Posts tagged filmmaking
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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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.


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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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.


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.


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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Freelance Time Management

Over the last 3.5 years, I've never really stopped freelancing, but at times have juggled it with consultancies and other large time commitments. Until recently, I was working 40 hours a week, balancing ongoing freelance projects, and trying to write papers for my master's program. So now that I'm "just" back to freelancing and grad school, it's easy for this to feel like either A) an extended vacation, or B) a depressing rut. But whether being in business for yourself is the goal, or if it's a transitional period, these are my favorite ways to not fall behind (even when you don't have immediate deadlines).

1. Make a schedule

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Working from home has all kinds of perks, but I am also the kind of person who, knowing I have a video project to edit, will also think, "I have to vacuum and tidy the entire house first - I can't work in this chaos." And then the entire day is gone. If I write down the things I want to take care of that day, I'm more likely to stick to it. 

But it's also worth knowing that trying to schedule out too many things can also throw you off. For example, between editing video or photo projects, writing proposals, catching up on admin work, learning new skills, and working on grad school, that could easily be a 12 hour work day. Sometimes it's better to devote yourself to one task for a day. And remember to give yourself plenty of sunshine and water.

2. Change your scenery

Luckily, I sometimes get to break up my routine with out-of-town field visits, but sometimes this means rotating between my desk at home and different coffee shops, which can get old when you just don't want to drink any more lattes. But you can switch it up by going to the library (at least it will likely be quiet), finding a co-working space, or making a work date with another friend who works remotely/from home - that way you don't accidentally go months without talking to people.


3. Catch up on work you've been putting off

This might mean dedicating a couple of days to getting your finances organized. Or organizing all those files you named FINAL_FINAL_FINAL_3.mp4. In my case, it meant working with another visual professional to edit my portfolio, revamp my website, and make sure I'm marketing myself the right way. We all need a second pair of eyes to judge our work (more on this later), and little details can make a big difference. This back-end kind of work can be time consuming and not fun, but it's important to do get it done.

4. (Re)search new opportunities

I hate the term "passion project," but it's true that most of us have some sort of project we always wanted to do, and it's also true that downtime in which to do it doesn't come very often. And sometimes, these projects can reignite your creativity if you're feeling stuck - working outside your normal format, or on a different subject matter, can make you remember why you fell in love with a place, or remind you why you wanted to be a photographer or filmmaker in the first place. 

5. Learn something new

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Sometimes, you manage to learn on the job, and that's great; for a while, it felt like every video shoot I did was more complicated than the last - but that also meant I was learning new ways to do things. But, when you're looking at work you want to do, you might realize - oh, I don't know After Effects. Or maybe you've always wanted to learn InDesign, or finally make your own logo in Illustrator. I pretty much learned how to use Premiere by watching teenagers' tutorials on YouTube when I couldn't figure something out, but is also well worth the subscription fees. If you can put in an hour a day watching a few videos and then practicing on your own - either with their practice files or on your own projects - you'll have developed a new skillset in no time.