Morning Blow

After three weeks of preproduction we finally had the chance to jump in the studio and record our TV show. To give a little context for those who don’t know, I’m a communications student majoring in media production at the University of Newcastle  and this semester, I took a course in TV production. The major assignment required the class to come together a create a TV show to be shot and recorded ‘as live’ in the studio. We had three weeks for preproduction and shot in the fourth.

Now before you go judging keep in mind this is our first ever production, everyone you see onscreen are students within the class. We’re production students, not drama students (especially me)… Although my main role was camera operator (both in the studio and field) I  also made several onscreen appearances. I was a mindless zombie, a drama student pretending to be a tree and a as a frustrated infomercial host. I actually wasn’t supposed to be the infomercial host, the original guy was sick so I had to stand in on the day with very little rehearsal (thank god for auto cue).  Being on camera and acting was out of my comfort zone but I loved every moment of it. The whole production process was such a great experience resulting in many great friendships along the way. We may not be nominated for any awards and certainly wont become Youtube sensations but what fun! Hope I can get into the TV industry after uni.

The week following our recording day we were required to submit a 2000 word ‘learning journal with strict headings to adhere to. For those interested in the learning process and aspects of TV production in general, please continue reading.

Reflective Journal

Introduction 

This semester at university, more than any other experience, has had the most profound effect on me in finding my future career path. Through the TV production course I’ve discovered a whole world of exciting, collaborative, creative jobs. Throughout the course I faced a range of diverse challenges, each one I overcame not only gave me a new appreciation for the medium but a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Never had a class made me feel so lost in a moment, when I was the studio, all my focus and concentration turned to the task at hand, blocking out all other distractions. I gained a sense of what professor Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow” (2002).

Flow Theory 

Have you ever been so focused on the work you’re doing that everything around becomes inconsequential. You’re thoroughly enjoying yourself but before you know it, hours have gone past in what seemed a relatively short amount of time. This state of “dynamic equilibrium” is what Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow’(2002, p90). The feeling has been described as a sense of “ecstasy”, a “moment of inner clarity”, “serenity” (Farmer 1999). Often the act of the task can be an end in itself, “autotelic” in nature, the intrinsic gain is enough to motivate action.

Integral to ‘flow’ is the notion of matching ones skills to the optimum level of challenge. The idea being, the greater level of skill one has the greater the challenge needs to be in order to acquire that deep sense of self-satisfaction. To maintain a sense of flow one “must identify and engage in progressively complex challenges” (Farmer 1999). For instance when it came to choosing our first crew roles in the TV studio, I chose a job that I was somewhat familiar with, thus minimizing some of the technical challenge. Since this was my first time in a TV studio, the challenge lied in learning this new format of production. I was able to successfully cater the level of challenge to my skills and so before I knew it any initial anxiety or apprehension was lost as I was enveloped in the process.

Now it is important to note, flow isn’t just about meeting skill with challenge, “flow is expected to occur when individuals perceive greater opportunities for action than they encounter on average in their daily lives, and have skills to engage them” (Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi 2002, p95). This reinforces the idea that the notion of flow is more nuanced than simply meeting skill with challenge. For me, my class exercise revealed to me these  ‘perceived greater opportunities’, they stemmed from personal desire to find myself in the world. The class activities were a never before had opportunity for me to enhance my skills and knowledge in the media production industry. Knowing that I would be spending just one semester on this class, further motivated me to really challenge myself, to incorporate these new skills into my habitus. Achieving flow was crucial to the development of my skills, this way I was able to challenge myself, overcome that challenge then move onto the next one minimizing stress, anxiety and even apathy.

From the start of this semester I knew I wanted to experience as much as possible, I wanted to challenge myself with new and exciting roles. Although I felt an initial sense of apprehension, I knew the more I used the equipment and interacted with different aspects of the studio, the more comfortable I would feel, thus allowing me to take on more challenging roles.

TV Studio Crew Roles reflections 

My first crew was sound mixer during our first recording of ‘Playschool’. This meant I was responsible for “the technical and artistic quality of the program sound” (Millerson & Owens 2012 p22). This meant first ensuring all the microphones used by the talent were working, then individually adjusting the microphone levels on the sound desk to ensure voices weren’t peaking to high or low in frequency. Once shooting began, the main role was to keep the whole mix at a comfortable level, this included making sure the right microphone was on, muting those that weren’t in use and that turbo items fit seamlessly into the sound mix. This role built on skills I had gained through sound mixing live music and drama performances at high school. Taking on this role seemed an easy introduction to the world of TV. Obviously the role had some differences to mixing live musical performances but the skills required were virtually the same. This allowed me to absorb all the other new incoming information about how a TV studio works. It was during this first shoot that I realised how much of a collaborative work TV production is, success is so dependent on everyone fulfilling his or her own independent roles. The pressure put on me to get my job right so to make the shoot a success spurred me on, this made the role both exhilarating and exciting. The experience left me hungry for the next challenge.

