Monday, 29 July 2013

Grown Up And Still Growing

I came into the wonderful world of Swagger about a month and a half ago having no idea what to expect. And now, after having had some time to get into the swing of things, I still don't. Ever. And that's great. 

I had been living in Austin for the past five years working short-term and contract jobs in TV and film production and had gotten used to the unpredictable nature of the business. One day I would be an animator, the next an editor, the next a production assistant, the next an actor, grip, camera operator, and so on and so on and I loved it. It was great to be constantly learning and growing, and I had become hopelessly addicted to the excitement that goes along with working with completely different people on completely different projects on a regular basis (as well as the excitement/stress and uncertainty as to whether I would be able to find more work as soon as a project ended). My life was an adventure and I couldn't have been happier.

Car sunshade also makes for protective head
shield during sunny outdoor shoots!
So when a series of events moved me to a more domesticated lifestyle in Houston, I knew I would have to get a full time job and that terrified me. It was the "grown up" thing to do, but what most people mean when they say "grow up" is "stop growing," and there's honestly nothing more that scares me than the thought of predictability and having to endure perpetual boredom. I was fortunate enough to get hired on at Swagger since the idea of animating every day would at least be bearable to me, but I still thought to myself "This is it. Day in, day out. Predictable. Boring. Dull."


What I've found since then is that I'm basically getting all the perks of the old lifestyle with the benefit of a salary. While my focus here is animation, I have regularly been an editor, PA, camera op, etc. Some days are spent on set, shooting a variety of styles for different projects; others are spent at the office, which is just as diverse as far as deadlines and styles of editing, animation, and design. I feel very fortunate to have room to experiment visually and learn the ins and outs of new software that I might not have been inspired enough to pick up otherwise. I've been working with a great team of people who collaborate practically and creatively and value each others' input. We all wear a lot of hats and are constantly growing as creative professionals. It's really easy to stay excited when the people around you are enjoying what they do, and in that aspect as well as others, Swagger is pretty fantastic. 

So not to gush too much, I've really loved getting my swag on thus far. Here's to more of the same (but not the same).

Monday, 22 July 2013

4 Things I Learned On Set with Neighbors Emergency Center

There is a 98% percent chance that if you’re on set you’ll hear this phrase at least once-

“Next time, this will be easier because…”

What a reminder of how much there is to learn every time you’re producing a commercial, a marketing video, a feature film, animation, whatever! Each project presents a new set of challenges you couldn’t have anticipated, and it’s important to learn your lessons from that, while realizing next time there are still going to be more surprises.

A few weeks ago, we were lucky enough to help shoot three new commercials for Neighbors Emergency Center. As production coordinator, this was the largest shoot I’ve tackled since joining the team at Swagger and it was a great learning experience. Let me share with you the top four lessons I learned on set with Neighbors Emergency Center.

1. Permits require patience.

Part of our shoot took place at a local community center and this meant obtaining the proper permits and permissions from the Houston Parks Department. This was a little bit of a wild goose chase and took many phone calls, visits, trips back and forth between offices (It was a, “You’re supposed to go to x for the permit.” leading to, “No, you were supposed to talk to y back at the office you just came from.” kind of ordeal) and confusion (separate departments handle shooting inside the building versus shooting the exterior, who knew). It wasn’t easy, but eventually everything was worked out and everyone I dealt with was as helpful as they could’ve possibly been. 

2. Don't freak out over casting background actors. 

Thanks, gang!
Need to populate your shot (on a budget) but are having a hard time nailing people down to do so? Don’t worry; even if it doesn’t happen far enough in advance to satisfy your inner-Type A planner, people will come through. Pull in someone’s dad (Thanks, Mr. Yurcak!), grab some ladies from the community center’s knitting circle, toss in your intern… When push comes to shove you’ll discover that suddenly lots of people have aspirations to be on screen!

3. Make your shot list as detailed as possible!
My favorite piece of set dressing.

You might be shooting three different commercials on the same day. Actors might be in multiple commercials but doing different things. You may want to try different variations of a shot. You might have to leave for a doctor’s appointment and trust someone else to make sure everything gets done for a couple hours (AHHHHHH!).  You might have someone sorting and editing the footage that doesn’t know anything about the project until you hand it to them. For all these reasons, make that shot list as detailed as you possibly can beforehand, and then inevitably when things change, shots get added & cut & modified throughout the shoot, take the most detailed notes you possibly can. And take lots of photos. You’ll never know how you need them until you do. Maybe you weren’t planning on recreating a set-up but decide the next day to do so and can’t access the footage in time to confirm continuity. Photograph everything.

4. Get plenty of rest.

Plus, you might even end up in the commercial yourself (see #2)
so you'd better be camera-ready! 
I know, I know, thanks for the advice, mom, but still. I’m typically a pretty good sleeper on airplanes, the kind that falls asleep before the plane has even taken off. For this reason, I thought it’d be safe to take a redeye flight from Seattle back to Houston the night before a shoot day, thinking I’d get a solid 6-7 hours on the plane, hop off fresh as a daisy and head straight to the set for ten hours of on set FUN FUN FUN! As it turned out, I ended up in a seat that didn’t recline behind a screaming toddler all while freezing to death in the plane’s subzero temperatures so needless to say, I did not sleep. I did not hop off the plane fresh as a daisy, and if we hadn’t been so efficient that we wrapped by lunchtime, I never would’ve made it through the day. You can bet I won’t be taking that chance again. I was awake and I could do my job, but you can bet my brain wasn’t working at maximum power and my ability to pay attention to the details was surely impaired. How was his hand placed in the previous shot? Did somebody move the vase in the background? Did she glance into camera that take? Not worth the risk.

I’m happy to say everything went smoothly on set, the commercials are coming along quite nicely in post-production (thanks to Super Editing Ninja Cortney Naylor) and I can’t wait for them to get out to a television near you very soon!