(2709 words – 10 min read) No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you’re still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.—Tony Robbins
Life is the best teacher. It gives you countless opportunities to learn from your mistakes and do better moving forward. So here’re some things I’ve learnt from Life School that I have transformed into solid film production skills.
Call this a recap, or just a reminder about what cap you should be wearing:
The “Be prepared” Cap – your best film skill.
To be in place at your earliest convenience, preferably at birth.
This little life-saving asset is gonna get you out of a heap of trouble/set you up for a smooth ride through the trickiest of turmoils, way before the shit hits the fan. Whoever threw the shit was clearly upset at a turn of events that more than likely could have been avoided, had that person been prepared for unforeseen circumstances.
It’s like going on a shoot with no idea about the weather, no council approval to shoot in a public space, no talent release forms when you need to film random extras, having only one copy of the shooting board on set, the inability to boil hot water for crew coffee, no allowance for a vegetarian client, not having a tow rope to pull your camera car out of a bog … in other words, no Plan B.
These all may seem tedious, but being prepared is very much like doing your homework, researching the future. It’s a real film skill.
Mark Renton Hollywood VFX Supervisor:
“You’ve really got to keep your ear to the ground. Be honest with yourself and say “this is what I’m worth, this is what I can offer you” and always try and be an asset to the production and be creative. Keep a level head and try and see what’s out there all the time, read and explore. I’ve had down time in some companies where I’ve had time to push the machines further, come up with something and say, ‘Hey look this is what I’ve done with this machine’. And I educate people how to do that.
You need to have that constant drive. My mind never switches off and I’m always trying to figure out problems.
I get paid to solve problems. And that’s what you’ve got to do, solve people’s problems.
Keep your stuff fresh and active and send emails. This is what I’m doing, an update.
It becomes word of mouth. There’s so much more potential out there and I need a good producer to help me with that.”
You can watch the whole interview with Mark Renton here.
The “Respect” Cap
Enough about me, what do YOU think about me? Enter the alleged, so-called, self-absorbed generation who respect no-one and nothing, being totally blinkered and blinded to anything that doesn’t have “me,” “my,” “I,” or “self” attached. I am deeply concerned today about a general loss of respect for one’s elders, bosses, parents, anyone with experience; those who have all that wisdom and knowledge and common sense on standby are often treated like annoying, boring background blurs in their mirror.
So remember, the ad agency you are producing a commercial for; respect them. You are setting the standard not only for this current job but for future work and income. The clients that employ them that employ you are also crucial to your present and future. Like the ad agency, they have a massive tree of networks, full of both allies and competitors. This industry is smaller than you ever imagined. Respect them. In turn, they will respect you.
The cast and crew: respect them. They are skilled at their craft, and can make you look good.
And what shape does this respect take in your film life?
Having nice manners is one. If you have nothing else in your kit of manners, then “please” and “thank-you” should be first on the list. And here’s another: don’t talk about yourself all the time. Ask how the person you are talking to is. And listen. They like the fact that you are interested in what they have to say. So whilst this is not a particular film skill, it builds their respect in you.
Client and agency: respect the suppliers pitching
There is a situation where respect sometimes gets forgotten but is so vital in all forms of a production process and that is when you are pitching or tendering for work. And I am not aiming this advice at the freelancers pitching on the work, more at the ad agency, or film fund people that hand out the work, that decide who wins and who loses.
You will not win every job, let’s be clear. But it is nice to be advised by the people who turned you down that you actually lost the job and why.
There have been more than one occasion in my career where I have spent hours preparing a pitch, stressful minutes presenting the pitch, only to find out from one of my suppliers who was the DoP or sound recordist on the production that I thought I was still in with a chance on. Or worse, see the commercial on television.
