Guest Article: Cinematography DeCal Week 7 – Quality Control

Week 7 of Cinematography raised the age-old debate: Quantity, or quality? What matters most? Does one triumph over the other? What is quality work? What isn’t? If you’re anything like me, and you often find yourself sitting around your apartment wearing footsy pajamas, eating a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, and fretting about whether or not you’re any ‘good’ at what you do… keep calm, and read on.

Do you like my style? Yeah, that’s sexy, sexy, sexy. Like I rock it down. Yeah, that’s sexy, sexy, sexy. When you hear some feedback, keep going take it higher. Crank it up give it to me, come on. Crank it up, give it to me, come on. I gonna feedback-feedback, feedback-feedback, oh…

Quality work is all about gettin’ some feedback. And so is Janet Jackson.

If you’re interested in refining the quality of your work, if you want to become a better cinematographer, storyteller and artist, seek feedback. (OK, so the song really has nothing to do with this week’s lecture. But it’s a Billboard Hot 100, and I really enjoy it.)

The External Feedback Loop - ways you can ask others to judge your quality, when your own judgement is not enough any more.

The External Feedback Loop – ways you can ask others to judge your quality, when your own judgement is not enough any more.

But, Dana—if it’s not a ‘08 Jackson throwback (RIP, Michael), what exactly is feedback? I’m super glad you asked. Feedback is simple: It’s exciting. It’s scary. It’s sometimes painful. And it’s the best gift an artist can ever receive (besides free Chipotle—everybody loves free Chipotle). But don’t be  mistaken—giving and receiving feedback isn’t easy. Sometimes, the truth hurts. Leave your self-consciousness at home; feedback requires a great deal of humility, self-awareness, and respect for others. Just like it takes a real man to wear pink, it takes a real filmmaker to accept feedback. And if you’re one of those rare few who appreciates feedback and enjoys wearing pink, well, you’ve obviously got a lot going for you… *wink…

I took a Positive Leadership class last semester. After a “how-to” lecture on ‘Leadership and Constructive Criticism‘, we were paired off into teams for an exercise. (Typical Haas role play exercise, I quietly hid my sweaty hands under my desk.) While we all might very well know how difficult it is to give and receive feedback, imagine having to give feedback to someone who didn’t ask for it? This situation is too often overlooked. Here’s a fun scenario. Let’s call him Rick. Rick has brown hair and a great smile. You think he’s talented. But you and Rick are just mere acquaintances. Perhaps one day you notice something in Rick’s reel that you think could use a little fix. Would it be right for you to randomly sit Rick down, reintroduce yourself, then immediately point out all of the things you didn’t particularly enjoy about his project? Maybe that’s too confrontational. Perhaps just a short email with a bullet list of things he might consider changing will suffice. If you’d actually consider any of the above, I’d have to kindly disagree with the way you go about giving feedback. It’s all about presentation, baby. I’m talkin’ body language, tone, and sincerity. In this situation–when feedback is unwarranted, and you’re not very close to the artist–I would suggest politely asking them if they’re interested in a little feedback. It may sound silly, but asking for permission is a great ice breaker. And, really, most people would rather endure five minutes of embarrassment, than bite their nails wondering for the rest of their life what it was they could’ve done better. Always consider other people’s feelings, and don’t take it too personally if they don’t agree with your advice.

'The Room' (2003) - a notorious, so-bad-it's-good indie film that became an instant cult classic. People pay money to make fun of this movie. They throw spoons at the screen. It's a thing. Don't believe me? Click the picture. It has over a million views.<br />If only someone was around to give them a little feedback...

‘The Room’ (2003) – a notorious, so-bad-it’s-good indie film that became an instant cult classic. People pay money to make fun of this movie. They throw spoons at the screen. It’s a thing. Don’t believe me? Click the picture. It has over a million views.
If only someone was around to give them a little feedback…

Long story short, if we want to improve the quality of our work, we must all learn to love and embrace this scary little thing called ‘criticism’.

Now, should you seek external feedback from the old lady next door who leaves her Christmas lights on all year ’round? Probably not. (Go check on her.) The other day, I showed my mom my reel—she loved it. But rather than giving me any constructive feedback, she shared it with all her knitting friends on Facebook. The reality is: we tend to seek constructive criticism from our peers, our colleagues, professors, family members and friends. The people we respect, and the people we look to for creative support. While my mom doesn’t know what rack focus is—bless her heart—she’s also my mom… and the one who used to tell me my hair looked great in a bob. See what I mean?

My point: Ask wisely. Seek feedback from the people you know will be honest with you. Seek feedback from the people who are willing to tell you that the dress you’re about to buy makes you look fat. But, most importantly, seek feedback from the gems who enable you enough to not let you leave the store empty handed. Ask wisely, and sleep well knowing that it’s OK to filter critique.

I’ll leave you with a closing remark about the young and retired…

Poster child, Charlie Sheen. Once a rebel-seeking, bad boy dreamboat (RE: Ferris Bueller). Now? A few frightening Youtube videos, Two and A Half Men, and tiger blood. Lots and lots of tiger blood. (Click the picture.) #winning

You know that guy in high school? Quarterback of the football team, prom king, really hot girlfriend? Everyone was convinced he’d be drafted into the NFL, but at your ten year reunion you find out he’s a shoemaker somewhere in the middle of Nebraska? Don’t be that guy. Prevent skill stagnation by identifying your strengths and weaknesses.

Skill Stagnation - When you're first starting out, your learning curve rises quickly. After all, you've got nothing to lose. But the more you advance, the more it becomes difficult to accelerate. Those who maintain awareness of their skill level will slowly inch toward Expertise, and avoid the dreaded 'skill stagnation'.

Skill Stagnation, an empirical concept Toby brought into the DeCal from his years as an artist: When you’re first starting out, your learning curve rises quickly. After all, you’ve got nothing to lose. But the more you advance, the more it becomes difficult to accelerate. Those who maintain awareness of their skill level will slowly inch toward Expertise, and avoid the dreaded ‘skill stagnation’.

You can always improve. It’s really that simple. Sitting on that Most Valuable Player trophy you received in the fourth grade at an AYSO end of the year pizza party isn’t going to make you a better player. Stay hungry. Join a club on campus. Join an artist’s forum online. Like DVXUser.com, or REDUser.net, or Indietalk.com, or CGtalk.com. Surround yourself with people who constantly challenge you to keep going. Your mom doesn’t count. I think Kanye said it west, “Work it, make it, feedback, makes us, harder, better, faster, stronger.” Or something like that… #yeezus.

Final words? A cheesy quote (my favorite!) I learned in high school: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better, and your better, best.”

Wrapping it all up - this is Quality Control, an essential skill for every artist.

Wrapping it all up – this is Quality Control, an essential skill for every artist

Constructive criticism defines quality. “That dress makes you look fat.”

Feedback. It’s a good thing.

 

Dana Cox

Dana is a Film Studies student at the University of California, Berkeley. She enjoys music, puppies, and a good glass of wine. Add her on Facebook. She could really use a few more friends.

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