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Mise En Place the most simple, repetitive tasks in television production

Every profession has a special way of preparing for the task at hand, and we’re no different in the world of media and content creation.

Ever see a professional chef organizing ingredients or sharpening knives in the preparation of dinner service? That’s called mise en place, which translates to “everything in its place.” Mis en place is every chef’s guiding principle to order and productivity. In the kitchen, all parts are laid out at the beginning so chefs don’t have to stop what they’re doing to chop garlic for each dish as it’s ordered. Each ingredient is ready for them at the outset making their dinner service swift and hassle-free.

So, what’s the best way to chop our proverbial garlic in media production? Mise en place your production!

Let’s look at two real-world examples of planning that leverage production experience, client requirements, and automation.

1. FILE IT UNDER “SIMPLE”

Department Coordinator Amy has just wrapped field production. DIT (digital imaging technician) calls from the other room, six hard drives in hand, “Hey what folder on the server do you want this on?”

It’s a tense moment, but Amy breathes a sigh of relief, she says, “I’ve got this.” Amy recalls, with a little bit of pre-planning she was able to create and implement a simple folder structure on her storage for this and every project in her studio, no matter the requirement.

Let’s look at the structure Amy made, and talk about why.

  • NAME / CLIENT IDENTIFIER
    This is top-level folder. For every client, you’ll have this folder.

    • SEASON / EPISODE / PROJECT NUMBER
      You may have more than one project for any given client. This is a sub-folder that contains a place for all the working elements of the production for each department.

      • BACKOFFICE  
        A place for admin tasks for the production. Accounting, bids, invoices, vendor and asset tracking, seating charts, call sheets, etc.
      • ASSETS  
        A home for raw assets like branding and logos, likely provided by the client.
      • EDITORIAL
        Editorial handles Video QC, delivering AVID Bins, Premiere files, LUTS. All these tasks have subfolders.
      • ELEMENTS
        In visual effects, stock elements are used for everything from atmosphere, smoke, gunshots to texture, blood splatter and fire, etc. Because of their tie to graphic work, these elements have a separate home than the other assets. (Note: there are a ton of subfolders you can create for VFX specific tasks, renders, sims, outputs and such. For now let’s keep it simple.)
      • FOOTAGE
        Source footage from the client or your production. Could be a RED camera codec, or a series of .EXR files. Subfolders _ORIGINAL and _TRANSCODED are included.
      • REFERENCE
        Reference is all the material and canon of the project that exists before you begin. This could be noted from set, source materials, reference from clients like previous episodes or style guides, show bibles on tone and presentation.

How did Amy know to create all these folders? She queried teams at the studio and came up with a universal basic folder structure. Good Work Amy!

Amy supports 10 shows, she doesn’t want to go through this manual process of creation every time a production comes through the door. With the help of her IT department, she deploys a simple script file that automatically generates the folders!

Not everyone has the infrastructure or support Amy does. But that’s okay you’re more than halfway there by coming up with and creating a folder structure, naming schema, project numbering, and a consistent way to version your work. You have actually created meaningful terms (meta-data) to search against.

Also, you don’t have to be on the IT team to script a folder structure. Anyone can recursively create a nested directory structure to include all the subfolders, with a “make directory” command in terminal. Amy’s studio only uses Apple computers. Here’s a simplified way she created those folders.

mkdir -p /nameclientidentifier/seasonepisodeproject/subfolder/

 

If you want to learn more, read this incredibly helpful and detailed post about using all the commands to create folders.

Merrel Davis Mise En Place the most simple, repetitive tasks in television production

2. LOCK REQUIREMENTS  – WHERE THERE IS A WILL THERE IS A WAY

Ambiguity kills productivity. Live action reality Producer Carlos knows it. He’s having lunch with a potential client when they say “the DP wants to do the whole project natively in 6k.” If Carlos was unprepared, he would worry his studio may not be able to take on this work.

Part of production planning is to know there’s always more than one way to skin a cat. In meetings with uncertainty, it’s best to be open steps outside of your comfort zone, and understand how flexible you can be in helping the vision.

Put yourself in Carlos’ shoes. He could be indecisive and go back to the client and say “we can’t do this!” or “you change this requirement.” Instead, producer Carlos meets with his team to vet the opportunity further. Carlos’ goal is to land the business, ensure profitability without upending the entire operation.

Carlos planned. And so can you. Before every meeting ask yourself the following questions:

How can I best prepare for the requirements of this client?  Tone, style, expectation. Do your homework. Be ready to understand what they are laying down. Be familiar with their work and the way they want it.

What resources can you leverage? This is what you know you have and can use. Locations, assets, equipment, infrastructure, talent, crew, etc.

What don’t you know? All the unknowns should be quantified. Timing, Budget, Codecs, workflow, etc.

Using these questions Carlos and his team put some R&D time into enabling a 6k workflow last year and have a comprehensive plan to offline and online certain elements of the workflow to accommodate the existing resource they have. It was part of a “ready-to-go” plan should a client ask for a bleeding edge approach.

At the follow-up meeting, Producer Carlos, accurately tells the client his studio can take on the work. He doesn’t even raise it as an issue, he knows he is leveraging the skill and infrastructure of his company. The client is onboard! It was only through Carlos’ understanding of requirements, his experience and pre-planning that he was able to use his skills of Mise en place to win the business, without incurring downtime or infrastructure investment.

By exercising basic tenants of Mise en Place, anyone can break down and understand all the repetitive but necessary tasks of a production. And isn’t that a relief?