When things get rough, when problems arise, and people get tired, when you’re going through thirteen-hour days, shooting overnights, messing up people’s sleep schedules, and keeping an air-tight ship – cast and crew will get anxious, tired, and grumpy. So the one thing I always try to do now is to keep my people happy. Here are some tips I picked up along the way:
1. Keep it Light
Kevin Smith buys hamburgers for his crew in between meals; he gives his cast members treats and knick-knacks and various souvenirs throughout the day, fun things to keep the atmosphere light – these aren’t very expensive but can be lifesavers when you’re shooting for a long period of time. Quentin Tarantino plays music on set and keeps his cast and crew members from falling asleep by taking pictures of sleeping team members with a purple dildo called “Big Jerry.” He then hangs those pictures on a big wall that travels with the production wherever it goes; some directors play cards, throw a football, play basketball, and find other ways of keeping the atmosphere light during downtime. When I made my first feature film Pickings, I didn’t really know that it was something that I was supposed to do, but I ended up doing some of it by default. We celebrated the end of the day by having a drink; we went to the beach, played pool, and overall had a good time during downtime. Later on, I learned that I was really saved by my lead actors – who were all a big source of positivity and, unbeknownst to me, helped keep people from giving into despair when things got really rough.
My cinematographer used to go to Dunkin Donuts every morning to pick up treats for his crew before the craft services table was set up in the morning, and my cast and I used to play the Mafia party game during the course of shooting. We had some really high highs and some really low lows – but at the end of the day, we pulled through it, and I couldn’t have done it without my team. I realize that not every shoot is going to be that hard, or that easy, and that there’s always potential for morale to drop and for people to get discouraged, but I am smarter, I am better, and I am more experienced, and now – whenever I’m on set – I always take a proactive role to keep my cast and crew in a good mood!
2. Get to Know Your Crew
I’m of the belief that when you have to spend a long period of time with someone, it had better be someone you like. And so, when we started hiring crew for the making of Pickings, my cinematographer and I invited them all to have a drink at a local bar. That night, we all bonded and grew to really like each other. I did the same and more with my cast, and that’s something that I plan on doing on every feature I work on. Filmmaking is a collaborative effort, and if you get to know and grow to like the people you work with, that alone can eliminate lots of drama, headaches, and bad blood – when everybody loves everybody, making movies becomes a pleasure. Crew people are a breed that very much follows the “bro” mentality, and many of them respond very well to confidence. Many of them want to eventually do what you’re doing now, so keep that in mind when you’re on set – show confidence (fake it if you have to), have fun, and treat everyone with respect, and your crew will love you. Respect is the name of the game and getting to know your crew makes that game easier to win.
3. Remember, No One Tells You Anything
One of the most important things I learned about people management on the set of my film was that people generally are afraid of “bothering” the director/producer when small problems arise; people’s frustrations are kept to themselves and are “whispered” among the team because no one wants to bother the filmmaker. People are afraid of being “that person,” the person who complains, so they keep their problems quiet until they eventually implode and become big. This problem exists in every hierarchy, and you’d better keep an eye out for it and address it early on, especially if you’re heading into a long shoot with a group of people you don’t know personally. Encouraging people to bring their questions and problems to you personally will help alleviate tension and improve the efficiency with which problems are resolved on set.