It was winter. The blades of cold wind rushing through the unprotected artificial beach of Golden Gardens sliced through our crew and my nose ran like a faucet as I jogged around the sand to capture the right shots, tripod in hand. We were a group of fourteen students tasked with producing a 20-minute video on a formative battle from ancient history. We watched with horror as an impromptu viking festival hosted by the Foster School of Business saw half-dressed, spike-helmetted undergraduates hollaring with mammalian might as they sprinted into the chilling, gray waters of the Sound before us in some sort of harrowing rite of manhood. We clutched our weapons smithed from the finest plastic in the exotic lands of China and rode into battle while our narrator, Anton, was dragged halfway across the dunes by the powerful gale caught in his umbrella.
This is the Battle of Marathon, sponsored by copious amounts of carcinogenic-smelling Heinz 57 and featured in Mira Green's HSTAM 507 (Ancient Militaries) film festival.
Behind the Scenes
Here's some unsorted trivia about the production process:
- The soldiers of the Persian army were given sunglasses in order to differentiate them from the Athenians in absence of uniforms.
- The actor playing King Darius wasn't taking HSTAM 205; he was the roommate of one of our group members, and happened to ride past us on a bicycle one morning. "Hey, check out that dude. We should have him play Darius." "That guy? That's my room mate." "Really??"
- A good amount of actors were friends of Seth Michels, our screenwriter, in order to boost the volume of our armies.
- Due to a shortage in actors during our last shooting at Golden Gardens, Nick Raffa plays three different Persian soldiers, all of which are slaughtered, during the climactic battle scene.
- The "Operation Longshot" strategy at 11:00 is an actual diagram of Persia's invasion of the Bay of Marathon.
- To make the close-enough-to-20 mark and add some color, I cut in bits of public domain video from the 1950's. Most prominently, The Giant of Marathon.
Directing The Battle of Marathon & Other Things
As far as scale is concerned, this is the largest production I've headed by far. I don't think that the composition, editing, or technical ability I show here is very impressive (in fact, every time I watch this I can imagine another fistful of changes I would make) and the unapologetically over-the-top humor compensates for the fact that our production's budget was something like $20 in gasoline, but I'm incredibly proud of the results we produced given the parameters our professor established. What makes Marathon impressive was our collective ability to organize, delegate, and form a genuinely motivated group despite having never taken any classes together previously and that somehow, in spite of the size of the team, we all maintained enthusiasm and participation.
I don't consider myself a project manager of any sort, and this isn't a role I'd aspire to, but I have to admit that I think the key to The Battle of Marathon was trust. Every time we left class to form a caravan of carpools and busrides to Golden Gardens or wherever in the gloomy, damp, 10 AM Washington State weather, we could have stayed at home or gotten some coffee at the HUB instead, and that's what we would've done if we didn't trust each other to execute on this vision and have a good time—if we didn't believe that the result would be worth it. Every time anybody gets in front of the camera, as the person holding said camera, you've got an obligation to make good on this trust and make sure that the product is worth it, and when you drop your ProRes files into your editor you're being trusted with making the final cut of the work a little over a dozen people contributed to.
Throughout the production process I regularly updated our team's message board with screenshots, estimates, video clips, reports on our progress—the purpose of this transparency was to maintain this trust, and keep everybody excited about our work. Inherent in many popular managerial techniques is the implicit assumption that they require a certain type of personality or disposition, but the ability to earn trust is something everybody has, and exercising this goes a long way. For example, my co-director of Marathon, Theo Punga, recruited my aid in filming his video resume, and what with my relatively thick portfolio of videography work, I've become the guy in my social circle that people trust to handle AV matters.
So, in the back of my mind while I construct my portfolio isn't necessarily, "I've got to impress people," but rather, "I've got to show people that I'm somebody that they can trust to do a proper job." I think that there's an important difference between the two.