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Issue #176 – September 18, 2017 (10 Commandments of Filmmaking)

Issue #176 – September 18, 2017
(10 Commandments of Filmmaking)

I’ve used this article before in this ezine but I thought it would be a good idea to review these ten important factors that all good filmmakers should remember and practice. 🙂

All my years in the film and TV business has taught me many lessons, but the main lesson I have learned is to “remain human at all costs.” And by this I mean to simply “treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.”

Making a film is a stressful job because there is a great deal of money and hundreds of careers on the line everytime the camera rolls. This is a business of artistic expression, massive egos and huge amounts of cash, a recipe for disaster if I ever saw one! It’s also a business where you could lose your soul if you’re not careful.

With that in mind, I created the following “Ten Commandments of Filmmaking” which is my way of demonstrating how anyone can (and should) work and survive in this business without getting OR giving ulcers! This list also gives you some insight into my personal philosophy and work ethic which I discuss throughout this book.

Commandment 1: It’s only a movie – no one should get hurt

This one should be obvious. All crew members should be aware of the safety issues of working on any set. Making any kind of film or TV production can be risky because there are so many natural hazards on a film set: crew members can trip over cables, fall off platforms, equipment can tumble on them, they can burn and cut themselves and they can slip down stairs.

Then there are the added hazards specific to our industry: breathing atmosphere smoke for long periods, accidents involving insert cars or process trailers, accidents involving stunts and special effects and noise hazards such as loud explosions and gunfire.

Commandment 2: Ask lots of questions and never assume anything

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember, “the only dumb question is the one that was never asked.” As a director you have to answer questions all day, but you also have to ask questions. If something doesn’t feel right, or doesn’t make sense, ask questions. Solve it now!

Assuming that everything will be “ready on the day” is wrong thinking. If something in the script doesn’t make sense, or you feel something is not working, deal with it right away. Because if it doesn’t work in the script, it sure won’t work on set.

Commandment 3: There are no rules in filmmaking – only opinions!

Everyone you work with on a movie will have an opinion about something. That can be a good thing. It can also be a bad thing.

Don’t get overwlemed with all the opinions and suggestions you will hear each day. Listen to everyone, evaluate their ideas and then make your decisions. You will always second guess yourself and it takes time and experience to trust your own insticts as much as you learn to trust others.

Commandment 4: Listen to the people who know more than you do

The crew work on the set all the time! That’s what they do for a living. They see Directors and First AD’s come and go. Experienced crew will usually know more “set stuff” than you do. So listen to them and you will become a better filmmaker.

Commandment 5: You have to EARN respect – not demand it

Directors, 1st AD’s and DOP’s form the “triumvirate” of any movie set. They are the people in charge and many times you will be faced with the difficult task of working for weeks or months with one (or more) of these people who are egotistical, abusive or sometimes incomptetent at their job.

I believe that the majority of cast or crew who “act up” on set are just insecure and because they are in a position of authority working in a creative environment, they feel they are “allowed” to have temper tantrums and yell at people.

This will always happen. How I deal with this situation (and I suggest you do the same,) is to remember the military expression: ”Respect the rank. You don’t have to like the person.”

Commandment 6: Don’t abuse your power. Use Power Through not Power Over

Directors have a very powerful position in the film industry. Producers look to you to make sure the movie comes in on time and on budget; the crew look to you for leadership; and the cast look to you for vision, support and empathy.

The “rank” of Director means you carry “a big stick” but there are many Director’s who abuse this power and make everyone’s life miserable by taking advantage of their position and using their power “over people.”

My philosophy is to take the other route and use “power through” by bringing your crew together as a team and working it out together. The crew know you are in charge. You don’t have to keep advertising it.

Commandment 7: Don’t be afraid to change your mind

I read a self-help book that also had a set of ten commandments and one of them was “It’s okay to change your mind.”

This makes a lot of sense, especially when you are a Director or 1st AD because you’re making decisions all the time. Some of your decisions may need to change after you get more information from other people, but problems could occur if your ego gets in the way.

Commandment 8: Self-confidence is necessary – self importance is unnecessary

Ego can be defined as “your consciousness of your own identity.” You need an ego in this business because ego is important for your survival. But there is an important distinction between the two types of ego: self-confidence and self-importance.

Self-confidence (good ego) helps you to believe in yourself, it helps you to get up in the morning knowing that you are good at your job but still have things to learn and that you will get through your day by being fair and respecting others.

On the other hand, self-importance (misplaced ego) is “an inflated feeling of pride in your superiority to others.” I believe it’s this trait, more than anything else, that makes working and surviving in the film industry harder than it has to be.

Commandment 9: Have a sense of humor and learn to laugh at yourself

In my experience, the best film sets are the ones that have a relaxed and professional atmosphere presided over by a creative director with no insecurity issues; an experienced 1st AD with no attitude problems; and a DOP who realizes that making a film is not all about the lighting!

Making a movie is hard work but it can also be fun and the occasional break from the stress of the set by having a laugh pays for itself many times over.

Commandment 10: Take 10 at lunch change your shoes and socks.

Yes, I am serious! Taking a moment after lunch to change you socks and shoes is a blissful moment – it actually re-energizes you. There’s problably some psychological or chemical reason for this I don’t understand, but whatever it is, try it because it works!

I like to have about 15 minutes on my own during lunch to have a quiet time where I can “recharge my batteries.” As a Director, you have to be on your game all day and make hundreds of decisions with the cast and crew constantly asking you questions. Taking some time for yourself is really, really important to keep your body relaxed and your mind sharp.

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