The Id, the Egos, and a Filmmaker’s Fortune Cookie

Ah, filmmaking. The art of making films…and navigating egos! So how does one avoid being crushed by the large egos while dodging the pitfalls of hubris? It all starts with attitude and a bit of fortune cookie advice. This article will reveal simple truths which will help you work and continue working in the film industry.

Ok, real-talk time. It is likely that at least once in your career you’ll have above-the-line crew who are, rude, to say the least. Let’s break down some potential pressures they’re struggling under. Studios are a business – an oversimplification, but follow my logic. Studios want a film to be a good investment and reflect well on their brand. That pressure is then placed by the studio onto above-the-line crew like the producers or director. Studios say to themselves, “this individual could either build up or tank this project.” Then they let key crew know that. For smaller indie projects operating sans indie studio, that pressure can originate from responsibility to sponsors or a hole in the producer’s own pocket.

Still from Amazon’s “The Last Tycoon” (2016)

Now pressures aren’t always that high on all projects. Some projects prioritize good set culture, and there are always some *ahem* jerks out there. Having gone through a lot of pressure in various above-the-line positions myself, I know how hard it can with no-sleep-a-night to be patient with an inexperienced, below-the-line crew member who thinks they know the project better. That said, I make the effort not to be short to green crew. It’s the decent thing to do. So keep in mind to be patient with those you work under. They might not only be putting their heart into a project, but also their health, topped off with the cherry of having their necks on the line. If they fail, they don’t necessarily work again. Below-the-line crew will be picked up after failed projects (if they behaved competently).

Regardless of what pressures your “bosses” may be under, there is one very simple industry secret that will guarantee work – do your job. Do it well, do it above expectation, and do it quietly and professionally – without complaining. The walls always have ears (if you suddenly find you’re not being hired, that might be why). Be a problem-solver. And believe me, above-the-line positions and even studios notice when someone exceeds expectations. Not only does it make their life easier and potentially turn their mood around (making your life easier), but they are happy to recommend you for future projects. I have a friend (who shall remain nameless) who worked harder as an unpaid intern with less attitude than anyone else for a notable auteur director (who will also remain nameless). He was then noticed by said director and promoted in the studio because of his going above and beyond expectations.

Still from “Man with a Movie Camera” (1929)

Now onto marketing yourself. It’s actually so much more than posting a picture of yourself with a camera. If you are so busy working, honing your skills, and being good at your job that you lack time to market yourself, that is the best kind of networking. It doesn’t have to be big projects that you’re working on. I’ve noticed that inexperienced filmmakers who put things like “writer, director, producer, editor, actor, dancer, painter of Rembrandts and sun-tamer,” on their business cards are openly laughed at as soon as they walk from a posse of experienced filmmakers. It says that they’re not really honing in on one or two positions and becoming good at anything. It also says that they’re too busy talking themselves up and handing out business cards to really listen to what experienced filmmakers are working on or what opportunities they might need help with. Believe me, experienced filmmakers have dealt with hundreds of egotistical or incompetent small fries to get to where they are and aren’t about to work with more of the same.

So shelve the ego. Become a lowly worm. Learn. While you have to be able to talk about your abilities and experiences, there is a balance. Keep things positive about past projects (the walls have ears), listen first, and talk second (if at all). Do your job above average. Don’t cause drama. Approach every job with a problem-solving attitude because no two projects are ever the same. And when you finally become that feature director, producer, or studio exec, remember where you came from. Be patient with that overly enthusiastic PA you once were, treat people with respect, and help change the industry culture for the better.

Now go out and make good films/tv shows/content. Cheers, happy filmmaking!

Still from “A Christmas Carol” (1938)

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