The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Experienced: Bad Work

Yeah... it's kind of like that...

Yeah… it’s kind of like that…

Challenge #6: What is the hardest thing you’ve ever experienced?

I’ve been holding off on the 30 Day Blogging Challenge prompts for a while lately because I’ve gotten hung up on #6:The hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. All entendre (double or otherwise) and innuendo aside, I interpreted this question to be about the most difficult thing I’ve ever endured and I didn’t have anything specific in mind.

Then it happened.

I was in my directing class. It was the day that we were supposed to screen our Directing Scenes- scenes that we had recreated from existing screenplays as an exercise in working with actors and trying to think about Objectives and Subtext and Actions and so on. We were instructed to create a scene that came as close to the scene described on the page as possible, but if push came to shove we were supposed to focus on the actors’ performances rather than production value. Having a classmate on hand to run the camera was required so that we could focus on just working with the actors. Having a second classmate on hand to record sound on a boom mic was optional.

Even though using the boom mic was optional I fully intended to use it: I wasn’t the world’s best boom operator it would at least be good practice.  I know that Bad Sound can ruin a good film. If I didn’t know it before, I know it now.  I plugged the boom mic into the camera and kept an eye on the levels and diligently shoved it up in the actors’ faces during the shoot. It didn’t sound that different on the headphones but I thought that perhaps my ear just wasn’t tuned to hear the differences yet.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized that I’d made a small but crucial error in failing to switch the mic over from INT to EXT. In spite of my best intentions, I’d recorded my entire directing scene using only the on board camera mic.

Oh well. I sighed a long-suffering sigh and gave myself a good firm slap on the wrist and promised I would never make that mistake again. But that was cold comfort in post-production as I tried to piece together a scene that let me use the actors’ best performances AND let me actually hear all the lines which were barely audible. Not only that, but the soundtrack was completely blurred by thick, broadband room tone from the fans that I’d forgotten to turn off. And not only that but this thick, greasy layer of room tone sounded different on every shot.

I wasn’t proud of it, but I’d gotten it done and I hadn’t half-assed any of it so I figured I could call it my best effort.

And then it screened.

What had looked merely mediocre in the editing suite was infinitely worse projected on a six foot screen. The cuts were too-quick and disruptive. The sound quality was so bad that it sounded like I’d shot the scene in a wind tunnel during a jet engine test. It looked like something a junior high school student in the nineties had edited in-camera on a VHS tape, possibly while suffering from Ritalin withdrawl.

Only it wasn’t: it was a graduate student using an HD camera and professional actors. And this was the very first example of my work that any of my classmates were getting to see.

I had volunteered to be the very first person to screen my scene. The comments were polite but there was no hiding how bad it was. There were three more hours of class afterwards spent writhing in self-recrimination and loathing. I managed to keep it together through most of the class, but there was a lot of snot-and-tears afterwards.

Not that this is an unusual thing: I pretty much dissolve into tears on a weekly basis thanks to grad school related stresses, but this was the first meltdown over bad work. And I really had no excuse: it wasn’t like I hadn’t taken the project seriously. I couldn’t blame lack of funds: I’ve produced films for nothing before. I couldn’t blame the lack of time: I hadn’t rushed anything. I couldn’t even blame technical difficulties: sure the sound was bad but it wasn’t like I hadn’t already figured out what I’d done wrong. If this was the best result I could come up with when I’d put forth a legitimate amount of effort then I worried, yes- irrationally, that maybe this was the best that I was actually capable of. I knew that it was irrational. I knew that I could do better.  But I’d still blown my chance to make a good first impression with my work and that was a Big Deal to me.

So the hardest thing that I’ve ever experienced would have to be Bad Work even after a Good Effort.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on October 12, 2013.

One Response to “The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Experienced: Bad Work”

  1. My heart goes out to you after all the work and build up for this project given the end result. It’s probably no comfort but now that the class has seen your worst, when you show another project in which the mic records the proper sounds & the edits are better timed, you’ll blow everyone away with how well you “improved” in their eyes.

    Congrats on getting through the experience, you did it, you survived, and you learned from it. You’ll only get better and better from here. 🙂

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