Over the past few years, I have seen a tremendous change in production methods on-set in video productions everywhere. I believe most of these changes are due to the recent advances in technology in both the newest cameras and the post production process - today's new gear makes the process of recording, editing, and altering images excessively fast and easy for almost anyone to achieve. This is all truly exciting news for the up-and-coming new shooters and directors.
But, regardless of the current state of electronics, I’ve also noticed an increase in instances of vital communication missing on-set in recent years. Person-to-person communication in general has dropped off dramatically around the world (with cell phones, texts and social media), but the production business is a different working environment than most other businesses. An average shoot demands the knowledge, skill and collaboration of experienced people for reasons of both efficiency and safety. Times have changed, but I believe that there is no excuse for a lack of communication - both in pre-production and on-set during the shoot.
Recently, I taught two weeks of classes on cinematography at the Maine Media Workshops. Teaching up at MMW is always a pleasure, although it can be an exhausting week for instructors in the film and video production courses. One of the reasons that the week is so tiring for me is that I am communicating all day, every day to 10-15 people for a week straight -- either teaching in-class or on-set. Not only do I practice the art of effective verbal communication on-set while I teach, but I find, especially today, that I need to really encourage my students to do the same. Many of today's "directors" or "cinematographers" are quiet and non-communicative. A lot of production equipment is big and heavy, and often the space around the image area (or lighted set) is in relative darkness - so for safety reasons it is especially important for both the crew and the talent to know what is happening on set and when.
I have a big voice, so it's easy to hear me on set. But for many women and other production team members with smaller voices, a real effort is needed for those people to keep everyone understanding what's happening on set. On a bigger production, the AD (assistant director) is the "voice" of the set but many productions today are without an AD and therefore often without the constant communication that is so important to safety on any set. There are many departments in production that are not so concerned about safety, but in the camera, lighting (electrical) and grip departments, safety for all involved is the number one priority. A lack of safety precautions can lead to serious injuries or worse to both crew members and actors. I need only to mention the name Sarah Jones to underline the importance of on-set communications.
Collaboration on-set can also be a key element in your success on a production. The process of translating an idea to film or video (or any medium) can be both complex and difficult at times. Utilizing the knowledge and experience of your crewmembers can help to achieve - or even exceed - your daily production goals. When I am working on-set, I always have an open ear for my crew. That does not mean that I will use every suggestion I hear, but I am always listening for a better way to accomplish the shot or lighting effect. But listening to your crew also empowers them and let's them feel like an important part of the day - which of course leads to a better team effort and higher morale. At the Maine Media Workshops, I am constantly encouraging each student to begin with their own vision - and a director's vision is critical - but then to utilize their crew and collaborate with the others, if for no other reason than for time savings and efficiency.
Film and video production is an amazing business but it is rarely meant for the solo artist. Learn to open up on-set and work to communicate effectively with all involved. Take pride in your ability to manage the set and your crew, and constantly strive to hone your communication skills. You will be amazed by the results and you’ll enjoy your days working in production much more.
From video Lighting Technics