Words of advice for future student-producers and anyone considering taking this course, written by the student-producers of MSP 4701: Producing and Directing / MSP 5701: Graduate TV Production, Fall 2016.

The question was:

“In about a paragraph, please write words of advice for next semester’s producers and directors. I will share this with them (anonymously – no names) at the start of the semester. Having gone through the journey, what words of advice do you have for the next team of MSP 4701/5701 producers and directors?”

Here are the answers:

“Start early, correctly, and with high energy and don’t let up. Get organized from the start and create a group chat between group members, that helped us a lot to have that channel for communication. Make sure someone is in the actor contact role who is strong and very organized and will be able to make the commitment throughout the semester. Create a shooting schedule where you clearly mark when shooting days will occur and where and then communicate this information to the whole cast and crew. Don’t deviate from the plan unless absolutely necessary; consider everybody’s needs and commitments when creating a schedule and avoid any last minute decisions or actions. Make sure you have at least one solid rehearsal day with all of your actors, preferably in the real spaces, prior to beginning to shoot. This will allow you to be focused on production days. … Remember to have fun! This will be a stressful project at times but always remember the bigger picture. You are creating a TV pilot show or a short film, while still in college! Not many people can say that. The work you’re doing here is very important and significant. Always remember this experience even after it is over because you will learn a lot about media production, telling stories, and working with people. But also remember that this is a class and you need to do your work as a team to pass!”

“Prepare for the worst, because everything at some point will go wrong. But as long as you’re prepared and have a great team behind you, it makes the final work that much more satisfying. Pick a story you believe in, or it will show on the screen!”

“It is a very active class that involves a lot of time and energy (inside and outside of class) and in order to be successful, you have to have time and energy available.”

“The one piece of advice I would give to in-coming students is to make sure that you do not have too much of a heavy load on you while taking this course. It is a very active class that involves a lot of time and energy (inside and outside of class) and in order to be successful, you have to have time and energy available. I would also say to make sure that you go in with an open mind, understanding that each person on your team has an idea/vision for how they envision the script. Don’t shoot down someone’s idea at the very first thought of it. In order to make everyone feel like they are important and are contributing, listen to their ideas, try it out and if it doesn’t work, try a new idea – but make sure to be respectful and understanding. Most importantly, have fun with the project.”

“My advice for the next MSP 4701 directors and producers is to make sure you are on a team whose production you feel strongly about or have good chemistry with. If you are on a team that is producing a script you don’t like, or don’t have good chemistry with your teammates, the quality of your work might suffer. However, if this ends up being the case, it’s still important to work hard and communicate effectively with your team, or you might drag them down. This is also a valuable life lesson, because as a professional you will probably have to do work that you might not like in order to make a living. I made the mistake of not prioritizing this project as highly as I could because I felt much more passionate about a few other projects I was involved in, and my team had problems as a result. So my advice is to either find a group you are passionate about, or suck it up and work hard anyway! You might enjoy it after all.”

“get shooting as early as you possibly can. “

“I would recommend you get the schedule set as early as possible. It added a lot of extra stress because on our last shooting day we knew that we were out of time. You get better footage if you aren’t stressed and worried. Allow yourself to take your time. I would also recommend get shooting as early as you possibly can. As the semester goes on people start other obligations and loose interest. I would recommend really considering the producability of each script and think about what the locations would realistically be.”

“Know your role and do it well.”

“I would say be open to collaboration among roles, but figure out what you’re best at and choose to be that person on set. Not everyone is good with a camera and not everyone is good at directing. I’ve worked on a lot of student productions and something I’ve seen time and time again is people shifting roles because the class doesn’t tell them specifically what role they have to serve. This is an issue because things don’t move smoothly and actors become confused as to who to listen to for direction. Nobody wants six people shouting direction at them. Going into our production, I knew I was good with a camera and I was good at keeping things moving at a steady pace. So I served as director of photography and as a co-director, not so much in directing the actors, but in keeping us on schedule. That’s the big thing for me. Know your role and do it well.”

“be prepared for the high level of intense production work.”

“If I had any advice to give to people who take this class, I would definitely tell them to be prepared for the high level of intense production work.  It is a 4000 level class, and it really felt like we were producing real-life TV pilots/short films and the processes of pre-production, production, and post-production were all really involved.  All of the work is super fulfilling and fun, but it can be very stressful and you need to be ready to work under pressure.

