What is Quality?
I recently learned that the BBC use researchers to film and edit their own features. This got me thinking about what they are asking their staff to do, and what they are delivering to viewers.
Normally creating content for prime-time features would involve several professionals. So I find the idea of having a researcher film and edit features somewhat alarming!
As I was growing up, I viewed television professionals as perfectionists. I believed that those working in the industry were experts who held the highest of standards, guaranteeing the viewer not only quality programming, but also flawless execution. The older I got, the more critical I became of the things I watched. The knowledge of this self-shooting process within the BBC led me to think about what quality actually means, and what we, the audience, expect.
The saying goes that ‘You get what you pay for’ but what does that mean in this industry?
Consider the quality of the programming on television; do you expect the same standards across all productions? Take BBC News or a wildlife documentary as examples - both use the same production methods but the outcome is very different. Both set out to give information on a subject and use the visual content with a voice over to give evidence, but they have different, subconscious quality benchmarks to meet.
Three things influence the reasons for these obvious differences; time, scope, and talent. They all have a direct relationship, as one aspect is scaled, the others will follow suit. However, quality is not involved within this exchange.
Time – how much lead-time you have on any project is a clear and considerable gauge to start from.
Scope – what do you want to achieve from this project, and what do you need to deliver?
Finally, Talent – do you get a jack-of-all-trades, or a crew of specialists, each focused on their individual tasks, that culminate in the finished article?
Individuals have their own personal quality benchmark, a minimum acceptable level to reach, and this applies to each aspect of the project. So an individual has to concentrate on multiple disciplines. The sum of all these determines the result. Within a large team each member can focus on their own talent, adding to and compounding the minimum level of quality. This does not mean, however, that you cannot find quality in an individual, or flaws within a team, but it made me think.
I began to reflect upon my own work, and I am extremely proud of what I have produced. I can’t say I have agreed with every decision made during production and, as part of the creative process, I will always challenge decisions as I believe that continues the effort towards quality. Time, scope, and talent variables are considered at the beginning, but when a deadline is approaching the main concern is always quality.
So how do I approach quality, and what is my minimum acceptable level? I find that the last effort of work is always towards fixing the smallest of issues, things that many might miss, individual frames of discontent. A film might be three minutes long, and each second has 25 frames, therefore I will most likely be concerned with single frames scattered throughout the piece. These individual frames, that are one twenty-fifth of a second, create a visual itch that keeps me awake at night. This ‘polishing’ is usually taken care of within a project’s deadline but, invariably, the longer I spend on a project, the more I will search for things to polish.
As I take great pride in the work I produce, I am my main critic and find it difficult to take a step back from perfecting. Achieving the high standards I set myself can occasionally lead to late nights or weekends in the office, which my wife and young son are keen for me to avoid, if possible.
So why would I chose to miss a weekend spent with family over these minor issues many might miss? If I lose this sense of achieving a minimum level of quality, and the search for perfection, then I would question my contribution to this industry. It is the journey, and striving to make sure every frame counts, that drives me to continue to work late into the night.
Again, consider the quality of the programming on television, do you expect the same standards across all productions? Whether it is the news, a drama or adverts, the question of quality seems to be determined by the nature of the program, or even the channel. I believe the same can be said for the production of the content, the minimum acceptable level of quality is informed by the broadcast. The trifecta of time, scope, and talent will also play their part but when it comes to quality, putting in that extra effort to polish the fine details is what makes the difference.
My final thought would be on which came first, the lower minimum level of quality, or the lower expectation? If more was delivered would the audience notice or, if we expected more as an audience would it be produced?