10 Verbs for Leading a Healthy Film Production

1. Inspire. Arouse in your crew an eager want. Remind them that they’re not at a desk. They have the best job in the world. Make them happy about doing what you suggest.

2. Anticipate. Production is like doing a jigsaw puzzle on a waterbed – plan for the worst. Identify at least five things that could go wrong during each scene and plan for them. No shoot is impregnable.

3. Name. A person’s name is the sweetest sound to them in the world. Know everyone’s name. Say it to him or her often and always embed it in every request.

4. Smile. From the bottom of your heart. It’s contagious. A happy set is an efficient set.

5. Listen. Let each person do the talking. Collect as much information as possible. Know everything.

6. Forgive. Never criticize, condemn or complain. If someone made a mistake, he or she already knows and should not have to hear it again. If he or she doesn’t know or makes the mistake a second time, call attention to it indirectly.

7. Assure. Encourage crew by making every fault or mishap seem easy to correct. Be confident. If you are not confident, be confident about not being confident. Get people to feel confident about you.

8. Request. Ask questions instead of directly giving orders. Let the other person feel like the idea is his or hers. Nobody likes being told what to do. And nobody likes being yelled at. Do you?

9. Pacify. Avoid arguments. Never tell someone he or she is wrong. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. If you cannot avoid an argument (or cannot resolve other people’s arguments), do not let the crew see it – move ugly out of the way.

10. Praise. Make each person feel important and necessary. Reward good work with honest and sincere appreciation. Acknowledge what each person is doing right. Commend every improvement.

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Inspiring Your Team to Do Well [Film Friday]

Leading a film is a lot like leading an army, except without the discipline. Hollywood is loaded with egos, agendas, and hard drugs. Everyone wants to make their rate, see his or her name in lights, eat well, and live the good life. It is extremely difficult to wrangle all the different personalities and angles. Getting everyone on board is very difficult most of the time, especially in low budget or strenuous circumstances. Even with genuine people, it is challenging to arrest their full attention.

There is one tried and true tactic for getting everyone on the same page. The same tactic will inspire people to work day and night to get the job done. The same tactic may even convince your team to cut, defer, or waive their rate entirely. Very straightforward: tell a great story.

If your team believes in the project, they will fight to the ends of the earth for it. A great story helps make a 20-hour day okay. A great story helps you accept the low pay or terrible catering. Of course, telling a great story is easier said than done. The best way to tell a story is to believe in it first. If you do not believe in it, no one else will. When you do, find a way to communicate to everyone why and convince them to believe in it, too. With enough love and passion, you can inspire others to help you bring the story to life. Perhaps they will fall in love with it, too.

Film Friday: Production Value Can Go To Hell

I talk to a lot of filmmakers, artists and business people who dissuade themselves from a venture or project simply because they lack the resources necessary to create a product with “high production value.” I cannot tell you how many films have not been made because producers and directors could not secure the equipment or style they wanted. “It wouldn’t be professional enough!” “It wouldn’t look like a real movie!”

Well, let me tell you something – who gives a damn? Do you think YouTube has become the entertainment monstrosity it has because of high Hollywood-class production value? Hell no. YouTube has exploded because it highlights genuine, human entertainment. Raw, real, honest. Not polished, impersonal shlock.

Pick up a camera (any camera, your cell phone counts) and go tell a personal human story. If you can’t do that, it doesn’t matter how much money or production value you have because NO ONE WILL CARE. Production value is just a cover-up for fear or undeserved elitism. Sure, quality can be important. But story is more important. Get off your ass and go tell your story.

Do not let production value get in the way of your creative expression.

Film Friday: How to Enhance Jokes in the Editing Room

It’s time I start a weekly blog series – lessons from my experiences in the film industry. We can call it “Film Fridays.”

I’ve been in and out of the cutting room for the last five weeks on our latest web series, Talent.  Every time I oversee editorial on a new project, I learn a lot.

Lately, we spent a big chunk of time tweaking scenes for comedy. Now, I have never been a funny man. I guess I missed the comedy gene my brother inherited. After weeks of shifting edits here and trimming shots there, I have a much better understanding of the temporal mechanics of comedy – at least in the motion picture form.

Want your joke to play better on screen?  Try letting it breathe.

Comedians pause after they deliver a funny line. They don’t pause to wait for the audience to stop laughing; they pause to illicit laughter in the first place.  Watch Australian comic Steve Hughes.

The same tactic works on screen. After a punchline, leave some air – make sure there’s a moment without dialogue, without busy sound effects, and without domineering score notes. Your viewers need time to process and react. If you cut to the next line of dialogue immediately, your audience might not have time enough to think the joke is funny. A loud sound effect or music cue following the punchline will compete with laughter, or worse, deny laughter altogether.

It is frustrating when an audience’s laughter drowns out the dialogue that follows. Information is lost and you feel like you missed something. But I can’t blame the audience for being loud; I usually blame the filmmaker for not understanding the moment he or she created.

Air is not a magical cure-all for comedy – the joke still needs to be funny. But air can help you preserve a joke. And if you’re lucky, enough air can create an awkward silence that twists a lame beat into a funny one. You have to try it to find out.

I suspect the air trick works in other forms of comedy as well.

Seven Stages of Film Production

During the production of “Hollywood Is Like High School With Money,” the following list was posted by our Second Assistant Director outside her production trailer door:

Seven Stages of Film Production

  1. Wild Enthusiasm
  2. Total Confusion
  3. Utter Despair
  4. Search for the Guilty
  5. Persecution of the Innocent
  6. Promotion of the Incompetent
  7. Distribution of T-Shirts