I know that’s the obvious answer, so another piece of advice I would give is to think about how ready you are to lead and truly direct other people.  You are working with real actors who expect their team, even though you are all students, to know what they are doing and to be able to tell them how to act.  I struggled with this in the beginning, but the exercises we did in class with director/actor roles really helped, and I came into my element.  Be willing to work on yourself and don’t be afraid to be pushy and direct (in a kind, respectful way).

I would also say to very carefully review the scripts and consider all of your resources before choosing one.  We had an extremely challenging script as far as locations and cast size, but we were prepared and eager to take on the challenge.  You must think about the feasibility of the story you and your group want to tell.  However, don’t be afraid to take a risk and challenge yourself-as long as you can pull it off and surround yourself with people who believe the same.

All MSP undergrads are required to take prerequisites to this class, so you are completely prepared to handle all of the equipment, production work, and editing.  MSP professors do a great job of preparing their students for higher level courses, and the real world of video and audio production.  If you don’t think you are prepared or technically able, seek help from your professor and your team early on so that you can be the most helpful and successful that you can be.  That being said, if you are a graduate student pursuing your masters in MSP, to my knowledge there are no prerequisites for taking this class.  So, if you did your undergrad in another department and don’t have the proper production experience, please think long and hard before enrolling-because this class requires a lot of production knowledge and skill.

“be passionate and hard working. Your heart and soul will go into these projects…”

Overall, my advice is to be passionate and hard working.  Your heart and soul will go into these projects and it means a lot to be able to say that you produced and directed a 30-minute pilot/short narrative while you were a student.  You will want it to be something you are proud to make and proud to show off.  It is a long and crazy experience, but it is so fun and totally worth it!”

“Time management!!”

“The suggestions to the students next semester are: 1. Pick your teammates carefully, because they are the people who you’re going to work with for the whole semester. Hopefully everyone in the team has something he or she is good at and this would make the production much easier. 2. Time management!! I know your actors don’t get paid from you, but you still need to find the balance and the best way to make sure you can finish everything on time. Don’t wait till the last minute and don’t trust too much about your ability. It’s always better to finish earlier so you can play more with the editing later!”

“be passionate … It is more than just a time commitment, but an emotional investment.”

“I think the most important advice I could give to next semester’s producers and directors is that no matter what, first and foremost – be passionate. There is a long and complex journey ahead in making these narratives come to life. There are going to be days where you are frustrated with your teammates, tired of long filming days, and will get sick and tired of watching the same footage over and over again on Premiere. The only thing that can help you get through everything and push along is the motivation that stems from your passion. Everyone should truly invest themselves in their project. It is more than just a time commitment, but an emotional investment. The more passion, emotion, and pride they put through their projects, the better they will be. I would also say to be prepared and plan ahead!! You can never be too prepared. Make sure everyone’s schedules are known early on and take that heavily into consideration when casting. Also, make sure each teammate is committed to the cause and on board to making the project as best as can be. The dynamic between the team is so important, and the stronger this bond the stronger the final outcome.”

“If you have the schedule set weeks in advance, it prevents last-minute crises…”

“For future students:

  1. Make time for this class! I made the mistake of taking this class during an 18-credit semester and with 3 jobs. This class is a beast! If you are reading this still in the first weeks of class, consider dropping a class or saving this class for a lighter semester. (I know, you want to take it now, but trust me, the time and effort needed for this class is massive and you will be drained if you don’t ensure time/energy in your schedule for it).
  2. Be conscious of who you pick for your team. Try to have a well-balanced team with a variety of skillsets. This may seem obvious, but when it comes to the team-picking day, it often happens based on who likes which script, but take a moment to ensure your team has each production area covered (camera work, audio, editing, lighting, coordination/planning) or at least enough of them.
  3. As soon as you have your team, get your plan established. Get your production schedule done and triple-check that it accounts for every shot you need and is realistic. If you have the schedule set weeks in advance, it prevents last-minute crises, ensures everyone is available when needed, and honestly is just a huge convenience. Establish your aesthetic, who will direct what (or conversely, who will handle which production areas) and your filming strategies- this includes shot lists, floor plans, etc. Most importantly, get everyone on the same page of how each team member will contribute and specifically what tasks they will handle. The more that is established (IN WRITING) upfront, the less complications and frustrations (hopefully) that will come up. “

“filmmaking by its nature is a collaborative process… so being able to communicate is crucial.”

