Thoughts on our first days of filming

Haven’t posted in a while since actual production took me away from being able to post but since we wrapped out our first days of filming I figured why not give an update on how things went.

Being new to filmmaking but old enough to know better I was prepared for this to be a unique and different experience that no amount of reading or research would properly prepare me for, and I must say I was right. I described this experience best as the most exhausting and exhilarating of my professional career; the challenges are seemingly endless as is the seesaw that moves between satisfaction and frustration. After our first shooting days I can tell you a few things; I love doing this and hope I can continue to do it for years to come, I am glad I waited till I had more working and life experience to attempt this since wisdom comes with age and experience and you will need all the wisdom you can muster to pull off an indie film, and be prepared for anything that might happen cause anything that might happen will probably at some point happen. Now for some specifics thoughts, noting that we really only have minor tweaks to make to really make our team shine:

1)   I hired an amazingly talented cast and crew. The talent and dedication of my cast and crew is probably going to make me look a lot smarter than I actually am once our film comes out. They really did do some outstanding work & really showed a high level of professionalism so my first take away would be hire as well as you can.

2)   Seize opportunities – shooting these first few days was really taking advantage of an opportunity caused by scheduling issues in May. Using these days before our main June shoot allowed me to see what I was working with, what was possible, how people function and all sorts of useful information. It actually works perfect with my management style of observing and evaluating people as they naturally work then building systems that manage to the talent rather than walking in with a system and trying to shoehorn it upon the group.

3)   Start within – I am a firm believer if you are going to critique a project your running you sure as hell better start that critique with yourself, in fact I think this is true regardless if your running the project or not because if you don’t then you are just someone bitching about others without identifying your own weaknesses that need work (and really who wants to listen to someone bitch). So with that said my take aways were I need to communicate with certain people better and in more detail, I need to pay closer attention to the shots and I need to take more control over the time management.

4)   Figure out the language of your team – people communicate in very different ways and if your going to manage a team you have to figure out what language they best understand and make sure you are communicating with them in that language. It’s much less a matter of intelligence or even personality and more a matter of their social IQ. Some people need to be sweet talked and others need to be steamrolled and if your going to effectively manage people for a project you better be able to figure out where they are on that spectrum and communicate accordingly.

5)   Be willing to be the bad guy – someone has to make the tough decisions, someone has to have last say, put their foot down, correct bad hires and be willing to say no, and it sure as hell better be the person in charge. Typically you will see this pop up when money is concerned, first rule of finance is don’t ever expect anyone who has never had to answer to a P&L to understand finance. You should have a firm budget and be willing to stick to your guns since the first rule of management anything is be a good steward of capital. So if you undertake this type of project remember your going to have to be the bad guy from time to time and that’s perfectly ok.

6)   Be prepared for anything – one key skill to getting shit done is the ability to make decisions quickly and the key to quick decisions is limiting the surprises by considering the possible issues well ahead to time. The more mentally prepared you are the more likely you are to get the shit done you showed up to get done in the first place.

7)   A script is a constant work in process – once your shooting things will come up and you need to be willing to make adjustments to your script to take advantage of opportunities or accommodate errors. So don’t be stubbornly tied to the blueprint of the building and lose focus on the building itself.

8)   Mistakes will happen – seriously realize this now and remember it always. Do not allow your reaction to errors to poison your entire production. Take a breath or two or two dozen before addressing these things, do so in private, be calm about it and be able to clearly articulate the cause of the error, why it shouldn’t of occurred, the repercussions and what needs to be altered going forward. People are human, they make mistakes you need to be able to deal with that and use it as an opportunity to improve going forward. Sure some of them sting (some really, really sting) but they are going to happen so be a damn adult about it.

9)   WTF is this lunch thing? I have been working professionally for almost 20 years and never have I been in a role where we took regular group lunch breaks together. It has always either been working lunch, meaning shove food in your face as you move between tasks, or working sit down lunches with clients. The film world has a system in place where people actually sit down and eat, seriously its just weird to me. That and all the other sitting around and waiting, seriously I am not use to sitting around and waiting when I work, cause I like to work when I work, so there are some environmental things to adjust to for me.

So there are my nine main take aways from our first days of shooting. Going forward its more of the same, adjusting, managing, communicating, hammering, scheduling, and of course playing the bad guy when necessary. The most important thing at this point is to keep focused on the most important things so you can make sure you get the most out of your resources. All in all I would say so far so good and I can’t wait to shoot in June.

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