Monday, July 9, 2007

More Collaboration

It has been said that film directing is the last dictatorial job left in the world. That might be true. There are many directors famous for their tyranny and outrage and their good films. On my sets, however, I like to create an atmosphere where everyone feels free to contribute. I don’t pretend to have all the ideas and I will take any help offered, but at the same time I don’t turn around and poll the crew as to what we should do next.

We have worked with a gaffer named Tom Lewis many, many times. He always sort of intimidated me. He was a little gruff, until you got to know him. He has worked on thousands of projects over the years so he knows more than I ever will and he didn’t take fools lightly.

On the first job we did together I could tell he was a little skeptical. Here was this kid filmmaker with- in my projection- a million-dollar idea and a 50-dollar budget. I was asking for lots of lights- big, expensive and time consuming. One full day was going to be devoted just to readying the set, the next day to a pre-light, then finally a shoot that would only last 3-4 hours tops- a lot of work for a very short payoff.

Like any pro, Tom and his crew did the job and by the time we were shooting I think he realized I wasn’t quite as crazy as he first assumed. Over the hours I could see him understand more of my vision and his work was really helping me achieve it. As we are setting one of the last shots, and the shot that will conclude the film, Tom noticed something that escaped me and everyone else. As our lead walked off into the “sunset” it appeared as if the window sash was growing out of his head.

Tom, very quietly, said to me, “Why don’t we lower the camera (we were on a jib arm that could move up and down) as he walks away. It will change the perspective of the window sash.”

It was a great idea, one that didn’t really change the film at all, but an idea that came from Tom being present and in the moment and buying into my concept. It would have been easy for him to say nothing- it wouldn’t have mattered, and I would never have known the difference, but from that moment on we were able to forge a working relationship that lasted through dozens of projects.



moonbros said...

We are firm believers in collaboration on the film set.

But the tough part is when everyone starts to give their two cents worth of advice. Or when they start making suggestions that don’t quite fit in with the overall “vision”.

On the other hand, sometimes one of the actors--or perhaps a P.A.--comes up with a great idea that really works... You just have to be able to weed out the bad suggestions.

Ross Pruden said...

I've had the same problem as moonbros—everyone loves to chip in and the bandwidth simply isn't wide enough to listen to every suggestion and stay focused and energized.

How do you draw that delicate line in the sand?

Theresa111 said...

Isn't it lovely to be in accord with another? Especially a person you have worked with before and one day a sentence or two is spoken and suddenly things fit. Now the two of you are in accord. You have arrived at an understanding that will bind you for future interludes. Lovely.

PeterH said...

Thank you for your comments. In regards to moonbros and Ross Pruden's comments, I understand what you mean. For me it starts with who you hire and how they get hired. There is an understanding when you work with us how it is going to be. We are very easy to work with so I think we create a culture of allowing people to appropriately speak their mind. Certainly actors can talk directly to me, and usually if a crew member doesn't know me so well, they can go through my assistant director who will bring the news to me.
Thanks again for reading.