A Filmmaker’s Journal

Production photo from my feature film Over-the-Rhine

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 else was there to know?

A lot.

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!”


    Discussing a scene with our Director of Photography, Michael Potter

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.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Humor, Memoir, Movies, Popular Culture & Entertainment and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

54 Responses to A Filmmaker’s Journal

  1. r_prab says:

    I loved the humble pie recipie! Awesome! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. CSL says:

    IMDB says that the film is in post-production. A release date in the offing?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Nancy Ruegg says:

    Thanks for the warm (hearted) humble pie, Mitch! As you well know, “True humility and fear of the LORD lead to riches, honor, and long life” (Proverbs 22:4). May you enjoy the rich reward of an impactful film, the honor and respect that all honest souls deserve, and a long life to enjoy the wisdom you’ve gained along the way.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. JJAzar says:

    I’m fascinated by this kind of stuff. The art of movie-making is captivating. Super cool of you to offer a glimpse of your process, Mitch!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. dawnlizjones says:

    Timeframe for the movie availability?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yay! i can’t wait to see your brilliant movie next fall 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. TheDreamFlow says:

    Mitch, I love the humility to learn from the people working under you and there are some great tips in there for how to communicate with your crew! I make a lot of films doing everything myself right now so the transition to getting a larger crew will be interesting for me as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Pingback: A Filmmaker’s Journal — Mitch Teemley – ESA Talent Agency

  9. INTWTA says:

    I liked the advice you were given from the emergency meeting (and good on you for holding the meeting too). Working with a team is vastly different than having ultimate solo control over your work. I think you can be more experimental creatively with the short films you were talking about where as with the feature film its such a collaborative process. It seems like such a process demands clear affirming direction.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post. One of the hardest things to do is to just pick up the vibe on set. Part of the struggle is being humble enough to just accept that some things may not go as planned.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. treasure_box says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m about to shoot my first short ever. And this terrifies me so much

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Amir Hashmi says:

    This all happens with the people who thinks beyond the mass.
    We are the people who create the mirror of the World. Keep Calm and focus focus focus.

    All is well soon.
    All the best.

    With best regards,
    Amir Hashmi
    Indipendant filmmaker


    Liked by 1 person

  13. mitchteemley says:

    Reblogged this on Mitch Teemley and commented:

    Three years ago, I wrote and directed my first feature film (due to be released this year). I did a few things right, and a lot of things wrong. Here’s what I learned from the experience…


  14. A good lesson for any walk in life! Good luck!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. lynnabbott says:

    I love the mixed metaphor! And this is great wisdom for anyone who leads a project! Thank you for sharing your life so authentically with all of us, Mitch! I so appreciate and admire you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. You know, we’ve all eaten our share of the pie, just perhaps in different venues. Those suggestions in general work in every area when we are leading others. So glad the Lord is gracious enough to give us correction so we can learn and grow. I love this post…so relatable!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thanks for the recipe. Hope you don’t mind if I print it out and stick it to my laptop. 😉 As a director, I found some of my best ideas came from the actors and other participants.
    Now that I’m writing books, I need to find critics who will be honest (Where did I start coming off as so fragile that people are afraid to “hurt my feelings”?!) and yet constructive.(No call for downright rudeness.) I heard from one of my unofficial editors the other day. He loved what I was trying to say and had an excellent idea about how I could say it more effectively. I did a rewrite immediately, and he gave me the thumbs up. SO glad he spoke up!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. revruss1220 says:

    Thanks for that fascinating “behind the scenes” look at the magic of the movies. As I read, I was struck by the many unexpected similarities between producing a movie and pastoring a church. Pastors make many mistakes along the way, yet we usually find very few people willing to tell us about them, openly, lovingly, and honestly.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Eastern Europe (former Soviet Block) is begging for Christian movies. In fact, they are begging for Bibles in order to curb their high crime rate. Bibles are being placed in every school in the Ukraine (at the request of their president) and crime is going down.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Ray Stiles says:

    Mitch: It sounds like you are describing the Nostradamus Effect, when God intervene to make things right again from Revelation or the Apocalypse as was derived from the final book of the New Testament, but then again, too quote Sir Isaac Newton, “Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy. I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people”… https://www.history.com/shows/nostradamus-effect

    Liked by 1 person

  21. You made mistakes, but you were smart enough to recognize that and humble enough to ask for advice and then rely on your experts. Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Mitch.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. A.P. says:

    Wow – that’s a great recipe! And it does embody the humble approach — as opposed to the too-often-used (and often transparent) “cover-up.” Thanks for this. I’ll share on Twitter.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Thank you. Sharing your life like this is such a valuable experience, especially for those of us who know nothing about film making. It’s pretty cool what you have learned, and how applicable it is to many situations. Two thumbs up!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Love you sharing your learning experience. We can ALL learn everyday because we are ALL flawed in individual ways.(Others can tell us specifically where our flaws are even when we cannot detect them ourselves!)

    I am 70 years old. I say this only to emphasize that learning is a lifelong process. When we think we have arrived and know all the answers we are vulnerable to taking a BIG fall into an upcoming ditch that we have not yet encountered.

    The lesson you outlined, of course is adaptable in ANY field of endeavor. We have all dealt with micro-managers who don’t trust their professional underlings to perform properly. When it becomes a characteristic of a President (during Vietnam, I am thinking) not trusting your Generals to do their job and second guessing every tactical decision creates chaos and ultimately a far from perfect outcome. No ONE person can do it all. As the Beatles said, “We get by with a little help from our friends!”

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Thanks for sharing your lessons in humility. I never seem to run out of opportunities to eat humble pie.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. nancyehead says:

    There is always more to learn–and those around us are often the best teachers. Great post. God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Ann Coleman says:

    I think it was very wise of you to be willing to listen to the complaints and adjust your behavior accordingly. Admitting we don’t know it all and aren’t always right isn’t so easy for most people, but when we manage it, we grow so much! (Not to mention make life so much easier for those around us!)

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Ron Bouchard says:

    I’m going to have to save that recipe. I know it will come in handy one day!

    Liked by 1 person

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