Whether you’re working on a big budget movie, a TV documentary or a low budget independent film, one thing is for sure – everyone on the crew will be giving 100 percent to make that production as outstanding as it can be… so guys, good is NOT good enough! Working towards that common cause is a keystone value of every single crew member from Runners to Directors and Producers. It’s a pride thing!
Often striving for that elusive level of perfection can create a lot of friction between people, especially when the pressure’s on.
Over the years I’ve seen many conflicts between crew members, especially when an individual’s professionalism is criticized or threatened… it’s not an ego thing, it’s just pride in doing what you do.
It’s a funny thing though, one minute we’re happily working to the best of our ability, producing work we’re proud of, then all of a sudden something horrible happens, someone (usually working in a superior position to you) comes along and rattles your cage.
It may be that they’re getting it in the neck from some big cheese Producer; for example your film is running over schedule (a classic one!) so the Producer kicks the Director’s butt and now that Director’s going to kick yours! You’re told that ‘you’re taking too long and time is running out and the budget’s running low and Blar, Blar, Blar!!!’ Now you think your professionalism is being compromised. ‘What’s this all about?’ you mutter under your breath, you may even utter an expletive or two… who knows! You may even get all protective and openly retaliate. Suddenly BOOM! You’ve got a conflict of interest on your hands that can escalate into a full stand up argument. It happens in Wardrobe, in Make-Up, in the Camera and Sound Departments… you name it. So if this happens and you’re a Director or Producer relying on the crew’s talent to give you the very best they can… now there’re all upset and boy, you’ve got a problem!
One of the main ‘Hot Spots’ can be the relationship between the Director and the Director of Photography. So before you embark on your beloved film production, here are a few tips that can make that relationship a blissful marriage rather than ‘The Clash of the Titans’! I would also advise Directors to read the tips for the DPs and vice versa, understanding each other is key to your success to being an ‘Effective Team!’ (As they say in Oblivion – great movie BTW!) So…
6 Simple Tips for Directors
- If you’re an inexperienced Director and you’re working with an experienced DP tread carefully, remember a good DP can dig you out of all manner of problems that you didn’t bargain for. You need these guys on your side.
- Communication is EVERYTHING. So build rapport, invest time with your DP before Principal Photography begins. Let your DP know the complexity of every scene, what time frame you are working on to shoot that scene and the mood that scene is meant to portray.
- Try to understand and appreciate a little about the technical complexity of what your DP is trying to achieve on location. This doesn’t mean you need to be a member of the American Cinematography Society (although that would certainly help!) No you just need to understand a little bit about camera moves, lenses and how you can both work together to engineer inspiring shots and sequences. BTW if you know your lenses you’ll earn major respect from your DP, so it’s worth investing a bit of time in this area – all the big name Directors know their stuff, so whats your excuse?
If the DP has a technical problem, rest assured they will be doing their best to resolve the situation as fast as they can. So DON’T stand over them and give ’em grief as that won’t solve anything, it’ll just make matters worse! Just tell them to let you know when the problem is sorted, calmly walk away and let the camera department (or whoever) sort it out. Sure, as a Director you’ll be under the pressure of time (tell me something new I hear you say), but that’s part of your job and remaining calm will only enhance respect from all the crew. Conversely ‘flipping your lid’ will just make you look like an idiot.
- Be decisive, nobody likes someone who can’t make a decision, it’s a sign of weakness that will be picked up by everyone on the crew. Practice making decisions daily, I know that may sound silly but you have to exercise that decision making muscle! In life, become a more decisive person.
- Take responsibility for everything that happens, don’t point fingers and blame others and NEVER run away from problems… solve them with the help of the crew. I recently read a book that used the analogy of “The Window and the Mirror”, when things are going bad a poor leader will look out the window and blame their surroundings “something outside of my control, out that window, is to blame” and when things are going right they will look in the mirror and congratulate themselves “didn’t I do a splendid job, it worked because of me!”. However, a good leader will do the opposite – they will look in the mirror when things go wrong and ask questions like “what have I done wrong? I am responsible for this team” and when things go right they will look out the window and say “it was my team who made this work, they are the ones who deserve the praise!”. Always keep that in mind when running your crew, they are the ones that make your ideas a reality.
- And finally, thank EVERYONE after the days shoot, from the Runner to the DP, everyone wants to feel that they’ve done a good job and that they are appreciated.
6 Simple Tips for DP’s
- SUGGEST, SUGGEST, SUGGEST! If you’re working with an inexperienced Director they’ll probably be as nervous as Hell. So be friendly, show them they’re in good hands, crack a joke to break the ice and loosen things up a bit. But most of all take them under your wing and protect them, remember you where a nervy newbie once! Just focus on offering your Director ideas; even get a little more involved in the direction if you feel the time is right. A newbie director will want to feel secure and they will need all the support that you can give. So if you feel they are a bit uneasy do as Obi-wan would say “trust your instincts!” and look after them.
- Don’t take forever to light and shoot a scene. Working fast is a great thing, I love to work at a fast pace because it injects a lot of energy into the production. There’s nothing worse for other crew members and actors to be hanging around for hours on end while you self-indulgently light a scene. So work fast and keep that energy and adrenaline flowing for everyone’s sake! Remember, going slow sucks the life out of any production. Actors performances always suffer because there’s no-one ‘driving the production’.
- When a Director asks for a shot that is technically impossible (and I guarantee that will happen) it’s your job to show them a better alternative – but never undermine their idea (especially in front of the rest of the crew) that will just undermine their authority and really antagonise the situation. No, just use your persuasive powers to show them a different (better) way.
- Don’t let anyone outside the camera department carry camera gear, especially Directors who are often so absorbed in their movie they forget how fragile and expensive camera gear really is! I’ve heard of many stories of trashed cameras because the Directors have kindly taken it upon themselves to “lend a helping hand!”. No! Just thank them for the offer of helping and look after the gear yourself.
- Communicate with each other at all times, miscommunication is a killer! It starts out as a little thing that seems insignificant, but if not addressed it can grow into something that gets out of control. Miscommunication leads to confusion and that soon develops into frustration… don’t let that happen!
- Work within the Directors constraints and time limits, share their pressure but ALWAYS offer the very best you can and give them much more than they could ever expect.
A final note: Always allow the Director to look down the viewfinder, don’t get all possessive about the camera, it’s the Directors right to be able to see the shot through the lens, not just on a monitor.
So there you have it.
Simple steps to help you guys understand each other and make your shoot a creative and pleasurable experience.
I really hope you find this post useful and use my blog to learn more and sharpen your filmmaking skills, if you want to know more about a specific topic then please subscribe, leave a message and I’ll get right on to it!
Happy filmmaking guys and good luck with everything you do!
Hope this helps!
Free Spirit Film & TV
Film, TV & Online Video Production.