Through My Eyes

Timing was everything.

Posts Tagged ‘video production

They Don’t Teach You What It Means To Freelance in School

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Since returning from my travels in July, I’ve been shooting various video assignments all over the bay area. Granted, I picked up the 5D in February and hadn’t anticipated this to be my primary role leaving grad school – in all honesty – it’s been the most challenging and eye-opening experience thus far, mainly because I’m doing it solo, whereas for the last two years, I’ve worked with crews of shooters, grips, gaffers, PAs, sound guys, etc. Doing this on your own (and being a petite female) is a whole ‘nother story. And one that I could probably write a book about…someday.

Here, I’m just going to drop some knowledge (or evidence of past ignorance/naivete) so that anyone who’s reading is or has been in a similar situation can at least learn what to or what not to do. I’ll call it:

Lessons I’ve Learned Since Finishing Grad School and Being Hurled Out Into The “Real World” (if San Francisco can even be considered that…)

1) You’re going to come across eccentric (good & bad) and even downright unpleasant clients – clients who patronize you, who undervalue what you do, who have no idea what they want nor what is required of them before a first meeting/shoot, clients who don’t consider nor care that you’re parked in a garage across the street and paying a pretty penny to spend 8 hours there, but continue to divulge irrelevant details about their personal lives to you after you’ve wrapped. Some clients can be assholes. Some clients can be really amazing, fun, and inspiring to work with. Be prepared to encounter both, and if you’re lucky, everything in between.

2) You’re going to make mistakes. Realize that. Expect that. And accept it. You will only get better as you make mistakes and learn from each and every single one of them. You’re going to kick yourself when you hit record, realize you really should’ve remembered to ask someone to move those bins that are now showing at the top right corner of your frame every time you pull out for a wide shot, and can’t move to re-frame because it’s a one camera shoot.  You barely have enough room to stand there with your giant ass Manfrotto among a sea of guests, and everything the speaker is saying needs to be captured. Whoops.

3) Audio. Audio. Audio. Know what circumstances you’re dealing with before you even arrive to the location of the shoot. If you’re using new or rented gear you’ve never used before, show up an hour or two earlier and test all your gear at the location. If you know there’s going to be a handheld mic (being passed from speaker to speaker with no buffer time nor intermissions) and a mixer, bring all your cables, adapters, and accessories. Don’t just rely on one source of audio be it a wireless lav or a shotgun mic. Bring it all with you just in case. And don’t be afraid to ask the A/V guy for help. He can be your best friend during event shoots. I can’t stress that enough.

4) Tell your client what they need to bring or expect the day of the shoot. Clarify how and when you want to transfer the footage, how long you’ll hold onto the raw footage (before transcoding/compressing), and how you prefer to be paid prior to the first day of shooting. It’s communicating these things that will lessen the stress on both you and your client because logistics will be laid out preventing miscommunication, frustration, confusion…all that good stuff.

5) Do your research. Before you go and shoot for a client for the first time, read up on their bios, their work, their organization, who to look out for if it’s an event, and what questions to ask on the day of the shoot. Even if it’s a one-time gig, prepare yourself so that you feel invested on the day of, and your client will usually appreciate the fact that you feel connected to your subject(s). It makes a huge difference, trust me. Plus, it makes it less boring for you behind the camera.

6) It’s okay to splurge on fancy gear if you can afford it and it makes sense. Read the customer reviews, forums, blogs on any piece of gear you want to own. Keeps your ears perked and eyes open for gear you commonly see being used among your peers and people who produce work you are inspired by. It usually pays for itself with the production value it adds to your work. I may be going broke with everything I’ve invested in, but I also feel that I’m learning more and more about the technicality of shooting than I would be without all of these purchases. It’s worth it if you want to get better and know what you’re doing.

I feel like I could go on and on, but it’s late. I’ll end with God Speed and Good Shooting…


Written by winniewongsf

October 30, 2012 at 2:28 am

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

Where Are’ll The Chicks At?

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So I’ve noticed something. Maybe it’s something that has always been transparent, but it never really bothered me until now.

When I meet people in this industry (video production, filmmaking, media, whatever you want to call it), I add them to a mental rolodex – noting what they’ve done, what they’re doing now, and what they eventually want to do. Many of the small, boutique production studios in SF are run by…dudes. There are some cool dudes I know – dudes I can hang out with and simultaneously admire for their work – who are super talented, creative, socially aware, and just have good taste. How many of the studios I’ve heard about or have browsed online are run by chicks? I hate to say it, but I’ve yet to come across any (beside my employer, Joyus – but even with Joyus, a large portion of the videos we produce are geared towards fashion and beauty). Not to say they don’t exist up here, it’s just that I haven’t met any in this category.

There are a bunch of organizations, groups, cliques – things like Cinema Speakeasy (just the SF chapter is run by ladies), BAWIFM’s chicks chat – but most of these are purely women in media or video production meeting once a month or putting on weekly events, not actual production studios cranking out work.

I have yet to meet a female videographer/DP/cinematographer. Even in most of my classes and factoring in all of the freelancers I work with at Joyus, they are generally dudes who do the shooting. Why is that?

Now, I’m no feminist. I date dudes. I crush on dudes. I have nothing against them (besides the fact that they can eat way more and stay thin, whereas we work our asses off not to teeter over our daily average), but I would love to see more ladies take the reigns and do the actual shooting. Even some of my fella students sort of have guys standing behind them, telling them what to do with the camera (from what I’ve observed).

So, I bought the canon 5D a few weeks ago and have been running around SF shooting random things. No, my framing isn’t perfect, I still take a few clumsy minutes to figure out the lighting situation everywhere I go, you can tell when watching the raw footage that I’m still not familiar with constantly pulling focus…but it feels really good to just go and shoot.