As the role of sound mixer was based in the control room, the next step for me was experience a role on the studio floor. Although a little apprehensive at first, the next role I chose was camera operator. The nervousness and fear of the unknown is what initially spurred me onto this role, for me it was just the next challenge to overcome. As camera operator my main responsibility was simply to listen to the directors calls, ‘stand by camera’ would mean make sure your shot is right (framing, focus etc) then ‘take camera’ to signal your camera was now going live (Millerson & Owens 2012, p24). After the first week I found the role pretty simple, so when Susan asked for volunteers to record a live, unscripted lecture I jumped at the challenge. More than ever, listening to the director’s instructions was integral to ensure smooth transitions could be made by the vision mixer. I also found the experience most liberating creatively as I was able to suggest shot ideas straight to the director. The first ten minutes was full of nervousness and anxiety but as we moved on we began to find our rhythm, I was swapping through the same shot variations and could almost anticipate when I was going to be ‘on’. One interesting aspect however was sometimes I’d be on standby but then something unexpected would happen leading to another camera going ‘on’, the same happened in reverse, I’d be patiently waiting to go on standby but all of a sudden something unexpected would happen leading to my camera going straight “on”. The unpredictability of the whole experience kept the job tough but at a level that was also enjoyable for the duration of the shoot.

Although I found sound mixer and camera operator to be the most challenging and enjoyable roles, I also participated in a number of other roles. In the second week of  ‘Playschool’ I was responsible for props, I was jib camera operator during our first run through of the news segment, graphics operator for the second run through and sound mixer on the studio floor during our live performance exercise. Outside of our class activities I was also floor manager for the filming of news segments with young year six visitors who participated in the ‘day at uni’ program. In this position I found myself teaching young kids how to do a job that I’d never done six weeks earlier, the moment put in perspective all that I’d learnt in such a short amount of time.

Final TV Studio Project 

For the Final project I elected to be camera operator, both in studio and the field. Initially I was somewhat daunted by the field camera work but it was a challenge I’d looked forward to. I mostly did camera work for the ‘supernatural segment’. Before any shooting began, I along with the rest of the camera crew (Dean) walked through of the script blocking all the camera shots with our actor (Duncan) and segment producer (Patrick). Since our original location was denied, one of the challenges was how to turn the university wetlands into a dark spooky setting. Utilising some of the heavily shaded footpaths of the wetlands we were able to convey a dark, empty space without actually having to film at night. As Dean was the primary camera operator, I was there to get secondary shots, most of which were simple establishing shots. That day was the first time I’d used the JVC camera since last year so I did feel a little apprehensive going off on my own. Although within minutes I found that worries disappeared as naturally I began to just have fun, utilising techniques I forgot I knew, I managed to get some simple yet effective shots.

Cameras aside I also took on a number of onscreen roles. I managed to be a zombie, a drama student and a segment host. I wasn’t expecting to actually do any onscreen work, in fact during earlier classes I went out of my way to ensure I wasn’t on onscreen. My role in the fandom segment was most challenging. I volunteered for the role two days before the shoot when Sean pulled out of the role due to sickness. Unlike all my other roles that were chosen as means of progressively challenging myself, this I took out of necessity. If I didn’t volunteer, the segment could have been canceled, I couldn’t let that happen to Briana because I knew how much work she’d put into writing the script and how excited she was to see it come to life. Although I don’t regret taking the job, I feel like my performance wasn’t on par with the other performers. It was a case of the challenge being to high therefore I didn’t enjoy the role, thus preventing me from reaching a state of flow. Now keeping everything in perspective, I understand we’re all production students. None of us are really actors, I feel confident in the fact that I tried something new and challenging and if the opportunity ever arises again I know I’ll be there to try and build on those skills gained through this experience.

Although the studio work itself felt easy, the pressure to get it right for the class kept me fully immersed in the moment. When recording started my concentration was one hundred percent on the task at hand. Although I did feel the pressure, it wasn’t enough to make me uncomfortable or stressed. Rather I felt calm and relaxed with burning sense of ecstasy as my enjoyment and anticipation for the final product kept me engaged. On the day of the final shoot I ran into little problems, the main one being that I’d been given a different script to the one being used in the control room. Although I had people in the control room telling me I was adjusting my shots too early I was confident that I was following my script exactly. After a quick comparison of scripts I knew what the problem was and corrected it for myself and the other camera operators.

Conclusion

From a practical standpoint, I found this class to be the most beneficial to my technical and creative skills alike. Unlike previous media production classes, I didn’t feel bogged down in the minutia of learning basic skills I’d already acquired. At times those courses often left me bored and apathetic. On the other hand, as TV production was an entirely new format, I reveled at the challenge of learning a whole set of new and interesting techniques. We were literally thrown in the deep end from the very first lesson. We walked in the doors with no prior knowledge then walked out after having filmed a mini version of playschool. By the end of semester our final output was a 16minute TV show, one that I am proud to be a part of. Sure, no networks are going to sign us, nor will we become youtube sensations as a result of our show, but the leaning experience, the skills gained from working on the production made the entire project completely worthwhile. On top of that I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention all the amazing friends I’d made along the way, I look forward to working with them creatively in and outside of university in the future. So sure there are aspects and particular parts of the production I’m not happy with, but that I feel is more the artist in me, “art is never finished, it is only abandoned” (Da Vinci as quoted by BrainyQuote.com).

References

Da Vinci, L. ‘Brainy Quote’. Retrieved June 4, 2013,

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/l/leonardoda380290.html

Farmer, D. (1999). ‘”Flow” and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’. Retreived June 1, 2013, http://austega.com/gifted/16-gifted/articles/24-flow-and-mihaly-csikszentmihalyi.html

Millerson, G. & Owens, J. (2012). ‘Television production’. 15th ed. Burlington: Elsevier Science.

Nakamura, J. & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). ‘The Concept of Flow’ in Snyder, C. R. & Lopez, S.J. ‘Handbook of Positive Psychology’. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wright, S. (2008). ‘“In the zone”: enjoyment, creativity, and the nine elements of “flow”’. Retrieved June 1, 2013, http://www.meaningandhappiness.com/zone-enjoyment-creativity-elements-flow/26/

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