Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Operating camera, directing and even monitoring sound on The Beacon. Photo: Mark Evans
Operating camera, directing and even monitoring sound on The Beacon. Photo: Mark Evans

Cooking MCs like a pound of bacon, and so on and so forth.

This week’s FilmWorks session was called “How to Succeed at Not Doing Everything” – i.e. how to collaborate. This session really chimed with me. Like many low budget filmmakers, I suspect, I can be something of a control freak and have only recently been letting go of certain key roles within my productions.

On my 2002 action movie The Beacon I was writer, director, producer, director of photography, camera operator, focus puller, editor, visual effects artist, sound designer, sound mixer and colourist. Since then I’ve been gradually letting go of roles and almost without exception the results have been good. Giving someone a job to do and getting results that exceed my expectations is one of the most enjoyable aspects of filmmaking for me now. Neil Douek’s sound mix of Soul Searcher was light years beyond my efforts on The Beacon, and on The Dark Side of the Earth when I turned over both sound design and mixing to Henning Knoepfel, I was rewarded with a soundtrack beyond anything I could have imagined.

The roles I’ve clung onto the longest are (co-)writing, (co-)producing, DPing and editing. The writing and producing are down to the necessities of unpaid filmmaking; I’ve always hated both of these roles. I kid myself that the same is true of DPing, but it’s probably more due to an over-inflated opinion of my own abilities. Yes, I’m fairly certain that I’m a better DP than I am a director, but to think that no-one else could have DPed Stop/Eject to a good standard with limited time and equipment was somewhat egotistical.

Filming Stop/Eject with a minimal rig
Stop/Eject, and I still haven’t learnt my lesson. Photo: Paul Bednall

This year, for the first time ever, I’ve handed over the editing of a project to someone else – Miguel Ferros is now working on a cut of Stop/Eject. Although I was initially resistant to the idea, I now feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I eagerly anticipate Miguel’s cut.

Gratifyingly, I’ve recently been hired by a couple of different writer-producers to direct their shorts. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to direct and only direct. (More on these projects on the blog in due course.)

To close with, here’s a simple example of the perils of not collaborating. This week I recorded a line of ADR on my Zoom H1. Coming from a technical background, when faced with a technical task and an artistic task to do simultaneously, the former gets priority unless I make a conscious effort otherwise. So I was focused on the technical quality of the recording, and only noticed on playing back the material at home that I had failed to give the actress an important piece of direction. Had someone else been operating the recorder for me, I would have caught this mistake.

Fortunately the main ADR session is yet to come. At which someone else will be pressing the buttons.

Stop, Collaborate and Listen