Television production, Part two

By Mark Sosin

Editor’s note: Sosin’s article is the second of a two-part series. The first part focused on developing a game plan, making your show professional and contract options. More advice on setting income goals, how to get paid, legalities and rights purchased is found in the Freelancers Guide to Business Practices. Compiled by more than 50 OWAA members, this must-have book is available through OWAA’s store:

A finished show involves three phases: pre-production, production, and post-production. Each step becomes a critical part of the finished product. It all starts with the planning stage (pre-production). Pick a location and the species you intend to catch or shoot or what you want to show the viewer if you are not fishing or hunting. Develop a detailed written treatment, including key shots, to share with everyone on the shoot. This structure puts everyone on the same page and leaves little doubt as to what has to be accomplished. Then, work out Plan B, just in case your initial goal cannot be reached. And, it doesn’t hurt to prepare for Plan C. Barring a crisis, you want to come away with something useable.
During pre-production, you handle all of the logistics involved in travel to the destination, where to stay when you are there (if that is necessary), permitting (if required), transportation on sight, and the list goes on. You then have to schedule the crew and anyone else you intend to take with you. Remember that the more people you have in the field, the more problems you will encounter when you try to shoot. Unnecessary bodies get in the way. Also, you may have to extend a shoot because of weather or other factors. Make sure everyone with you has a flexible schedule and can give you the extra time if needed.
Remote areas create additional problems. Because you may not get backup gear by simply making a phone call, you have to anticipate what might break down while you are in the field and take spares with you or figure out in advance how to get it if needed. If electrical power isn’t available around the clock, take more batteries and don’t forget more tape than you think you will need. If you run out of tape or batteries on a shoot or even during the day, that’s your fault and it can be a costly mistake, even if you have more back in the motel room.
Production takes place in the field and it holds the key to the quality of the finished product. Tape is the cheapest commodity you have. Shoot all you think you need and then shoot more. Taping should start as soon as there is available light and it should continue throughout the day. Shoot cutaways in the same light as the action so they match and can be edited together. The prime mission, however, centers on capturing the action. While you are waiting for something to happen, the cameras can be shooting footage of the area and other scenes that could be used in the finished product. Make sure everyone refers to the treatment and shot list you prepared before leaving for the shoot.
Your job in the field goes beyond simply hunting or catching something. As you gain skill, you begin to work with the cameramen to make certain they can get the necessary shots. Look at it as a team effort. You’re part of that production team. Making it easier for the cameramen means they won’t have to grab what they can in a typical TV news scenario.
Each finished tape should be numbered sequentially along with the camera designator. If you have one camera, it is the A Camera. The second one becomes the B Camera. Tapes would be labeled 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, etc. Be sure to label the tape itself and the case that protects the tape. Finished tapes must be cared for in the field and accounted for continuously. Before you go home at the end of the shoot, put all the shot tapes in a bag or backpack and keep them with you. If you have to board an airplane, carry them aboard with you. Never put finished tapes in checked baggage or let them get out of your sight for any reason.
Unless you have your own editing equipment, post production usually will be billed on an hourly basis depending on the time of day you edit, the equipment you need, and so forth. Anything you can do to reduce the amount of time keeps money in your pocket. It may make sense to purchase the bare essentials that allow you to edit offline. Then, when you enter the production facility, you already have a rough cut and the time needed for the online edit has been reduced dramatically.
If you’re going to require voiceovers, they need to be written in advance and arrangements made for the voiceover talent unless you plan to do it yourself. Production houses often have music libraries available which they can use in your show, but they will charge you for each needle drop. If you do use the facility’s library, be sure to find out what rights they are offering and if those rights cover your needs.
It makes sense to cut your standard open and close before you edit your first show. Schedule post-production time for these cuts and be sure to have the necessary logos for billboards along with whatever shots or artwork you plan to use. Some stations and networks simply have you insert two minutes of black where commercials go and they place the commercials. You send your commercials to the station separately and then each week you send them an insert order designating which commercials go where. If you have to insert the commercials in your show, be sure to take them with you to the production facility.
Networks have their own set of post-production guidelines that you are required to follow. Most insist on specific graphics and even give you a window for the length of each segment. Be sure to study these and make certain the editor complies with these rules. If you don’t follow them, the network or station may reject a show and make you change the parts that don’t match their guidelines.
Finally, pack each show carefully and ship it to the station or network in plenty of time for them to air it. No one likes to receive a show at the last minute, because many stations want to preview anything and everything they put on the air. Whatever you ship should get to its destination within one or two days. You don’t want tapes lying idle in hot warehouses for prolonged periods. Make sure you keep track of the shipment and check it off once you get a confirmation that it was received.
To conclude:  It may look easy to someone peering in from the outside, but producing quality video on a consistent basis ranks as an extremely challenging and demanding job. There are no shortcuts and no one else to blame. It’s your name and your show, and the outcome reflects on you. ◊

Sosin’s article is the second of a two-part series. The first part focused on developing a game plan, making your show professional and contract options.


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