Web Content Corner With Jenni Powell: 5 Things Not to Do on a Web Project Shoot…and What To Do Instead

Friday, 19 August 2011 12:51 Written by  Jenni Powell
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Web Content Corner With Jenni Powell: 5 Things Not to Do on a Web Project Shoot…and What To Do Instead

While both the acting unions and the Writer's Guild now have New Media divisions to set guidelines and rules for the protection their members, generally actual shoots for web-based projects don't have such guidelines and rules in place.  Some choose to run their sets much like television and film sets, as many people working in the web space have TV and film backgrounds.  Some projects, especially first-person projects such as lonelygirl15 or the work of Philip DeFranco, don't require as stringent guidelines because of the bare-bones nature of their sets and crew needed.

Having worked on both film sets when I used to be a filmmaking assistant at the Los Angeles Film School to producing a great number of web shoots from scripted series to the before-mentioned first-person projects, I've seen a lot of things that just generally should not be happening. 

This article isn't designed to be an end-all-be-all document on how you shouldn't run your set but a series of suggestions on potential Standards and Practices that could maybe make your next web project shoot run a little bit smoother and keep your cast and crew happier and healthier.

Don't Go Over 12 Hours Without Permission / Reward

On a Union shoot, you generally start making time and a half at 10 hours and double-time after 12.  Because the vast majority of web series shoots are not only non-union, but often done on volunteer time, these rules don't apply.  However, I have seen far too many shoots that not only don't acknowledge these time milestones, they take it for granted that their cast and crew will work until absolutely everything is in the can. 

Not only is this assumption inconsiderate, it's also dangerous.  Lack of sleep is more dangerous than drinking when it comes to driving and I've heard of numerous instances of people having to pull off the side of the road after a shoot to sleep to even crashing their cars on their way home after a long shoot day. 

Standards and Practices Recommendation:
  The producer should call together cast and crew at 12 hours and ask for volunteers to continue shooting.  If enough of cast and crew do not feel they can continue, schedule a reshoot.  It might be inconvenient for the production but it beats dangerous injuries and even death.

Don't Skip Second and Even Third Meal

Union rules state you take a meal break on set every 6 hours.  And this doesn't mean pass around some pizza and gobble it down as you setup for the next shot.  It means all work stops and cast and crew has AT LEAST a half hour to sit down and enjoy a meal.

As a producer of low-budget web series, the one thing I try to never cut corners on is meals.  If people aren't making their normal wages (often not making wages at all), the least you can do is make sure there are well-fed in order to have the energy to do their jobs well.

Standards and Practices Recommendation:  Provide a meal every 6 hours on set and give cast and crew a half hour to an hour to rest and recharge.  Snacks and drinks should also be provided on a continual basis.

Don't Skimp on Water Bottles

Eco-friendly producers might not agree with me on this one, but from all my set experience, the fact of the matter is that water bottles need to be on-hand and plentiful on every shoot.  I've tried everything from keeping a black sharpie around my neck, chasing crew members around to write their names on their bottles, to providing crew with pre-purchased personalized canteens and huge jugs of water.

It always comes back to crew requesting regular ole water bottles.  I've actually gotten in screaming matches with thirsty crew members if said bottles aren't on set.

The reason for this is simple: convenience.  You can send a PA around with an armful of bottles to just hand out and crew members can grab them on the quick as they move from one part of set to another as opposed to having to stop and fill up.  And you never want to run the risk of dehydration on set.

Standards and Practices Recommendation: The general formula I use is to have enough bottles of water on set to supply each cast and crew member with 3 16 oz. bottles.   Some people will drink more, some less, but it's a good general estimate.

Don't Credit People For Less Than the Work They Put In

On Union shoots, there are of course many rules and regulations on who can do what job.  But on most non-union web series shoots, the "wearing many hats" mentality is not only a matter of need but often a matter of pride.  But when you are doing so many jobs, what ultimately do you credit yourself as?  What about your crew?

The ability to be flexible with bestowing of credits should be seen as an opportunity.  If you aren't always able to reward people in money, you can often reward them in experience.  If one of your PAs expresses an interest in camera assisting, see if the camera department wants an extra hand (this actually happened on the set of Video Game Reunion and led to the PA permanently joining the camera crew and booking work in camera departments after wrap).

And if you ever wonder what someone wants to be credited as…just ask.  Obviously credit within reason but reward the work that was done.

Standards and Practices Recommendation:  Make it clear to your crew that should they be interested in performing a job in addition to what you initially contacted them for, they should come to you to discuss and honor their requests when able.

Don't Post Any of the Above On Facebook / Twitter

Working on the web, we are constantly plugged into our various social media networks.  This gives us the unique opportunity of immediately starting a dialogue with our audience even before the series is in the can.  And with almost everyone owning smart phones with a variety of ways to post pictures, videos, and comments directly online, the amount of the reach can be extremely powerful.

But as the cliché goes: With great power comes great responsibility.

The automatic fear is the one of spoilers.  Maybe you were saving the fact that Felicia Day is making a cameo in your series.  But an intrepid crew member enthusiastically tweets, "Felicia Day really is as nice as everyone says!"  Oops.

But there is another, more serious issue with the power to spread information far, wide, and fast.  Say you enthusiastically post on Facebook of your epic 20 hour shoot with only 4 people passing out from heat stroke.  That may sound extreme, but I've actually seen posts similar.  And if I see it, who is not to say someone who might not take too kindly to the poor treatment of crew members being worn as a source of pride.  There have been producers and creators I now will not work with in the future knowing they treat a crew that way.

Standards and Practices Recommendation:  Meet with your cast and crew on day 1 of your shoot and tell them your social media policies.  Make it very specific what you don't want posted online and the consequences if they do not comply.  And if it's something that might make someone angry, hurt, or may give legal precedence to sue…don't post it.

Overall, these recommendations can be boiled down to a few very basic skills that all producers require to be successful: communication, availability, and respect.  Keep those basic skills in mind and you'll run a happy and healthy set and cast and crew members will work with you over and over.

Web Content Corner is a weekly IAR exclusive column where new media guru Jenni Powell discusses online trends, and speaks with the most important creators working in the industry today.

Jenni Powell has been deeply involved in innovative online communities for several years, dating back to the cult Internet series Nobody's Watching (over 40M views) and later becoming a central figure on the web video breakout lonelygirl15 fan community. This led to her creating the fan-favorite parody series lonelyJew15, which landed her a job at lonelygirl15's production company EQAL. She has a strong background in production working with Upright Citizen's Brigade (UCB) A&E's Deadliest Catch, and Lifetime's Lisa Williams Life Amongst The Dead. Online, Jenni has worked on many popular web series such as the smash Microsoft-sponsored hit The Guild, Streamy Award-nominated With the Angels, Poor Paul, The Crew, and Comedy Central's Atom.com standout The Legend of Neil. She freelance writes for popular web entertainment site Tubefilter News and consults on and produces various transmedia entertainment projects around the web, such as the ghost-hunting comedy Bumps in the Night, the No Mimes Media 10 minute transmedia experience Webishades, and the Atom.com series Video Game Reunion. She is also the Staff writer for DeFranco Inc., which is headed by YouTube influencer Phillip DeFranco.

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