Welcome to my series about failure! Because I’ve made so many mistakes on my filmmaking journey, every once in a while I’ll share some of them with you so you don’t have to! Read part 1 here.
Today’s series of failures have to do with the ways in which I [badly] dealt with interpersonal relationships on my previous projects. Especially when working with friends on a tiny set, the smallest complication can derail not only your film but also your social life, but that doesn’t have to be the case!
Since childhood, I have been described as “argumentative.” This is the nicest way of saying that I enter most conversations fists swinging, because I am always right and everyone else better agree… or else.
On my first web series, everything was a battle, much of which I take ownership of due largely to inexperience. Not only was my entire crew a team of friends, but they were also my classmates and my roommates, meaning that the only time I didn’t spend with them was while unconscious. We were also producing two other full-length web series at the time, in addition to mine. That may work for some people, but for me, it was a living nightmare, not because I didn’t love and respect these people, but because one of the best ways to end a fight is to take a break, something we physically couldn’t do in some cases.
As such, I had (have) a tendency to never let anything go, ever. Every interaction I had with someone directly impacted the way I felt about them during our subsequent ones, which wasn’t productive. If I was annoyed with someone on Wednesday, I started Friday already annoyed with them. You know what that does to a relationship? Ruins it, that’s what.
Every action a person takes affects the way you see them but leaving zero room for mistakes, improvement, or an off day makes you a very lonely person. It also means you end up doing unnecessary work because you refuse to forgive the people who want to help. No one is perfect, and expecting perfection is a recipe for frustration.
- Forgive but don’t forget- just because you’re cautious working with someone who’s messed up doesn’t mean you can’t still accept their help and trust they’ll improve.
- Communicate don’t hate- you have to not only tell someone when you’re disappointed in their work but also offer a possible solution. Anger is not productive.
- Start every day fresh- grudges suck the energy out of the start of your day, which you cannot afford. Filmmaking is exhausting enough in the best of circumstances.
Not setting deadlines
One of my biggest pet peeves of the summer I mentioned above was people on my team not meeting deadlines. There is nothing more infuriating than sitting down for a production meeting to find that you’re the only one who completed the tasks set out at the end of the last one. As is my pattern, I fumed about this even after we wrapped production, and a few months later, a teammate set me straight. Why was no one meeting deadlines? Well, for one, I hadn’t set any.
Let me repeat that- I was in charge of a project and was furious at my collaborators for not meeting deadlines that I literally had not set.
In my mind, when you were given a task at one meeting and knew there would be another meeting in two weeks, you would complete that task as soon as possible, or at least before the next meeting. But that was never communicated to anyone, setting everyone, including me, up for failure. No one thrives in an atmosphere of silent assumptions.
- If you have a deadline in mind for a task, no matter how obvious or arbitrary, TELL THE PERSON WHO YOU’VE TASKED.
- Better yet, ask the person you’ve tasked what a reasonable deadline is.
- Check in at regular intervals to make sure things are going to plan and don’t get mad if they’re behind schedule. Instead, offer to help.
Not listening to my DP
Part of being an argumentative control freak (read: me) is assuming you’ve already thought of everything and made all the decisions you need to. This, of course, is never the case, especially when you didn’t go to film school and have a shaky at best understanding of cinematography.
The number of times my DP has made a suggestion that I’ve ignored or insisted would be fine because of my very good storyboards is literally equal to the number of times my DP is right.
Very good storyboard example
For instance- in my latest short film, we were shooting in a tiny hotel room and doing a moving shot where we follow a character tossing a knife. We start at the character’s midsection and then keep pace with the knife as it falls, and my DP suggested that we clear the bed behind the character before shooting. There were a few boxes and coats that were out of line with the continuity from other shots (the bed was clear in the shots it was in frame for). I, being a genius, assured him that because it was a moving shot we’d never need to use the half second of the shot where you could see the stuff on the bed. I knew the frame. I was, to remind you, A GENIUS.
This one isn’t the biggest deal- it’s two frames in motion and undetectable unless you’re looking for it- but the point remains. Had I listened to my DP, the person whose literal job it was to make decisions about things in camera, I would have more cutting room and flexibility in the edit.
- Listen to the people you hire. You are not doing their job for a reason.
- Try to say yes before saying no. More opportunities and good ideas will present themselves this way.
- Pick your battles. If doing it someone else’s way will take ten seconds longer but maybe save you a headache later, do it, no matter how small the chance of later headache you estimate.
Doing it all myself
The culmination of all the above mistakes is honestly one of the biggest mistakes of all: trying to do everything yourself because you’ve become disillusioned by the efficacy of everyone around you. That person made on small mistake one time, that person failed to meet two deadlines you’d never actually told them about, your DP just said some crazy thing about a shot not working despite you having planned it yourself, and now you’ve decided you’re the only useful person of the bunch. After all, if you want something done right, you better do it yourself.
…unless you’re a filmmaker. Not only was I genuinely unskilled at 75% of the things that needed doing on any particular set, but I also physically could not have done them all at once. That didn’t matter in the heat of my righteous fury, of course, so I was an insufferable martyr about doing as many things myself as possible. I justified this extremely annoying behavior by saying I no longer trusted anyone else, and that was true but also not fair. Yes, there were massive production foibles I was not at fault for, but denying my being part of the problem only made things worse.
Once, after insisting I take all the equipment to set but setting the call time earlier than I would be able to make it (I was getting my hair and makeup done elsewhere), I delayed production for one scene by almost an hour and a half because everyone on set just had to chill while I got my hair curled, feet propped up on all the lighting equipment they could have been assembling.
- Being an auteur is overrated. Accept that your singular opinions aren’t always going to be the best, even if it’s a project you created.
- Don’t be a martyr. You’re not holier than thou, you’re a being an asshole.