Seamless Video Production
We take some things for granted. We’re supposed to. When things are well-designed they are supposed to appear entirely innocuous, borne of nature, as though they have lain there for time immemorial and we have appeared among them rather than them among us. This is not only true of physical designs. In video production good sound design can, and is often intended to go unnoticed. A well-crafted visual transition can be so seamless that the viewer stays immersed in the film and unaware of a cut and similarly, production design can often be taken for granted. Even when not subtle or naturalistic, set design and props can be easily overlooked if they are executed well in a video. Whether a set is intended to meticulously represent an actual place and time, or to create an entirely ethereal and symbolic space, if it is well designed we readily accept the world that we are presented with and all things within it. We go to that world without much thought for the strenuous labour of the set builders, prop buyers or production designers. Sourcing props is definitely not work that deserves to go unnoticed, even if it is intended to, as I can personally attest.
My friends and family have grown used to seeing me become increasingly incensed at inanimate objects. Worse still, inanimate objects that are not present. In fact, them not being present is exactly what enflames me. I can be heard listing things I need to do, locate or acquire for a project and inevitably the list dips in to the ludicrous at the end with a flourish. The list starts quite normally. “I need to book a soundie, arrange catering, talk to the wardrobe supervisor and find-” now this is where the list becomes vaguely bizarre in perfect synchronicity with my cadence becoming distinctly manic. The point at which I say “find” is usually a good indicator that my to do list is about to go awry and I’m going to sound a little panicky. Below are some examples taken from my real life. Verbatim.
“I need to book a soundie, arrange catering, talk to the wardrobe supervisor and find-
- A dozen gymnasts
- A Mother of Pearl dressing table
- A church that will let us shoot a blasphemous music video for an Australian political party
- A Dalmatian
- An ice truck
- 12 pews [I found the church but it didn’t have pews. The Director wanted pews]
- Two snakes
- A chair”
A chair. Or ‘The Chair’ as my friends would call it when enquiring “how’s work? How’s it going with The Chair?” “Have you sorted The Chair?” or “I heard shouting. Is it The Chair?” It’s the most benign sounding item on the list but as with all things on the list the challenge is twofold, first in finding a very specific chair/Dalmatian/dressing table and secondly in finding it yesterday. So having it delivered today! This chair was very specific and very time sensitive. We needed a black leather armchair with a brass frame and we needed it by Sunday. Today was Friday. Both myself and a Production Assistant called furniture shops, prop hire companies and set designers all to no avail. We turned to a little known, secret industry resource called Google. We found chairs that were 2 out of 3 combinations of black leather, brass frame and available to be delivered on Sunday but none that were all 3. The Chair Triumvirate alluded us for hours. We persevered but started to consider alternative options as the possibility of us finding THE chair dwindled. It was suggested to me that we could use one of the chairs that was available to collect and of a similar design and paint the frame and leather to make it the right colours. I applauded the ingenuity and dynamic approach to solving the problem (it was less patronising and The Apprentice-y than it sounds) but said I it could never work. I know Directors and clients are very prescriptive with set design briefs. They want what they want, and we MUST find it.
I had an idea. It was not fool-proof but we were nearing the deadline and, as my tattoo reads, momma ain’t raise no fool. We would purchase the exact chair that we wanted but had thought impossible to have on set on time. I would then arrange a same day courier to collect the chair directly from the distribution depot, in Kent, and bring it directly to set, in Manchester, the client would love it and I would relax somewhere near the snack table and enjoy the shoot. It wasn’t an ideal plan but it was by no means a hare-brained scheme. It was certainly more straightforward than the plan to acquire the Mother of Pearl dressing table which involved me personally collecting it directly from the manufacturer… in Karachi. The Chair was approved by the client and Director and purchased. I arranged a courier to collect The Chair on Saturday morning and deliver it directly to set that same day, a whole day before we needed it. There was some back and forth arranging security access for the courier to be able to get the chair from the collection point but it was all arranged and I slept well on Friday night.
