Television - The World's Most Wasteful Industry?

Posted September 23, 2018
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We have just completed three weeks of Video Bootcamp in Los Angeles with the soon to be launched SoCal1, the LA equivalent of NY1, but in Los Angeles. I am looking forward to a truly incredible new concept in local news. 

In the course of that process, we trained the entire staff of the new station, more than 120 people - from MMJs (or VJs, as we prefer) to management to Vice Presidents of the company.  

The core of our training, for those of you who have gone through it, as you know, is a radically different approach to the process of making television and video.  There are many radical aspects to this, which is why we always start our trainings by saying "I need you to forget everything you know or think you know about television and video.' We start from scratch.

One of the most interesting aspects of our rather unique production process is our focus on extremely low shooting ratios.

We strive for about a 3:1 ratio. That is, you shoot about 3 times as much video as the length of the final product.  Thus, if you are making a 5 minute video, our sweet spot is 15 mintues of raw material.  Ideally, we like 1:1, and that can be achieved, but I can live with 3:1.

When we first present this, particularly to 'old hands' in the business (and that can be someone who just graduated from J-School), they are aghast.  

The 'industry standard' for television is 20:1, though a lot of people go way over that. That's largely a function of shooting digtally, where the cost of shooting video seems to be nothing. (In the world of film every second counted).  No more.  

But in fact, if you over-shoot, it costs a lot.  A lot more than film as it happens, just in a different way.

When I was teaching at Columbia University a few years ago with David Klatel, I was astonished to see that the students shot almost endless amounts of 'footage' - for fear that they might 'miss something'.  I asked why in the world they did this and they told me that that was what they had been told to do- shoot a lot to 'give the editor choices'. Of course, when you are the editor as well as the shooter, this makes absolutely no sense.  But 20:1 is pretty much industry standard.

Now, what does this mean, strictlly from a business point of view. (I know this is anathema to 'journalists' and 'filmmakers' - any discussion of business - but I am going to do it anyway).

If you are shooting 20:1, that is 20 minutes of raw footage for every minute that will ultimately appear on the screen, you are effectively running a 95% failure rate.  95% of your work and efforts will go in the trash bin without ever seeing the light of day.

This makes no sense whatsoever.  

If you were running a manufacturing company and you ended up throwing out 95% of your production run every day, you would soon find yourself out of business -and properly so. What a titanic waste.

Well, make no mistake.  The TV and video business IS a manufacturing business. Every day, we are in the business of manufacturing content.   That is what we do.  We don't like to think of ours as a 'manufacturing' business - it sounds like a factory and we like to think of ourselves as 'creatives'. But it is the truth.  We are in the business of manufacturing product. And we do it in the most cost-ineffective way possible.

There is no reason for this.

A little time spent before shooting begins - we suggest 20 minutes - a little time spent thinking - before you start shooting in the terror that you might miss something, goes a long way to saving a great deal of time, not just in the shooting, but also in the logging, scripting and editing that follow.

Multiply that waste times the number of people who are out producing stories every day, then multiply that number times 365 days in a year and the amount of time and money wasted is truly astonishing.

And, even if you are 'shooting everything for fear of missing something', bear in mind that when you go to edit your 1 minute out of every 20 shot, your audience only sees that one minute - so it is lost anyway.

In every TV network the 'bean counters' ultimately show up.  If there's no profit, there's no journalism. It's really time that journalists and TV producers took control of their own industry - before the MBAs come along and close it down, or just cut the staff.  


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