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Collaboration - how do you make it work?

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Simon Ubsdell
Collaboration - how do you make it work?
on Apr 12, 2019 at 10:32:43 pm

When you're working as part of a team, how do you approach the issue of collaboration?

When a team-mate suggests an idea, how do you respond?

Is your immediate reaction to subject it to the most robust critique?

Or do you do your best to give it space to develop into something that could be useful?

What's the best way to respond to the ideas that your collaborators come up with?

Obviously we don't want to waste time by being unduly respectful of ideas that we think are non-starters?

But how do we know they are non-starters if we knock them down before we've kicked them around a bit?

What's your experience of good and bad ideas collaboration?

Simon Ubsdell


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Mark Raudonis
Re: Collaboration - how do you make it work?
on Apr 15, 2019 at 12:30:35 am

I follow something that I call "The meritocracy of ideas".

In a cut review meeting with many voices, it matters less WHO comes up with an idea, versus the quality of that idea.

Many organizations bow down to WHO's voice is speaking (Exec Producer, Director, etc), rather than objectively evaluating the quality of the idea. There are plenty of cases where bad notes have been suggested by someone higher up the food chain, only to have them categorically dismissed by the editorial team as being "un-doable". I'm NOT suggesting overt revolt or resistance to direction, but rather a rational, realistic assessment of the likelihood of actually being able to DO a note. However, there's a difference between "note fighting" and rationale discourse.

So to address some of your questions: every suggestion or note should be considered. It doesn't matter who gives it, but any note should be considered. I always suggest that an editor at least TRY doing the note. Sometimes, it actually works even though at first take you may think it's impossible. So, always try to do the note.

If you've made and effort and it still doesn't work, you can honestly respond that "we tried it, and it doesn't work". Only experience and advanced diplomatic skills can tread that fine line between trying it and dismissing it. If in doubt, try it anyway.

Collaboration is all about respect. Respect for abilities, experience and taste. Without those feelings is place, people revert to "because I said so" rather than a respectful consideration of everyone's role in the process.

Over the years I've worked for (and with) some extremely successful people. I can confidently say that the more successful the person, the more respectful they are with how they deliver notes. Example: "you may want to try xxxx in this scene" vs. "do this at 12:43 into the scene". You don't need a PhD to understand which approach makes the creative team feel more engaged!

Sometimes you've just got to say, "That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard!" On the other hand, you better have tried it in private BEFORE you deliver those words. This business if full of "dumb ideas" that have had unbelievable success.

Great topic for discussion. Thanks for bringing it up.

Mark "Try ALL dumb ideas" Raudonis

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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Collaboration - how do you make it work?
on Apr 15, 2019 at 8:39:58 am

Great post. I think that's exactly the right approach.

An ad agency head once told me: "There's no such thing as a bad idea". While it might not be literally true, it's a very good mindset to have.

It's always worth giving ideas the space they might need to come alive and prove their worth. We all think we know a bad idea when we see one, and often we are right in our snap judgment. But sometimes is pays to allow ourselves to be wrong - a "bad idea" might be a great idea that we didn't instinctively recognise as such.

Ideas don't necessarily come fully formed. It's how you implement them that often determines whether they work or not. So it's best to try and implement them in good faith.

I have to say that quite a few editors find it hard to implement in good faith notes that they instinctively disagree with. But we don't always honestly interrogate the reasons for our instinctive rejection of them. For example, are we unconsciously rejecting the note because we know that it will be awkward or tricky to implement? The hardest thing for us to do is to "kill our babies" and if a note threatens to break something we have fallen in love with then it's a lot harder to run with it.

And yes, there are good ways of suggesting an idea ... and bad ways. The more experienced you are, the more you understand this. The less experienced you are, the more likely you are to be dictatorial, and that's not a helpful way to collaborate. In fact, the person "dictatorially" giving a note can kill their own idea by not allowing the room for it to breathe - if you give the editor latitude to make it work, then it stands a much better chance than if you dictate the parameters too specifically.