There’s an event I’m interested in going to this Friday called House of Pong. When I first read about it on Urban Daddy, I wanted to register to play. But, I gave it some thought, and in my head arose this visual – slow motion ping pong, closeup tight shots of the action, sweat flying off foreheads, sporty headbands soaked with determination, young and old locals duking it out (with the possibility of a Susan Sarandon cameo – she apparently showed up last time and endorses it)…Why not go and shoot a video for them? I wrote to the guys who run it, Erik Petersen and Rodney Fong, and heard back from them the next day. He was stoked and comped my ticket. Friday after work, I’ll be heading over to this crazy Fisherman’s Wharf location (no-man’s land) where they will be holding this invite-only event and shoot until my one and only 32GB card fills up. God speed.

Written by winniewongsf

February 2, 2012 at 12:46 am

Me Shoot Pretty One Day

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After sifting through countless blogs, forums, comparisons, I’m still having difficulty deciding on a new dSLR for video. 5D people tell me to get a 7D (or a 5D if I can afford it and am willing to tolerate frustrating focus issues), the 7D people say they regret not getting a 5D, the 60D people love their flip screens and audio capabilities, while the Nikonians try to sell me on color, ergonomics, button layout, lens compatibility, user-friendly menus…the list goes on.

There seems to be an endless war waging between the two manufacturers – Canon vs. Nikon, that is. Although, most of my film school and multimedia classmates have opted to go with Canon, even they can’t seem to agree on the ideal camera for a producer looking to do a lot more shooting. Granted, shooting isn’t my livelihood. I’m only getting this camera to learn and shoot small, personal and perhaps fun, freelance projects, as well as take it with me on travels. I’m constantly inspired by videos I watch (God, I love this one), but again, these were all shot using different cameras…

So what’s a girl to do? Put my foot down, and just order the damn thing already…

My instinct tells me to go with the 7D (considering all of the input I’ve ingested), but then, what if the Mark III is released with all of the gripes fixed, and I’m stuck with a runner-up camera body? Ugh, the decisions.



Something New

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Almost two weeks ago, I interviewed with CBS Interactive for a production internship in their business and technology sector. Unfortunately, I walked out of the meeting feeling less like, “I nailed it!” and more like, “Wow, that did not go as well as I’d anticipated.” It was not a familiar (nor welcome) feeling for me, but I can always benefit from being humbled.

Granted the responsibilities of this internship would have been heavy on post-production (perhaps spending majority of the time in an editing suite), I would have loved to have had the opportunity to work in the field and meet and learn from some of the Bay’s newest crop of entrepreneurs and change-makers in the industry. Although, at times, I tend to dwell on experiences within my control (those that result in negative outcomes), I know I didn’t get the job because the candidate who did can do it better than I can or at least will require less training and mentoring for the role. I just wasn’t ready (in terms of having the right skill set and previous experience). I’m okay with that. Confidence in being able to do something well comes with time, as I keep learning every day.

A few days later when I met with my school’s department director and another instructor for my midpoint review, one of them mentioned a paid internship opportunity at a start-up called Joyus.

Since starting the Masters program at AAU last fall, it’s presumable that most of my classmates and instructors know exactly what I want to do after graduation. I ramble about making documentaries and working as a correspondent on something like Current’s Vanguard series almost daily. They’re probably sick of hearing it. So, of course, when my instructor told me that Joyus is a very small, new company that aims to produce engaging, creative video content for online shoppers, I was hesitant, but definitely curious. Why not? I thought. I could use some color on my résumé, having solely produced videos for and interned with non-profits over the last year. This could give me the skills I need to improve my portfolio and the chance to connect with some amazing people in the area.

So, I emailed the Director of Productions my most current resume, along with a quick introduction. We set up a time to meet on Friday morning. What further peaked my interest was the question she asked me prior to setting the date of our meeting. She asked what I love about producing.

I took a moment to think about every time I’ve been on a set and in charge of a shoot. I reflected on working as a Team Lead managing two teams at a technology services sales company a few years ago. What I love about both producing and managing is being able to assess what people’s strengths, weaknesses, and needs are. As a producer, you must be aware of who has the ability to do what on a set and who is going to be your best bet proficiently completing that task. It’s not so different from managing people in a corporate environment. As a manager, you must not expect people to adapt to your managing style, work ethic, and personality. You have to recognize how and why people will respond to you and what makes them want to work in their best interest, as well as keeping yours and the company’s in mind.

I’ve found major trait and personality differences in the direct reports that I myself have had and have discovered that the best managers are those who keep calm during a storm and are able to leverage each individuals contributions to benefit the larger whole. Nevertheless, I’m guilty of having been stressed and showing it on a set, as well as in a conference room. Most of us make mistakes, most of us allow ourselves to lose it once in a while. It’s those who keep in mind that if it’s not a matter of life or death, it’s actually going to be okay – at some point.

On Friday, after an hour of chatting, getting to know each other a bit, and learning what it is that we need from each other, I was hired on the spot. I start tomorrow at Joyus working part-time as a production intern doing everything from assisting on shoots to media management to anything else that needs to be done in the office and out. I know this is fairly entry-level, but I’m willing and excited to start somewhere. Not only that, I’ll be working with people who seem to have had very rich, rewarding careers in the production world – especially my direct report, Shirin Etessam. After reading more about the founder and Chairman of Joyus, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, I also couldn’t be more excited to meet and learn from a woman who seems to have done so much in her life already.

With a new semester of school and a job to look forward, I’m ready to dive right in. Goodbye summer, hello fall.

Written by winniewongsf

August 21, 2011 at 10:35 am

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