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    On Professionalism
    #1
    Artful Dodger Sad Max's Avatar
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    A large proportion of DVXUser members are professionals in their respective fields - directing, editing, producing, etcetera. While there is probably some latitude in what properly defines professional, for purposes of this post I'll try and reduce it to the most essential definition I once gave a friend: Doing what you advertise you're going to do, on the schedule and budget and to the standard by which you advertise you're going to do it.

    Of course it's always to your advantage to behave like a professional, when doing this sort of thing. It creates confidence on the part of your investors, your crew, your working partners. It's an important element in building a reputation which will hopefully enhance your career as you progress. It can help you avoid all manner of personal and even legal weirdness which it is in your definite interest, to avoid.

    Now, I have in fact never worked with anyone who frequents this site: I haven't taken a real vacation from my commercial/studio work in about seven years, and while some folks here have very flatteringly asked for my occasional advice or support I am apparently unemployable in any serious capacity by DVXUser standards. I mention this because I don't want any of the following to be interpreted as a reference to DVXUser members; it's very general advice offered to anyone who may find opportunity to make use of it.

    I hope to advise anyone who can benefit, against doing the sorts of things that immediately mark one out as being unprofessional: that is to say, being the person with whom neither pros nor amateurs will particularly want to work because of habits and behaviors which are just off-putting to anyone who takes their work, time and expenditure of creative energy seriously.

    1) Don't Drop the Ball - You might think that simply maintaining communication would be taken for common courtesy - but it can be darned uncommon. One of the primary signs that you're dealing with non-professionals is the going-great-guns-on-track-for-production that abruptly turns into no phone calls, no updates, no communication, at all. What happened? Were you hit by a bus? Abducted by Zeta Reticulans? Did you lose interest in the project? Did you simply decide that I'm not the person with whom you wish to work?

    This is perhaps the leading distinction of the amateur: he doesn't grasp that agreements to work with him mean alterations to your schedule and an investment of your time and energy in his project, and he therefore doesn't realize that being kept in the loop regarding the project's status is more than just a courtesy: it can affect your ability to commit to other projects that may be more to your professional advantage (and let's not even get started on people who commit to fund development materials, then lose interest and leave you holding both the materials and the bill).

    Amblin, Universal, Disney, Sony, Warner, Lightstorm - all of these outfits, and many dozens more beside, keep in contact regarding the progress and dispositions of their projects, to which you are attached and - maybe more important - pick up the phone to let you know when the plug's been pulled. Not everyone can manage such large-scale budgets or resources, but when the time comes there is no excuse at all, for failing to make a simple phone call.

    2) Honor Your Promises, or make it damned clear why you can't. I designed several TV series and a couple of features with a particular team who were looking to branch out into independent feature production. They had a fairly decent - and very good-looking - indie project in the can, and advertised that they were looking for distribution, as well as further scripts to develop. For their benefit I played on my own distribution connections to set up meetings with companies that seek precisely the kind of product they had to sell, and tapped some moderately successful screenwriter friends to submit scripts for consideration...

    ...and everything fell apart. By sheer apparent laziness they skipped on meetings, did not bother to read so much as one submitted script over the course of two years, and - most incredibly, to me - handed out sample DVDs of their film that were so filled with write-errors and defects as to be un-watchable (fortunately I caught those before handing them to anyone, to actually view). Now, this is the behavior of people who expressed eagerness to read scripts, and gratitude for setting up distro meetings, and yet chose to embarrass me by shining off every opportunity I set up, for them. The upshot: neither I, nor any of these various distributors or writers will take this pair seriously, again. For my part, I won't even work with them in production any more. I don't appreciate being embarrassed.

    3) Don't Proceed Without a Plan - Prepare like a professional, succeed like a professional. Prepare like an amateur, fail like an amateur. Why do producers hold the power, when you can't see much of any of their work on the screen? Because without the work they do - which is to say, the planning that creates the structure necessary to get things done - the work will never even make it there. Smaller budgets and resources do not free you from the need to plan carefully; if anything they make careful planning more critical. If you happen to be one of those producers or directors who can make everything happen to your satisfaction on-the-fly, more power to you. But most of the people I know who fit that bill, wouldn't try it if they didn't have to. You might know that you can get every shot without a shot list, that you don't need storyboards in order to cover a sequence in your head, and that all of your expenses will just happen to tally right where they have to, without a budget - but it's golden, to have the shot list, schedule and budget to toss aside, when you realize that you have a better idea once filming has begun. When an episode of network television gets the degree of prep we give it, and budget items are approved or stricken based upon dollar amounts in the double-digits, it's unlikely that forgoing proper preparation is going to be a smart move when producing a relatively small indie project, particularly if you're doing it with your own money.

    Anyway, that's my rant, and what a wonderful opportunity to practice my typing skills, it was.

    Free advice, guaranteed to be worth every penny you paid, for it.
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    #2
    Director of Photography TimurCivan's Avatar
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    well said sir.
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    "He who thinks interms of catching mice, will never catch Lions."


