‘Once Upon A Time’ – The Whole Story

Introduction:

This post details all of the events surrounding the failed attempt to create a movie in Prague called ‘Once Upon A Time’, and all the subsequent events that followed from that. About two weeks into my second year, I signed up as a camera operator for this project. It has been one of the most expensive professional experiences yet, and with a certain irony, the least bountiful.

Part One: Creating The Team

You may find a post a while back which I made over the summer of 2010 regarding the showdown between Prague and New York, as both were options open to all students in the faculty that wanted professional experiences abroad. Due to some political mix-ups, New York cost in the region of £1000 for just over a week, which sent most students running for the Prague option faster than athletes late for the starting gun. Prague cost more in the region of £350, and promised an all round cheaper experience.

A ‘tourist’ shot from a later excursion to Prague Old Town Square

In the initial meetings (held on Wednesday mornings), we first met a host of third year students. Two ideas were put forward which we could choose from – one was called Accidental Seduction (a film written by a third year student), and the other was called Once Upon A Time (a film written by a lecturer who had taught me before). As far as I was concerned, there was no comparison. Once Upon A Time (or OUAT as it became referred to) held a lot more promise in terms of benefits. I signed up for that option, and got introduced to the JVC ProHD 700 cameras.

I learned to use the JVC cameras long before anyone else on my course did. They were very large, and very overwhelming. We’d only just been introduced to the Z1s and Z5s a few weeks before, and I felt I was jumping the gun a little being allowed behind such expensive cameras. With the help of my fellow camera operators however, I managed to learn how to use them to a very high degree. This came in handy when using the camera in the TV studio for the Formats module, and also came in use in understanding the Z-type counterparts. Understanding these cameras really boosted my confidence as a camera operator. It made me feel part of the team, and also made me appreciate the structure of team work. We all had a job to do, and it was highly illegal to encroach on other people’s jobs. Only together would anything ever get done.

Producing and Directing roles were decided, everyone seemed comfortable… and then the really big problem that was to doom the project was unearthed without ado.

Part Two: It All Comes Back To The Money

Upon hearing that OUAT was going to cost in the region of £5000, my response was almost of a condescending humour. In about week three, the cost for production was revealed, and the silence permeated every nook and cranny of the lecture theatre. The producer went into re-writes with our lecturer to see if the script could be re-done to cut costs down. Even after this option was utilized however, we were looking at £3000 minimum for this project to go ahead. We would have to fund this money ourselves, so we quickly got to work with fundraising ideas.

A lot of these ideas held promise – a ‘gunge’ event, where lecturers could get sponged with goop in the reception area of the campus; a photo shoot in the shopping mall to sell off professional photos; a gaming night where a tournament would ultimately award the winner with a copy of the new CoD game. It all sounded so promising. Yet, despite all this, I do distinctly remember having words across the lecture theatre upon hearing this news. I of all people know the value of the money, and I seemed to be the only one who was acknowledging this was never going to happen. Students have no money to donate, even if they do genuinely want to help. I raised the issue with the trip organizer, who I remember distinctly telling me that defeatist attitudes would get me nowhere, and that we could raise the money, and that we WOULD raise the money. Inspiring speech – famous last words.

The deciding factor in the difference between Once Upon A Time, and (as we later called it) Once Upon A Time Not.

However, I have only myself to blame – deep down I knew £3000 would never be raised without some sort of major sponsor or miracle. Yet, I didn’t do all that much about it – I could have written a script myself, or quietly ‘migrated’ to the other group. Yet I was convinced by my lecturer’s words (it was a really good speech). I was drawn into the whole idea that we could do it. And thus, we started to prep. An entire unit of students from the third year got together and made entire storyboards for each of the scenes. Costumes were drafted up, scripts were entirely re-written. And my part, for once, was a lot less theoretical, and became quite a fun addition to my busy weekly timetable.

Part Three: SNOW

Here is an example of some of the initial test footage we took for OUAT using the JVC cameras:

Our skills instructor who was ever-watchful of the top-end equipment warned us of arctic conditions in Prague, prompting us all to swiftly buy all manners of thermal underwear. Indeed, on the run-up to Christmas, snow began to emerge in the weather patterns, and Coventry became a chilly place to be in. Apparently, the tripods became brittle and shattered easily in these conditions, and as a camera operator my job was to ensure the tripods – and the £7000 camera on top of them – made it back from Prague in one piece.

Each week, every Wednesday, we regrouped and went on field practice sessions. In light of what happened later the line, these days were just about the best days of this professional experience for me in terms of my development as a camera operator. We were timed in getting equipment up and packing it down, and each week we made progress. I learned how to put rain covers on both Z-cameras and the JVCs (harder than it looks), and also became quite handy with switching XLR cables around in superior time (notable from the Demo-Lition event).

Interesting times included having no vision on the camera, even though the LCD display was bright, the lens cap was off and all zooms were right at the back (turned out to be a manual f-stop error – the shutter was actually closed). One time we practiced using the tracks in the middle of Coventry Cathedral, which was as much fun and it as nerve-wracking (a school-load of pupils came in as we were filming, meaning we had to try and avoid getting them in the shot). We played around the lighting a lot inside the campus buildings – we used dedos to create flickering flame effects, and I also learned how to use the JVC Monitors and the in-camera editing tools, such as the WB Paint tool. I got a JVC out each weekend, and (alongside bass guitar) managed to get a few hours of practice in, usually on Sundays. Making the transition to using them as shoulder cameras was a tricky business, but I got the hang of the position eventually. Mastering the back-focus and macro was also no small feat, but the Focus Assist button was always there to get me out of trouble when I needed it. Also, the Gain and ND Filters were features I came to use often, and I still play around with them frequently when creating artefacts for other modules. Even the tripods provided some challenge in how to use them.

Overall though, I came to like using the JVC cameras – evidence that I had progressed into the realms of a professional camera operator. Every other project I was involved in I was still using Z-type cameras, and my skills were improving in that area as well. I didn’t notice it too much myself until people started asking me about the cameras and how to do things on them – people were looking at me as a camera operator. This in turn gave me even more confidence in myself and my abilities – even though I never did fully get my head around sample rates.

Part Four: Pulling The Plug

Christmas came and went. By now, everyone seemed in a solid position to kick Czech butt. Everyone, that is, except the producer and directors. They looked a little nervous compared to the rest of us. Upon the next meeting, a cut-off point was decided – if the funds were not raised by mid January, OUAT was not going to happen. I took part in a few fundraising events – journeying from pub to pub and raising measly ten pounds here and there, and also partaking in the failed CoD Tournament, which actually failed so badly it cost the project an extra £4 rather than raised any. Despite having an actress lined up in the wings, mid January arrived and the inevitable happened. OUAT was pulled, leaving us now without a project and only four weeks until the flight out.

The subsequent ideas that were discussed in the meeting were typically met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm on everyone’s part. Several ideas went through circulation – the idea changed more or less every week. As far as my memory goes:

1. Documentary on ‘students and alcohol’ – This idea was a typical ‘write what you know’ exercise. If we did a project based around something we could relate to, it would hopefully give us some incentive to carry on ahead with the project. This would also include a trip to a local absinth factory – propular amongst the group, as we all figured we could use a drink.

2. Documentary on a ‘Jewish Synagogue’ – There is a famous Jewish synagogue in Prague, and we figured that since Idea 1 would be too risky to use our expensive cameras, this was a safer bet, provided we could get access to the synagogue. We decided within a few days that this would not be the case.

3. Documentary on the ‘Charles Bridge’ – Prague hosts a very famous bridge called the Charles Bridge, which hosts statues on either side, each representing a various piece of history and / or culture. Each statue had a story – we decided to choose ten of them and make a documentary about the tales, and what the people made of them and their superstitions. This was the best idea of the lot I felt.

