxi ride to my hotel.  I got to my room after 1 AM with a 6:00 AM call the next morning.  It was here that I truly appreciated the decision to wear the Ex Officio clothing.     You can get a shaving kit from the front desk but you can’t order up fresh clothes.  I took off my shoes and got in the shower, clothes and all and took a long soaking shower as I washed every article of clothing.  I got out put them in the sink for a quick rinse and hung them up and grabbed a few hours of sleep.  When I woke up I hit them with the hair dryer and gave them a quick press with the hotel room iron and was off for a 16-hour workday in hot, humid Sao Paulo.  I had to do this two more times before I could put on fresh clothes when I arrived back home 3 days later.  I had to scale back on my production plans due to missing gear but with some local rentals I was able to complete the gig while not offending the senses any of the local crew or my interview subjects.  I’m sure other clothes makers have a travel line of clothing that will duplicate how my Ex Officio performed but after my venture in Brazil I won’t travel anywhere tropical without them.   As mentioned before “there is no such thing as bad weather just poor clothing decisions” 


Friday, July 10, 2015

Hired to get Fired

I have a producer friend that calls every few years. It’s when one of his big clients wants to shoot a project using their CEO as talent. This producer has staff people who are more than capable of performing this task yet he continues to call me when this situation arises.  When I asked him why his response was, “if the project goes sideways I can blame you and then I don’t have to fire anyone.  Everyone gets nervous about the CEO so if a freelancer gets the axe, it’s no big deal.”    

With all this angst surrounding these types of events you have to wonder if it’s really worth it.  I usually look at it as a high risk – low reward venture.  Does the CEO’s involvement guarantee success?  Is the projects outcome worth the investment?  Is it worth your job if the whole thing goes south?  There are some CEO’s that play an integral part in a company’s marketing and see their on-camera performances as part of the job.  This is not about them!

Some projects look like they demand a CEO’s involvement; a shift in strategy, a message to the employees, a greeting to a potential client, a product introduction.  It would be helpful to have the top person walking the audience through these items but if that CEO does not like or respect the process of shooting video it’s crazy to use them.  Sometimes you have to save the client from himself or herself and point out why using their CEO might not be in their best interest.

What’s the ROI?  Google reports the average pay for an American CEO is 15.2 million dollars a year.  Let’s say the this CEO works 80 hours a week putting the hourly wage around  $3800 dollars and while that CEO is busy taping a project they are not closing a 10 million dollar deal or working on profitable business ideas for the company making that overall cost even greater.  Will this project’s return on investment be worth the outlay in time and capital?  
Are they good on camera?  Reminding the client of their CEO’s shortcomings as talent by looking at previous performances might convince them to think of another idea.
Does the CEO value this type of presentation? If they only want to give you ten minutes and angrily walk out after one bad read will you keep your job?
Does the CEO champion your message?  If your CEO is not a fan of a particular division does it make sense for them to deliver any kind of motivational message to that unit?

So you’ve made your points and your client still wants their CEO to deliver the message, how can you avoid disaster?  Well you could get lucky! The CEO might be in a great mood and want to chitchat with the crew during set up.  They might love the idea and are real excited about participating.  They might be natural salespeople and enjoy the whole experience of performing for the camera.  You could get lucky but odds are you won’t and when this happens I recommend the following six guidelines.


1. Never, Never, Never, Film in the CEO’s office!
It’s a disaster waiting to happen.  Setting up gear while they’re working
is impossible.  Stopping the distractions and interruptions from their staff while shooting is difficult and could be career ending if you say no to the wrong person.  Wrapping the shoot becomes a slow quiet task that could be interrupted for hours when you’re told to wait in the hall while they take an important call.  
You need to take them out of their environment.  It makes for a more efficient setup and it lets them know it’s a separate task to focus on and complete before they can move on with their day.   
Find an alternate location that works with the subject matter. Scout it thoroughly to have all production problems solved.  Try to avoid windows or any exteriors where the sun can play havoc on your shoot.  Remember the CEO can run late or be interrupted for a few hours and that beautiful background you framed up is now an overexposed mess or has turned to nightfall creating a continuity problem.

