Don’t get me wrong, I love directing. There’s nothing I love more than hitting the open road with a strong, talented video team knowing we’re going to do an incredibly professional job together. But doubts do creep in.
I don’t care who you are, or what the project is — there’s always a moment when you have to take the reins, be the boss, maybe not always be so nicey-nicey, but not a tyrant, either. It’s kind of somewhere between Bambi and Donald Trump (without the comb-over, of course).
Here are some things I’ve learned about being a director:
1) You can please all of the crew some of the time, and some of the crew all of the time, etc., etc….
Working with a group of creative individuals can be challenging. You don’t want someone on your crew who is a complete follower, but you don’t want crew who try to take over your shoot, either. Finding the happy medium takes time. As a director, I work with many combinations of crew often. If I have the time, I pick and choose the members carefully. I’m always going to go with the people I feel most comfortable with. If they aren’t available, I try to get their recommendations on who to hire.
2) It’s important to respect team members’ differences.
I have one DP who is pretty much a genius. He’s also a bit on the moody side. He knows this about himself, so I give him a lot of latitude when we’re on a shoot. If after shooting he “vants to be alone” I respect that. Everyone needs their space on a shoot.
3) Spend time away from your crew on a shoot.
I’m talking about those shoots where you’re spending days, weeks, maybe even months together. Everyone needs space. Maybe they need to get together to k’vetch a bit about the boss. It’s okay. They don’t hate you. Maybe they need to vent. As for me, when I need to vent I call a fellow director and talk about what’s going on. I get a sympathetic ear, and often great advice. It’s important to have those kinds of relationships so that you don’t feel so alone out there.
4) Keep your cool when all hell breaks loose.
Ah, this is the true test of leadership. The lights have blown, there’s an Amway convention piping up in the conference hall next to where you’re doing your interviews, your interviewee walks in wearing a paisley shirt that rivals anything Austin Powers would wear. These are the times that pretending to be Clint Eastwood comes in handy. Act as if….You don’t want your crew to know that you are screaming inside. Calm. Cool. Collected. (You can go crazy later.) Have I been successful at this? Let’s just say, I’m working on it.
5) Never talk about one crew member with another.
This is a sacred rule for me. If you are having trouble with someone deal with it privately. Don’t try to pull in other crew members and complain about someone’s work. This is highly unprofessional and causes too many problems to list here.
6) If one of your crew members is not pulling their weight, nip it in the bud immediately, but NOT in front of the rest of the crew.
I did an overseas shoot once where my P.A. was completely clueless. I had briefed him pretty thoroughly about his role, but he still didn’t get it. When he sat in to do a sound check he started doing really bad Monty Python schtick in front of the client. (I’m all for joking around on a shoot, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of work, and the client isn’t present.) I gave him the evil eye, and it just didn’t register. When he started crinkling up plastic from blank tapes during filming, I had to stop the camera. We took a brief break, and I asked him to leave the room. I sat down with him that evening, and told him he would not be allowed to be on set from that point on. Maybe I should have given him a second chance, but I didn’t have time or money to take the risk that he might not get it. (See #4–I would not discuss him with other crew members. They had their opinions about him, but I didn’t need to make him a scapegoat.)
One last comment. I don’t care how many courses you’ve taken in school or how many shoots you’ve been on. Directing has lots of challenges that you can only work on in the field. I strongly urge those of you who are great technical and artistic directors, but who have interpersonal challenges with crew, to take a leadership class. You’ll find that you don’t have to lead like Bambi or Donald Trump. You’ll find a way to lead that’s best for you.
Cristina Cassidy runs a video production company in Charlotte, NC. She has produced and directed video in over nine countries over the past 15 years. Her production company, Cristina Cassidy Productions, LLC, is producing a feature-length documentary called “Concerto for Two Brothers.” To view the trailer and learn more about the project, please go to: http://www.concertofortwobrothers.com
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