4. Documentary on ‘Saint John’ – As most primary research of the Charles Bridge came up wrong, we decided to focus instead of one lone statue on the bridge, namely the one of ‘Saint John’, whereby if one touches on part of the statue it brings good luck, whereas another part brings bad. This idea would include a trip on a ghost tour through Prague, exploring the more supernatural superstitions of the city.

Every idea seemed to be agreed upon, and then changed by the next week. No idea every alone stood on it’s own two feet. Eventually I simply stopped attending the meetings. I felt sorry for some members of the group, as they conducted a lot of research for some of the later projects, which ultimately proved fruitless. It was impossible to gage just what to expect when we got out there, and I just had the impression that the whole group was thrashing around for something to do. With weeks to go, I left them to it – I had my own ideas to develop.

Part Five: The Ghost In The Machine


One thing that can clearly be deduced from the above list is that the idea of making a short film in Prague literally went down in flames the moment OUAT was pulled – documentary was now the name of the game. I wouldn’t have minded so much had the top brass of the group decided that ‘Z’ cameras were better for documentaries, and were no longer going to take the JVCs. Everything I had learned was now being undone before me, and seemingly through no fault of my own. In a mad attempt to toss caution to the wind, I took a walk and started to cultivate an idea for a short film. I knew as always that making an idea into reality in such a short period of time would probably cost considerable expenses out of my own pocket, but in all honesty that was something I was willing to accept. The way I saw the current situation, Prague was the most expensive project for this module, and as of present was proving the most unfruitful. If taking this project ahead meant taking over directing roles, I would have been willing to do that. I was jumping the gun – I had not as of yet done my Short Film module, and I knew I was heading into the unknown. But I had to try.

The man to speak to was Clifton Stewart, a script writer by profession. After talks with him, I went about creating a story. The basis had several key points – a man would journey to Prague, and upon arrival, his reason for being there would be taken away, leaving an enigma code in the narrative. The film would only be a short one – I aimed for ten pages or less. I ultimately decided upon a love story (as love always sells), about a man who travels to Prague to find a girl. I took time trying to find a twist interesting enough to fit the bill, and eventually struck gold – what if he went to Prague, and found out she’d been dead for the last six months?

I drafted a script, and went through several re-writes of my own before finally taking the first copy to show to Clifton. The story was a lot more focused on the internet – the main character meets a girl online, heads to Prague to meet her, and finds she’s been dead or ages. The title ‘The Ghost On The Machine’ wrote itself. I would place the script below, but I think I’ll save you the read. The story focused on the man arranging to meet the girl in a Prague cafe, and when she didn’t turn up, he journeys to her house (which she references previously) to find out what’s going on. Her mum informs the main character she’s been dead six months (suicide – killed by a broken heart), and directs him to her grave. Upon seeing the grave, despite the fact the mother has placed a set of roses there recently, ‘thieves’ have stolen the flowers. The main character goes back to his hotel and prepares to get back home, when he receives a knock at his door. Outside, in the corridor, he finds the roses from the grave, and hears a whisper in his ear. Though he cannot see her, it is the girl he met online, finally having found love, and now departing for the afterlife in peace. It seems she wanted him to go to Prague so she could show him a physical sentiment – this would all be at the viewer’s discretion however.

I was happy with the way the script turned out. My gut feeling was that had this idea been put forward sooner, when I knew OUAT was going under, it may have become a reality. Most of the script was based around a narration anyway, keeping the script simple and minimal at the best of times. This was a good thing for Prague, but with two weeks to go, it was proposed just too late. After Prague, I would go on to prove that it is possible to go from first draft scripts to finished short films within just over five weeks, but not two. The time was too late, but it is a possibility that this film may be chased up later in my career.

…judging by what happened when we did finally depart for Prague, it’s probably best we didn’t have a set of actors and locations lined up waiting to be paid, it would have been a disaster! (Not that is wasn’t anyway).