2. No makeup, no me.
Anyone who will not pay for makeup artist is an idiot.  I’ve been at this for 30 years and I’m still surprised when producers balk at makeup.  It’s your CEO, why wouldn’t you want to make them look good?  The makeup artist performs a number of functions on a shoot.  They make the talent feel special when they first walk onto set.  They’re the extra pair of eyes watching the hair, jacket, shirt and shiny spots while your watching performance, They buy you extra time touching up a make- believe problem while your technical crew solves a crisis.   They quietly reinforce your directions and bolster the CEO’s confidence during breaks while everyone else is discussing the shot.

3. No teleprompter, no me.
Some scripts are loaded with so much legalize that they are unreadable and on-set script doctoring becomes critical.  Having a great prompter operator who pays attention, knows how to edit, type, spell and help out with suggestions is imperative.   If a CEO hates the prompter you can always turn it off but if it’s take eight and they’re floundering guess whose fault it is when the CEO is unhappy with their lack of progress.


4. There is only one voice in the room.
If I’m directing I insist that I’m the only one speaking to the CEO while we tape.  This can be a challenge as there are usually strong egos in the room but if you enlist they’re help at the beginning and point out how unfair it is for the CEO to be looking off camera around the room to faceless voices you can get everyone onboard. 
This does not mean you don’t allow comments.  You just control when comments can be made.  If you have a problem or someone has a suggestion we wait for a cut, take a break, discuss the situation out loud, get to a consensus respecting everyone’s point of view and move on.  Respect everyone but don’t lose control of the situation.  You can’t have everyone yelling out what they think.  If you’re directing, you’re in-charge.  The talent is looking to you to tell them if they’re on the right path.  If you lose the talent’s confidence you might as well go home.


5. Two recorders.
You only get one shot at this and there is no excuse for not having a second recorder backing up what your doing.  I use an Odyssey 7Q but there are plenty of other units out there that will provide you piece of mind.

6.  Don’t waste the CEOs time.
The quickest way to lose the gig is to not be prepared.  The only person who should be able to hold up the shoot is the CEO or their top people.  If they are waiting on you no matter what the reason it will be remembered and reported to your client.
If the process is quick and painless you’ll keep the job.



My usual procedure.
I prepare myself as best as the client will let me.  I get the who, what, where and why of the project and try to map out the best way to get the intended audience reaction.  If I get an advanced copy of the script I’ll do a thorough breakdown.  I’ll know where I can employ B-roll and graphics and which parts are mission critical to get on camera.   I’ll do an out loud read to find troublesome passages and prepare a preemptive rewrite of any areas that I think may be too difficult to perform.
I’ll format the script for an easier prompter read.  My notes and shooting script are also prepared for the shoot day so I’m not wasting time shuffling through papers on set.  I find existing videos or pictures to see the best way to frame and light the CEO. 

I’ll have my location thoroughly scouted with the building maintenance people for sound and lighting issues as well our power usage and climate control.
I’ll walk the route any gear has to travel to get from the loading dock to the location.  I’ll have the client check with building security and property management to go over permission to shoot, any security concerns as well as solve any insurance issues the property people might have.

I’ll have my crew in the building and setting up in the room at least two hours before the CEO’s call time.  The set will be swept of cables and cases for ease of access.   We’ll have a private defined lite makeup area and most importantly a video village set up for the CEO’s posse.


I like to greet the CEO at the door introduce myself while we walk to the set.  I explain what we’re doing and sit them down for first looks.  I have the CEO’s people look at the shot and approve the basic framing and while the CEO is sitting there I ask them to read from the prompter to make sure they like the font size.  I then introduce the makeup artist and let them get to work.  I confer with the client and the CEO’s people to make sure they’re happy with the shot explain how I’ll shoot the sequence and go over taping protocols.  I then check on tweaks the crew has made based on first looks.  I monitor makeup from a distance and when they’re close to completion I go over and start to give some basic performance thoughts as we go to the 1st mark.  We mike them up, take final looks, make sure the client and crew are happy with everything and we rehearse.  I usually tape everything including the rehearsals.  I try to get two “buy” takes of everything usually in different frame sizes but since 4k has come along I’m a little more lax on that rule and depending on the “temperature “of the room I’ll move on with one take.   When I get what I think is a buy take I’ll ask for a tech check while I’ll canvas the room for comments, give positive reinforcement and move on.   I move as quickly as possible to keep up the energy level and try to keep the mood as light as possible.  Sometimes they’re not very good and you have to pull every rabbit out of your hat to cobble together a reasonable performance.  You have to walk a fine line of pushing the talent without breaking their confidence or pissing them off.  You also have to lower your expectations and have a plan B for coverage that you can go to.  30 years of directing real people comes in handy at this point.  When we finish the crew does quick tech checks and unless the CEO wants to see the product I hand them off for makeup removal while thanking them for their time and patience.   At all times I want to give the impression that the CEO’s time is valued, that their contribution is vital to the success of the enterprise and that we are all working together for a common goal. 



