The philosophy of ‘done is better than perfect’ is one I wrestle with pretty regularly, and it’s rearing its ugly head again with TAKE 2021.
I generally agree with this from the perspective that perfection is near impossible, and constantly striving for it means that you’ll probably never get anything actually out in the world because you’ll be too obsessed with the little details.
But there is a flip side, where adhering too closely to this philosophy results in laziness. I tend to fall on this side more often than I’d like to admit, putting out half-baked ideas and hiding behind this argument against perfection.
I think the key to walking this tightrope is to make sure that you are always learning from the projects and pieces of work that are done but not perfect. As long as there is a measurable improvement from one project to the next, then done is certainly better than perfect.
It’s something that I’m trying to get better at – it’s one of the reasons I started TAKE 2021, and a big reason why I’m keen to get regular feedback from the people watching and engaging with the project.
Because as long as I’m learning as I go, then done is miles and away better than perfect.
I mentioned some creators in my behind the scenes video for January’s short that I watch a lot of cooking videos and found different bits and pieces of inspiration from them, and I thought it might be interesting to look at some of them in a little more detail.
Binging With Babish
I’ve been following Andrew Rea‘s career for quite a few years now – not necessarily from the very beginning, but pretty close! I really enjoy the fact that he’s managed to extend what could have been a very gimmick-y concept for a cooking show into something that has real longevity, and I put a lot of that down to the quality of his videos.
Even though the majority of episodes of Binging With Babish are composed of fairly simple, static shots, he manages to make the videos feel dynamic and ‘active’ by mixing in just enough alternate angles and camera movements that it never feels too stationary. The editing and voiceover also contribute to the videos feeling pretty fast-paced, so that it’s never a chore to watch an episode even if it runs to 20-plus minutes.
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
Close to the other end of the spectrum from Binging With Babish in terms of production design is Kenji’s Cooking Show from popular chef J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Rather than creating very highly-produced and stylised videos, Kenji just straps a GoPro onto his head and cooks some extremely tasty food while chatting casually through the process and occasionally dropping in a dreadful pun or two.
Although there’s not as much to learn from a filmmaking perspective here, Kenji does give some insights into camera set-up (primarily for still photography rather than video), and showed me that making a cooking video can still be totally accessible, even without the fancy equipment.
A relatively new addition to my cooking video rotation, I was a bit resistant to Ethan Chlebowski for a while as I wasn’t sure about his presentation and delivery, and he rubbed me the wrong way with his Recipes Remastered series of videos where he claimed, in my opinion somewhat arrogantly, to be improving on other people’s recipes. But he won me over eventually with some good simple and delicious recipes and I’ve been watching his stuff ever since.
In terms of the actual filmmaking, there’s not too much to be learned here that I hadn’t already gleaned from Binging With Babish – the main thing I took away is that Ethan tends to linger on individual shots a little longer, and not always to the advantage of the finished video. There have definitely been a few times while watching his content that I’ve thought ‘I don’t need to watch 30 seconds of someone grating an entire carrot’, so that was definitely something I kept in mind while making Buon Appetito.
Of all the creators mentioned here, Alvin Zhou is definitely the one I was most inspired by. I stumbled across his videos totally by accident and watched them all in the space of a single morning – one of very few occasions where the YouTube Recommended algorithm actually works worth a damn!
I was immediately hooked by this idea that you can make a cooking video look incredibly cinematic, and just because they are by their nature fairly formal and instructional, it doesn’t mean that they can’t also be artistic and beautiful in their own way.
I was amazed by how much Alvin manages to do with a fairly limited set-up and a small selection of camera angles, and I tried to capture something similar with Buon Appetito – a calm, almost meditative atmosphere where the food is the focus.
How much of that vibe I actually managed to capture is up for debate – I know my version doesn’t look anywhere near as good as Alvin’s, but I’m generally really pleased with how the finished product came out.
As part of the ongoing development process of TAKE 2021 I wanted to do a behind the scenes retrospective on the making of January’s micro short Buon Appetito, which you can watch here if you haven’t seen it:
I’ll throw another post on here in the next few days going into some more depth about my inspiration for this short, which I mention in passing in the behind the scenes video. Then the next major thing will be February’s short, which is looking a little…different to this one, but if I can pull it off then I think it’ll be a good one!