Part Six: Departure

Thus the big day finally came, with everyone meeting up early on Saturday morning to get the coach. The equipment had been taken out the day previously, and everyone, despite still being without a clear idea of what we were going to make, was genuinely excited about going. Two major issues kicked off within seconds – first of all, I was told all my hand luggage had to be sacrificed. ALL hand luggage. None negotiable. Other people had the option to fit XLR cables and microphones into their hand luggage, but mine was completely removed, as was the same for another fellow camera op (regardless of team work, it was our responsibility, and ours alone). After integrating all my necessities into other people’s luggage, the problem was somewhat fixed by one even more stupid – the Z1 camera given to me was broken.

The AE (Auto Exposure) was broken, so the light would not correctly adjust the surroundings. The skills instructor could not fix it, as I as a camera operator was shunned just like that. I ended up deciding the leave the broken Z1 back at my apartment – the bus AND the ‘safety’ bus had both failed to arrive, meaning we were now at risk of missing the flight. I transferred the batteries to the other Z1 case, then nipped back and left my one camera behind. Although I managed to regain hand luggage privileges, I foolishly left my DSLR behind – on the principle that a friend had already promised me that I could use hers whilst we were over there.

A bus turned up with a driver who didn’t know where he was going. He shot down the nearest highway to the airport, where we hustled and bustled through a chaotic terminal and landed on the place with minutes to spare. I’d barely sat down when the plane took off. Journeying through Stanstead terminal was the most stressed I’d been in recent memory – it set the tone nicely for the upcoming week. The fact I was now heading out to Prague essentially without a role had not sunk in yet, but we’d all made it on the plane (just). The plane made good time, arriving 20 minutes early, and dropping us swiftly into the hands of our awaiting coach, which took us straight to our hotel. Once the bus had turned up at the university, it was generally a smooth run right through to the hotel (albeit a sleepy one).

Our hotel – The Hotel Populus!

Upon arrival at the hotel, rooms were sorted out before myself and my fellow room mate took our first steps on Czech soil to hunt out some food. We got a few supplies in, and were quickly rounded up and taken on a tour around Prague. Our lecturer left us after a while, leaving us to find our own ways back. It wouldn’t have been such a bad idea if we were now into 36-hour sleep deprivation. The journey back to the hotel that night was rather hallucinogenic.

The first night did not ease up the pressure however, as a group meeting was called and the idea had – surprise surprise – changed once more. Now the Charles Bridge was a no-go, instead we were now going to do something on globalization. We based the original idea around food, and the directors split the group up accordingly. The Z1 team (namely my two fellow camera operators) were to take in the sights, sounds and smells of a traditional Prague and traditional food, whilst I – geared with a small palmcorder – would be visiting the fast food, western-culture orientated franchise diners. Now not only had my camera been taken away, but also my opportunity to sample the culture.

Part Seven: The Breaking Point

Perhaps it was due to tiredness, but tensions rose to almost unbearable levels during the meeting on that first night. Since no project was being done, the producer and directors dictated several roles. I thought I was grouchy – it wasn’t until later in the week that I realised how close the breaking point other people had been. I, typically, would not blow up and walk off in a huff during the meeting. I quietly, and calmly, sat at the bar until late in the night with a camera operator, and told him I was seriously considering walking from this project as of the next day. I didn’t like this feeling of being trapped; I didn’t like the fact that despite paying £350 for this Professional Experience trip, that university had failed to give me working equipment; I almost certainly didn’t like the fact that I’d been directed to walking around fast food stalls day in and day out. I figured it would be best to thank the lecturers for the opportunity – what there was of it – and then politely just walk off and explore the city and the culture. I was fully prepared to do that – heck, I could have probably learned more just be observing what the other group were doing or being a runner for them.