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    #3
    Dark Side of the Camera Postmaster's Avatar
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    Yeah, we should make that a sticky.

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    #4
    VHS Member Old Skool Jim Brennan's Avatar
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    Great post. Very well said.

    My favorite part:

    Quote Originally Posted by Sad Max View Post
    Smaller budgets and resources do not free you from the need to plan carefully; if anything they make careful planning more critical.
    John August (screenwriter) wrote an article on Professionalism on his website a few years ago. I may have posted it here. But it's worth a read.
    Last edited by Jim Brennan; 10-03-2009 at 03:12 PM.


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    #5
    Look ma no hands HorseFilms's Avatar
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    Excellent advise!

    The communication part is the most important to me. Just let me know what's going on and I can work with you. Silence pisses me off to no end.


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    VHS Member Old Skool Jim Brennan's Avatar
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    I also should mention that a buddy of mine, who is finally getting some work on big budget scripts, told me this story.

    He was asked by his manager to put together a take on an open writing assignment at a studio. When his manager submitted the script, he told the guy that my friend had recently done some work for a certain producer, but the project was in turnaround.

    First thing the guy dies is call that producer to ask him what the writer was like. Thankfully the producer told the guy that he had turned in re-writes early, was very collaborative and understood the big picture. So he got the job.

    Point is that you have to be able to deliver. But you also have to be good to work with, because word does get around.


    "...there is no magic, no mystery---just common sense and hard work" - Nestor Almendros


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    #7
    Wish I were banned. Drew Ott's Avatar
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    Great post.
    "You'd better cure all those personal problems that might be holding back something you want to say." -John Cassavetes


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    #8
    Section Moderator Jason Adams's Avatar
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    Good stuff. Especially the part of communication. I guy I worked for told me this and I never forgot it. If the client calls you for an update you lost. Its a game of managing expectations and as soon as the client calls you you are on the defensive. Keep constant communication.

    Great Post Max.


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    #9
    Looking for a woman ugafan's Avatar
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    are you professional or not?

    link


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    Hour Fourteen
    #10
    Artful Dodger Sad Max's Avatar
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    I want to follow up a bit on #3, regarding the importance of things like boards and shot lists.

    They're not there to constrain or smother creativity. They aren't concrete overshoes intended to sink the expression of your vision. At their most prosaic level they are there to keep you moving when the going gets tough. You know what the most popular use of time travel, were it to become available, would probably be? Short trips into the recent past to kick your past-self in the ass for setting you up with the mess that future-self is stuck with sorting out. You can legitimately walk onto set at the start of Hour One with intricate staging extant only in your mind, or with the mojo to invent truly effective solutions on the fly - but will you pull it off around the middle of Hour Fourteen when you're perhaps two setups behind schedule, or losing your crew? Prep materials are a life-saving gift from past-you to future-you: spoon-feeding directions composed when you had a chance to plan, for use when you can barely even think.

    And of course if you hit Hour Fourteen all bright and bushy and your sudden inspiration is just really much better than what you blocked-and-boarded - every production office has a shredder.

    Further, with decent prep you can best exploit whatever you're paying, bartering, trading or offering discreet services for, in terms of locations, crew, cast, et all. Need a sidebar with actors to refine a scene? With notes you'll know that you can keep the time productive by splintering the camera to get inserts, some number of setups ahead. Without notes...will you have in mind right then that those inserts need to be taken? Say an actor has to bail. With a one-liner you can easily determine if and how you can shoot around them and best use what you have left. Without a one-liner...how easy, to juggle that in your head at Hour Fourteen?

    It's good for morale. Sure, there are many ways to bolster crew morale but here a simple side-benefit is that people prefer to follow a leader with a plan. A good leader persuades her team that she has a plan; a really good leader actually has one, too. And frankly while of course all plans are hopefully good ones, just having one pays dividends whether the plan is actually much good, or not.

    Planning enhances your creativity. What's in the shot? Which part of a room? How does the space contain the shot? Furniture in there? A lamp? How would light from the lamp model the actor? What's in-frame to complement the performance? Etc, etc, etc. Remember time-travel: by Hour Fourteen would you prefer that past-you or present-you take the time to decide those things?

    Present-you always gets to ignore past-you's good advice if he wants to. Isn't that a better position to occupy, than really needing some good advice when it isn't available?

    I know that there are creative and extremely rewarding production techniques wherein part of the point of the process is non-reliance upon scripted dialog, pre-planned blocking and storyboards. It's fine territory to explore and some film makers develop it into a signature process with really great results. I'm not addressing that mode of production: I'm talking about scripted narrative film making patterned after typical US industry practice. Since film making is by nature experimental, be willing to experiment with the benefits of standard or semi-standard planning practices. They have the potential to facilitate the production of what may be your best work.
    Last edited by Sad Max; 10-04-2009 at 03:51 PM.
    .
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    ADG Award for Excellence in Production Design, Star Trek: Into Darkness (nominated, 2013)
    ADG Award for Excellence in Production Design, Mockingbird Lane (nominated, 2012)
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