Lessons Learned from a Team Production

Last month, I was in Germany for a short film production workshop as part of my MA in Visual Anthropology. While photography tends to be a solitary profession, I can't remember how many times I've heard that film is by nature collaborative. And yet, working on short documentary video projects, I'm almost always a one-woman-band: either I pitch an idea or I get assigned to a story, I do the research, I film, do interviews, and edit. So going into this project, I was initially nervous knowing we'd be working on teams - in some situations, one person can end up doing all the work, or it can end up being one person's vision while everyone else is steamrolled. Happily, we ended up with a project that was equally our own, that we were all proud of (you can watch Because the Trees Know Me on my Video page).

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GOOD MIX OF SKILLS

It might be easy to gravitate toward people with similar skillsets and background as you, but it doesn't help if you're all great behind the camera, but none of you are thinking much about sound. It's not helpful if you're all overflowing with creative ideas, but can't keep a handle on time management. In bigger productions, obviously these roles are more clearly delineated, but in quick projects like this, you all need to be able to jump in and work at different points. One of our teammates had a background working in galleries and she continuously kept bringing us back to basics of good composition, color, and visual symbolism.

PERSONALITIES MATTER

Working with your best friends isn't always a great idea. And no one likes to work with a diva. We were able to be critical and push each other, suggesting new ideas without anyone getting upset or controlling. By the end, we were joking about making our own production company called KLM (for Kanny, Lindsey and Mariana) and then merging it with the airline someday.

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STAY ORGANIZED

I highly recommend using Trello to stay organized on projects. You can use it for just about anything, but in our case, we used it to stay on top of tasks as our project developed, keep track of who was doing what, and also post sources of inspiration and research.

But we also had interviews to translate to English, and a whole bunch of video and audio files to keep track of. For the translations, we put the English text into a timecode sheet, so that everyone could follow along whether or not they spoke the language. We used the transcripts as the basis for our script, and Kanny storyboarded by putting file names of potential clips next to the corresponding text, while Mariana did the same for the ambient sound we'd gathered.

SUPPORT EACH OTHER

This goes both ways: when one person is really loaded with work, find out what you can be doing in the meantime to support the group. On a small project, that could mean editing something else, or it could mean going to pick up coffee and lunch for everyone. And when you're the one super busy and getting stressed, don't blow off other people's attempts to help: make sure everyone's time and skills are being utilized appropriately. Between the 3 of us, we worked about 250 hours over the course of 7 days from start to finish. We still managed to work in some good meals and laughs, but we also couldn't afford to waste much time.

STAND BY EACH OTHER

If something goes wrong, don't throw your teammates under the bus. You're all equally responsible for the end product, and should be comfortable going to bat for each other and standing up for each other's ideas.

 
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