A very modern collaboration

Today’s post is a guest one from Martin Couzins – all about a recent project which he managed……….


‘I love it when a plan comes together’. That quote from the late actor George Peppard’s A-Team character Hannibal captures how us four collaborators felt about the project we are about to share. In fact, we even tweeted those exact words.

For the four of us involved in creating a short film for Karen Teago, it did feel like it all came together really well.

I thoroughly enjoyed my advisory role and watching this project come together. I particularly liked the way the collaboration took place in a number of different ways and in different places, from face to face, to Skype, Twitter, the phone and email. For me this worked because we had a belief it would, we believed and trusted each other to make it happen.

I’d like to hand over to Jon, Karen and Simon, the main protagonists in this story. Having completed the project they then shared their reflections on what they had achieved. I might add that these reflections came straight to me after the project had finished.

Jon Bartlett, cameraman, editor and director

When I first saw Sukh Pabial’s Learning Stories it dovetailed with some plans I had to move in to using film/photography as part of my coaching and as a business offering. I had long planned to do a project with Martin but our original ideas revolved around bike journeys or walking and my impending knee surgery put those plans on the back burner.

I knew of Karen via twitter and responded to a request she made around the use of film in training. We had a long conversation on Skype and from that emerged the nucleus of an idea which I felt would suit the learning stories ethos. We arranged a three-way conversation on Skype and agreed to work together. Pretty quickly it became apparent that we needed to aim for brevity and a tight structure if we were to get this done in time. This restriction also seemed to encourage Karen even more, giving her focus.

My previous films have generally been around filming a long conversation and editing down to get the essence of the person up on the screen. To work this way was a real change. Having the structure really helped me and took the pressure off me.

The shoot went well and although against the clock it didn’t feel rushed until the end. It was worth spending an hour just getting to know Karen a bit. Whilst it cut in to filming time, overall it speeded the process. We also took the decision to shoot in black and white. This was more a reflection on the quality of light than any aesthetic reasons but it proved fortuitous for our later decisions around artwork. We tried to laugh and joke between takes and Karen relaxed immeasurably over the course of the day. So much so that we agreed to also make a film of the outtakes – a sure sign of confidence.

Once the shoot was over I turned to editing. It was always our plan to use cartoons/images between shots of Karen talking. On watching the footage Martin and I agreed that we really needed a consistent set of images rather than getting them from disparate sources.

I contacted Simon Heath (who I had met earlier that week) to see if he was interested in the commission. Fortuitously he had roughed a quick cartoon in response to our tweets about how the day went – one that would later grace our outtakes film – and he was quick to agree to create our images.

As time was tight I needed to get a rough cut together to give Simon something to work from. He created a series of great fun images which really help the film and fit with Karen’s tone. I’ve not had to work in collaboration with an artist before and again I found the discipline rewarding. It also helped my editing that we shot in quick concise bursts rather than a long discussion. I wouldn’t always choose to work this way but I’m glad I’ve learned how to do it.

I’ve really enjoyed this process. I think it’s impressive that we have produced something so quickly and with only one face to face meeting. It helped that all participants are digitally savvy and could work remotely but I was still pleased with how well we collaborated.

Karen Teago, employment lawyer

For 13 years I have eaten, slept and breathed employment law. For the last three of those I have made my living talking about employment law to hundreds of qualified and would-be employment lawyers up and down the country.  So talking to a camera about fundamental employment law principles was going to be easy, right? Wrong, so wrong.

Jon trekked cross country to reach our offices as the motorway was snarled up.  When he arrived we sat chatting for a while in the office.  He produced his camera from a bag for me to look at, which reminded me of the way the dentist lets my daughters hold the dental instruments to put them at their ease before their examinations.  We moved to one of the communal spaces at the iCon Centre, continued to chat.  The camera came out as we talked and an involuntary paralysis overcame me.  That, I had not expected.

We set ourselves up in one of the glass walled meeting rooms.  We had plenty of time, lots of memory left on the card and extra batteries.  So we began.

