Creative partnership

I’ve been in London for a couple of days moving stuff on with SciCast – which really is the project title, in that we’ve bought the domain names and everything. It’s been knackering, productive, interesting. A meeting with the website technical partners at the ETB was extremely positive: while part of me would prefer to lash the site together myself in Movable Type, the sane part of me is utterly delighted that somebody else – ie. somebody who actually knows what they’re doing – is going to build it for me. And, crucially, support it.

Best of all, the ETB seem happy to work on a fairly ad-hoc basis. That is, to lash something together and then iterate as appropriate, and as necessity, experience, and time permit. So we spent the rest of the day at NESTA drafting wire-frame mockups of the site, and arguing over functionality. So the first lash-together should reflect our ‘best guess,’ and we can also make considered judgments about which bits are crucial, which ‘would be nice,’ and which are just clutter.

One interesting aspect of the project is that I’m going to rediscover some of the things about TV that I like, but have come to overlook. For example, in TV there’s no real distinction between ‘creatives’ and ‘project managers.’ This often causes utter mayhem, nightmarish schedules, appalling decision-making processes, and a complete lack of budgetary prudence.

But when it works it’s glorious, because there’s nobody in the way. On some of my projects it’s been common practice for the accountant to sit with the production department, which the business types tend to hate. They’re worried the accountant might ‘go native,’ and cede oversight to the producer (who should, of course, never be trusted). But with the right people it works beautifully, in that the accountant can see what’s going on and start shuffling money around before you’ve even made the decision that yes, you really really really want that piece of set, and it’s worth the sacrifice to repaint it blue.

There’s also a prevailing attitude of ‘I don’t care if you can do this, I need to know if you’re going to do it by Friday. Otherwise this discussion is a waste of time.’ Mostly this is plain rude – but again, when it works it’s a gloriously productive approach. Likewise the ‘throw it at the wall and see if it sticks’ technique – lash something together as quickly as possible, bat it around, see if you like the way it’s going. If you do, spend the time you have left making it good. If you don’t, bin it and try something else.

Luckily, Katie (who’s the NESTA end of SciCast) is extremely amenable to just making things happen. She used to be a stand-up and impro comedian, which might have something to do with it, but her approach is mildly unexpected at NESTA. You see, they’re in the business of supporting creativity, but as I’m slowly learning that’s not the same as being a creative environment. Indeed, we slightly freaked people out by being wildly productive, and I was somewhat baffled that we couldn’t do that in an open office.

Television production offices tend to be cluttered, messy, dreadfully-designed, even a bit smelly. They’re usually full of expansive discussions and not very many people having them. I was once on the phone, talking to a contributor, watching a fist-fight at the far end of the office. This is normal, it’s inspiring – it’s part of the fast-turnaround, creative world of TV. NESTA is… an office. With people writing considered reports and filing things. Being enthusiastic and expressive in such a space is distracting, so we ended up sitting in the foyer.

And yes, as the day finished we had an unresolved and fairly fundamental creative disagreement. About the front page of the site, no less. I’m so proud of us.

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