Technical Writing and the 48-Hour Film Project

Note: This post has been updated. The original post included an inoperative link.

Last week I discussed my intended adventures with the 48-Hour Film Project. You can find my personal observations and photos about the experience here, but today I’ll talk about how the 48HFP relates (or doesn’t) to the practice of technical writing.

How Film Production Differs

It is possible you might have to make a film at some point during your technical writing career (I helped write and edit a series of progress videos about the Ares Projects for NASA over a decade ago)–in which case the overlaps are nearly 100%. However, if most of your products are traditional print or even web documents, there will be obvious differences between the two disciplines.

  • You are not dealing with people or other actions/activities on film/videotape/digital media.
  • You will not have to worry about camera angles.
  • You will not necessarily be integrating moving images, text, and sound.
  • The number of disciplines/people involved in a project is likely to be less…but not always.
  • A film–unless you’re making a “special edition” or “director’s cut” DVD later–is unlikely to change once it’s completed.
  • Unless you’re creating a technical document that is partially produced outdoors, you are unlikely to worry about weather being a factor.

How Film Production is Similar

Despite the wildly different types of production going on between film and technical documents, the two activities do have, surprisingly, a number of factors in common:

  • The project can require multiple inputs and disciplines, including writing, editing, graphics/visuals, design, and subject-matter expertise.
  • If you are producing something that must be delivered “live,” such as a classroom script/presentation, the final product is akin to theater, in that it includes live performances. In that case, it can be helpful to include the people doing the performing in the development process.
  • The project is a collaborative team effort and it requires each individual working well with others and contributing his/her best to produce the final result.
  • If there is a gap or error in the content, someone in the audience will notice if it is not caught before release.
  • In the end, it helps to have one person in charge with a “vision” of how the final product will look and how the audience will react.
  • The project will need to be delivered in a format and sequence that make sense to the audience.
  • It’s important, at times, to “leave your ego at the door” when collaborating because other people will have ideas to contribute as well…the goal is to create a good overall product. If you’re there just for your own benefit or to show off, you’re not being a team player and are creating an additional problem/constraint for the team.
  • You try to find/recruit/hire the best people for the job because they have expertise you do not…one person cannot do everything proficiently.
  • Given the interactive/collaborative nature of the creative process, you cannot afford to be exceptionally introverted or quiet. You need to speak up and make your opinions/ideas/concerns heard.

What the 48HFP gave me was a different insight into how teamwork produces a good final product…it was a lesson worth learning.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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One Response to Technical Writing and the 48-Hour Film Project

  1. d2rector13 says:

    Another “learning” that resonates for me is “embrace constraints.” All too often, Creatives complain “If only we had more _____” (budget, special effects, etc.) — precious time is wasted in the lamentations. The 48HRFP is all about working inside a pretty tight box of constraints: the time; the required elements; the availability of talent / crew / equipment / good weather / locations; very little sleep. The entire exercise is one long riff of collaborative Creative Problem Solving …with good humor: one person cannot do it all; a team of people CAN so long as they quickly find their collective creative dynamic and park their egos.

    From the exercise, I am reminded: much as we lament the myriad Constraints, from them flows more creativity; and, ultimately, a refined product we could not have produced without the boundaries that force us to stop whining and start solving, because 48 hours isn’t very long at all – and sleep is precious!

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