The competence to recognise incompetence in film and video

Know how to spot a lack of know-how

The competence to recognise incompetence in film and video The competence to recognise incompetence in film and video

There are no less than 1’354’000 businesses floating around the Internet today that profess themselves to be professional film and video production companies – and that’s in Europe alone. So how can you be sure to find the best possible competence partner for your image film or web video? Here’s a few tried and tested tips and tricks, based on the author’s 23 years of experience in communication and film and video.

The first step, when sizing up a production company, is to get a good look at the work they’ve done to date (Showreel), as well as researching their background and reputation in the business. If they pass the first elimination round – once you’ve talked numbers and weighed up cost estimates – and you get to meet the possible candidates in person, that’s when things get a bit more challenging for the client. Not because these introductory meetings could be awkward, but because many producers are extraordinarily nice people, with great communication competence and of course, blinding charisma. This has its reasons. “The ability to sell” is part of any producer’s job description in the realm of corporate film and video. If a producer can’t win you over, he won’t have many films to produce and will soon go out of business. So, how can you be sure that what you’re being sold is the real deal and not fool’s gold?

This article lists – in no particular order and in no pretence of being all-including – a selection of important criteria that can prove to be helpful when evaluating the film competence of a production company or video maker, beyond their show reel and reputation.

Problem solving competence

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Every film is a project. And every project comes with its fair share of surprises. Some are welcome, some less so. If the possible project risks were carefully considered and talked about from the very beginning – or even better, when conception of the project began and project parameters were set from the get-go – then you can rest assured that you’re (at least mentally) prepared for the different scenarios that might come your way. And experienced filmmakers or video artists in the project business know to hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.

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A problem only has one solution. Whoever believes that to be true has either not explored any further options or doesn’t have the skill to do so. Arguments such as “Well, that’s just the way it’s done…” or “That’s the only option there is…” are often just cheap excuses. In film production and creation of videos, regardless if it’s a fiction film or image video, it’s much like life itself: complex problems are rarely fixed with a one-dimensional solution.

Experience competence

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Those who really are masters of their trade will not shy away from sharing their experience with colleagues and clients and should rejoice at the prospect of an exchange and chance to put their experience to the test. Every big film is a universe in itself and every product film like a tailored shoe. Every film and every video is the result of a variety of different experiences of all co-workers put together. Whether you argue with logic or openly declare it to be a gut feeling: Experiences are an invaluable decision-making aid throughout the entire creative process when it comes to moving image production.

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A wealth of experience comes from having lived through numerous experiences. And as they say, experience is the mother of wisdom. Those who use their experience to make other co-workers on a project feel insecure – be it for tactical reasons or for a simple ego and power boost – are not doing themselves any favours. (more about that in the Videothink article 5 Deadly Sins for Producers and Production Managers). Film work is teamwork. Every experience only exists thanks to collaboration. It’s only when you compare your experience to others’, does it rid itself of subjectivity and becomes truly valuable.


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You either have it or you don’t. Talent has nothing to do with fairness. Talent can’t be assigned or given by popular vote. It is often claimed that truly successful talent is the result of 90% hard work and 10% talent. Goethe created one of the most beautiful definitions of what talent is. The talent of the artist, according to the prince among poets, is the ability to create the “unspeakable”.

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Even though Ed Wood and several crude B-Movies have today reached cult status, the only unspeakable thing about them, is the absence of artistic talent. Whatever it is in the film Attack of the Lederhosen-Zombies that can pass as wacky entertainment, would have the opposite effect in the corporate film world: The viewer immediately picks up on the intention behind the video or film, which was haphazardly fumbled together by the director or editor. And reacts to this insult to his intellect with the means available to him: Rejection.


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The more you want to control the way your message is communicated with the tools of audiovisual communication, the more specialists you need. A specialist, as the name already implies, is not a jack-of-all-trades. If anyone could ever know everything, they would of course be a specialist. Regardless if specialist or all-rounder, the same goes for both types: being conscious of the fact that you can’t know everything. Only if you acknowledge to yourself and the rest of the world that you’re only human and not superman, do you portray professional use of your know-how. Knowledge gaps can only be filled once they’re proclaimed as such.

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If there’s an unwillingness to learn something new (or even worse, an inability to do so) things become difficult. Technical evolution is constantly flooding the industry like tsunamis (from silent film to sound film, from analogue to video to digital) and that tidal wave is far from over. Constantly updating your know-how is a must in the film industry. Those who claim otherwise, either have superpowers to foresee the future or a lack of common sense. In independent film the subject of discussion for years has been the statement – made by a journalist – that “poor films good.” Indisputable is: Stupid doesn’t film good, but haphazardly. And for that to happen, most films are too expensive.

Technical competence

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As fascinating and astounding innovations may be: Technology in film is only the means to the end. There’s always an intention behind the use of technology. Technicalities first and foremost serve the purpose of transporting information and emotions. Therefore for technical production facilities to be implemented, a good producer or production company always has a clear and justified reason for it.

Those who speak only of technology and its possibilities have their production priorities all mixed. Although: There are videos and targeted impacts that can only become a reality thanks to technology. Thorough knowledge in this area is desired, required and essential. After all image and sound has to be digitally post-produced, not to mention the possibilities 2D and 3D animation have to offer.

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Producers who focus too much on their technical abilities, quickly raise the suspicion that they’re trying to hide a lack of knowledge where content or narrative are concerned. Netflix cameraman Adrian Teijido said in an interview with Videothink: “The best advice I could give a young filmmaker is: Try to free yourself of technicalities and think as a storyteller”.

In other news: Videothink has been accepted by Facebook as a news publisher. From now on Facebook users will be able to read all new Videothink articles in the “Facebook Instant Articles” news publishing format, bringing our current mobile-update Q1/2017 for Videothink to successful completion.

© Photo and graphic vector: Freepik |© filmpuls, translated by Nina Kaelin

About Kristian Widmer
Kristian Widmer (49) is Executive Producer and CEO of Condor Films Ltd. He has been advising customers on film and video for 23 years.

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