Guest Article: Cinematograhy Decal Week 4 – Productivity

Hey everybody! So, it looks like it’s my turn to contribute to the good ol’ blog. I know the question on a lot of people’s minds lately has been “When will we finally get to hear Ryan Koehn’s thoughts on Toby’s awesome cinematography Decal?” For those people, rest assured the wait is over! As for the rest of you (let’s face it, the majority), the question now on your minds is most likely something along the lines of “Who the hell is Ryan Koehn?” Well – don’t worry, the answer to both will be covered by the end of this post. In fact I can start with the second one right now – me.

But that’s enough of an intro – let’s get down to business. Week 4 of the Decal didn’t deal with many technical aspects or cinematography vocab. Instead it focused on something more general that can be applied to utilize literally every other topic we’ll cover this semester: Productivity.
First off, what is productivity? Besides that vague, wistful thing that people always promise more of on New Year’s Eve and they advertize in 5-Hour Energy commercials?

Productivity is defined as “…the quality of being productive.” In other words, GETTING STUFF DONE. So, there are some people who might be thinking, “What? Why do I have to get things done? I’m an artist.” We’re just going to nip that in the bud right now. Everyone needs to be productive to achieve their goals, especially artists or creative types. In fact, everyone could use a little dose of a Type-A personality in their blood, if not just for the sake of keeping a healthy mindset and staying on top of things in general.

And that was Toby’s whole point. But one thing that he wanted to make absolutely clear is that none of it matters unless you know what you want in life. What’s the point of spinning your wheels if you don’t know where you’re going? As Toby phrased it – “Productivity without purpose is useless.”

Slide from Decal

Words to live by.

This applies to film making in so many ways. There are many logistical elements that need to be planned out way before shooting even begins. And trying to be as productive as possible when doing this preparation is essential.

Toby also touched on the dangers of procrastination. Procrastination is a naturally occurring phenomena prevalent in all areas of the animal kingdom, most noticeably in film students. To give everyone a good example I purposely put off writing this post until a day after the deadline. Case in point. According to what we discussed in class, the trick to preventing yourself from slipping into a habit of putting things off is to make an organized schedule of what you need to get done. By actually taking the time to write things down and check them off when you’re done, the odds of you completing things skyrocket. Another trick is to make sure you’re not spread too thin, and that you have enough time to dedicate to getting things done RIGHT. As Toby summed it up – “Don’t load your plate too full so you can’t finish old soup.”

Old soup

Finish that soup!


On the subject of scheduling, we were all advised to make a “Battle Plan.” This is basically just a detailed schedule that you keep of your professional and personal life. The idea here is to get all of your goals and obligations down on paper so that you can better understand how you’ll have to manage your time to effectively complete it all. It really works. Really. Every time I plan out my week ahead of time, I get at least twice as much done than if I hadn’t. It’s also a great tool to use for reference if trying to schedule something in advance. People will be amazed if when they ask if you’ll be free for the Catalina Wine Mixer on Saturday you pull out your agenda and inform them that no, you’ll be busy running a backwards marathon in SF from Noon until 4. I have included a photo of my planner for inspiration, which brings me to rule 1 of an effective planner – have better handwriting than me. There are other great resources for managing time/your schedule here.

Battle plan

My Battle Plan

More Examples of Battleplans.

More Examples of Battle Plans.

All in all this was a very refreshing topic that Toby was addressing. In most classes teaching technical skills, the philosophical drive and purpose behind learning those skills is rarely touched on. I have thus far really enjoyed the classes balance between teaching skills and making us thinking deeply about why we want them and what we’ll do with them.

For that week’s assignment I was with two colleagues in “Team Raven” (GO TEAM RAVEN!). In addition to working on Battle Plans, we were tackling our reel. We found that through productive scheduling and by being proactive on what we wanted to get done, things went a lot smoother! We even had some time left over before we had to submit our videos, so we had plenty of time to edit them to how we envisioned. By utilizing the organizational techniques we discussed in class the whole process was streamlined – allowing us to focus on what was really important –  getting some amazing shots!

That’s it for me. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on creativity! That is, if the person doing that one hasn’t suffered from an ironic case of writer’s block.

Ryan Koehn - UC BerkeleyRyan Koehn is a 4th year Film Studies Major, focusing on screenwriting. “Mischief Night,” a feature-length thriller he wrote, will be premiering at the Hollywood Film Festival October 19th, 2013. He is taking Toby’s Cinematography Decal because it is just now dawning on him that you need cameras to make movies. Contact: