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Being a mature student who is about all things media oriented, I became drafted by one of my friends to undertake and help them  plan and produce a pilot episode for a comedy series. They had written it themselves and wanted to be one of the actors in the series, the idea of the premise was “Spaced” meets the surreal world stylings of “The Mighty Boosh”.

I had listened to him talk about the project with a passion (in the way many people often talk, when its about their own ideas) and thought that it sounded like it could be a good idea to work on and would look good on my portfolio. It was decided that a small group of us independents, with our limited professional experience and our collective knowledge of all things media, would go about planning and making this pilot – to showcase the series . This is about as good as the project got because even though we had a lot of enthusiasm, it was our wide-eyed innocence and naivety that eventually ruined the project.

Here is a run down of the things that I learnt from undertaking the project, this might help others to not make the same mistakes as we did:

Step 1 – Finding the right crew:

You would think that this is the most basic of firsts, but no matter how much you know the person/people there is a simple question that you must ask yourself before joining a project, especially if it could be a big and time consuming job: Can you communicate well with all people involved?

What I mean by this is – can you speak your mind freely about ideas to do with the project without being shot down or told to shut up? Is there a healthy and lively debate, meaning can you bounce ideas off of each other? After a few weeks of working through our own project, we found that this wasn’t the case at all; and this put a massive strain on the team we had. By the end of it we were literally driven so bat-crap crazy, that we wanted to bash our own heads in with various props and camera equipment.

Step 2 – Assigning Roles and Schedules:

Another point that should be made clear and helps reinforce the previous step, is the assigning of roles. In television a Production team is quite large, even on something like an independent TV pilot. Think of these people and their roles like ingredients for a cake or for baking bread, if your missing one the project will come out like a pita bread. A list of these roles can be found on the Skillset website, which gives good information about the media and television industry.

Step 3 – Planning:

What you may find at this stage is that no one really likes paperwork at all. I’m not sure what happens, but I think with some creative individuals it just reminds them too much of what their trying to avoid – being stuck at a desk doing a nine to five admin job with stacks and stacks of papers on their desk.

Nevertheless this point is one of the most important things and I will address the key factors:

  • All relevant pre-production paperwork should be completed before filming that is a given. I hear most people probably say this, but sometimes you’ll find that you’ll carry on without it; in the hope that someone is finishing their piece like they said they would. So were talking shot lists, scripts, location recce’s, shooting schedules, storyboards and call sheets. What you basically want to be looking at is a folder worth of paperwork, this is your guide for the whole production and you’ll be better off with it than without it.
  • Next, you want all your actors and actresses to be 100% professional. What you will have to ensure is that the people who you are working with are 100% committed. You need to know that they will be there, ready to go again and again; so that shoots move as quickly and smoothly as possible. It is also important to work out their schedules so that they are available and free to film, because without them you will constantly be pushing back production.
  • When you have the actors it is important to do a read through of the script. People in the industry have said that one page of the script is roughly one minute of the overall time in the program. This is something our production team forgot to check, and as a result, instead of having a twenty minute comedy pilot – we had a forty minute to an hour epic. It looked like we wanted to tell the life story of every character in one episode which wasn’t the case.
  • The last and most important thing to address, is to adhere to a specific time frame/period of filming for the production. This should be no longer then two to three weeks if needed (two for production and one for possible re-shoots). Its a good idea to stick to a guideline or else you might find yourself in chaos.

With this handful of knowledge that I have done my best to impart upon you (which in no way looks like the rantings of a mad and aspiring free-lance camera operator, and is surely more of what I hope is a helpful guide!), it should lead you in the right direction when undertaking something that could be a lot of fun. After all it should be something that brings people closer together and not to mention something that could be a good piece of work.

If anything can be learned from my own production, it is that dedication and passion need to be hand in hand. With this I wish you all the best; so happy film-making.