As the events that night transpired though, my friend told me with clarity that if I did decide to do this, I would only be proving one thing – that I can’t be camera operator without a top-notch camera, and that I’ll throw a hissy fit if I don’t get the equipment I want. The quality of the palmcorder had proven to be as good as the Z1, which I would be forced to gaze upon with envious eyes for the rest of the week – whilst my two fellow camera operators, who I’d learned so much with alongside, would now tell me tales of of unusual foods in the most interesting pubs. But I could see he was right. This was an impossible situation. I had a post, and I’d have to stick with it, even if I knew staying back in Coventry would probably have benefitted me more. I know ‘stuff happens’ and life doesn’t always go right, but as it set out, this was in retrospect one of the most depressing weeks of my life in recent memory. I’ve been criticised on my blogs for getting too personal in the past, so I’ll leave all this emotional baggage stuff here, but it is important to note that this was the way I felt throughout the entire week, which no doubt affected my ability to do my job and my my ability to act as a professional.

Part Eight: Non-Stop Whirlwind Tour

Here are two clips from the first half of the week – an entertainer on Charles Bridge playing Bach’s ‘Air On The G-String’ using nothing more than glasses of water, and our trip to Prague Castle:

Sucking up any pride, and rather now looking on the bright side, I awoke the next morning with a rather carefree and positive – albeit slightly ironic – attitude. I took the palmcorder, and we hit the Subways and McDonalds joints at once. The first few days revolved around us trying to get interviews inside the diners – we were denied at almost every one. The director I was following was David – I note his name as during the week he became one of the only saving graces for this project. He’d had all the set backs I had, yet he remained professional and every bit as passionate about the project, which really impressed me. To some degree, his constant questioning of people on the street (even when he didn’t know the language) and staff in the diners kept me motivated. If he was going all-out, I was sure as hell going to back him up. My mission remained clear in my mind though – go through each day, and count the days until I could get back to Coventry, get some working equipment, and start working on my short film.

Eiffel Tower replica – albeit not a very good one…

Each night featured another group meeting – no word of a lie, two days in, the idea changed again, leaving the focus of food, and focusing more the traditional aspects. One day, my unit were out filming, and a lecturer decided to give the other group a tour of the castle. I almost literally dragged my group up the castle with us, which turned out to be a good thing – if we’d missed the trip to Prague Castle, any additional footage we’d have gained in Subway would have been for nothing. It was ‘renegade time’ on this project.

Impossible staring contest?

Days flew by, and I just got any footage I could. Dave lined up interview after interview, taking us inside the Ministry Of Culture, The American Embassy to Prague, and even into an art museum. Each time an interview was confirmed, I pulled out my little palmcorder, and tried not to laugh and the interviewees who were trying not to laugh at me. Were it not for some professional sound recording equipment next to me, the whole thing would have looked very farcical. We also got footage of ‘Vox Pops’ interviews, but were told none of these could be used as relevant disclaimer forms had not been filled in. Filming was put on hold another day when myself and several other members journeyed to the Sex Machines Museum – it seemed like a good idea at the time, and I needed a laugh to lighten my spirits.

Sampling some of the finer cuisine in Prague

The biggest laugh of all however, came mid-week. The day before had been by far the most productive. I’d sat quietly wallowing in my drink as my two fellow camera operators had taken footage inside a pub, and interview many people inside about a football match between Liverpool and Prague, using it as a contrast against the globalization theme of our documentary. I wanted to help, but every time I tried to lend a hand, I was tld to sit down by the directors, as we were crowding the interviewees. I decided to get an early night and headed home alone, only to be lightly mocked upon people’s return to the hotel by them telling me that an interview had just been done with a hobo called Eegor on the Z1, and it looked amazing. I’d done letting it get to me. BUT THE FOLLOWING MORNING, it transpired that none of the footage from the previous day had successfully captured. Not the pub, not the hobo, not any of it. The Z1 had told the operators the footage was recording, and yet it had not. The second Z1 camera had now officially broken. I knew I shouldn’t have laughed, but this was the turning point of the week – now it wasn’t just me the university had effectively screwed over, it was every single person on this project. We had no Z1 cameras, and we’d lost the most important and significant footage we’d captured all week. I wasn’t cruel or immature enough to laugh, even though I wanted to – but it made me feel much better inside.

