My Recipe for Humble Pie
I was directing my first feature film and thought I knew everything I needed to know. I mean, heck, I have a master’s degree in theatre and have directed too many stage productions to count; I’ve produced movies and have directed a ton of short films; plus, I did four years of post-graduate study in film and have taught filmmaking at three universities. So, what was there to know?
At the end of week one my Producer said he was hearing complaints. “But no one tells you to your face,” he explained, “because they like you and don’t want to hurt your feelings.” Hey, at least I’m a likeable loser.
So, I prayed–because God has no problem telling me things to my face–and He gave me His prize recipe for Humble Pie. Here it is:
- Step One: Gather ingredients (call an urgent meeting).
- Step Two: Mix ingredients (admit you’ve screwed up and ask for help).
- Step Three: Bake at extreme high temperature (i.e. listen to their complaints, write down their suggestions, and earnestly thank them—they’re giving you one of the most important lessons of your life)!
- Step Four: Remove from oven and allow to cool (send team home with promise to apply their suggestions).
- Step Five: Serve warm, topped with a generous layer of fresh whipped humility (diligently review and apply their suggestions—over and over again)!
The Specs: The short films I’ve directed all involved my doing everything (lighting, directing, shooting, catering) with utility player assistance from a couple of crew members. By contrast, my first feature film had over 30 dedicated specialists (tiny by Hollywood standards, but still substantial). Their advice at that fatal meeting:
- Give clear, concise directions, and then trust the crew to do their jobs (lighting, camera, costuming, make-up, props, set decorating).
- Give immediate “Yes” or “No” answers. (Do I? Well, yes and no…).
- Don’t think out loud – It comes off as indecision, and leaves them feeling uncertain.
- Don’t talk big picture (“She has this suppressed rage she got from her father…”), talk little picture (“This is where she finds the gun”). No one can keep me from thinking big picture—that’s where I live—but I’m learning when not to share that picture.
- Be specific! Don’t say, “She’s depressed, so she drinks and wanders around,” say, “She enters through this door, pours herself a drink here, then goes and stands here.” The lighting crew doesn’t need to know why she’s drinking, they need to know where she’s drinking!
- Affirm people: To Camera Operator: “That was the best shot yet—I love how the tilt-up landed on her face just when she started to cry!” To Costumer and Hair Dresser: “The rumpled sweater and mussed hair mirror her depression perfectly!”
I’d like to say I performed brilliantly for the remainder of the shoot. I didn’t, but I did improve. Plus, I’ve saved the notes from my crew in a “Read This Before Filming” folder. No, I’m not a perfect director, but when it comes to eating humble pie, I take the cake. Oops, mixed metaphor.
I’ll try to be more specific next time.