The Importance Of Protocol

I never went to film school, so I had to learn all the protocols of filmmaking on my own. I didn’t actually learn some of the basics until about three years into my career as an indie director. By this time I’d already won Best Australian Film at MIAF and been commissioned to direct a short docco for the BBC World Service. But still, I didn’t know the basic protocol of working on a film set. This was because of the way I’d come up - fiercely independent, making up the rules as I went. This approach got me some terrific results, but it also had its limitations.

Inevitably, my (lack of) knowledge was tested, and in quite an embarrassing way. Back in 2008 I had somehow managed to score a roll as First Assistant Director on my friend Alan Lam’s final honours film. I thought I knew enough about filmmaking, indie production, and visual storytelling to be of use, but it was a steep learning curve when it came to working with the crew.

This came to a head when Director of Photography Adam Howden asked me to “call it” in reference to the first take of the day. I politely asked him: “call what?”

CUT TO: snickers from the sound department and frustrated sighs from pretty much everyone else. Oh the shame! (To avoid this ever happening to you, check out this great post on AC blog The Black And Blue.)

The shoot in question...

Luckily I managed to redeem myself. Adam took me under his wing and ended up shooting my first music video. Even so, this experience really made me realised what I had missed by not going to film school.

Yes, there are many benefits to not playing by the rules, but, as I came to realise, its a hell of a lot better to know the rules before you break them. Breaking rules because you’re ignorant of them isn’t the most thorough way to do things. And, it turns out, some of those rules are actually there for a very good reason. With PLAY IT SAFE I’m going to have to break a boatload of rules. I don’t have the resources to do everything as I would on a big studio shoot. But at least now I’m making an informed choice.

Chris Pahlow

Chris Pahlow is an independent writer/director currently in post-production on his debut feature film PLAY IT SAFE. Chris has been fascinated with storytelling since he first earned his pen license and he’s spent the last ten years bringing stories to life through music videos, documentaries, and short films.