The chair was to be delivered to the shoot location before 6pm on the Saturday. I’d sent an email double checking the booking and that all was well at 8am. I’d received an email confirming that I should relax and enjoy a Saturday morning just as I would any other – being beaten up and mocked by my daughter. At 5:50pm I called the courier to confirm that the chair had been delivered. The lady on the phone sounded trepidatious. She said she would give me the driver’s phone number. This never happens. You can beg and plead for the driver’s number. You never get the driver’s number. I became stricken with panic. “Is there a problem with the delivery?” I asked in an unexpectedly high-pitched voice. My daughter mocked me. “You can talk to the driver” the lady said. In hindsight, I only wish the courier company could have passed The Chair to me as quickly as she passed the buck to the driver. I called the driver and asked him if he had delivered the chair. He told me “they were closed” I asked him that if the shoot location was closed would he to deliver it directly to my house and asked if he was still in the area. He said, “no the distribution centre was closed.” He hadn’t collected The Chair. The driver had arrived to collect the chair at 4:30pm. Thirty minutes after the distribution centre had closed. He had planned, in a daring feat, to collect the chair at 4:30pm in Kent and deliver it before 6:00pm in Manchester, a bold bordering on moronic attempt at bending space and time that if achieved would have been a remarkable leap in travel technology and human evolution but was in actuality a monumentally cretinous catastrophe that I seldom needed.
I calmly walked out into the garden to take stock/bare knuckle attack my punch bag. I called the distribution centre. An automated message told me they were closed until Monday morning at 8am. I gently sobbed. My daughter mocked me. I called the Director and explained. There was a potential solution. While the shoot started on Sunday the scene that we needed The Chair for wasn’t scheduled until Monday at around lunch time. I spoke to another courier and asked if they could be at the door of the distribution centre coiled and ready to spring in to action the second it opened. They assured me that they could have the chair loaded on a van and hurtling towards me by no later than 08:05am on Monday, that depending on traffic they could have it with me by around 1pm and that their driver had no ambitions as a scholar of paradoxical time/space continuum equations. I spent the rest of the day preparing the final things for the shoot. I just needed to book a soundie, arrange catering, talk to the wardrobe supervisor and find a 4ft x 4ft mirror, a white coffee table that could double as a bench and a 20ft x 20ft roll of flooring and The Chair. I slept less well on Saturday night.
The first day of the shoot, Sunday, came and went and while it went very well it still didn’t have The Chair. Sunday night I dreamt of arriving home to find that I was too late and my house was closed so I had to live outside with nothing but a chair. Vans circled me. I cowered. My daughter mocked me. I woke on Monday and called the courier immediately and asked for the driver’s number so I could harangue him and ensure that he collected the chair on time. They wouldn’t give me his number. I felt confident in this company. I drove to the shoot stopping only to change a tyre because the gods felt that my morning was evidently not stressful enough. The talent on this shoot were only available to be on set for one hour. In one hour we had to shoot numerous ads as well as stills photography and social media spots. We also had no idea when they would arrive and when the hour would start. We knew only that it would be after lunch. If the chair arrived before then I could proudly take my place near the snack table, if not then there would be no opportunity for waiting around, the hour countdown would start whether The Chair was there or not and we would not be able to shoot that ad. These immovable facts whirred in my mind as I changed my tyre with my phone perched on my shoulder calling the courier. The Chair had been collected. Depending on traffic I was going to sleep very well that night.
Lunch time approached. The mirrors arrived, the bench arrived, the flooring arrived. The talent arrived. The 60-minute countdown began. I frantically called the courier. They would absolutely not give me the driver’s number. I was impressed. They called me back. The driver had arrived! He had handed the chair over to someone at reception! I asked someone to run and collect it quickly while the talent were in make-up. Minutes before the talent arrived on set the chair was rushed in and put in place. The talent, a 6ft 3 inch footballer, walked on set and immediately dwarfed The Chair. It looked like a toy. The Director and Client had a quiet chat. I gently sobbed. My daughter was at nursery. It was decided that The Chair was too small.
Despite my stress and anguish and logistical prowess being utterly worthless I would sleep well that night. For while I was attacking a punch bag or changing a tyre or being mocked, the Production Assistant had arranged for the purchase and collection (from Wigan, very close to Manchester) of a chair that was of a similar design to the chair in the brief and had the Set Builder paint the frame and leather to make it the right colours. The Director and Client loved it.
Of course, I had known of this contingency plan and I had known that regardless of what happened we would solve the problem (The Chair WAS delivered on time.) I knew that we’d give the client the shoot they’d imagined in their brief. That never stopped me endeavouring to achieve plan A while working equally hard on plan B but the real moral of the story is that the work of a good Set Builder should NEVER go unnoticed!