“Are you alright?” Jon asked as I closed my eyes and took a deep breath… “Yes, I’m just about to jump off Auckland Harbour Bridge” I replied.  That’s my special place, my bungee jump in 2008, the point in my life where I have never been so terrified nor exhilarated.  I use the memory to launch me into things I find challenging.

Camera rolls, a career’s worth of employment law knowledge evaporates from my brain.  We try again, same thing happens.  We switch topics, the next one comes easier. Back to the first one, no, I’m still fluffing it every time.  Jon tries some jokes to relax me, but he runs out of them as I keep screwing up take after take.  It’s important to talk about something to keep me looking natural for the camera so we talk about horsemeat for a while.  Topical, if slightly unsavoury.

We go from having plenty of time to working against the clock.  Jon changes the battery on the camera.  He starts deleting takes as the memory card is filling up.  I’m trying not to panic.

One of the topics just isn’t working so I change it.  I nail it on the second take.  We’re nearly done.  Three takes on the conclusion section and it’s a wrap.  I’m not sure who is more relieved, Jon or me.

Jon packs up the equipment while I run to the café to get him a sandwich to go. No time for a debrief, I thrust the cling wrapped sandwich into his hand and wish him a speedy journey.

As I walk back up the stairs to the office, it occurs to me that I forgot to offer him a juice and some crisps to go with the sandwich.  Not for the first time, I feel like an idiot.

I learnt a great deal about Jon that day.  He once stood on the floor of NASA Mission Control in Houston.  He doesn’t drink tea or coffee.  He likes cheese and pickle sandwiches. He’s supremely patient, a superb photographer, and a delight to work with.

I also learnt a few things about myself on the day and over the course of this project generally.  In spite of everything I’ve done over the years, the sudden presence of a camera made me feel vulnerable and awkward.

Why the hell was I doing it then? Because I want to push myself to try new things.  Because – “if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got”.  I don’t want what I always had.  I want creativity and innovation to permeate my work.  I don’t want to do it the way others are doing it.  I’m making sense of employment law and I’m doing it my way.

In the days following the shoot, the co-collaborators threw out a few tweets to tease our mutual connections.  The jokes and inane chat Jon and I threw around over the course of the time we spent together formed the basis for some amusing  banter and inspired Simon to draw a great cartoon.

Jon said that he thought our “outtakes” were worthy of a film in their own right, which I thought was a superb idea.  Simon’s impromptu illustration became the signature image for that film and the whole project.

In the name of doing things differently I have had the opportunity to collaborate with some amazing talent on this project.  My heartfelt thanks go out to Jon, Martin and Simon for their efforts.

Simon Heath, illustrator

This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked along at the last minute to rescue a project and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

As far as learning experiences go, the pressure of a tight deadline can really help concentrate the mind and you need to focus on the key themes and important details to avoid becoming bogged down by extraneous noise.

In this particular instance I was working with two people I’d never even set eyes on, let alone met. This has been a major learning point for me since taking to social media to help launch a new phase of my career.

And you know what, it isn’t so very different from establishing a clear set of requirements in a conventional face-to-face working relationship. Ask pertinent questions, ask for clarification, ask, ask and ask again until you’re all clear what is going to be delivered, how and by when. Then the fun part starts and you can actually get down to work.

The other lesson to learn in a situation where you need a quick turnaround is to never take on something you run a danger of being unable to deliver. Nothing sticks like poor delivery, especially in today’s inter-connected world.

Reputations take years to build up but seconds to destroy.

Martin Couzins, producer

So there you have it: four collaborators, two films, seven illustrations and all in a matter of days with just one face-to-face meeting.

We hope you enjoy the films, the illustrations and our stories. Now, it’s what you’ve all been waiting for – the outtakes……..


2 thoughts on “A very modern collaboration

  1. Pingback: A Twitterversary | teagoemplaw

  2. Pingback: Learning from collaboration | Thinking About Learning

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