Simon Ubsdell


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Andrew Kimery
Re: Collaboration - how do you make it work?
on Apr 16, 2019 at 6:19:49 pm

I'll lead into this by saying I like getting notes in person because it allows for an opportunity to discuss them (as opposed to in an email where it's much harder to have a good back and fourth). If there is a note I disagree with we'll talk about it and if they still want to try the note I'll give it a shot. If we do the note and I still don't think it works I'll say so, but if the other people still like then it stays (I've said my piece so it's time to move on).

As an editor I view my role as to ultimately tell the story that the producer, director, agency, etc., wants told. I'm there to execute their vision and to that end I want them to be happy with the final product even if I think it might be if some things were done differently.

Getting back to talking about notes, one thing that I always keep in mind is that the notes might be addressing the symptom not the problem. So by just doing the note (w/o digging into what the note means) you are just spinning your wheels. It's like if you have a pain in your foot and the cause is a pinched nerve in your back. If the doctor only looks at where the pain is then the source of the pain will never be rooted out.

One time I was working on an edit and the producer asked me to cut down a certain scene because it dragged on too long. I made it shorter and the producer still didn't like it. I made it shorter again and the producer still didn't like. I went back to first cut, watched it over and over again trying to figure out what wasn't working. I ended up making the scene longer and the producer loved it. I loved it.

The scene wasn't working because it was too long, the scene wasn't working because my original pacing was off, which meant it wasn't resonating with the audience, which meant they got bored, which meant they felt like the scene dragged on forever and was too long. By just addressing the note ("make it shorter") I couldn't make it better, but by digging deeper I realized what the underlying problem was and was able to fix it.

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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Collaboration - how do you make it work?
on Apr 16, 2019 at 8:53:07 pm

[Andrew Kimery] "Getting back to talking about notes, one thing that I always keep in mind is that the notes might be addressing the symptom not the problem."

This is such a good point.

In an ideal world clients and producers and directors would tell you that they have a general feeling about a problem and leave you, the editor, to find a way of solving it.

Instead they "diagnose" the problem and prescribe very specific solutions to it - and that's where it all tends to go wrong.

"Something's not quite right about this section and I can't put my finger on it" is actually a much more helpful note than "Lose that line, change that shot, chuck out the music, cut it all faster".

Editing is not like fixing an engine - it's not about rigid steps, it's about finding what works. And that takes experimentation that really only the editor can take full control of. Editors tend to know how to "experiment" with a view to getting the best results. It's an acquired skill. Random experimentation is a pretty good way of killing the soul of a project ... Experienced film-makers understand the need to let the editor experiment in a controlled fashion.

Simon Ubsdell


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Mark Suszko
Re: Collaboration - how do you make it work?
on Apr 24, 2019 at 2:52:26 pm

To even start a meaningful collaboration, between client and editor, the client has to see the editor as a creative partner and not just a human remote control interface. I feel that I'm there to apply my skills to enhance what the client wants, not just execute rote commands.

Some clients in my past felt challenged by this, like it was being argumentative. It made the early part of the work tougher, until they finally saw that what we were doing was learning to dance together in the same rhythm. While the client has to learn the right ways to suggest changes, using appropriate language to avoid talking down to the editor, the editor has to also use nuance and diplomacy to convey their reactions and suggestions, so that they don't read as being oppositional or contemptuous. Once the rapport is established, the deference can slowly drop away into a shorthand over time...

Day One:
"I'm still not really happy with this sequence. The change in location seems too abrupt, somehow."
"We can try different transition rates, but Your shot doesn't have enough "handles" to stretch the dissolve much more... I'd suggest leading into the next clip with an audio J-cut. The new audio cues the audience to expect the change."
"Okay, let's try that and see if it helps."

Day Five:
Still not feeling this sequence. It's too confusing. The smash cut to the new location isn't working."
"The smash is fine, and it compresses the run time; I think your incoming shot sucks. You need a wider one in there, or a much, much tighter one, focusing on one little representative detail. THEN we can go to this shot you have."
" Sounds too artsy. Try it with the tight shot, but if that doesn't work, we're going to try something else entirely."

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