Nobody has ever assumed the role of set assistant was a glamorous one. I knew that even before I found myself hiding beneath a tree on a rain-drenched afternoon while a drone hovered overhead. Naturally, my assigned position beneath this tree was not out of consideration for wellbeing. It was to keep me out of the shot.
In fairness, the shoot’s director and drone operator were also huddled underneath with me. The music video on which we were working was something of a labour of love. We were working with Pandora’s Diary, a bohemian folk collective led by Sarah Michal, for their standout song Game For Two. The song itself was a mish-mash of influences – I’d never heard of another song that combined Indonesian lyrics, a flute solo and a catchy rap interlude, and such an intercontinental song required an ambitious video to match; though the segment which we were filming was just the London portion of the narrative, previous clips had been shot in Indonesia, New York and New Orleans. We may have been in our home country at that moment but that did not lessen the challenge of the shoot. Fortunately, we were in good hands with production company Guerrilla Tactics, who are swiftly gaining a reputation in the industry for producing professional, slick visuals and international flavour. So this was the perfect opportunity for me to observe first-hand the kind of commitment, dedication and resourceful thinking it takes to produce quality independent content.
In terms of learning on the job, I’ve since found that being on larger-budgeted sets there is much more focus on hierarchies; the production assistant (usually me) would report to the 3rd Assistant Director, who in turn would report to the 2nd Assistant, who would report to the Director. But even the director would not fully be able to govern their own shoots as they’d usually have to bend to the whim of a flurry of producers pushing their own concerns. This chain of command style of shooting has a big impact in communication – often you’re directing questions to people who don’t necessarily have the full picture, and those higher up in the chain don’t even have the time to address your presence no matter how helpful you’re being. But Game for Two was a different story; such a small crew meant direct communication between everyone was not just beneficial, it was essential. And our director had all their own creative freedom.
To our collective delight, the rain which had chilled us so much that afternoon was not visible in the shot, and as the drone returned to earth we all looked with pride at the footage. Even without editing, the colours looked incredible. The artists performed wonderfully. Everything came together and all I could think about was how achievable it all was. Directing is a dream that all production assistants hold at some point in their lives but it’s positive experiences like this that make that dream seem closer than ever.
By Shana Laurent
Shana is a freelance production assistant, runner and camera operator. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.