The Behind the Scenes of Online Productions panel took place on Friday on the Gaming Stage. It was moderated by Sammy Paul and featured Taha Khan, Maddy Vian, Ciaran OBrien, Sophie Newton, and Dan Pugsley.
The panellists represented a cross-section of all aspects of online production, from sound and art to direction and production. Sammy began by asking the panellists how they fell into their respective fields and if they had any advice for people who want to work in that area.
Taha explained that he was friends with Robin Skinner (Cavetown) in school and made videos with him. He later found out that what he was doing was producing videos. Ciaran said that he took business studies at A-Level, but when it made him cry within a week he decided he couldn’t work in it. He switched to media studies and never looked back.
After beginning in low budget filmmaking with a small team, Sophie learned what she could handle in online production, both physically and mentally. Dan studied a music degree and knew he wanted to work in something to do with sound, but didn’t realise his current job in sound design existed until he fell into it.
Maddy is an illustrator and a part of the YouTube community. Her friends began asking if she could turn her images into animation and she began from there.
Sammy concluded by saying that although writing and directing may be the instinctive route, he suggests that people “chase the jealousy”. He further elaborated that if you’re on set and really want to be doing something then you should try it because it’s a good way to decide what you want to specialise in. Maddy added that you need to start with passion first, then you can make money in your field.
Sammy then asked what qualities the panel think are important in a director. Ciaran responded that clear opinions are vital. If people don’t know what they want, it’s difficult to make anything. Sophie added that working on low budget productions means you have to compromise, so she feels a good director shouldn’t be restrictive and they should also ideally be a great people person.
Maddy said that when she was directed by Taha it was a really good experience because he trusted her to do her job without much input from him. Dan echoed the importance of this and said that a good director has to trust the creatives on their project or have a clear vision, ideally both. Maddy added that they should let creatives take their idea and run with it.
Taha agreed with Ciaran that clarity is helpful and while he also thinks that a director should be a people person, but that isn’t make or break for him. When he directs people he often has a narrative, but not a visual, and he trusts the creators he works with to create a suitable visual. Sammy emphasised the importance of knowing what you want and being able to communicate it to your team. He thinks as a good director, you should “do your homework” and try to make most decisions off-set. Also, your direction shouldn’t be dictatorial – you should prioritise communication.
The next question posed by Sammy was what to do when you disagree with a collaborator. Ciaran began by pointing out that there’s a hierarchy on set and he isn’t the top of the chain. He made it clear that you can voice disagreements with directors, but you do have to accept their decision sometimes. He also added that if you’re regularly disagreeing, you should probably reevaluate whether you want to carry on collaborating with them.
Dan made the point that you’re aiming to realise a directors vision and if you can’t get on board it’s bad, but ultimately it’s the director’s voice and it’s not up to you. Sophie then described what she does when she does have a difference of opinion with a colleague. She recommends talking both ideas out the whole way through as if both are valid – even if you don’t think they are – and then decide if your opinion is worth fighting for. For her, communication is key.
Sammy’s suggestion was to run through the best and worst possible version of a project in your head before you start to make it, so you know what suggestions to reject while on set. Then Maddy pointed out that because she started working with friends within the YouTube community, that comes with having to set boundaries, to separate the personal from the professional.
Taha interjected that if you disagree on something that’s somebody else’s job, you need to defer to experts. Ultimately, they probably know better than you.
The next question was what common mistakes people can make in the panellists’ respective fields. Taha admitted that he’s made a lot of mistakes, but his most common one is to take on too much work, especially in terms of production.
This was echoed by Ciaran, who added that ego is an issue. You have to reign yourself in and realise you aren’t better than anyone else. Maddy has the opposite issue, however, saying that often she’s not confident enough.
For Sophie, time management and foresight are very important. People can be overly ambitious. Everything has a time and price and you need to confirm this early on, otherwise, it can result in huge compromises. Sammy stressed the importance of doing your homework, as people often think that they know it all. He recommended working under somebody, saying you’d be surprised at what they know and what you can learn.
For Dan, he often finds that sound engineers can have a lack of detail and depth early on in their careers. Sammy added that young writers can often overreach. Some things are impossible to make on a small budget and you should write to what you have.
When Taha was younger, he said he had no friends but a lot of time and so he began by making stop motion videos – because you can do that alone with very little money. His final words of advice to producers and writers were to make sure to learn storytelling and also to finish projects.
Photos by Emma Pamplin.
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