Posts Tagged ‘filmmaking’

Lose the Battle, Win the War: What that Really Means When it Comes to Directing

Thursday, October 30th, 2014


Some of you have heard me talk about an amazing experience I was blessed to be a part of early my career.  I was a field producer for a BBC documentary on success and failure in Hollywood.  As part of an interview team of four people I participated in over 70 interviews with some of the most successful people in Hollywood.  From Kathleen Kennedy to Doug Wick after he’d won the Oscar for Gladiator to Akiva Goldsman who’d just won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind to Pierce Brosnan at his house.  It was like the best grad program in movie-making ever created.

We interviewed many, many producers and, as you’d guess, they all had lots to say about directors.  I heard more than one producer talk about directors who approach filmmaking like it’s an “act of war.”  As a young director who’d spent most of my career in the theatre at that point, I found this analogy really intriguing.  It’s not like the theatre was always touchy/feely, but I would never have called directing theatre an act of war. 

So, it was ironic to find myself using war metaphors when it came to directing Saturn Returns.  The emotional, physical and ment al challenges of directing a low budget feature in a small town 350 miles away from Los Angeles are immense.  The analogy of being a general in war in which there were many battles felt spot on.


So what do I have to say about this “war?”  Lots, it turns out.  One of the things that might be most surprising is that as a director, I found that I generally lost most of the battles.  It turns out that losing battles was par for the course.  I don’t mean that I didn’t make decisions and see my choices and vision reflected in countless aspects of the film.  On the contrary.  My choices are everywhere, my fingerprints on 99.99% of what you’ll see on screen.

What I mean is that I had to get okay with losing battles in order to win the war.  I had to let go of my ego over and over again.  My experience of directing was the opposite of what the popular myth holds about directors and directing—that we are all egomaniacs and dictators.  Sure it takes a high level of confidence (and probably ego) to lead a group of 30+ people through a grueling process, making decisions every second of every day for 13 to sometimes 18 hours a day.  No doubt.

But for me, anyway, that process wasn’t about asserting my ego.  It was about the vision I was holding in my mind and the decisions that lined up with that vision.

So, here’s what I do mean by letting go of my ego.  When there actually was a battle (and there were several) I found that if I fought it to win it, then I generally lost.  By that I mean that I won the battle but stood to lose the war.  And by lose the war I mean risk not making my day and not completing the film.  Completing the best film I can make that is as close to the vision in my head is winning the war, in my book.

I’ll give you an example.  There was a crew member who was visibly unsupportive, at times rude and even verbally abusive.  I know, surprising right?  Actually not so much.  Film shoots bring out the best and worst in people.

On our last day of shooting the verbal abuse started again.  I’d taken this person outside a few times to talk over the course of the shoot and we’d reached a détente of sorts.  But on this last day the comments began again.  We were almost done shooting with one last shot that was important to get when the light was just right.  I remember sitting inside by myself, waiting for the light, while everyone had started wrapping equipment.  And I thought, I can go outside right now and scream at this person in front of everyone and subject them to same abuse they’ve subjected me to.  Or, I can do a quieter version of that, but let them get a taste of how it’s been for me the past few weeks.

And I sat there and despite my very, very deep anger, I realized that if I were to do that I’d win the battle and risk losing the war.  Even on this last day, 18 days in with only one shot to go, I might not get the shot I needed and risk not completing the film.  And, who knows what I would need from this person in the future?  Better to let this latest crappy behavior roll off my back.

And, most importantly, I realized I needed my energy for more important things.  At that point I was only a third of the way through my “war” and I needed every bit of energy to lead the team through the rest of the process.

Let me be clear.  I’m not suggesting you be a doormat.  You can’t be a doormat and lead a group of dozens of people through anything, let alone a film shoot.  You have to have confidence and boundaries and assertiveness at every turn.  And you have to know when and where to let the bad behavior, the lack of professionalism, the terrible decisions, the rudeness, roll off your back.  It’s about picking your battles, or even avoiding them altogether because you’re up to much bigger stuff.

My ego wanted to go scream at that person.  My commitment to making the best film I could stopped me and allowed me to “get over it” in less than 10 minutes.

So, what did I do?  I relaxed on the couch for the first time in weeks.  The sun went down and we got the shot.  While I can’t say I have love in my heart for this person, I don’t lose sleep over them either.  Part of getting good at letting it roll of my back is actually letting it go and getting on with the more important stuff.  It’s about actually embracing losing the battle in order to win the war.

I haven’t won the war, yet.  (We are still in post.)  But I’m well on my way.

It Takes a Village Pt 2: Lessons from an Olympic Gold Medalist

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

I am writing, as promised, to share about the Saturn Returns process.  As we gear up for our shoot in June I’ve been learning so much!

A few weeks ago I wrote about the concept of “It Takes a Village” to make a movie like this one.  Well, today I want to share one of the places that concept led me to and the wonderful lesson I learned.

In the spirit of “It Takes a Village” I’ve literally met hundreds of people who I’ve shared the film with. And by meet I mean actually sit down and have a meeting.  It would be tempting sometimes, as I talked about in the last blog, to get frustrated and feel like “if only I can do my art!”

But, once I embraced the concept that building the village is as much a part of the creative process as the director’s prep, some wonderful things really opened up for me.  Here’s one of them…

I was introduced to the amazing Kelly Clark.  If you’re a Mammoth-lover or Mammoth-local, you know that she is the most successful snowboarder, man or woman, of all time.  She won her first Olympic medal, the gold, in Salt Lake in 2002.  Now, 12 years later, she is still the one to beat.  She’s the only woman who can throw a 1080 (3 turns in the air) in competition.  She came in 4th in Torino, bronze medaled in Vancouver, and then competed in Sochi.  I’ve been fortunate enough to become friends with her and we had a terrific conversation a few weeks after she came back from Sochi.

