Through My Eyes

Timing was everything.

Welcome To The World Of Freelance

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Last week, a former classmate sent me a message on Facebook asking for help on a paid project over the weekend. A producer/talk show host was coming from Nigeria and wanted to do as much shooting as possible for her series pilot and a potential documentary project about Nigerians in diaspora. It sounded exotic and like a great opportunity to start freelancing, so I offered my services to shoot both days and enlisted my friend Caiso to be second camera op.

The experience was an awakening. We arrived at Stanford’s Humanities Center on Saturday afternoon thinking we’d be shooting fairly straightforward interviews for the three hours scheduled, but ended up shooting an entire Nigerian wedding ceremony (complete with rituals, gospel singing, the most amazing colors and traditions), alongside interviews with the bride, groom, and both sets of parents. What the producer really wanted to capture were their experiences and sentiments on the Nigerian culture (particularly the Yoruba people) and its impact on relationships and marriage. The bride was African-American, and the groom was Nigerian-American.

The families were helpful and patient, the venue was fine, and the ceremony itself was entertaining and just plain beautiful to film – but the experience working with this particular producer – it will forever be engrained in my mind. I probably learned more in those two days than I did in 18 months of graduate school.

During most of our shoots for class projects, we had opportunities to re-shoot, to take our time in getting things in frame just right, to change the color temperature, and then changing it again and again until we were 100% sure we were happy. We were spoiled. Thinking back, we really didn’t take into consideration the fact that most of these gigs would be paid by the hour – meaning your client is going to try to squeeze as much out of you in that hour as possible. There is no room for mistakes. There is no room for hesitation. You better know what the hell you’re doing or you’re out.

A few things were reaffirmed. I made some observations and took mental notes for what I call…

The Rules of Working With A Client (and Crew) On Set

1) Be prepared. If possible, get all the details in advance so that you know exactly what your goals are for the day. Whether it be a clear schedule, a shot list, names of the individuals you’ll need to speak with for the day, addresses, phone numbers, emails, etc. Get it ALL before you even arrive on location.

2) Work contracts, release forms, agreements, etc…I cannot stress this enough. As my friend Mark would always say, “Get it in writing before you even lift a finger. Protect yourself.” Be clear about how much you expect to be paid for the job, clarify and provide receipts for travel/parking/miscellaneous expenses, determine how and when you will be paid. There is too much room for miscommunication when it comes to this. As a producer, I’ve never shown up without having a few copies of release forms, for locations and general interviews. Even though this particular producer was related to the groom, I was still shocked to find that there were no releases for the interview subjects who spoke on camera. Looking back, as a last resort, we should have had them give us their permission on camera.

3) Be flexible, but realistic about changes to the schedule or plan. Offer your opinion, but understand (and accept) that your client doesn’t have to like or implement it. If your client makes changes to the schedule/plan so frequently that miscommunication is inevitable, be articulate and sensitive in how you communicate that. Shoots can be chaotic, but being stressed and unable to adapt to changes will only set you back in the eyes of your client, as well as your crew. If it’s not life or death, it’s really nothing to sweat. Just make sure your client knows that you are trying to be as efficient as possible, under the given circumstances.

4) Make sure that each person on the crew is aware and understands their responsibilities. If someone borrows something from the client or from the venue, make sure that it’s returned at the end of the shoot. Do dummy checks, put everything back where it belongs, and leave no items behind. Don’t assume everyone knows what they’re in charge of – direct them and be explicit in your directions. Don’t get lazy and forget to do this. Trust me, it will save you time in the long run.

5) Troubleshoot, troubleshoot, troubleshoot! Another one I can’t stress enough. Learn how to resolve common problems with the gear and software that you’re using. What is it that they say about filmmaking and Murphy’s law? Oh yeah, they go hand in hand. Accept it. Embrace it. Learn everything you can.

6) Lighten up. Everyone likes to have fun on a set. Don’t be afraid to crack a few jokes before an interview, even if you’re not the one interviewing. It’s usually appreciated and welcomed warmly.

7) Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know how to do something. Sure, we want to be confident and come across as willing and able. But if you really don’t know how to operate particular equipment or you’ve never done it before, say so. I’d rather have someone willing to admit they don’t know how to do something than have to confront a problem that could have been prevented by a minute of teaching or delegating a task to someone who knew how to do it.

On Sunday, it was a 12 hour day. It was long, frustrating at times, but when I went through all of the footage the next day, I was so proud of what we shot. Not only did it look beautiful, but the content was rich with culture, knowledge, respect…I felt honored to have been allowed to be part of it, even if I was just shooting. No regrets whatsoever. In fact, I’m really looking forward to the next gig.


Written by winniewongsf

July 15, 2012 at 11:17 pm

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