Written by Annette Lange
Are you an independent filmmaker reconsidering your career choice after your first few filmmaking experiences? I *cough cough* may or may not have been in the same boat once I finished my first few short films.
Hang in there. There are countless ways you and your team can make or break your filmmaking experience. I’ve had to learn a lot of lessons the hard way throughout my film school and I hope they will help you just as much:
CO – MUN – NI – CATE
The lack of communication with and among my team was what hurt us the most. I, for one, was so wrapped up in my own thoughts in regard to my story, leaving my team overwhelmed and confused by the time it came to production.
I had thought everything through to the smallest detail, but I failed to communicate much of it to my team. Share your progress with your story development, your writing and scheduling process, the tone of your film, why it is important to you – basically everything.
Don’t be scared to over-communicate, it will make things so much easier in the long run. I wish I had sat down with my Director of Photography much more than I did. It caused unnecessary stress which could have been avoided by simply going over every shot once more before we got on set.
CO – OP – E – RATE
Writing stories is a vulnerable process. We pour our heart and soul into them, so it’s no surprise it’s a big temptation for us writers to cling tightly to our story. It makes us unwilling to take in advice that would actually make the story stronger. One of our teachers referred to it as ‘holding your story in an open hand.’
Don’t take criticism as an attack. Weigh it out, take it into consideration while paying attention to still have it be your own story. Generally, people are there to help you, and it is always good to have an outside perspective after spending hours developing it in solitude.
I was advised to cut out one of my favorite characters from my script. At first, I was stubborn, but in the end, I was glad I did, as it made my story so much stronger.
COL – LA – BO – RATE
You cannot make a film on your own. If you think you can impress employers with a film that you singlehandedly wrote, filmed, directed, edited and starred in, you’re wrong. They want to know if you can work well with people, in a team.
Teamwork requires a lot of sacrifice, but it’s worth it. It brings our pride and vanity to the surface. One of my teachers once mentioned “Collaboration crucifies Vanity.” and I guess the same applies the other way around “Vanity crucifies Collaboration.”
There is nothing worse than a dysfunctional team, but there is nothing better than a team in which each member is for the other, working towards the same goal with creativity and humility.
My team got a taste of bad teamwork by the time it came to our first shooting week. We had 9 days to film 7 short films. We were all focused on making our individual film the best possible, resulting in unrealistic scheduling, exhaustion and tension in the team.
After the director of the third short film literally collapsed from exhaustion, we had to learn to take on one another’s projects as our own. As everyone took on more responsibility, it was so much easier to work together!
DE – LE – GATE
This one always gets me. If you are like me and tend to want to be in control of your story, you’ll get burnt out and grumpy pretty soon. You’ve got to delegate jobs to others on your team and it takes mutual trust for it to work.
Mistrust only makes room for assumptions, speculations and bottled-up anger.
If you find it difficult to delegate work, find a team member who can help you. If I hadn’t had my producer on my last film I would’ve collapsed too. He reminded me to delegate work to my teammates and I got a lot more hours of sleep which was beneficial to the whole team.
I’d have to admit it wasn’t easy to give up control. It put an unnecessary strain on the relationship between the Director of Photography and myself, and we both had to address and apologize for it, but it was so worth it.
CE – LE – BRATE
This one is easy to forget in the busyness of production, but there should never be an excuse not to celebrate or value your co-workers. A sincere ‘Thank you’, ‘Good job’ or ‘Please’ goes a long way.
If people know they are valued, they are more likely to give their best towards your project as well.
One of my teammates was a natural encourager. You wouldn’t be able to walk past her without receiving an encouragement and it gave all of us the strength to keep going.
DE – MON – STRATE
You have the power to choose what the culture of your set is going to be. Things are going to get tough, so it’ll be up to you to either complain or use it to see it as a challenge.
If I start complaining, it’ll be very easy for everyone else to do the same. Setting a culture of thanksgiving and positivity will make the most dire circumstances fun.
Choosing to laugh helped me on so many occasions. On one of our last shoots, it started to rain hard, the crew and equipment were sopping wet, we were all exhausted from the previous 8 days of shooting and not in the best of moods.
I had to chuckle and commented, “All of this is so crazy! I love these kinds of situations.” My friend mentioned later on that the comment initially annoyed her, but then helped her to see the humour in it.
Let film make you a better person…
Honestly, I felt like film school was really a school of life where you happen to learn about making movies as well. It teaches you crucial life skills: how to work with people, how to get over your pride, push yourself out of the comfort zone, value yourself and others and how to manage your time well.
Allow the process of filmmaking to make you a better person. In this way, you won’t only inspire your audience with your cinematography, but you will also inspire the film crew around you.