These 6 Rules Will Make You a Better Filmmaker
A filmmaker is a lot like a CEO.
You’re in charge of the creative vision of the “company” – aka your film.
You’re the one who makes final decisions about what to spend your budget on.
You’re in charge of hiring all the department heads beneath you – editing, casting, makeup, etc.
If the project is a success, you get the credit.
And if it’s a total bust, you take the blame!
So why don’t filmmakers ever study management principles?
The moment you start thinking of yourself as the CEO, the smoother your filmmaking process will go. This doesn’t mean that you’ll stop collaborating or listening to other people’s opinions. It means that following basic principles of management will help keep everything on track.
All good managers have a plan. You already have a clear directive: make a film. But if you set specific goals in terms of deadlines, film festivals to apply to, etc., then your cast and crew members will have direction and motivation. Make sure everyone understands what you’re trying to accomplish and what you’re working toward. When there is no goal or no light at the end of the tunnel, morale suffers – and people don’t give their best work.
A disorganized film production will end up taking longer, costing more money and making everyone unhappy. Organize things ahead of time. Decide what communication platforms (text? phone? email? Google Drive?) and software programs will be used. Be consistent with how you operate, including small things like how you format file names. Establish clear worker relationships so that people know who they should report to. Do you want your PA asking you things directly, or is there someone else between you?
Leading is more than just making decisions. It’s also energizing people! Get your crew members excited about the project and make sure they understand why you chose to pursue it. Help them understand how the project will help everyone’s careers. You can also help foster relationships between co-workers who’ve just met – you can host a dinner with your actors to help everyone get to know each other, for example.
When things go wrong, take the time to analyze why. Even more importantly, make changes and take action so that the situation improves. Check in with your crew members to see what they need, what they’re struggling with, and how you can help.
One of the best management principles is to praise publicly and criticize privately. If someone does a good job, praise them in front of their coworkers! They will feel encouraged and valued. And if you need to talk to someone about something that’s gone wrong, do it privately so that they don’t feel exposed.
Also, make sure you’re not ONLY commenting on what’s going wrong. It’s important to give your crew members positive reinforcement when you are happy with what they’ve done.
Division of Work
Although many new filmmakers wear several hats, it’s important to divide up work. If you try to do everything yourself, you’ll get stressed and behind – and your crew members will feel frustrated that you’re micromanaging them. Hire the right people, then let them do their jobs. Set a time to chat about how things are going instead of calling or texting every day or second-guessing every decision they make.
Although film sets can often feel casual, it’s important to establish a professional work environment. Even if you’re working with friends, you should make it clear that sexual harassment and racism are not tolerated (and discipline anyone who breaks this rule).
In a world of covid-19, you also need to be strict about mask wearing and hand-washing. As the filmmaker/CEO in charge, you’re the one who has the be the adult and keep everyone safe. As much as you might want to be a “fun” boss, people will respect you more (and feel safer) if you use your authority to establish a respectful work environment.