Tuesday, August 5, 2014

History of Prop Money

Priceonomics has an interesting article called The Business of Fake Hollywood Money.  It’s a really interesting read.  I have certainly ran into issues when I have done props in the past – making money realistic enough for use, but in a way that we could do without getting into trouble (its not like you can just go to the local kinkos and plop a $5 bill down on the copy machine…).

The article is also interesting as it discusses some of the Hollywood prop shops.  And for listing the book by Fred Reed called Show Me the Money, about the history of money in the movies.  It is definitely a book to add to my reading list!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Anticipating Questions and Problems

Anticipating questions and potential problems is a basic step in technical direction and in project management, but one that I often see skipped when the timeline gets tight.

I read once that 70% of project related questions could be anticipated and prepared for – things like schedule, facility information (dock, door / elevator sizes, etc), contact information for onsite, and so forth are easy to anticipate and this information should be collected early.  Asking these questions in advance allow the PM or TD to be prepared when the project is discussed with the crew, since the PM/TD will already be able to answer the crews questions or will present the information as part of the discussion.

While I think that collecting this information in the beginning, it seems like the step often gets skipped when the project is on a fast track.  I also see situations where a TD/PM is somewhat reactive to information instead of proactive.  I know that personally I often avoid any sort of intake forms when I am starting a project, yet these have usually been created for a reason, often reminding the user of a variety of questions to ask and necessary information.  Often I find that clients don’t seem to have all of the necessary information either, but asking the question early at least spurs them into collecting the necessary information.  And using forms shouldn’t be seen as a weakness, there is often a lot of wasted time collecting information that could easily be streamlined if the necessary information was anticipated.  Further, potential problems could be anticipated with information presented early in the process.   

Thursday, June 12, 2014

PM Tools and Time Management

I recently listed to a few webinars online that was about managing projects.  Based on the title, I had expected something very different from the actual content that was given.  The content of the webinar focused on managing time, getting organized, and managing your overall effectiveness.  While the webinar did refer to Pert and Gnatt charts – they used them as a way of seeing your own personal schedule and obligations, not necessarily as a project tool.  I thought that it was an interesting point of view.

I started viewing shows as projects prior to going to grad school and prior to obtaining any professional training in project management.  Projects include many different things – many things that we all do regularly – even planning a vacation could be defined as a project.  I think that when a show is defined as a project it is subtly handled differently than when it isn’t.  Seeing project management tools applied to time management reminds me of how versatile PM tools really are.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Illustrated history of Graphic Design

Pop Chart Lab offers a print that is a stylistic survey of graphic design that covers about 200 years.  It is interesting to see how the styles have evolved over time.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Management by Exception

I recently realized that a common management technique that I see every day (and do for better or worse) is called management by exception.  I didn’t really think of it as a style, or even having a name, though I had actually been thinking about it in the last few months because I saw that the technique was causing problems to develop.
Essentially this technique assumes that employees know what and how to do something, and corrections are applied when something blows up or, if being watching more carefully, mistakes are seen.  This makes sense in many ways.  For instance – when building flats, most carpenters I work with know how to build a typical flat & I would not expect to have to teach them this skill (generally, there are of course situations where this would not be the assumption).  If the carpenters are in the middle of building flats and I see an error in construction (perhaps the plywood corner block has the grain going the wrong direction) then I would stop and correct it, and hopefully the carpenter would not make that mistake in the future.  The technique makes sense because it is difficult to know what someone else knows and doesn’t know.  At the same time people don’t always know what they don’t know – which could prevent them from asking question.  The system streamlines a particular workflow, and only stops when there is an observable issue.
Management by Exception is a transitional model of leadership – it is based on tasks and does not really consider needs of the subordinate or personal development – just the job at hand.  It can be done actively – when the manager watches closely for mistakes and then corrects them, or passively, when corrections only occur after a problem has arisen. The issue is that it always a negative transaction – interactions always happen after mistakes have occurred (there is no focus on catching people doing things right).  In my experience, and what made me think about this style before I even realized that it was an actual style, is that when corrective action is applied frequently it creates a situation that is not very positive.  While avoiding the transactional leadership style completely would create the most positive experience – I think that there is still room for management by exception as long as there is focus on catching good behavior not just problems.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Leadership Development

The class I am currently taking is about different leadership styles.  While I have taken other leadership courses, they usually come from the point of view of a particular style and attempt to develop leadership potential from only that point of view.  This class has been interesting because it talks about the history of leadership and how different theories of leadership have evolved, as well as exposing me to styles that I have not really considered before.  I think that leadership typically calls to mind particular traits – visionary, charismatic, authenticity, for example, and those traits are parts of many theories, there are other theories that are much more behaviorally based, and can be easily learned and used to improve leadership skill.  In particular there are several that I thought were relevant to technical theatre environments.

Leader-Member Exchange Theory.  Have you ever noticed that in some environments there is an in and out group – and that some people are more likely to stay than others, and that the “in” group has more information than they others?  This theory talks about that phenomenon.  I don’t think that this environment is ideal – I think it should be avoided, but understanding what is happening will help you identify what is going on and possibly move into a position where you will receive more information, or would help you break the cycle if you are the leader in this situation.

