By NICOLE BURROWS
IN the last 24 hours, we (a cadre of filmmakers and actors) wrapped principal photography on our first collaborative work in independent (short) film. There are many things to be said about it, from numerous perspectives, including those of the many hats I wore and will continue to wear in the production process, up until the time the film is distributed.
I want to save most of my specific thoughts for the formal interviews we hope to give in the upcoming weeks and months. But, there is one overarching thought I want to share now, because it brings new comfort that every good change is possible if all constituent people work together towards that good change. In all of my experiences and observations, I don’t think that there is, or has ever been, any greater collaboration in the world, creative or otherwise, than that which occurs in the production of a film.
Of the many people involved, every single person who plays a role is important to the end product and brings their talent or special and specific skill set to the production process. The thing you produce together is the vision of every person who plays a role. It is the epitome of teamwork. Every endeavour should be like this. All of life should be like this … a constant replay of what we can do or make together.
What would our country or our world be like if government and society functioned like a film production team? What if every single effort made amongst people was to achieve one purpose, a shared purpose, a shared vision?
What if problem-solving was approached in all of life as it is on set, where there is a narrow time frame (sometimes narrower than you would have imagined) but you have to make a choice, the best possible choice for everyone on the team, in a matter of seconds or minutes?
Under this pressure, the best qualities come to the fore, like the natural formation of the diamond. Yes, this goes along with some byproducts you might rather do without, like egocentric behaviours and the effects of exhaustion, but generally the best of everyone has to appear immediately, and it has to be sustained until the job – at least for the day – is done.
And the reason it works, and often works very well, is because there is an underlying respect for the thing we all do, love, and believe in. I don’t think anyone ends up working in film who doesn’t love film. The hours are ridiculous. The movements are eternal. The details are excessive. Anyone who walks into it walks into it because they love it and were/are determined to be in it, or they stumbled upon it and loved it so much they never left.
The feeling that you have made something wonderful together with a group of like-minded individuals who love and respect their own talents and yours is the thing that keeps you there. And it’s easy to understand why some directors and crew and actors continually work together, because, when you find a great team and a distinct harmony, you don’t want to give it up, especially if it means you could potentially compromise the quality of your film.
On this project, I worked with an excellent team of crew and talent, and that may not always be the case, particularly when the production gets so big that you lose intimacy on the set. But with a close-knit team, especially when the team’s immediate primary motivation is raw passion for their craft, there is a high level of camaraderie, which I believe is closely tied to the high level of dependency each person has on the other. There’s an air of ongoing progress on the production set that keeps you motivated, because you see your teammates are innately driven by the task at hand.
I’ll be the first to tell you that working in teams has routinely not been a great experience for me; I always preferred to work alone where I could focus on my skill and sharpen it in quietness. Some of that has to do with my experience as an only child, some of it has to do with my need for solitude and peacefulness when I work, something not completely unheard of in/for a writer. But my first experience on a film set 11 years ago gave me a taste of what was possible when people work together. While everything does not always run smoothly when differing opinions are in play, the endless possibilities of the merging of differing opinions, as long as they can be sufficiently managed, are magnificent.
All leaders of people should be made to function as leaders do on a film set, where, even though there are designated leaders, everyone’s leadership ability has a chance to shine. A film set/production is a good place to see the real qualities of any kind of leadership come to light, or to test the potential leadership qualities which may exist in a person. If film production were a dedicated testing ground for leadership, many of our existing leaders would fail the test and never lead anyone or anything.
Thinking on your feet would be the greatest challenge, and, though I dislike the triteness of that phrase, it is most applicable. You are actually standing and walking and having to make decisions while or in between standing and walking. There’s no time to go to your office and close the door and have a drink or make a call to your advisor. The buck stops, urgently, with you. If you don’t know in the moment what to do, or at least how to figure out what to do or which people to bring forward to decide what to do, in that instant, then you fail. And your failure impacts everyone you lead.
And there are no never-ending do-overs; you don’t get years to pretend like you know what you’re doing. There is a finite budget in place, if even there is one. You don’t get to waste treasury money. And there will be severe and instant repercussions if you overspend and/or if you don’t produce a quality product. At the very least, your failure will show when the end product of your work and leadership is visible to the world.
You can’t wait for your speechwriter to give you colourful, eloquent words to narrate to the nation, you have to find the right words right then and there. There’s no time for political posturing. Everyone is waiting on what you have to say and it affects everyone right away. I think most of our political, religious and social leaders could stand to benefit from this kind of learning experience. A majority of them would probably not make the cut as they are only good enough when they are flanked by their posse. But they fail to realise that it’s not the mere existence of the posse that makes them strong.
For a film production, your strength is in every single person in the posse. The film is as good as its constituent and moving parts. Each part must be good on its own, and must also be good when it is joined with the other parts. But being a team player does not equate to being a follower; it equates to synergy, and the best synergies are out of the union of strong individuals, a concept poorly understood by most organisations, as exemplified in their constant rotation of human capital.
On a film set, the crew and actors are not chosen because they are the only ones to stand up. They are not chosen only because they are popular. They are not chosen because there was no one else better to take the reins. They are chosen because they are good or best at what they do, and they have talent which is obvious and/or polished. They are driven by passion. They have the right attitude about the work they are aiming to do, and it shows, whether it’s reflected in their resume or their commitment to the process.
They are chosen because they really want to be there and want to take part in something they believe is good for their future, not just from a monetary perspective, but from an inspired and holistic perspective. And this, as an aside, is one of the reasons why choosing creative talent in any situation is ideal for repeated success; creative people think and innovate their way through and out of problems no matter the environment.
The people with the right attitudes for leadership don’t want to come in, take what they can and cash out, never to be seen again. They love what they do, they want to gain honestly from it and they know a large part of their success is to be seen, firstly, and then to be seen, finally, as effective leaders in their respective fields.
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