Abstract: The Art of Design

Abstract: The Art of Design is one of the best made documentary series you will see in a long time.

I am fascinated by the subject so would watch the series regardless, but it is a must watch if you are involved in documentary film production.  It is the prime example of what you can achieve with modern day production techniques.

Instead of the turn up and see what we get style of production, the programmes have been carefully thought out, researched, recced and constructed to tell each story.  The programme also use innovative visual ideas to reinforce the story instead of just simple talking heads and a bit of archive.  

And where there are talking heads they have been shot and lit properly with time and thought gone into the framing.

Its easy to see “Abstract” had a budget to die for and whilst very few production have that kind of money there are things all productions can learn. 

The myth that self shooting saves money.

In the UK, some broadcasters have whole heartedly embraced the idea of self shooting, where instead of a camera crew comprising of a camera operator and sound recordist the director shoos the program sometimes with help from a recordist but often they are on their own.

It can be done, if you have not seen it "Cartel Land" is an amazing movie.

But its a very contentious issue because when its done badly everyone suffers.

  • The DP's suffer from less work (boo hoo).
  • The directors or AP's shooting it suffer because they cannot concentrate on gathering the content - its impossible to bring out the best in a contributor if you are hiding behind a camera.  Psychologically its pretty simple: you cannot trust someone you cannot make eye contact with.
  • The ingest takes longer = more storage cost.
  • The editors hate it because they have to wade through hours of material to find the good stuff (is there is any).
  • The producers hate it because they don’t have the elements they need to make a story.
  • PM’s hate it because it costs more as the edit takes longer.  Oh and ask PMs about kit damage!
  • Exec Producers hate it because it often leads to very dull TV - which is worse as the public then don't watch it.

The debate around self shooting has been going on and on for years now but last week on the Facebook group “People who work in TV who like to shoot the breeze” there was one of the most insightful conversations on the subject I have ever seen, including contributions from directors, editors and at least one series/exec producer.

We know it why it happens (money), but there is a big body of opinion that says this is wrong and why TV (in the UK at least) is failing apart.  

I should say again: there are some are very very good self shooters and some of them put some "camera operators" to shame.  But not every director makes a good shooter and there are some situations where you just need someone looking after the visuals, someone concentrating on sound and someone asking the questions.

Let hope someone can find a away to make the grown ups in charge of the money to realise there are better ways of making TV than sending out lonely figures into the wild with a camera and hoping something good comes back.

What do you want to know..

Unlike a lot of my colleagues, I really believe we are all part of the production team and that the more we know about each others jobs - and what the equipment can do - the better and more efficient the programe making process can be.

Modern camera technology is very complex and reading the forums, its plainly obvious that some cameramen don't understand the difference between codecs, Logs and LUTs  - and in some cases don't want to know.  Yet choosing the wrong codec, or shooting Log when you don't need to can really screw the production.

I want to know how to get the best out of my camera and more importantly want to see my pictures look the best as possibly on screen.  So I make a point of reading as much as I can, and seem to understand it. 

So if there is something that you always wanted to know, ask away and I'll see what I can do.