Many of us filmmakers in business for ourselves are either lone gunmen, or at most work with 1-2 other people on a job. I bet many of you shoot and edit all your own projects. So when the opportunity to work with a crew comes along, it may seem daunting. I want to address the topic of creative collaboration. Things to watch out for if you’re used to being a lone shooter, and ways in which you can get the most out of your team. (Sorry, no creative acronyms today, but I do have a catchy way to remember it. Let Go – Listen – Share – Repeat.
The first and perhaps hardest thing you’ll need to learn how to do is let go. Let go of the control you’re used to having. It can be a hard thing to do, especially if you’re one of those people that believes, “If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.” There may be times when you absolutely will need to do it yourself. But more often than not, especially in filmmaking, allowing other people to shine will result in a better project.
In the production of our 48 Hour Film Project, there were a lot of things I had to let go that I’m used to doing myself. A lot of the “business” aspects of the project (managing forms to be signed, corralling people, etc.) I had to let go to my line producer/AD. On the cinematography side, I had to let my DP do what he does best. This was particularly challenging because I’m usually the one behind the camera. In the end, I must say, it was nice having someone else hold and work the camera. I would just set up the shot, discuss how I want it to look, then let him shoot it. If you’ve recruited a good team, then trust they will do a good job in the roles to which you’ve assigned them.
Collaborating effectively also involves listening to your team. What are their ideas for their roles? What are their ideas related to things you should do? It doesn’t mean you have to do them, but when you listen, you 1) show them that you respect them enough to hear their input, and 2) you open up the possibility that one or more of the ideas may actually be better than yours. Listen to your DP about lens or camera selection ideas. Listen to your AD about what needs to be done in order to finish on time. Listen to your actors about their ideas on the character. Listen to your wife when she’s telling you you need to get at least a few hours of sleep. 🙂
Similar to letting go is sharing responsibility. On this project I knew going into it that I would probably either give the writing duties over completely, or at least share them. Ultimately, four of us had official writing credit on the project (we has a whole team brainstormed ideas, then a smaller story development team refined those ideas. The writing team then put “pen to paper”) It was a new and rewarding experience. (For the record, I would not normally suggest working with that many writers on a film. I think one or two is fine, but in this case, under the kind of time pressure we had, sharing those duties helped out a lot.)
I also shared the editing with my DP. After wrapping, we got back to HQ about 3 am Sunday morning and I was running on Red Bull fumes with no more than about an hour of sleep for the past 36 hours. He was amped and ready to go, so I let him at it. I’m so glad I did. Not only did it allow us to finish when we did, but he added a slight change to the order of one scene that I think greatly contributed to the storytelling aspect. He took the beginning of the last scene and moved it to the beginning of the whole film. Ironically, even though it wasn’t a change I thought up, the end result was more indicative of my kind of work (i.e. a poignant prologue that builds anticipation for the rest of the story).
If you’re used to being a lone shooter, in order to get used to collaborating on projects, you’ll need to repeat the process. Do it in running your business. Do it when you’re on your regular “lone shooter” jobs (I’m sure there are other professionals, vendors, etc, you could apply these concepts too, if not crew members specifically). Do it with your clients. I believe a good leader and manager is a good collaborator.
Free Project Management System
I thought this would be a good blog post to talk about the project management system I’ve been using for the past month or so. I used it extensively on this project, and use it with my clients. It’s called Freedcamp, and as the name suggests, it’s free and looks very similar to Basecamp. You can assign to-dos, create discussions, upload files, create milestones, and it even has a time tracking feature. I use it more for the discussion and to-do features. If you want one single repository for comments, suggestions, file uploads, etc., it’s perfect for that. You can even import Basecamp projects. I do hesitate recommending it only that it’s still in it’s 1.0 version and there are a few kinks in the system. But they have a 2.0 scheduled for release soon that is ground-up overhaul. It’s definitely worth trying out (it is free after all) and seeing if it can work for you. I’ll do a more thorough review later, perhaps after version 2.0 is released.
Get Your Tix for the Show
If you’re in the Atlanta area, I want to remind you to get your tickets for the screening of 48 Hour films. Our screening is this Saturday, June 18 at 9:45 pm at the Plaza Atlanta theatre. Tickets are only $10. Come support indie filmmakers, and come support your film by voting for it in the audience awards. Get your tickets now.
[…] Hire/Recruit a knowledgeable DP/Photo Assistant. As a director (or the chief photog on a commercial set), you don’t necessarily need to be the most knowledgeable about lighting. In fact, in many cases, the director or head photographer knows a fraction of what a good director of photography (DP) or photo assistant knows. Surround yourself with talented people. Remember the power of collaboration. […]