Lets us show off your work!

There is an old saying which goes “you are only as good as your last job”.  

A  few weeks ago whilst waiting for an actor to come back from a wardrobe change, I started flicking through instagram.   Inbetween the posts of peoples lunches or their children eating lunch, I came across one from a fellow DP.  It was taken on the set of the shoot he was on that day - a very simple greenscreen chromakey with a couple of Sony FS7 lightweight cameras.  

I looked up from where I happened to be sitting - which was on one of the two Fisher 10 dollies we had on set - and surveyed the scene in front of me:   Our location was a large sound stage at a rather famous film studio to the west of London. On the floor were six sets of various rooms designed and lit to look like they were In different countries.  They had taken weeks to build and dress, and myself, the gaffer and sparks had spent the previous two days lighting them.

We were shooting with Arri Alexas and Cooke lenses and that day I had working with me a second operator, two focus pullers, two second ACs, data wrangler, gaffer, five sparks, four grips and a jimmy jib operator.

We had two actors you would recognise, make up, hair and wardrobe, set dept, a props, dept, catering etc.  All in all a cast of crew of around 55.

For this little lot the client was paying well over £170,000.   The quality of the finished film was remarkable and the footage would not have looked out of place cut into a big TV drama or feature film.

But as far as social media is concerned all this never happened.  

Like so many people working on high end corporate productions, we were under a strict social media blackout and had all signed a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA).

This was because the end client who was paying for all this -  a huge global company whose products you almost certainly have in your home - has a blanket policy that specifies that no one is allowed to say they have worked for them.  That means no mention of them on the CV or website, no postings of their shoots on social media, and of course and arguably the worst of all: no way to show to the end material.

This kind of behaviour is now very common practice when working for the pharmaceutical, tech and financial sectors.  In some cases there are valid reasons; for instance the pharma industry has very strict regulations regarding what can be seen by the public.  Anything that could be regarded as being medical advice has to be approved by certain regulatory bodies such as the UKs MRHA.  The same is true of the financial sector when anything that could be construed as investment advice has to be approved. And everyone understands it.

But it becomes absurd when that lovingly crafted production you worked so hard on, are rightly proud off but not allowed to talk about ends up online for the entire world to see either on the companies website or a sharing site such as Youtube.  

Over the past three years around 70 percent of my work has been on corporate productions. Not all are as grand as the above, but there have been plenty of shoots that have featured all kinds of toys.  

Thanks to those wonderful NDAs, I have not been able to put any new clips on my website for over a year now.  And that makes it makes it really hard going for the next job or advancing your career.  So much networking is now done online, and increasingly via Instagram.  If you are a DP like me who is trying to get noticed and raise your profile, that means stills or video clips of the shoot and behind the scenes videos of you at work on a film set with big toys.  Even just shots of you filming nice interviews count as they show you working and helps show what you can do.

And it is not just DPs who have this problem.  The production company behind this shoot had an incredibly hard time convincing the client that they could do it.  Because you guessed it, every similar piece of work they had done to date could not be on their showreel.   In the end the creative director had to fly to the companies HQ, taking some careful selected and edited examples on a laptop to show to the global head of marketing.  Once they had seen those clips the client were completely at ease, and were blown away by what we did. On the back of delivering this project, the production company have landed a couple more big productions from that client.

So a big pretty please to the big companies out there that have blanket no social media policies: please re consider!  We all work really hard and whilst of course its nice to be paid we would love to tell everyone about the fun we had making your films.   If something is online let us share it, we are more than happy to put stuff behind password protected sites but just let us show something.

After all our job is to make you look good!

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.