SINK OR SWIMDec 06, 2022
When I started in television I had to learn to swim. I was in the deep end of the creative pool and had to figure out how to become an on-air promotions manager at a television station in a top-ten market...FAST!
My boss expected me to meet deadlines and create promos and commercials on a par with all the other stations in town.
Believe me, I really felt pressure to produce.
Faced with this very serious sink or swim challenge, I started watching a lot of television. Every day, I would switch my office television over to one of the other local stations. Watch their promos. Break down their copy. And look for clues.
Then I used what I learned to create templates for my own promos. Templates that gave me a place to start and finish. If I was producing a movie promo, I watched their movie promos. If I was promoting our Prime Time Line-up or Kids Block, I watched theirs.
Back then, it was the closest thing I had to e-learning.
As time went by, I learned how to write, produce, and edit hundreds of promos. And develop my own process and creative style along the way. Because I was curious, I also started asking questions.
It's something I still do today.
Every time I went on a shoot and saw something I didn't understand, I would ask someone on the crew about it afterwards. I asked cameramen about setups, lighting, focus, and process. Sound guys about mic placement and audio levels.
Editors helped me really understand post-production. A director showed me how to set up scenes and shots. A line-producer helped me put budgets together. A cameraman explained his cinematic approach to shooting. And a filmmaker gave me a chance to learn field production.
I remember standing in the back of our studio watching these pro's at work. Taking mental notes and soaking up everything I saw them do. Later I would ask them to explain the creative choices they made.
Why did I watch them for hours?
Because I had to understand the "HOW", before I could understand the "WHY".
Along the way, I made sure to choose the right time to ask questions. Being careful not to look ignorant in front of the crew. Just about everybody I approached was happy to share their expertise. In fact, they were flattered that I valued their opinion.
I quickly discovered talented people on both sides of the camera who knew a lot more than I did. I could either be intimidated by them or learn from them. So, I decided to learn from them. That's why today, I book crew members who know more than I do.
As we look at setups and camera angles I ask for their input. As we talk about maximizing our day, I give them a chance to respond. It's amazing how many production problems can be solved because team members know their opinion is not only encouraged, but valued.
By including the crew in the process, everyone on the team becomes invested in the project. They're more eager to put their heart into everything they're asked to do.
So, here's my rule: The best idea in the room wins -- no matter who has it.
If you want to move up the creative ladder, go find professionals who are willing teach you what they know.
Because their veteran experience and knowledge will take you way past YouTube University.