The Skill of delegation.

What is they say, “A Problem shared is a problem halved!”?

That’s the point of having an Assistant Sound with you on some jobs isn’t it?

May has been dominated for me with a production company from Belfast shooting a dating show in Cardiff (sorry to be vague but we have been sworn to secrecy!). What I can tell you that even before the tech spec was finalised THEY were telling ME that I would need to get a sound assistant on board. Which was a lovely change from the usual thing of having to coax and cajole a production team into the additional sound team member.

I’ve worked as part of a wider sound team before, and at various levels in that sound team. From being the assistant, through one of the recordists to the guy running the job. The most recent being Factory Girls for Wall to Wall last year in South Wales. A brief synopsis of the living history doco was to return modern women of the South Wales Valleys to the Textile Factory environment in the 60s, 70s and 80s.
We had a big cast, 3 cameras, 3 sound men and an assistant and about 30 Zaxcom kits running on a daily basis for the 16 days filming for 4hr programmes.

The Biggest challenge I faced on Factory Girls wasn’t running the team but utilising Richard Thomas, our first-class Assistant Sound best. Being a doco/bag recordist I’m used to working on my own and problem solving is a thing that happens with an accompanying inner Monologue. So when you have more people In your team it soon becomes obvious that delegation is a skill that is learnt rather than naturally possessed. Perversely, with prep being the first thing Richard Thomas, the AS for the job due to his intimate knowledge of Zaxcoms and Audio Dept (the hire company for the rig) was get things organised across the 30 transmitters, the receivers for the bags, the receivers for the Camera Hops and then the timecode for everything. Delegating this was easy. Set each other tasks and both crack on until one of us finished and then set a new task for them. Easy.

The hard part of learning to Delegate was realised when the shoot started properly. Delegation is all about clear and concise communication. Without this you can take too long in getting the message across and it either gets lost in translation OR it feels like it takes too long and you end up doing it yourself. Sometimes I know that while my communication is clear it most certainly isn’t concise, or, when I’m trying to be concise, I’m no longer that clear on what I want.

On Factory Girls, due to me thinking “bugger it, I’ll do it myself” meant that while I was rushing around trying to do two things at once, Richard felt like he was sitting unused. Which neither great for his sense of belonging on the shoot and can be awkward if it looks like the AS is “sitting around all day”.
**My counter to this last accusation of any assistant, whether it sound dept or Camera Dept is, if the Assistant is sitting down it means they have everything in hand and the shoot is going smoothly, if you see them tear-arsing round it’s usually a sign that something, somewhere isn’t going to plan. AND NO-ONE WANTS THAT!**

It came to Richard telling me that, basically, I was doing his job for him and that if I was doing his job, I wasn’t doing mine properly.
As sound supervisor, lead recordist or Head of Department it strikes me that you spend less time with the kit than you do in organising, arranging, negotiating and planning. So obviously, if I was faffing with timecode or checking batteries, I wasn’t putting aside time to look ahead on the shoot and starting to deal with issues that might not be seen by the series director or PM department as it was a very specific sound issue. An example from Factory Girls, that thankfully I didn’t get distracted from, was the fact that we had such a wide range of frequencies across and outside the usual TV channel that I have licensed and into a site specific license that had to be renewed every time we moved “en mass” to a different location for filming. I was actually dealing with this issue that forced me to get better at delegating. I had to be with the PM and go through everything for each location on multiple days that made me leave Richard and the other recordists on the job do what they came to do without me doing some of it for them.

Which brings me to another importantly element of delegation. Trust.
To delegate you have to have trust in the people that you delegate too, otherwise you won’t give them anything to do of any value. This comes back to you over working and the guys under you not feeling valued or part of the whole deal. Which has never inspired anyone to greater deed has it.
It can be tough to pass over things to people in your team if you haven’t worked with them before, after all, if you’re in charge then it’s you people will come to first if it all goes pear shaped. Or to put it concisely “It’s Your dick on the griddle!
How do you get that trust in people, well, for me it’s just watching them for a bit, seeing that they are comfortable with what you have asked them to do, being open to questions coming back, being ready to accept that the way you have explained it didn’t work for them and you need to go through it again and Probably most importantly of all, for me at least, is seeing that they care about the quality of work they are turning in and it matters to them what people will think of the sound on the finished product but also what they think about the team that got it for them.

I’ve just finished the main block of filming for a Belfast production company shooting in Cardiff and the joy of working with Oliver Machin on my team. Oliver is a greatly experienced recordist so it was probably something of a step down in responsibilities for him. This time around, once everything had been unpacked and rigged on the first day it became apparent that I would see very little of Oli once we were up and running as he would be predominantly based in Hair and Make Up with me on set. In fact the only time we crossed paths was when Oli would come to set with the cast and look for the quick thumbs up from me to see we were all good to go on the set up.

Through this block we had three set ups that were all different with different outfit requirements and styles of mic’ing. It meant that rather than operating as a team were almost unit one and two. Unit One (Oli) would mic and do checks, Unit Two (me) would press record and mix. Sounds easy but sometimes it’s not as easy as it sounds, if you’re not a well working team cracks can be found and errors appear. But not this time. It worked like a dream. The calls of “Waiting for Sound” weren’t heard for anything we did, there was the usual hold ups when we discovered that the bloke next door to one location had chosen that day to get his sander out and do his floor boards but nothing from us on a technical note.

Hopefully Oli will be able to attest that my communication and delegation have got to a level where everyone is getting something from me and not feeling wasted on the job.
The problem I’m now worried about is, have it got to used to sitting behind a trolley watching the wide on a monitor with someone else doing the running round? Well after the days I’ve just had, one at Pendine Sands and the other at Pride Swansea, then I think I managed to drop back into the flow of one man sound dept and bag work pretty well.

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