Part Nine: Lonely Mexicans, Football Hooligans, Drug Hide-Outs, And Other Tales

Of the whole week, professional experience as you can probably guess came in a very thin sliver. My social and team working skills were pushed to breaking point, and my technical ability developed in almost no way at all. However, that ‘early night’ as mentioned in the previous part was actually a location scouting trip – I took a long walk on my own around Prague since I wasn’t needed at the pub, and found several places that looked useful for my ‘City’ project for my 260MC work. It was a photography project, and I called upon my friend’s favour the next night. The night was the night of the aforementioned football match between Liverpool and Prague – I’d taken footage of an interview with the manager of the stadium earlier in the week. Tonight was to feature interview with the fans, but I passed my palmcorder over to someone else in favour of my photography project. My friend lent me her £750 D90 DSLR camera with a little persuasion – she wasn’t too happy about it (for obvious reasons), but it was entirely in her court – her DSLR camera would be the only piece of professional media equipment I would be to use all week. I had two hours to get the photos whilst she went to a theatre show, which was more than enough for me. Lending me her camera was a position she should never have been in, but as mentioned, now all cameras had broken, all we had left really was the things we’d brought with us (and I am of course very grateful she did trust me – it meant a lot).

Over the next two hours I journeyed further than I’d have probably admitted to her – across the Charles Bridge, around the castle area, back across another bridge, down the backstreets, across the Old Town Square, through the other back streets to the other square, right down to the National Museum, back up the other side of the square, down the high street, along the tram lines, back to the Charles Bridge. The amount of shady people I saw this night reminded me of the average Saturday night in Nottingham. The difference here is that if they were threatening me, it made not an ounce of difference as I can’t speak Czech – I probably came off braver than I realised. I also ran into the fair share of local British lads – as one person later described, the ‘perfect way to turn a city into a dangerous place overnight’. For me, I was just hoping it didn’t start raining. Some photos can be seen below:

I arrived back at the theatre ahead of time, and whilst waiting, struck up a conversation with a Mexican lady, who told me she’d been travelling around Europe on her own after a bad relationship. Evidently, looking for love. She was taking photos on a DSLR as well, and we walked back to the theatre together from the bridge (though I was ever-cautious, naturally). She asked if I’d like to accompany her to the next showing at the theatre with her, which I respectfully declined. I still had 264MC waiting for me upon my return to the hotel. I said goodbye, gave my friend her camera back, and for the first time in the whole week actually felt that I’d experienced a genuine piece of Prague and done something that a professional media producer would do.

The following day the shambles continued. I was asked to carry a tripod around Prague so my friend could take some cut-away footage on her DSLR. As it transpired, the tripod had no release plate on it, so I was just lugging it around all day. I dropped it off at the hotel during lunch time, and regrouped later. On the final day, all hopes of the project seemed lost. I set off to buy a birthday present for a friend of mine, but due to my phone having lost all signals all week, it was practically impossible to reunite with the team. Thus, I decided to explore all the Prague I’d missed in the last week – try the foods, buy the trinkets, and visit the places. This included a trip up to a giant pendulum on a hilltop, which upon closer inspection was a drug den rife with hooded youths. Ever typical, I took a few photos and enjoyed the view anyway, before the smell of marijuana finally edged me back down the graffiti-ridden hill steps. I also took on a dish that the rest of my group had tried to eat – but failed – earlier in the week. I made a point of finishing off the whole meal (soup in a bread load, if you were wondering). I took photos as proof of the victory.

The final night was not of discussion or celebration, but more of relief. A little game of ‘secret santa’ was played, and I hung around for a while, before finally retiring to my bed to continue the development of ‘The Job Interview’ for 264MC. Despite the way the week had started, the last two days had compensated somewhat. But the best thing was, the week was over, I was still alive, and we were now returning home!