We all learn to take defeat. It’s never easy and you can’t help but take personally at times. But it’s part of building the strong foundations of your personality. And it certainly eases the anxiety to hear from the company that you lost the job; who you lost it to, why you lost it (the budget, your portfolio, your reel, or the budget) and to be told that they look forward to working with you in the future. This is all about people respecting the effort you put in, the professionalism you displayed and the general respect they showed to their suppliers.
Remember the three things that make up strong relationships in your life:
- Mutual respect
- Open, transparent and consistent communication…
- And the preparedness to change.
Your “Persistence & Perseverance” Cap
Please, never, ever quit. Remember the stone-cutter quote.
Keep chipping away. It’s not the last blow at the rock, but the hundreds that went before that gets you over the line. Be it trying to get an appointment to see someone important like a production house for some work experience, or a director for some advice; working out how to edit on new software; learning a new film skill to get yourself a special job you’ve always wanted.
They all don’t have to be life-changing. Even little ‘never give in’ moves in your daily life can propel you closer towards winning.
Winning doesn’t always have to be big.
Small wins are also good.
It’s like writing out your TO DO list for the day and starting with a couple of things you’ve already done…and then you tick them and you’re well on the way. ☺
Remember how offline editor Josh Canalini got to where he did? He learned new film skills in his own time, he got off his butt and knocked on doors, and he had a desire, a passion, to improve his career. But still, he required persistence and a persevering attitude. Now, he is well on his way. I can see Josh in the future, leading a team of production editors in Hollywood, or running his own post house somewhere. He has what it takes, no doubt.
God only knows where I would be now, if it weren’t for my dogged determination.
A dog pound?
Oh, very funny.
It’s been the same with Mark Renton, now a visual effects supervisor in LA. Heard of Pacific Rim? Minority Report? The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? Mark worked on all of them. Which scenes?
I have no idea.
It doesn’t matter.
He is at the top of his game. He got there with perseverance and the desire to be the very best he can be.
Here’s what Matt Eastwood, Worldwide Chief Creative Officer of McCann Health, says about what instincts you need to get into and ahead in advertising.
Over the years, I’ve worked with some amazing people, but I’ve worked with some jerks as well. I think the amazing people and the kind people and the people who are generous with their time are the ones that have gone on and stayed successful in the industry.
So I think it’s really important to put in more work than the person next to you, be more passionate than the person next to you but also pay it forward; be a nice person, when you get your first job, help other people get their first job and I think that kind of Karma comes back to you.
Watch the interview with Matt Eastwood here.
Your “Know when to walk away” Cap.
This can come in many forms.
Know when to walk away from your stubborn attitude; be humble, knowing that you don’t have the best idea for a camera angle, the drop-dead solution for an edit sequence, the most practical advice on a production schedule. You are part of a team, no matter what role you are engaged in.
Know when to walk away from quoting a job that is becoming totally unrealistic, unprofitable, and more than likely end in unhappiness. They are not worth the heartache, particularly if you have no contingency built in for the unforeseen.
“Too good to be true” generally means exactly that.
The “Never Stop Learning” Cap is a no brainer. It will give you countless film skills.
The changing tech landscape is fast and frantic. You need to be up to speed on as much as you can. But don’t die in a ditch if you don’t know it all.
Know what you need to know.
I have been a director for about 37 years. I learned how to edit on Final Cut Express over 7 years ago. Why not Final Cut Pro X?
- I thought it was over-priced at the time.
- Final Cut Express did what I wanted. No, I couldn’t export EDLs (edit decision lists), but I was learning a new craft with home movies and in-house corporate films. It was more a hobby.
It did me fine.
Now I have Final Cut Pro X.
“You idiot,” some may say.
It does me fine.
A lot more editors are switching from other editing software platforms.
Yes, it has some creaks in the rigging.
Don’t they all?
Now, I also shoot stuff on my Canon 5D Mark IV.
I love this camera. One day, I may buy an external hard drive like an Atomos Ninja to give me a little higher quality, but I’m very happy with it as it is. If I need to shoot with anything better or bigger, I hire a DoP, camera, lights, etc., accordingly.
