How Filmmakers Stay Sane on Set
The source of most drama outside of the script is the actors, and anywhere they congregate may be a hotbed of intrigue, gossip, and disinformation. This is also true of anyone who talks to actors, so view the makeup, hairdressing, wardrobe, and transportation departments as minefields. Even on a low-/no-budget production, where all the departments are combined in the person(s) of your overworked colleagues, a few misplaced or ill-chosen words will resonate throughout the production, and anything said in confidence is public knowledge as soon as it can be repeated. A favor for one will be expected by all, and any violation of boundaries will result in the loss of those limits.
This is not to say a director cannot speak or be spoken to; if that were true, directors would be the loneliest people on the set. Feel free to chat about wind and weather, but remember that in all close-knit male groups, from nineteenth-century British colonial armies to the crews of nuclear submarines, there are three topics deliberately ignored: women, politics, and religion. In a less gender-specific world, include members of the opposite sex as subjects to be avoided. Add to those topics these sources of friction: the problems of the production, the character of the personnel, and the personal lives of everyone on or near the set. The director’s problems are uniquely off limits; like the captain of a ship or the leader of a combat patrol, his or her thoughts must remain private. We discussed the director’s isolation before; it goes with the job, it even has a name: “the loneliness of command.” If you must share gossip and commentary, do it with someone far from the set or the production: a therapist, a life partner, a close family member, or an animal companion (these may all be the same individual). If you’re a writer, your closest confidante may be the director. If he or she is not sympathetic, the same limits apply to your options.
A strategy (or habit) that many executives (including directors) find useful is to acquire or maintain a group of friends or confidantes with whom you can share frankly and safely. The advantage of this is that the natural loneliness of command is softened by a close-knit circle of advisors, sounding boards, and lieutenants who can be trusted to keep people and things organized and functional (including yourself, on the bad days). But, beware—the inherent danger is that your group becomes a “posse,” a gang that gives the appearance of a support group but is, in fact, a barrier. These individuals are people whose principal interest is preserving their turf, influencing your decisions, and insulating you from all criticism and useful input. They become gatekeepers and relish the role.
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Originally conceived as a workbook for young directors, The Little Blue Book for Filmmakers has become a handbook for easy reference, with all the information a student director/actor/producer needs to create a film, from inception through production, to sales, distribution, and exhibition. The book discusses issues faced by all beginning filmmakers, with a historical perspective that explains problems and solutions that reach back to the invention of movies at the turn of the last century, and stretch forward to include new digital technology and the popularization of videography as global self-expression. A valuable addition to the shelves of all film school instructors who’ve not had years of practical experience working in the trade, it’s also a syllabus in itself and can be the foundation for a course schedule. More important, it’s something every film student will want to own as a reference and guide.
Posted on May 1, 2013, in Film & TV and tagged carl gottlieb, excerpt, film set, filmmaker, filmmaking, filmmaking advice, filmmaking book, filmmaking tips, Limelight Editions, The Little Blue Book for Filmmakers, Toni Attell. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.