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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins

4 Things I Learned Shooting a Sample Episode

Yesterday, my colleague and I walked into a studio at around 4:00 PM to shoot a sample episode for our course, feeling excited about what was about to happen. A good 8 hours later, we got in a cab and left, feeling even more excited about what we’d learned. The main thing? There’s no such thing as “over-prepared”.

You think you’ve done all the prep: the script, the crew, the equipment, coke and coffee… You’re ready to go. But then the shoot begins: your talent starts to stutter and go way off the script, the monitor overheats, the truck came early for the rented equipment and the noise it makes pauses the shoot for a half hour.

“Should I have thought of this?”

Yes, you should have. The script should be detailed to a point that a Martian could run the production; there should be a back-up for every single piece of equipment; your producer should confirm everything with everyone (like the truck driver) well before it’s supposed to happen.

In both my freelancing years and now, as a project manager at Mailman, I’ve had so many of those moments and I’ve learned a lot from them. Here are a few tips to improve your game:

1. You’re supposed to know everything

Like it or not, when you have a great idea for a video, you need to be Batman. Three-point lighting, how to operate a dolly, how to crack a joke to wake up a sleepy crew, the fastest food delivery service around the studio, you need to know it all.

Is it possible to avoid all issues? Of course not, but take the preparatory steps to minimise their damage. Scout the studio a week before the shoot, have dinner with your crew and go through the script, you can even watch some YouTube tutorials about video production! As a leader, it is your job to provide the answers and to always know what to do.

Go through your entire plan and dig deep on every single part of the process, you’ll learn a lot and work out which questions you should be asking.

2. 120% = 80%

When you make 120% of effort, the result is usually 80% good. Let me explain.

I’ve come to the understanding that, when we design/prepare, we do so in a perfect world where things happen in the way we want them to. However, the real world is anything but perfect. So when everything in pre-production is designed to be “good”, it will actually turn out to be “acceptable” and trust me, nobody’s interested in watching that, including yourself.

A really good product comes from setting crazily high standards, push your team to their limits and never stop until what you have got is genuinely good. It sounds extreme, but even when you go for the extreme, the final product is still going to be a discounted version of your original vision. That is, 120% of great effort makes 80% of great material.

When you can’t change the coefficient in that formula, throw in the biggest base you got.

3. Communication is key

A perfect plan doesn’t guarantee a perfect product. Plans don’t execute themselves, people do.

Get people involved in the wider process. For example, have everybody send you an email about what they don’t like about the script. Be clear and precise, don’t hesitate to shout “cut” when you see something you don’t like, tell your team very specifically what you want them to do (“Turn up the volume” isn’t good enough, try “turn it up by 3dB”) and most importantly, tell them why it matters. For example, if your talent talks too slowly on a close-in shot, the dolly has to move slower than planned, so the cameraman will have a tough time adjusting the focus, which ruins the shot.

Why were the ’95 Bulls great? Because everybody was on the same page and had one goal: win the championship.

4. Be mindful during the shoot

Take a break when you can’t get the shot right after 10 tries, cancel scheduled breaks if your talent is zoned-in, reward your crew with their favourite snacks when they do a good job, wrap up a day earlier if nothing is going your way.

Be aware of the dynamic in your studio. Pro’s tip? Stay away from the monitor, walk around during breaks of shots, it’s a good way to constantly observe your set and find what could be wrong/improved.

If there’s only one way take away from this experience, for me it would be this: no matter how prepared you are, the unexpected will inevitably occur, and there’s always room for improvement. Nelson Mandela said it best: “I never lose. Either I win, or I learn.”

Mailman is the leading China sports marketing platform. We help global rights holders, athletes, and leagues build a successful business in China. We serve, invest and partner with our clients at every opportunity.

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