Facebook isn’t just a place where I post breakfast tips and exchange political barbs with friends…it’s also where I pick up some of my best blog fodder, like the wicked post you’re about to read courtesy of L.A.-based filmmaker/actor/comrade, Boris Kievsky.
What Boris writes above is true: if everyone on your crack team isn’t riveted to the Cause, if there are “thirty people on-set, but with forty opinions,” as Berlin-based colleague Juliane Block is fond of saying, then you have no film. Instead, what you have is a headman helming a glorified crew of professionals, all at odds with their leader and each other, ostensibly wasting someone’s precious funds: yours, your government’s, or your investor’s.
Rancorous teams are spinning their tires completely out of alignment with your film’s Ur-mission: that being, to shoot a moving picture with a message and with an unpredictable potential to actually move an audience along some kind of emotional path.
That the status update was relatively well-liked amongst a small coterie of my following just goes to demonstrate the universality of the pull quote. Most of those people who lied, of course, are media types, film industry colleagues with considerable experience working within complex crews of creative professionals, so the idea of mollycoddled artistes, dictatorial types, or other irksome “pick me, pick me!” egomaniacs will be quite familiar.
So how do you ensure things never reach this disastrous stage? How to ensure that the unit reaches post- with a near-unanimous feeling about the reason why everyone’s at the table?
Here are some suggestions…
- References are fine, but face-to-face vibe counts more: you can read as many IMDb.com profiles and take in as many CVs and LinkedIn profiles as you like, but if a candidate doesn’t pass the reality test – not to mention the sniff test – there’s no point in even carrying on. Qualifications, as I’m sure you don’t need reminding, matter diddly in the heat of an on-set contretemps, when the unit typically requires the ultimate in self-sacrifice from crew members – not to mention actors – and reliability and willingness to leap into the chaotic fray counts for just about everything. Trust your gut during interviews, and don’t make them so goddamn formal. Which leads me to my next point…
- …don’t meet them in your production office: sure, conduct screen tests in your office so your actors feel professionally at ease, but for other above-the-liners four-walling it is way too confining. It introduces excessive formality into a relationship which at this particularly fragile stage needs to be flexible and friendly, yet professional. Meeting them at the office prevents you from seeing what someone’s really like. You don’t get a chance to experience the true person. Who the fuck can unwind when they’re being asked questions while running a gauntlet? Most can’t.
- Conduct test shoots: hell, just reading this sounds expensive…but on second consideration it might not be. Plan tests as direct offshoots of your script, so parse out key scenes – ideally the opening one– and shoot the shit out of it as a test-run for what’s to come. Use original cast and crew. Monitor how everyone gels. Hire a behind-the-scenes outfit to film everything taking place behind-camera and then sit back and watch that. Be the omniscient fly on the wall. If the footage you shot during the test is sound, incorporate it into your film’s final cut. Make sure continuity brings their A-Game to the table, so everything matches up. That defeats the whole cost-saving objective of a test run (of the opening scene).
- Squash budding problems early: with your film running against time, you don’t have much of it to waste. If you sense even a whiff of trouble on the horizon, hammer to the heart of it and first see if you can mitigate it. If it won’t disappear, then someone – or several people – will in its place. There’s really no room for sympathy plays. If someone else is paying to shoot your movie, you’ve got a fiduciary responsibility to see it through. Otherwise, you’ll be the one left holding the bag and permanently out of a career (naturally, in Europe or Canada this doesn’t apply, where culture is publicly-funded and therefore insulated from failure).
- Listen to your advisors, but ultimately trust your gut: as director, you’re captaining this galleon, but learn to lean heavily on your support folks – your producer, first assistant director(s), production coordinators, and interns – who act as your private security detail, shielding you from minor annoyances of on-set quotidian life. They can also – and should, in an ideal world – act as gatekeepers so that once principal photography commences, no one can get to you directly so you can focus on the job at hand. During morning debriefs, listen to these allies when they raise potential problems. They’ve got eyes in places you don’t, so they’re seeing things you can’t see. Ultimately trust your instincts: if you feel crew members are pulling the wool over your eyes, embellishing a situation for maximum dramatic impact, or are attempting to press their agenda while you’re busy off doing other things (read: fucking with you), put an end to it right there and then.
I’m suggesting these because some of the finest would-be scripts have imploded because someone in the decision-making hierarchy foolishly deceived themselves into thinking that strikingly similar problems which plagued countless previous shoots won’t poison the relationships within their team. They mistakenly believed they could hold back the whirlwind while sowing the wind, which we all know is impossible in a natural world.
All of us have – at some point in our filmmaking odysseys – witnessed the symptoms of impending cinematic collapse. Some filmmakers have staunched those festering wounds while others have let the blood flow freely, bleeding out their film of its essential life energy.
I just don’t want this to happen to you…no fucking way.
Adam Daniel Mezei, PMD | Producer of Marketing and Distribution
Indie Audience Engagement Services for Independent Feature Films and Documentaries
LIKE PMD-For-Hire at:
TWEET PMD-For-Hire at:
ADD US to your G+ circles:
JOIN PMD-For-Hire on LinkedIn:
EMAIL PMD-For-Hire at:
SUBSCRIBE to PMD-For-Hire’s YouTube channel:
SUBSCRIBE to PMD-For-Hire’s Vimeo channel:
SUBSCRIBE ON FLICKR: