FINAL JEOPARDY PART 1: Production Facts – Questions you should know the answer to

By - CTL
May 23, 2017
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By Marcus Honesta.

Television commercial production is a fun business, obviously, and what better way to test your own (or your colleagues) knowledge than by taking part in our wonderful quiz – Production Facts – Questions you should know the answer to!

WHY A 30 SECOND TELEVISION COMMERCIAL IS NOT 30 SECONDS LONG?

Under broadcast requirements there has to be 12 frames of silence leader space at the beginning and the end of each commercial. Twelve frames equates to approximately half a second. So a 30 second TVC is only ever 29 seconds long.

WHY, IF YOU WANT SLOW MOTION, DO YOU SHOOT FASTER?

To produce action in real time, film travels through the gate of a motion picture camera at a rate of 24 frames per second (fps). (Digital replicates this electronically.) If you double the number of fps and play it back at 24 fps, the image appears to be in slow motion because there are 2 frames per exposure captured. Conversely, if you expose film at 12 fps, and play it back at 24, the image appears to be moving in fast motion. It’s as simple as that.

WHAT IS CREATIVITY?

The Macquarie Dictionary defines creative as: generative, ground breaking, innovative, originate, handmade.

Steve Jobs philosophised, “Creativity is just connecting things…being creative is seeing the same thing as everybody else but thinking something different”

If you Google ‘creativity’ you’ll find millions of definitions. But for every quote there is usually an equal and opposite quote.

Many years ago, at an industry conference in Mumbai, a speaker (who looked a little bit like Ghandi) defined creativity as, “bringing two totally unrelated things together to make one very clear point.”

I truly believe creativity is a gift and that no one really knows where it comes from.
Paul McCartney maintains he wrote ‘Yesterday’ in his sleep.

Noted American singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt tells you on YouTube that the words and music for his classic song ‘If I Needed You’ came to him whilst slumbering. A gift? I think so. The music world is littered with similar experiences.

The rest of us have to beaver away at it. And with practice you can achieve significant results. But it will never be as great as the work produced by the “gifted ones”. If you find such a person working on your business, hang on to them, they’re worth their weight in gold.

THE IMPORTANCE OF VIDEO v AUDIO?

It is an inescapable fact that sound plays a vital part in film making. Dialogue, sound design, musical scores and jingles are some examples. It is often said that sound adds 50 to 60% to the storytelling process. I suppose that’s a matter of personal opinion and depends on the commercial in question. Someone once joked, “If you’ve got nothing to say sing it”. This in my opinion is a pretty naïve view.

It is worth noting that the video side of a script invariably costs much more than the audio side and is therefore the focus of more attention and scrutiny. How many pre production meetings have you been to where the time allotted to music is a lot less than the pictures?

Both video and audio have a large contribution to make. Ignoring one in preference to the other will compromise your end result.

WHAT ARE PER DIEMS AND HOW ARE THEY CALCULATED?

The term Per Diem comes from the Latin for per-day. Per diems are the daily allowances given to crew and agency personal to cover expenses while they are away from home on a shoot. The amount awarded is dependent on the location as some places are more expensive to stay in than others. Per Diems are used to pay for  accommodation, food and drink (non-alcoholic), breakfast, lunch and dinner, incidental out-of-pocket expenses such as telephone calls to home, laundry and miscellaneous needs.

HOW FAR CAN YOU MOVE A CAMERA BEFORE YOU HAVE TO RESET THE LIGHTS?

The truth is not far at all as each set up is specifically planned and lit. To save time and therefore money, all scenes with similar lighting requirements should be  shot in the same location (where the backdrop setting is appropriate). This maximises the lighting setup and minimises the time wasted in relocating cameras, lights and crew. In fact, this is the very reason why films are often shot non-sequentially. There really is madness in the method or perhaps more correctly, a method in the madness.

WHY IS “WE’LL FIX IT IN POST” NOT ALWAYS THE BEST SOLUTION?

“We’ll fix it in post”, means if there is a mistake or a glitch on set “don’t worry about it, we’ll attend to it later”. Many believe, with some justification, they are the worst words you can ever hear as they usually translate into costs that were neither planned nor budgeted for. Fixing it in post can be avoided with careful planning. That’s what preproduction meetings are for and by keeping a close eye on what is happening on the shoot and asking the appropriate questions if something is not to your liking.

AM I IN TROUBLE IF SOMEONE ON SET SAYS, “THE SUCCESS OF THIS SPOT REALLY DEPENDS ON HAVING A GREAT MUSIC TRACK”?