My buck’s worth of advice when a client calls with a CEO job is to pass but if you can’t then do your best to be prepared as well as your client will let you.  If not you will be hired to be fired.

Monday, February 18, 2013

When is a Scout not a Scout?


When the Account Exec and the Client are the only two there!

A recce, pre-pro, walk about or scout is the most cost-effective way to insure a successful production.   Everyone know this but for some reason scouts are always rushed through before all the usable information can be gathered or worse yet the wrong people are invited and nothing filters down to the appropriate departments.   
How many production problems could be averted if the crew was better prepared.
Having the right people at a scout starts the problem solving right away.  The sound department would be aware of AC duct noises and could work with house maintenance to resolve the issue.  The gaffer would know that we need a power drop because all the outlets are on the same circuit.  The DP would know that the floor to ceiling windows that look due west might not be the best place to shoot the late afternoon setup.  The director can start thinking about coverage and what gear may or may not work in this environment.  The producer can get an early grasp of equipment and labor cost and can start to solve logistical problems.  Something as simple as walking the route equipment must travel from the load in to the staging area could save lots of time and effort.  If there are no ramps or the elevators are too small for Magliners, you can plan the extra time and labor to move gear and get smaller carts.  

It’s simple, if you want to save time and money, be prepared.  A scout let’s you put together a plan with the right gear and the right labor at the right time.   
To get the most value out of a scout you must be committed to spending the time getting the readings and measurements and talking through the challenges the location presents.   Being pushed through a location before you gathered all the data that you need can be very frustrating so you have to make your case for the savings a well-done scout can produce.   A pleasant demeanor and a fact filled rationale for what your doing goes along way in getting you what you need. 


What’s in my scout kit?

I have a small bag that contains a color temperature meter, a light meter,
A foot-candle meter, a laser range meter, a compass/inclinometer, an Ammeter, an outlet tester, a tape measure, a digital voice recorder, a point and shoot camera,
a small HD camcorder for pre-interviews, pens and a notebook.  I also carry an Iphone and an Ipad with Helios, Panascout, Artimis and PCam apps.


Monday, December 31, 2012

It's Cold Out There!


       As the holiday seasons starts to wane and the glow of warmth and good cheer diminish we must all deal with the fact that it’s winter and if you’re working outside it’s going to be cold.  A Steadicam Operator I know in New York always says “ There is no such thing as bad weather just poor clothing choices”  and he’s right.  Over my career I’ve gathered three closets  worth of apparel for location use.  These range from a full Arctic suit to BuzzOff swamp gear. I have Gortex rain gear for golf tournaments and winter sea work. Over a dozen boots for different environments, cleats for grass, mud and ice and technical socks to work with each.  Dozens of gloves and hats for cold, heat and insect protection as well as Hi-tech wicking layers for both heat and cold.  Having all these items does not protect me from the elements if they’re sitting in a closet. 

My “buck’s worth “of advice for this post is to double check the call sheet for the days work to see where you’re going to be working and prepare for the worst.  If the call sheet says night time exterior and it’s January why would you show up with converse sneakers and a light jacket?  If you can’t afford winter kit start hitting up thrift stores or borrow what you need.  You can’t do the job if your shaking and chattering from the cold.  If it’s a last minute gig and you don’t get a call sheet you need to demand to know the location and work load.  On lower end productions that don’t provide complete call sheets  contact them and ask what the working environment will be, keeping in mind  what you’ll need to wear.  You might want to share this with an office bound PM as they might be totally unaware of the problems of working in challenging environments.  Hopefully you’ll be helping your crew mates prepare enough for a smooth days work.

     “No one gives a F#!* about you except for you.”    Take charge of what you can control.  Don’t depend on the kindness of strangers  or the largesse of a stressed out production manager.  You want to spend your time performing your craft at the highest level not wishing you had worn your long johns.

Happy New Year and stay warm this winter!