What Really Goes On Behind The Camera
Fun, games, and fashion aside, creating a web series is a helluva lot of work. Packed weeks of 15-hour-long workdays and back-to-back shooting schedules are at the tip of an iceberg for a season worth of episodes that’s almost six months in the making.
And it doesn’t get any easier as our production and filming gets better.
As we enter our third year of our Forward Forty’s start-up phase and wrap up the second season of our digital life+style web series, what goes on behind the scenes and the lens of the camera, has only multiplied a hundredfold. And it’s something we think we should share with you, just in case you’re planning a web series of your own. And of course, you know how much we feel about oversharing.
Creative Director : Mary-Ann Brailey; Production Manager Cherisse Gibson; Me
If you’ve been following our brand you know that we do many quick, ‘down and dirty videos on our iPhones and iPads. These are informal, relaxed, often unscripted stories, and many times I’m makeup-free and speaking as the words come.
However, when it comes to producing a series that large brands (thank you Republic Bank Limited, House of Angostura, Courts, TSTT, BMobile) are attaching themselves, to then a major upgrade to the iPhone will be needed. A DSLR camera can work if you’re on a budget. But for us, we took things to a whole new level by investing in this camera.
Without getting too technical, just know that we made the investment because 1) it’s good to own what you use consistently and 2) it provided a cinéma vérité”-style that mattered to the stories we wanted to tell. Equipment aside in order to get a series produced you have to line up the resources. They say that it is people that make the world go round, well the same is true of a twelve-part series.
Our production manager, Cherisse Gibson, is the picture of concentration as she reviews a clip directly after it was shot. Her call was for a second take.
An executive producer is nothing without an exceptional producer and Season 2 was blessed by the talent, persistence, and brilliance of Cherisse Gibson, who also features quite heavily in the show. We also extended our technical crew by adding to our video and editorial teams and we increased the number of interviews we did outside the FF studio. In episode 1, for instance, we interview the beautiful Wendy Fitzwilliam in a no holds bar interview that is fun as it is insightful
Plan, prepare, execute, edit, release.
Plan, prepare, execute, edit, release.
Plan, prepare, execute, edit, release.
We say it like a yoga mantra on loop, especially when schedules get thrown off or when the weather does not cooperate or when we end up shooting until 3:00 in the morning.
The best planning, at times, goes helter-skelter this is where perseverance and gumption come in.
Read on to learn exactly what goes into making Forward Forty TV, the web series. There will be all kinds of lessons in there for you too. Yep! Even with all our bloopers and gaffes galore.
Melissa Jones styles my hair. This is my natural hair which is a glorious mop of thick, tight curls; for the show, I go between my own hair and a wig.
The base of a good production is thorough pre-prep. Planning for a season of Forward Forty TV starts almost anywhere 6 months before our planned filming dates.
We sit down and brainstorm possible ideas for the upcoming season. If this is part of your game plan, as it should be, then try at this point not to get tied down to one idea. Anything should go at this point.
This was the same for us with only one stipulation, our segments had to fit into one of our five featured segments – beauty, fashion, wellness, food, and success. Each is given equal attention so that we continue to dole out content on both life and style.
Do you have themes for your show? If not, you should. It’s an easy way to drive content ideas and put them on the table for discussion.
Ok, so after the initial brainstorming session, ideas are collated into categories and placed into a document explaining briefly – in two lines or less – what each idea is about. Next, the ideas go through their first round of cuts. I am brutally honest at this point because when I’m done, only 4-5 from each category remain standing.
Scripts are everything. You should begin with pre -production scripts, then move to story scripts and prop and wardrobe scripts. My on-camera scripts are written last.
Once we settled on 36 vignettes for Season 2, we begin ironing out the details. The first step in the process is to separate the videos into two piles – ones with scripts where I am in front of the camera sharing a story, and others created with just compelling visuals and music.
We begin researching, consolidating, and writing out our first drafts. Once they’re all done, it’s time to edit, trim down, and re-write them in a “TV voice.” I read them out loud, add pauses, intonations, and comments, and the scripts then go back to the drawing board, where they’re typed up in their final incarnation.
If script writing is not your strength then I suggest hiring the right talent. For a webisode, if you don’t have great scripts then you don’t have a great show.
Once the words are set in stone, it’s time to get creative. Cherisse works on breaking down the scripts, slotting each line into a grid, and ascribing distinct visuals, graphics, and b-roll to each section. Art direction is key here. Do the flowers match/ compliment/contrast the white tone of the set props, for instance. We look to our favourite YouTubers, music videos, films, and social media videos for inspiration, and then conceptualise the most creative, authentic and original ways to shoot our videos.
We start with the big picture – the feel, look, and tone we’re going for – and then work our way into the details. We try our best to maintain a healthy variation in length, and zaniness. This is where the magic begins.
Next, Cherisse and I begin planning out our shots. We try to include multiple angles per concept and vary our shots, so that our audience has a visually rich experience with each video. We then allocate props and locations to each shot, add in a column for graphics where necessary, and send the scripts off to print.
Partners like The Gallery are important for the sleek look of the show. You can find your favourite pieces for the show there.
Once our freshly printed scripts are delivered, we sit down as a team (yes, again!) and go through them a final time. We add in shot changes, extra props, notes, comments, fix any grammatical and tone issues, and then curate two lists – one for props, and another for locations. Our scripts go through one last rewrite and reprint, and the real work begins!
A few of our team members are put on prop duty, where they scour Trinidad for the right flowers, backgrounds, glassware, tiles, and other decorative pieces.
This year, we were lucky enough to have the incredible folks over at The Gallery lend us some gorgeous pieces to use. We were spoilt for choice with their high-end selection of jewellery, vases, accent pieces, and couture kitchenware, and almost couldn’t bear to give them back again!
One big change this year is that we also decided to invest in our own set props: kitchen items, vases, cushions, art, furniture. Next season we will shoot Season 3 in our brand new content studio.
Melissa Deane of The Atelier was responsible for all the makeup looks you see on the FF TV Season 2.
After tons to pre-prep, we had our first full crew production meeting, where we went over scripts and shot lists, and finalised any leftover details.
The last step is to sort out wardrobe. This is one of my favourite parts of pre-production because I get to do what I do best – style! I sort out outfits, changes, jewelery, hairpieces, shoes, accessories, and other details to define and pull together each look onscreen. Finally, a day before we begin filming, I head over to the salon to get my nails done (because trust me, no one wants dirty nails showing up in a video), and relax a bit (Ha! Like that’s possible)
The first day of production is usually frantic, as the team adjusts to the long-hours, multiple set changes, and a new work schedule. We film anywhere from 3 to 4 videos a day, over a span of 4 hectic weeks.
My day starts with a 4 am wake-up call, a quick breakfast, and then a 6 am appointment with my makeup artist. This year, we welcomed back Melissa Deane as our makeup artist. Her work is transformative and it was so cool the way we got her to do an entire segment with us. You can look out for her film debut in episode 11.
Production can get intense. Those long work days can definitely take a toll Tensions can run high, timings might go askew, and sometimes, we might have to do eight takes to get a shot right. But through it all, the most important thing you can bring to the table is a fun attitude. Keep it light, laugh out loud, take a moment to yourself and you’ll breeze through the tough times.
Forward Forty TV airs every Sunday in October – December at 4 pm, on Facebook. At the season’s end, the entire series will reside on our website.
Thanks for reading! 🙂
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