But I’m always learning and building on film skills.
I watch YouTube videos on editing and shooting techniques, on how to use Lightroom more efficiently, how to build a website with WordPress, how to take long exposures with ND filters.
Here’s what Matt Eastwood does to stay ahead of the game.
I tend to go to quite a lot of workshops, particularly things around social media but a lot of it is work as you go.
My philosophy is, if I don’t know about a new technology, I’ll just dive in and do it myself and give it a go. When blogging first started happening I thought I’d better find out about this and just started my own blog and learnt how to build it and learnt how to manage it.
And then, when Twitter came along, I thought I’d better find out what this is all about. So I’d get on Twitter and start building it. So much learning as you go but trying to make sure that, if something new comes out, even if at first it seems a little bit like, “really?”
Which is often the case with new technology: nobody’s going to want this, then, of course, 2 years later, everyone’s all over it. So I jump in and start my own Tumblr, start my own Instagram and really kind of learn all about that stuff.
I go to a lot of workshops but now I’m equally presenting at as many workshops as I’m attending. I think it’s a bit of learn, share what you’ve learnt, then learn from more people, then share that.
Be always wearing your “Resilient” Cap, in order to bounce back from misfortune and bad happenings.
Be able to regroup after weather has decimated your shooting schedule, and to keep plugging away after you have lost three jobs in a row to your competitors.
There is nothing more heart-breaking than losing a job, especially after the effort that you, as a director, have put in to your treatment; the lengths that you, as a producer, have gone to research a project, put together a kick-ass reference film as an editor, sketched a really cool storyboard as an artist … in other words, used all your film skills…only to find that they went with the cheapest quote.
Don’t ya hate that?
Pick up your chin and move on. It’s not the end of the world. There will be others that come along where you put almost no effort into the pitch and you win.
And always be ready to don your “Think outside the Square” Cap at any time.
Because this cap will set you apart from the ordinary. It’s what makes you special. It creates that sense of uniqueness about you, that point of difference that makes the recipient sit up and take notice.
I would not have entered the film industry if it weren’t for my deciding to call the South Pacific Television Sales & Marketing Director, and asking for a face to face interview, instead of lining up under a pile of other paper applicants.
I knew I had to be different.
Here’s what Alfa Aphrodita, former ECD of Arcade in Jakarta Indonesia advises to stay at the top of your game.
You have to have a hobby, for sure. You can’t just focus on your job. We’re making ads, not finding a cure for cancer, not flying people to the moon. Try this when you are really stressed out and you have to do the re-grade (re-grade the colour on the film) or the client changed the offline, we have to go back to offline (the first edit). Is that enough reason to get stressed?
So it would be good to have passion on your work and have passion on other things. It opens your perspective to the world. It will make you think that, ‘Hey this is only advertising’.
Can I tell you something quite personal?
My brother, he is studying to become a doctor and he’s in med school. He’s now like an assistant doctor. He’s not a doctor yet he works at the hospital. I am starting this Arcade agency thing, which is stressful and also exciting. One night I was quite stressed, all these pitches in 3 days, no ideas yet….f**k!!! What do I do? He texted me because our dog was sick. I call him and say, ‘So what do you want me to do? You are the one who knows how to heal people and dogs. You deal with it, I can’t deal with it!! I have a pitch in 3 days!!
And he says, ‘Don’t you know what I’m facing at the moment? They just put me in a section of the hospital where people are dying every day and I am putting a cloth on someone else’s body and I am the one who has to tell the families’. I didn’t know what to say.
So open your horizons. You’re just doing ads and ads are not the only things people care about.
- Have good manners. My sons may “grumph” and “humph” about the house, but out in the public arena they have impeccable manners. People tell me so. That means a lot to Carole & me. They will do fine in life. We taught them from the cradle.
- It’s never too late to learn good manners.
- Never say die.
- Never think you know it all.
- Keep learning.
- Transform your life into film skills.