How Crimson Night Productions Maintains Professionalism During Challenging Encounters
I can only speak to working on projects that do not have extensive crews or titles or roles; I’ll defer to those who have experience in “big-budget” projects. Nevertheless, in my personal and humble opinion, I feel that these strategies can be utilized in many different projects, regardless of the budget/cast/crew sizes.
When I get involved in a project, I like to have as much knowledge about the project as possible, and this goes beyond whatever role or title to which I am assigned. Simply throwing a camera at me and telling me to “film that” doesn’t help me understand the direction or the goal of the project. Hence, I will need to ask questions about the project (making sure they are asked to the right people), but doing so in a manner that exemplifies professional tact rather than self-inflated dominance, belittlement, or narcissism (side note: I do not work with people who choose to be on the spectrum of condescending caliber, so I would never behave in such a detestable way). In my background, I have experience in healthcare management, and through my tenure, I have learned (faster than I thought I would ever need, to be honest) that it is imperative that the SAME communication is shared with all who will be involved in the project/task/productivity expectation, bar none! This has taught me that keeping everyone involved in the same communication helps to improve the dynamic of understanding everyone’s roles, and that helps me understand the goal/s of the project. The overarching reason for this is simple: everyone has a role, and every role is important, if not critical, to a successful outcome of the project. If your budget can afford it, you should plan to have “team leaders” or those to who you can delegate communications to others. Admittedly, I still have yet to experience this in the film industry, and even through my healthcare management experiences, budgets haven’t allowed me to have such a luxury. Although I am sharing my thoughts on a “speak once to all” model, I would certainly welcome any budget opportunities that would allow for additional resources that could be assigned and held accountable as “team leaders” who can help with smoothing out workflows, including communications. This is a good segue into the next thought: because I work mostly on low-to-no budget projects, I end up wearing multiple “hats” on projects in order to fulfill necessary roles, many of which are considered “above the line” roles. No doubt that this does create pressure in countless ways, but it should not allow you to deter from the importance of keeping professional composure.
I know you’ve seen it and felt it, and I share my empathy with you on the multitudinous waves of frustrations you’ve endured: time crunches, chaotic cast and crews, equipment failures, the list goes on. Yet, it all has to be enwrapped into you having to make quick, sensible, and professional decisions that will be best for the project. I have had my fair share of cast who thought they were bigger than what they were, who talked back to me (as a director) in front of everyone else. I even had an actor who walked off the set and told me, “come get me when you’re ready” when we were setting up to shoot a scene ( it was a low-budget project, and we didn’t have a second unit to help setup for shots). I also had my fair share of crew challenging my ideas in setting up for a shot - especially when we had to make changes that weren’t planned - right in front of everyone. I have had my fair share of working with an inexperienced crew, having to stop the 20,000-plus other things I was doing so I can show them where to find things or how to set something up. The list of challenges is endless. However, I know that I will see these things time and time again, and experience even more issues than this. These things can’t be planned, and the best we can do is anticipate that things will, invariably and expectedly, go wrong.
Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, my background in healthcare management has taught me several things, and I think it is imperative to share with you how I have used some of those “leadership skills” to create an environment that will allow you to keep your professional-self intact and remain commendable with others. Let’s face it: the more professional you are, the better the chance that others will want to work with you, whether it’s a new collaboration with others who heard about you or to work again with clients from your past projects. That’s probably a good launching point.
To start, keep in mind that staying professional is on YOU. It always has been, and it always will be. The way YOU present yourself is the way others will always remember you and think of you. The way YOU manage yourself and others is the way others will always decide if they want to work with YOU. We are all human, yes, and we all only have so much patience, but staying professional isn’t some “magical mantra” that only certain people can do. If you accept an “above the line” title on a project, you WILL be looked toward as being LEADER, and this means not just telling people what to do, but it means to be effective enough to engage people into doing what they do and receive the best possible outcomes that will satisfy the requirement of the project.
What helps me stay rooted to my professional-sense are the following:
- Everyone is different; remember to treat them well, but keep them focused in a way that they can relate to;
- The project is YOUR responsibility - praise your cast and crew for the positive outcomes of the project, and accept the criticism and negative outcomes that will come your way;
- Everything is a learning opportunity; NO ONE knows everything, and it is irresponsible to think that YOU are an exception;
- Effective leaders work shoulder-to-shoulder with others - show your cast and crew how important the project is to you by doing more than what is expected of you;
- Take time to laugh and celebrate with everyone - this is YOUR team, so share moments with them.
- DO NOT call anyone out in front of others. The temptation is there, but there’s so much truth in being the bigger person. When the actor walked off the set on a project when we were setting up to shoot a scene, I simply told everyone who looked at me after she had done that, “we move on,” but mentally noting to myself, “I will never work with her again.” When I had crew challenge my ideas or rules in front of everyone, I would explain why my plan needs to move forward (and shouting, “because I’m the f***ing director and I said so,” does not cut it!), then I would have private conversations with those individuals and politely remind them of the right time and right place to ask those questions and how to ask - this gets back to everything being a learning opportunity. We all grow, and we should help each other grow as well.
- Ask yourself, who would someone rather work with: a degrading, self-absorbed, “know it all” who thinks they’re above everyone else, or someone who is a team player and wants to have a successful project turnout? Then, ask yourself, “Which one of those am I?” It’s really easy to hide behind, “I don’t care what anyone thinks of me,” but don’t let yourself fall into this mindset. Trust me, when it comes to getting gigs, later on, you will!
- “Respect the janitor in the same manner you would the CEO.” People are just that: they’re people. Be respectful towards everyone, period. It’s just much easier and so much less stressful, and people will always be far more grateful when you show them respect.
- Be firm, but kind. YOU are responsible for the project; make it work, and be successful at it. Ultimately, everyone’s goal should be about the project, so set expectations for all cast and crew, and hold them accountable. But, again, be kind about it; behind every failed attempt is a reason unknown unto many why the failure happened, and a lot of times, that failure can be beyond one’s control. You never know what someone went through to try to make something happen, but just couldn’t. BE KIND.
- Always remember, and this is so very true: “people don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad management.” DON’T be a bad manager (leader)!
In closing, you can be your best professional “you” by accepting your role and responsibility, and balance that against being an effective and responsible leader. You are going to have bad days and trying times because no one is exempt from that. Learn from those moments, continue to grow, and help those around you to grow as well by using kindness and understanding, but be firm in establishing expectations from your cast and crew. In our ever-changing world, professionalism determines our future. Be your own future!