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A Year of Business Lessons

22 Dec 2010
Ande Schurr highlights a year of business lessons from his 'How Freelancers Can Succeed' columns

Ande Schurr highlights a year of business lessons from his 'How Freelancers Can Succeed' columns in 2010 - with advice for freelancers and interviews with colleagues in the film and TV Industry, including an impromptu interview with 'the giant of the industry' Sir Richard Taylor.

“Each post and interview has a lesson, I hope you find them beneficial. May 2011 be your best year of business yet.”

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Unit Manager Ronnie Hape was first. The Unit guys are up before anyone else and retire long after we've left. They can clock up 18+ hours days no trouble but, talking to Ronnie, I learned that something more important occupies his mind: “My department is about making the crews’ life more comfortable so they can get on with their job and forget about all the BS: where's my phone; I forgot to do this; I ran out of petrol; I need a coffee etc. It's caring for people rather than being a technician as such”.

Mike Westgate took the honours next. The 'legend of location sound' gave me two hours of refined oratory as he shared his story that took him from the BBC to Africa to NZ. He's been a friend to me since the beginning of my career so hearing how he dealt with the president of an African nation showed me that Mike is made of some strong stuff. With almost 4000 hits, this interview, which was picked up by nzonscreen.com, proved especially popular.

Finding a Mentor was an interesting article to write. It is not talked about much in our society outside of the formalised business scenario. Sure, we have business coaches and apprenticeship programmes but having a mentor, in the way I have portrayed it through my own experiences, is something that belongs more in the East than the West. With an emphasis on admiration it requires something that only some may be willing to give. But admiration should be easy if you find the right person and that, unfortunately, does rely on a touch of good luck.

'The Enfant Terrible Grows Up' referred to cult movie director David Blyth. His insight into the running of an ultra low budget movie is second to none. Christened by the listener magazine as one of the great mavericks of New Zealand film, David has constantly challenged his peers and audience to go that step further with horror, with suspense and with the conception of life and death. His interview details the three key elements of low budget film making.

Long Term Planning held up the possibility of viewing your career in terms of decades rather than years. It requires some careful planning to remain fixed on your career when they are many distractions out there from other industry groups and educational attractions. I discussed the idea of one's career being their life's work rather than waiting for something to happen.

How to Succeed as a TV Commercial Producer is a goldmine of information from Phil Liefting. As a key producer at the TV Commercials production company, Film Construction, he shared the process he went through in pitching and winning a large job for the government agency ALAC. The information in here is particularly useful for anyone interested in learning more about the advertising agencies.

Is Film School Necessary was inspired by a question from an Italian student looking to study in New Zealand. It helped me realise why I attended film school and hopefully broke down the question in such a way as to be of service to the future generation of directors and technicians.

The 'Production Management' interview with Kerry Prendeville proved that wearing several hats can serve you well in the industry - provided they are along the same lines. Kerry's understanding of locations - along with all facets of pre-production - single him out as the man to go to from the start.

I then wrote about 'Increasing your Enthusiasm'. Enthusiasm is the most infectious of qualities. Some of the senior technicians in the industry may not express it in any obvious way but it's there in their wit and endurance and energy on set. This article is for anyone feeling lethargic!

'What is Professionalism' with makeup artist Carron Wells gave me my first real understanding of the word. Spurred by a disillusioned comment I overheard about the overuse of the word 'professionalism', I set out to discover what it was and Carron was the perfect guide.

The International Freelancer called for a shift from viewing oneself as based in New Zealand into more of a global contractor. Such a person has a special tolerance and understanding of the culture they are working with. Additionally, any person who calls themselves an international also markets themselves to production companies around the world.

Then I got hold of one of the co-writers of The Two Towers from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. A famous playwright in himself, Stephen Sinclair reveals what happens when you rely on talent rather than a long-term plan. He altered my way of thinking about goal setting, although admittedly, I still feel his way is not for everyone. Giftedness, as Richard Taylor will go on to say, is very rare and so follows different rules from the rest of us.

Finding Work in the Quiet Times
was for those who were reeling in the aftermath of months without work. I think the key point was 'Diversify'. That may be as simple as expanding one's own client base or finding another job that works in well with one's dominant skill.

Four Small Steps
shared my take on how to become more productive. I have to admit I have not had time to keep all of these steps religiously but when I have spent a little time each day on my spelling, for example, my brain and memory are sharper. Not everything can be fixed with a piece of software or an iphone App, and this post shared some solid examples of things we can do with our own minds and a little time.

'The Modern Creative' was an interview with my first 'creative' person per se. I first met Simon Pound when he had a guest appearance on a show I did the sound for called 'A Night at the Classic'. I was struck by his articulate manner and positive demeanour. For those who identify more with the creative than the technical, this interview may be the perfect primer on what it takes to go from radio host to TV reporter to agency creative / copy-writer in a short space of time.

Dealing with Competitors is actually more about finding like-minded friends in your industry than about competitors in the traditional sense of the word. We are such a small industry that secrets are hard to keep and thus it is even more important that we find loyal friends who care about us more than their ambitions.

'The Art of Sound Design' was my big interview for August. Award winning sound designer Tim Prebble gave us a comprehensive understanding of how he goes about creating the sound environment for films. Even more interesting however was his emphasis on social media to build a broad online profile. There is food for thought for both the creative and technician; the social media geek and 'glamourazzi' alike.

Industry Links is a shorter article with a little blurb about the main Film and TV related organisations I have come across in New Zealand. From Film Auckland to the NZ Technicians Guild, Film Crews to NZ Crews, there is something of value here for every freelancer who wants to increase his or her network.

'The Future of Cinematography' was an ambitious title but it did go in this direction thanks to the considered thoughts of DoP Matt Meikle. A humble and award-winning student of his craft, his thoughts challenge us to see beyond today's depiction of a film crew and look into the future. This interview will also educate those wanting to market themselves as cameramen and women.

The giant of our industry, Sir Richard Taylor, gave me an interview that I will never forget. In outer appearance Richard cares little for glamour and grooming, but his words and thoughts are those of a king: eloquent, wise and well-tested. He talks about how to work at Weta, what it took to break into the US market with his first 3D animation TV series Jane and the Dragon along with business lessons that will elevate you both professionally and personally.

Succeeding as a Freelancer was my attempt to state my philosophy on how to have a good career as a freelancer. I discuss the need to sacrifice time, have a business coach, and understand that the essence of success is determined by one's character.

Filming in Samoa was an interview conducted on the plane back from Apia with cameraman Jason Wetzel. We need to learn from people like Jason because they have the sort of qualities that are very attractive to producers and directors: a technician well-researched, prepared for all eventualities, stable and reliable and who understands the core of story telling and how to express that through the lens.

My final post for the year was Korean Filmmaking Lessons. Working with foreign crews is always a treat even, or especially, if they vary so markedly from the Kiwi way of doing things. The Koreans were the fastest crews I had worked with yet they also took the longest to get going. Their mix of traditional bowing and respect with an extremely opportunistic approach to getting the best out of a location needs to be seen to be understood.

Rest well this summer. I look forward to sharing with you a bigger, brighter 2011.