Part Ten: Reflection and Evaluation

And I use that second term very lightly. As of yet at this late hour, no final artefact has been produced. Footage was successfully captured at an art museum and the football stadium, as well as a few interviews with workers inside the city. Cut-away shots were taken mostly on hand held cameras. What the end result is is a mystery, as I have not seen any of the final footage myself – perhaps the final cuts were deemed ‘un-editable’ by the top brass. It’s not something I’ll ever know.

Let’s get the obvious out the way with to start with regarding reflection. Every now and then you come across something in university life that really strikes a bulls-eye hit of bringing out the absolute worst in you. Especially with regards to 201MC, this is it. As predicted, this was one of the most costly projects for this module, and coincidentally one of the least productive. I say that only with regards the week in Prague however. As I have found on occasion before on these blogs, it’s hard to reflect upon something where I was heavily restricted in terms of development. The week in Prague did not develop me technically in any way. It taught me a few lessons in how to keep a cool head, but that’s more of a life lesson than a media one.

The week in Prague upsets me so much I don’t even want to talk about it. This final part goes a lot better if I start to think about the time before the actual event itself. During this period, I learned how to use JVC cameras inside and out. Sure, I didn’t use them in the end, but the knowledge was now there, giving me the edge on my competitors in the Short Film module. As it transpired, a cameraman on this project would also help me out on that module as well, as well as co-star on my weekly radio show. The fundraising around the pubs was a little nerve-wracking, but it was certainly an experience to ask for money rather than to be asked for it.

The Ghost In The Machine was a crucial step – largely irrelevant to most on this project, but actually my first attempt at a script. I don’t think it turned out that bad – certainly the idea and the story are there (though a little too scripted for Clifton’s liking). The experience of heading through the airports has taught me simple lessons about how to get through customs and airport security with equipment – something that will no doubt hinder me in many future projects abroad regardless. I also got experience working with equipment in the snow, even if it was only in this country. I also played around with tracks, pull-focus shots, in-camera editing with the pain tools, and other technical marvels. In truth, almost all technical development came from the pre-production test shoots, where everyone had a role with working equipment, and we were all living the dream of ‘Once Upon A Time’. I also showed good social skills, obeying every command given to me by my superiors whilst giving my own recommendations when I could, and working with third years, who were for the first term more or less complete strangers to me.

Above all though, the lessons learned most from this project came from the failings rather than the happy times. First off, never, EVER take on a project like Once Upon A Time unless you have the money for it. The moment the budget was drawn up (not that you couldn’t guess it was costly), we should have scrapped the idea. £3000 does not come from students, it comes from companies and organizations who are willing to fund your enterprise, or it comes from us, and our £200 each supplements from the IEMS services. I know from 264MC that sometimes you have to draw out of your own pocket to get things moving in a project. I never got the impression that people were willing to do this.

Likewise, NEVER listen to inspiring speeches and get drawn into project when your heart tells you it’s wrong. I knew this project was suicide, but I went along for the ride. Too bad it turned out bad, how else was it? And whilst I’m at it, IF you get a good idea for an alternative project, see it in before two weeks before the flight leaves. Don’t put the idea forward with days to spare and act surprised when nobody takes notice. But above all…

(this needs a new paragraph)

ABOVE ALL

Do not ever, EVER, trust ANYONE to give you working equipment. Not even the university you’ve paid money to. Check ALL equipment. This would not have helped the second Z1 camera, but it would have helped me. Heck, if I’d checked the camera, maybe it wouldn’t have broken at all. Maybe after the second Z1 broke, mine could have seen this project through. I’d have gained experience, a solid final project would have been produced, and I’d be talking about what a lovely time I’d had rather than all this depressing stuff. And that, generally, is my entire Prague experience summed up in one sentence:

Check the equipment – it’s the difference between having the option to fail, or having no options at all.

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