Parachuting into the project

Fans of Tim Ferris tout many of his learning methods and concepts. One of the more popular methods is low stakes practice. If you can take the pressure out of the learning process and spend enough time practicing, you can learn something quite easily.

But that isn’t always as easy when you realize that you are under a deadline, a real pressure to deliver and are faced with the cold fact that only a particular new skill will solve the present issues and reach the goal.

That happened to me this past week.

It shakes down like this. A new project had arrived and had been greenlit in a very short period of time – a new show, going in a new direction, made the decision to hire the studio where I work. It was completely out of the blue, as this client hadn’t been active in a few years.  But, at the speed of television, they made the decision to move ahead.

This coupled with a software pipeline upgrade that – as is fashion these days – was a ground up rebuild of the previous version. Many of the most important and esoteric features have been rewritten, moved or removed in some cases. Add this to the already busy docket of shots from other shows and here we have the perfect pressure cooker of time, schedule and structure.

This was the perfect OPPOSITE of low stakes practice. Like the now famous quote, I was learning to make a parachute AFTER jumping from the plane. So it became a compression of priorities, starting from the first principle of intensely discussing what is required. Part of me knows that the final product I WANT to see and what the client wants to see can be very different things.

And therein lay the advantage – in a nutshell, the client actually has no idea what they are going to see until I actually show them. Sure there were storyboards, sure there have been shots like this in other movies and shows, but until they get footage of some kind – previz – into their cut of the show it’s really experimental.

When there are no real expectations, the stakes are still rather high, but they transform in a weird way into something more familiar. Every previz artist knows how what they are doing could turn into a much larger or smaller expenditure with just a few keyframes. They also understand that until someone sees some footage, no decisions can be made responsibly.

Other than storyboards, it’s be best form of low stakes practice available to an otherwise expensive business of crews, cameras, trucks and shutdown city blocks. SO. About that software upgrade …

Maybe next time.