Path-Goal Theory assumes that subordinates will do a good job and be motivated as long as they believe that they can do a good job (capable of performing their work), and that the reward for doing the work is worthwhile.  The leader here seeks to motivate his/her employees.  This style also emphasis removing obstacles, clarifying goals, and supporting the people doing the work.  I identify with this style of leadership most closely because it is such a close fit to how I see myself and my responsibilities as a project manager.  This theory identifies 4 types of leader behaviors (directive, supportive, participative, and achievement orientated) that can be used based on the task and the subordinates needs to provide proper motivation and support.  Finally, the theories include subordinate characteristics (need for affiliation, structure preference, control, and task ability) that must be considered by the leader when choosing their own leadership behavior.  While somewhat complex, it is a situational approach that focuses on removing obstacles and clearing the way for your staff to do the best work possible.

Contingency Theory attempts to match leaders to specific situations creating a match where they will be most successful.  Obviously this doesn’t work in all situations, but can be used in looking at what approach would work best.  The theory looks at leader-member relationships, the task structure, and the leader’s positional power, as well as the leaders preferred leadership style.  A chart shows what situations the preferred leadership style is most effective in.  The leader’s style is based on an assessment on the LPC scale (least preferred coworker) which separates leaders based on relationship versus task motivations. 

Situational Leadership.  I have encountered this several times before & I find it useful for determining behavior in a situation.  This approach looks at the skill of the followers, and has a chart based on two factors – supportive behaviors and directive behaviors.  This creates four styles: Delegating, Supporting, Coaching, and Directing.  Based on the skill of the employee and the task, a leader can determine which role would be most effective for the situation. This approach assumes that the leader should adapt to the abilities of their subordinates.

I think that I struggle with seeing leadership qualities in average situations.  I tend to associate leadership with great people (Lincoln, Roosevelt etc).  I think that it is very easy to see leadership flaws in people that I interact with, and I needed to take a step back and view these interactions from a grander viewpoint.  Leadership and change are linked – and change is hard, especially organizational change, which I think also minimized leadership accomplishments of those I know.  I also have started to consider that leadership often happens in small moments – not large ones.  For instance, I had a hard time talking about transformational leadership because I viewed it only in terms of large transformations.  Yet I work in an industry that frequently mentors others, and these mentors are exhibiting transformational leadership. 

While most leadership books (at least those that are meant to develop leadership abilities) assume that leadership is a skill that can be developed, many rely on personality and traits, that I fee are more difficult to change.  The approaches above, to me, provide very concrete concepts of ways to increase leadership ability based on context.  In some ways, I think that had I taken this course prior to some of the other classes I have taken; I would probably have viewed them differently.  On the other hand, I don’t think that a single exposure to a thought or concept allows full development of the idea – the more often ideas are thought about and developed, the more concrete and meaningful they become, and the more they become woven into your practice.

Images are from Leadership Theory and Practice by Peter G. Northouse.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Colossal has an article about an artists named A. Boogert who made an 800 page book about mixing watercolors and describing the paint colors - somewhat similar to our modern day pantone color books. Its really quite a remarkable accomplishment and tool, and a wonder that it has survived.

The book can be viewed here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Quote of the Day

"You can fix it on the drawing board with an eraser or you can fix it
on the site with a sledgehammer."
-Frank Lloyd Wright

Friday, April 25, 2014

New Arrival

The newest addition to our family:

Riley Annette
12:48 Am

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Design Fees

Recently, I talked to a couple of designers that I have worked with previously about an upcoming potential job. They told me that they wouldn’t do it “on spec” which, I have to admit, took me back a bit because I didn’t expect them to do the work for free.

In theatre, designers, in my experience, are hired based on their reputation, portfolio, and so forth. It is common for certain directors to request a certain designer based on the show and a previously existing relationship. Designers, at least professionally, are not expected to work for free. Once hired, they are expected to make the design work for the director.

Working in a commercial scene shop, some clients think of design the same way that I do – that they hire us based on reputation, relationship and portfolio, and we work together to make a design that everyone is happy about. Technically, we could do a design and not do the fabrication, though that doesn’t happen often. Also, I suppose that if a design wasn’t going well, they could pay for services to date and move on, though that doesn’t really happen either. However, there are a variety of customers, who work in other industries where they do expect us to design and/or sample and develop ideas for free. There is really quite a debate about this practice & about how it can be bad for the industry in general. It reminds me of the debate I heard when I was younger about how the theatre industry underpays in general, but especially for interns because it’s a learning experience and besides – you are doing what you love. I have to admit that my early days in theatre were in small places that economically took advantage of me, but I did gain a lot of experience. On the other hand, I have seen others take a much different career trajectory.

The other challenge with design and prototype / sample proposals is quantifying what they entail. If it is unlimited, a client could take advantage wanting endless samples, drawings, revisions, and so forth. If you price based on the assumption that something like that will happen and try to allow for time and materials, your cost will be too high. If you assume the best case scenario, but don’t put any limits into the contract then you may lose money on the work. I have some people do a time/materials proposal, but generally people want to have a final price in mind for the budget. If you do a proposal that specifies a particular process and amount of revisions etc, and allows for additional charges – it allows everything to be very clear to both parties, and minimizes risk to the artist, but I have seen clients shy away-to a certain degree once they pay for design they want it to be finalized without additional charges and have a hard time recognizing how their actions and request increase costs.

While I don’t really have answers, I think that ultimately it is about a relationship.

David Airey has a blog that talks about spec work. He also has many good resources for designers.