Generally speaking this means that the concept the agency is pushing is a dud and they are desperately hoping that the jingle or sound track will lift the commercial and carry the day, which is a very dangerous proposition to be in. There have been fabulous commercials where jingles or anthems have been used to brilliant effect. But these scripts are usually custom written and the sound tracks are an integral to the idea. The Qantas, ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ series of commercials come to mind. So yes, if someone says “The success of this spot depends on finding a great music track” and it isn’t already a part of the plan, prepare yourself for a problem. (“This idea depends on greg production values.” falls into the same category.)

WHY DO AUDIO TRACKS SOUND DIFFERENT ON TV THAN THEY DO IN THE STUDIO?

When you go to a studio or music facility you hear your sound track through the best quality, high fidelity speakers, in a confined, acoustically perfect, soundproof studio. It is never going to sound better.

For the best indication as to how your commercial will sound in lounge rooms around the country make sure the engineer turns off his main speakers, and plays it through small television speakers, (they all have them) There are also some technical reasons which I will go into in Final Jeopardy Part 2

WHEN SHOULD I OBJECT TO A LINE ITEM (COST) IN A QUOTE?

The short answer is when something appears to be out of sync with the rest of the quote. However attention should also be directed to how all items, in all departments relate to one another. For example, why would you need travel allowances if the studio is in the same city as your agency? (As weird as it seems, this happens.) However, if you feel uncomfortable in any way, with anything in a quote, ASK.

HOW LONG SHOULD IT TAKE TO WRITE A GOOD SCRIPT?

Over the years I have met a few copywriters who could write brilliant scripts in their heads while they were being briefed. It’s a rare talent. And most who possess it are always careful to tell you that they laboured for weeks to come up with their ideas.
But advertising is a business and it needs deadlines to function.

Given that a creative team, at any one time is working on a number of projects, I believe 2-3 weeks is a reasonable time for professionals to come up with a good script.

There will be exceptions when circumstances dictate a great idea is needed overnight. A good creative will rise to the challenge and thank you for the opportunity. Just don’t make it a habit.

Clients should feel comfortable asking their agencies to understand these situations and produce work accordingly.

But relationships, especially business ones, require all parties to want it to work. Goodwill and trust are wonderful catalysts.

WHO OWNS THE FILM/DIGITAL FOOTAGE?

Strictly and legally speaking, the client owns all the material that is produced on a shoot. They pay for the stock or the digital devices the images are captured on. They pay for all the talent and technicians so  logically and morally they should own the final product. Some agencies claim that copyright rests with the creator of the idea. They mean themselves. But if you extrapolate that thought then the idea should belong to the art director and / or copy writer who came up with it.

Now if agencies wish to come up with unsolicited ideas, pay for the production and then pitch them to clients, then they should retain the IP.

Think of it as if you were buying a painting. You pay for Blue Poles, you own it.
In the past some production companies laid claim to the footage they produced ……………… I understand they are any longer in business.

WHAT’S A CHECK QUOTE?

After an agency has received a quote on a job from a preferred supplier they often call on one or two friendly production companies and ask them to prepare a quote for the same storyboard and script. They do this, they say, to keep the bastards honest.
A more sinister use of this procedure occurs when an agency producer rings the production house of choice and asks them to arrange two more bids from two other companies. These so called ‘check quotes’ and are always considerably higher. All quotes are then presented by the agency to their client. And, big surprise, the production house the agency is recommending is the lowest bid by far and they get the job. (The US Department Of Justice has recently been taking a very close look at this practise.)

HOW DO YOU TELL YOUR AGENCY YOU HATE THE SCRIPT?

I’m not absolutely sure one should just blurt out “I hate it”. I have been on the receiving end of similar comments and I have to tell you, it hurts. Creatives, contrary to popular beliefs, are human too.

Scripts are serious business tools from which you expect a commercial result and should be judged as such. So ask yourself these questions,
1. Does it answer all aspects of the agreed brief?
2. Can it really be produced on budget?
3. Can it really be produced on time?
4. Is it great?

If any of the above criteria are not met, your agency has a problem and you should politely tell them so.

The creative product is however, a subjective and amorphous entity. Personal taste often becomes an issue.

The question you should then ask is not “do I like it” but “is it right for my brand”.
I have often had clients say they don’t like a script. “Good” is my reply, “You’re a sixty year old guy and the target is woman 25-39”. This is where planners should earn their money.

WHEN IS IT TOO LATE TO CHANGE SOMETHING?

The short answer is never but only if you have lots of time and money. A more correct question to ask is, “will the change I am proposing sell more of my product and / or increase my brand awareness”. If the answer is yes, do it.

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