When Things Go Wrong On A Shoot

A couple of weeks back, I got an alarming text message from my good friend telling me that he had been in a scooter accident. I was relieved to know that he was doing alright. He needed my help filling in for him on a shoot in Spain. It sounded like a perfect win-win. Lending a hand to a good friend in a time of need and also making a little money.

I have been doing corporate videos since 2002. They vary in complexity. I have done quite a few jobs for pharmaceutical companies. One common experience I have had is in training videos – filming actors that are shown doing their jobs in a how-to format. Another typical video is setting up a nice backdrop and filming a CEO or other company rep who gives an official promotional talk. Usually, there is nothing creative about these jobs, but they pay well, and this has been a good source of revenue for me. My hope is to be able to shift away from this work and devote my energy full time to developing my feature film scripts. My intuition is that when this shift can fully come to pass, my career will take a quantum leap forward. The mere thought of it is thrilling.

The Spain job involved going to a factory in the Basque country and shooting for two days. I was given a shot list which was hard to grasp because it covered names of machines I did not know. I was working with a new cameraman. I was hopeful for the shoot and I had been briefed at length by the client. This ended up being an experience like I have never had before: everything that could go wrong did.

Communication was difficult. I quickly realized that no one at the factory really grasped enough English to decipher the shot list. This slowed us down. I spent a great deal of time just trying to understand what we were to shoot.

Other problems came with the cameraman. When working with a cameraman, I like to give him my trust. In this instance, I saw that I really needed to watching him very closely. I would later learn that this was one of his first shoots. That explained a lot, and I wish I had known it before we started shooting.

Problems continued with the cameraman. One big one was that he was becoming very impatient and snippy with me. He also was refusing my directions. At one point, I told him that the footage was looking a little tired and lacked punch. Could he please remove the camera from its tripod and go handheld? He simply refused me on this one, insisting that he knew best and that shooting my way would not look good.

After we wrapped, I took a cue from a book called Getting Real. It talks about confronting people with an interesting approach. Instead of blaming them or accusing them, you simply tell them how you felt in the situation. It is about being as authentic as possible and really letting them see your truth and vulnerability. The power in that is disarming.

So I told him how I felt – the main thing I recall is this feeling of him not trusting me. I had given him my trust and he had not given me his. I was glad that I had this talk with him. It felt good to clear the air after our tense shoot.

Back in Paris and the news was horrifying. The client saw the rushes and said they looked awful. It was all too dark, and the camerawork was third rate. I felt crushed. I did the only thing I could do at this stage: I asked not to be paid for the job – to help my friend cover his losses from this failed mission.

What are my lessons? Of course, with collaborators, it is always better when you have already worked together. But we don’t always have that luxury.  What we needed was more communication. Also, when things were going wrong on the first day, I should have also been more vocal to the client.  It would have been better to go straight into defcon-4 and clearly express the linguistic obstacles. Instead, I reassured him, telling myself that things would be ok, certain that there was nothing he could do from overseas to improve our situation. That was wrong of me. Bad judgment. I will remember this for next time.

In the end, for all the blunders and mishaps, I am still glad that I could help my friend out when he was banged up from his accident.

Of course I could have used the money, but there will always be other money.

This set of events also made me think seriously about something else: this type of work is not my calling. Even if it means living very modestly, I want to turn down these jobs while I am writing my script. When I work, even a 2 day shoot like this, there is 2 days prep before, 2 days after. Add to that the tiredness that accumulates, and it is like losing ten days. That’s a third of a month – spent away from my script. Things are settling after this hectic set of events, and I am looking forward to several weeks of calm space for writing. I turned 35 today (March 31) and maybe this is also informing my deep desire to protect and nurture the creative work.

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About kartiksingh

I have been living in Paris, France since 1996. I was born to Sikh parents who immigrated to the USA. I grew up outside of Kansas City, and at 18 went to Washington DC with the intention of becoming a diplomat. Five years later, I arrived in Paris and found my life purpose: to make films that bring hope, insight, and inspiration to the world. My debut feature film Callback premieres in September 2010 in New York. For more details on where you can see my films, look for me at http://www.facebook.com/#!/kartik.singh
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