Posts tagged production
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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Staying Organized on Long-Term Video Projects

This year was the first time I had video projects that spanned more than one or two field visits - in one case, there were several field visits, interviews in multiple languages, different locations, spread out over several months. How do you stay organized (and not have panic attacks every time you have to dive back into editing)? This is an ongoing learning process for me, but here's what's worked well so far.

1. Rename and keyword on import
I started using Prelude for this - which is mostly useful if you're then going to edit in Premiere, but even if you're working with FCP or Davinci Resolve (which I love love love for color correcting), it helps to get your files named something more useful than - and do it ASAP after the shoot, before you have time to forget anything or confuse your notes. So, each shoot gets its own folder organized by date/location (and sometimes subfolders if I want to break up a lot of b-roll or interviews) and gets named something like or You'll waste hours scrolling through hundreds of tiny thumbnails of footage if you don't do this from the start.
If you really have terabytes and terabytes on multiple hard drives to keep organized, you might try a program like NeoFinder.

I use pen & paper because I can't type for sh*t in Arabic - and actually, I think I can write in Arabic faster than English - thank you, Semitic root system.

I use pen & paper because I can't type for sh*t in Arabic - and actually, I think I can write in Arabic faster than English - thank you, Semitic root system.

2. Transcribe & mark up interviews for subtitles
This is lots of fun to do in a language you're not fully fluent in. Obviously, this is something that might have to be subcontracted out, but if you're still going to be the one editing the footage, the interviews have to be marked in a way that you're going to be able to understand it, cut it and put together the main audio track without having an interpreter next to you all the time. For me, I break out a pen and paper - because I'm incredibly slow typing in Arabic - and alternately jot down as much as I can in Arabic, or just write down words I'm not sure about in Arabic, or jot down my rough English translation for reference. As I'm watching the video in Premiere/FCP/Resolve, I'm marking in and out points of interest that will go into my timecode sheet.
Then I open up Word (or a Google Doc) and make a timecode - a table with four columns and about a million rows. From left to right, I label my columns as "Time, File name, Arabic, English". Then each row is a ~10 second space of time in a particular file. I fill in the Arabic and what I think the subtitles should read in English. This makes it easier to copy/paste as you're filling in your subtitles. And from my experience, it makes sense to save the actual subtitling until the very last - if you make any edits to your video/audio tracks, you'll have to adjust the subtitles accordingly, and at least in Premiere, this is a lot of tedious work. At some point, I have a native speaker watch the video and read my translations and let me know if it all matches up right and makes sense to them. As with any kind of translation though, you'll have people insist that an expression should be translated a certain way that makes zero sense in English - and you'll have to find a compromise.

3. Organize by Themes & Numbers
If you have a lot of different interviews and know that you're going to have to take the good bits on certain topics and organize them into a sequence, you can make another kind of table document. So, for example, if your themes are Women's Employment (1), Agriculture technical info (2), Environment (3), you can make a chart with who said what under each category, listing the file name, what they said, and when they said it. Then all you have to do is go back and search this document for the person who said it, or the topic, or a few keywords you remember. Much easier than scrubbing back through dozens of clips if you can know the exact file and exactly when it was said.

4. Shoot and Edit for Sequences
When editing, I always like to get my main audio track (usually interviews) down before I start working on visuals. But if I know I have an interview that talks about helping kids get over trauma, and I have b-roll of kids playing or in class or with their parents, I can start putting little sequences together from that and then drop it in over the relevant audio. It helps me to break even a short video down into smaller chunks - then it's just putting together a few of these sequences, an intro, a closing, some transitions - boom, done.

5. Keep all relevant documents together
This isn't just your video files. This could be folders with still photos or logos you have to include, your transcripts and timecodes, libraries and project files, possibly even contracts, releases, and other paperwork. Assuming you have about a dozen external hard drives like me, this makes it a lot easier to share files or plug into a different computer and keep working.