Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Showing the Plug and Not the Cable

37 Signals wonders why we show the cable and not the plug. That is, why we focus on what we think we should show, instead of what the other person really needs for us to show. It's a fantastic post, pointing up a flaw of everyday communication, and it made me remember an example I experienced many years ago.

As a graduate assistant for a television production class, I was the one who shot the student video, as guided by the student director, and later stuck all the shots together, as guided by the student editor. These were short productions, less than 5 minutes in length. And most of them involved a character walking through a door.

In just about every shoot, the director wanted a closeup of the actor's hand turning the doorknob. This meant one more setup, and a separate lighting procedure, just to show the grabbing the doorknob, twisting it, and opening the door.

An extra setup, to show us something we do so often we don't even think about it. The extra time it took quickly ate into our short shooting and editing window.

I started advising the directors that they didn't need the closeup doorknob shot, unless the doorknob was covered with peanut butter or slime or wouldn't turn at all because the door was locked (which had to be a part of the script.)

The professor guiding us grad assistants told me to let the students make the mistake and find their errors on their own.

Anyway, the 37 Signals post reminded me of our tendency to show ALL the details in, well, an incredibly detailed fashion, even if those details are so well cemented in our minds that we can move right past them to the good stuff.

And I'm running a level-3 diagnostic on my brain to find out all the myriad times I've done the same thing.
photo from Scott Fisher: Environmental Media Archives - it's the doorknob from Disney's "Alice in Wonderland," I believe.

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