“Well a few pieces of advice I would add for incoming students is make sure the script that is picked is a script that is producible. You’re doing this with relatively no budget but, be prepared to spend some money on props. Another piece of advice would be, it might seam easy to think that everyone is a producer or everyone is a director or editor but in reality make sure at least two people at minimum are director or editor. And make sure those two have a plan as far as directing or editing style goes. The last thing you want on set is wasting time trying to talk and or possibly arguing where to set up each shot. When everyone has multiple hats so to speak everyone’s has a competing vision and it clashes. Which leads to may last piece of advise being, filmmaking by its nature is a collaborative process, group work and team dynamics are key and you must learn to compromise where you can to get things done and move forward, so being able to communicate is crucial. You may have a ton of ideas but that may not matter if there is no communication and at the very least, others not listening to you. Work with people who will listen to you and learn to effectively communicate your vision.”

“As a commuter student, this class was really rough, so if you are be prepared. When everyone is centralized in one location it’s easier for them to all get together and not have time be a factor. When you have to worry about catching a train home at night it limits when and for how long you can be on campus. I wish someone would have told me that, I don’t think it would have deterred me from taking the class but I think that it’s important that anyone who is a commuter and in that position has a proper heads up as to how much time outside of class the project took and that there’s no getting around that. I tried to find as much as I could to do to make up for it, but students who live on campus are at a definite advantage in this class.”

“Definitely start scheduling as soon as possible. Get days to shoot locked in and have the equipment reserved if you can in the first week of the production stage…”

“Definitely start scheduling as soon as possible. Get days to shoot locked in and have the equipment reserved if you can in the first week of the production stage maybe even sooner. Take every thing seriously and if you think something has not been done, just do it because odds are someone else did not think to do it. If you notice your group mates slacking, don’t hesitate to just delegate the work yourself because that is the only way everything will get done. But have fun and don’t take a second for granted because you all will grow as a team and end up being very close.”

“Having gone through this journey, I have two pieces of advice. My first piece of advice is to make sure you and your teammates are all on the same page! I would rather know going into the production how much each person actually cares about the project beforehand than figuring out over the course of a few months. Make sure each person says what they’re going to do so you’re not stuck with scrambling to get things done last minute because you trusted another teammate to complete something and they didn’t do it.

My second piece of advice is to really think about the script you want. Yes it is important to love the story, but it really is important to think of produceability. Trying to schedule a huge cast to all meet at the same time and trying to secure certain locations can be VERY difficult. Make sure you love your script but also make sure you are thinking rationally about actually filming and putting the piece together. And good luck, it gets really tough at times but your finished piece is worth it in the end!”

“Having gone through the journey, I would say that pick the right teammates and a film that fits your interest is something that goes a long way. I would pick something you love to film like the genre. I would a lot say plan far in advice and be prepare for mishaps because in this world nothing is perfect and expect the unexpected.”

Other comments:

“I’ve never worked so hard in my life on something, and it didn’t even feel like a burden. So I think that means I picked the right field to pursue a career in.”

“I had such a great experience in this class! I really loved it all even though I wanted to pull out each hair on my head one at a time some days (HAHA). But I understand that that is what it takes to be a media maker and in some sick and fulfilling way I cannot explain – I love it. This experience has really taught me so much, from preproduction, production, and postproduction, to even how to better communicate with people…”

“It was by far the hardest project and most work I have ever done for one single project.”

“Looking back on the project, I’m really proud of how much I contributed on all three stages of production. It was by far the hardest project and most work I have ever done for one single project. For the first few weeks of the semester, I would try and estimate how much time I would think something would take to finish and would always underestimate the amount of time. Once I realized things took hours more than I expected them to, I stopped estimating.”

“I became more confident…”

“Before we started filming, I knew I wanted to direct but was a little nervous to actually give others direction without sounding bossy. Yet as we actually started getting on set and working with our actors, I became more confident. I knew our actors cared about the script as much as we did, so I felt very comfortable stepping into the director’s shoes.”

Back to MSP 5701: Graduate TV Production / MSP 4701: Graduate TV Production