If you didn’t watch the half-pipe competition, here’s what you have to know; the conditions in the pipe were terrible.  The weather was really warm and the organizers couldn’t keep the pipe frozen.  It kept melting and then refreezing when they put chemicals on it.  The result was a combination of slush, ice and lots of bumps.

I’m not a snowboarder, but as Kelly told me, when you ride down and then up the pipe, you have to “carry a lot of speed” to be able to do the tricks.  If you don’t go fast enough, you can’t throw tricks.  If the conditions are bumpy and irregular it slows you down.  Also, if you land on a bumpy wall, you are a lot more likely to fall then if you land on a smooth wall.

So, with all this knowledge, here’s what Kelly shared with me.  She fell five times before her last finals run. She fell every single training run.  She fell in a qualifying run.  She fell in her first of two finals runs.

She also told me that she almost never falls.  By way of comparison, the week after the Olympics she competed in another event and didn’t fall the entire week.  She barely put her hand down once in 15 runs. This gives you an idea how bad the situation at Sochi was.

And here’s what I heard her share.  She kept getting back up. Even after her first finals run, she fell and she got back up.  On the world’s biggest stage, in primetime, with more then 3 billion people watching, she fell… and she got back up.  And then she won a bronze medal.

I saw her a few weeks ago and got to talk to her some more and hold her medal.   She said that this medal was the most special of all the medals that she’s ever won because of how hard it was to win it.

I was incredibly inspired by Kelly’s story for a couple of reasons.  First, we hear all about how getting to the Olympics and competing on the world stage with the best of the best involves sacrifice and hard work.  But, when I heard the details of what Kelly went through I really heard something I’d never heard before.  The sacrifice and hard work involve not just runs in the pipe, workouts and travel away from your family.  The sacrifice I saw was the sacrifice of ego.  The sacrifice of the easy way out.  The sacrifice of feeling good.

She kept getting back up on the board and riding down the pipe, fully aware that she might totally bite the dust, look stupid and fail in front of 3 billion people.

And here’s what Kelly’s story has in common with making a film.  I can’t say that I’ve fallen 5 times at the Olympics, but I can say that I’ve been rejected by hundreds if not thousands of people in the five years I’ve been working on Saturn Returns.  I’ve gone to meeting after meeting and been told no.  I’ve been told yes and then no.  I’ve had people tell me yes for three years or even five years and then tell me no.  I’ve had people question my sanity, my creativity, my judgement, and more.  In short, I’ve bitten the dust, looked stupid and failed.

Turns out the keys to getting a movie made and winning an Olympic medal aren’t so different.  You can’t win if you don’t get back up and ride again.

By embracing the it-takes-a-village concept, I got to hear Kelly’s story and get inspired to get back up and keep going another day.  And now I get to share it with you.

I hope it inspires you, too, to keep going even when you fall repeatedly.

Please consider supporting our indiegogo campaign and going on the journey with us as we make the film.  Lots of cool ways to participate!  Only 6 days left!

It Takes A Village

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

I am writing, as I promised, to share about the Saturn Returns process.  As we gear up for our shoot in June I’ve been learning so much!

One of the things I most want to share has to do with the idea of team.  Now, you probably know that I spend a lot of time talking about team building and leadership in my various classes and coaching.  Today I want to talk about something a little different.  To borrow from Hilary Clinton and the Nigerian Igbo culture, I want to talk about the idea that a project (or your career) “takes a village.”

You might have heard me talk about the idea that nothing of any scope or magnitude in life happens alone.  We can’t even procreate by ourselves, right?  Yet, this business can be extraordinarily isolating if we’re not careful.  We write alone.  We go to auditions alone.  We sit at our desks making calls or sending emails alone.  When we get to be a part of a group making something, it’s often short and fleeting, preceded and followed by a lot of work all by ourselves.

When it comes to Saturn Returns I’ve found myself using the phrase “it takes a village to make a film like this” over and over again.  And while that, in and of itself, has not been a big surprise, what that actually looks like and really means, practically speaking, has been surprising to me.  Here’s what I mean…

It takes a village, and you have to love the village. A lot of actors I meet tell me “I just want to act.”  A lot of writers I meet tell me, “I just want to write.”  Ditto with directors, sound mixers, wardrobe stylists, you name it.

We feel we have a calling. There’s something that we love doing and we’re good at it.  If only all this other junk would just go away, we’d be so much happier and fulfilled.  We come to resent all this other stuff we have to do.  All the people we have to meet, the calls we have to make, the events we have to go to, the hustling we have to do.  Ugh.  When does it all end?

This is the village I’m talking about.  This is the village we have to love.  It would be so easy for me to resent how long it’s taken to raise the money for Saturn Returns, the number of meetings I’ve had that have gone nowhere, the number of people who’ve told me they’ll invest and then backed out, and on and on.  But one of the things that I’ve come to learn is that the village is every bit as much a part of making Saturn Returns as the actual filmmaking.  They go hand in hand.  There’s an idea that you can be a filmmaker without all of this other stuff, but, frankly, I think it’s a myth.  At least in this day and age.  And the sooner we kiss the myth of the pure filmmaker or pure artist, actor or writer good-bye, the better.  It’s like kissing the myth of Prince Charming good-bye.  Hard but so freeing once we do it.

So, my lesson is love your village the way you love your art.  You can’t have one without the other.  It can be hard to love your village, I know.  But, truth be told, some days it can be hard to love your art, right?  Your village and your art demand a lot out of you.  But it’s in the service of something important, something extraordinary, something you’ve dedicated your life to doing.

Gotta love the Village.