Notes for Next Time

Over the years I’ve kept a document on my computer that I would update now and again whenever a good idea struck me while I was in some phase of production – or post-production, pre-production or even development. Keep in mind that I have always been in some phase of production for the past 34 years, so the document has become like an old friend to me. I call that document “Notes for Next Time.” Sadly, through a couple dozen computer crashes and the inexpert use of backup devices, I don’t have the original document that goes all the way back to the beginning so I can’t find every one of my notes, but it’s still fun to read back even 10 years ago.

Quaint notes like, “Be sure to obtain an archive of all documents on diskette” put a smile on my face. The truth is that many of my notes – along with tips and tricks – have become obsolete due to technology. Some of the things I wanted budgeting and scheduling software to do back in the 90s have actually come to pass and more improvements were made to software than I could have imagined. Then there’s a whole category of notes that involve “good ideas” that still haven’t been implemented or are just on the cusp of coming to fruition. Among those are the ability to drill into a an actual Budge from the Estimate to Complete in a Cost Report, as well as Electronic time cards, start forms and purchase orders. I’ve looked for these for well over a decade and some are just now starting to be introduced.

There are also cautionary notes and comments that could be easily incorporated into posts for this blog and into specific classes on this site. Things like, “Provide an excel spreadsheet to department heads for budgeting to ensure they include proper fringes in labor calculations.” Or, “Talk to the Director about what kind of rehearsals they want to have to be sure they’re covered in the prep schedule and budget.” The overall concept is to track those “genius” and “not-so-genius” ideas you have while standing on a freezing street corner at 3am doing take 18 of what looked like a simple “walk and talk” on paper. I highly recommend the Voice Notes feature on your phone when brilliance strikes in this type of situation! (Just be sure to set a phone reminder that says, “Listen to Voice Notes!”)

Sometimes great ideas are borne out of the horrible moments and often they aren’t recorded for posterity. And trust me, young guns out there, it’s pretty easy to remember the great idea when you had it last week but decades of wear and tear often erase it. Part of the challenge of remembering is that the “genius” idea may relate to a situation that you won’t face again for years. I can testify to the fact that whenever I go back to my little document, I always read through the ideas and find at least one that makes me nod and say, “Yes, gotta remember that one,” whether or not I’ve ever again encountered the problem that caused it. So I highly advise some kind of device like “Notes for Next Time.” No I still haven’t put together that “Ideal Producer’s Location Kit” (that idea from 2003) but you may be reading about it down the road in this blog!

What this is really about is that every single time you go out to shoot – and I mean whether it’s a feature film or a simple sit down interview for a documentary – you will learn something. It may not be earth shattering and it may not change the way you do your job, but you will learn something. Most of the time, unless it’s a huge lesson we won’t remember it. But, you should always be aware of how you are doing your job and look for ways to improve your skills – technical and personal. I look back and nod when I read notes like, “Don’t wear a watch,” and the sound advice, “If you need to give someone a taking to, take them aside and do it quietly.” Those are the kind of notes I value the most – the ones that will make me just a little bit better next time.

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