Hi! I’m Kyla, teenage filmmaker & creator of the teen drama webseries To The Max. This column will serve both as a production diary and an ever-growing list of how I’ve found my way around every issue I’ve come across and every mistake I’ve made.
The thing with filmmaking is that while it can be a solo endeavor, it’s far better with people. And when you’re an indie filmmaker, those people are most likely going to be your people. As in, your friends! Your friends’ friends! Your classmates! Your coworkers! Your family! All of these people are probably wonderful people if they’re agreeing to help you with whatever passion project you’ve worked up, and YOU SHOULD BE ETERNALLY GRATEFUL.
Despite your eternal gratefulness towards these lovely people, you’re not going to see eye to eye with these lovely people all the time. Maybe they’ll misinterpret instructions or not know their lines or battle you on shooting from a different angle. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll let some of this stuff go. Which is fine in terms of picking and choosing your battles, but you can’t be a doormat. These people are helping you out, yes, but you should all be agreeing that you’re in charge of the project (if that is in fact the truth). You may feel inclined to constantly bend to the wants of other people on your set because they’re helping you out so much.
On the flip side, you may feel inclined to embrace your inner control freak hell-bent on world domination and go absolutely psycho on these people for small things. Pro tip: DON’T. It is your project, and yes you want to feel in control and you want to lead, but if someone misinterprets an instruction, it’s probably way easier and less time-consuming to re-explain it rather than yell and do it yourself. These people are doing you a favour by helping you out, and you’ll probably lose their help, if not their friendship, if you react like that.
So where do you draw the line? How do you balance on that tightrope between showrunner and friend? Honestly, who knows for sure, but here are some tips to finding that line and hopefully not falling off it.
TALK TO YOUR CAST AND CREW ABOUT IT
Sit them down. First table read, first meeting, talk it through as soon as possible. If someone can’t separate the friendship from the working relationship, then you need to pick one and divorce the other, because it’ll just get messy messy messy if you don’t come to an understanding on that dichotomy.
BE PROFESSIONAL ON SET
When these people are on your set, they’re your cast or your crew, not your buddies. That isn’t to say that you should leave your friendships at the door, but you need to prioritize what you need to get done first. Any casual chatter can be delayed until after the shoot is over. You should have a good repertoire with your cast and crew, but time on set is valuable and crucial and should not be wasted. In addition, being in control on set doesn’t mean you can be a jerk on set. Professionalism goes both ways.
BE FIRM BUT KIND
Be your favourite teacher. You’ve probably had a super chill teacher who let you do whatever and then didn’t actually teach you anything, and you’ve probably had a super strict teacher that wouldn’t let you work on anything but classwork in class. You need to become a mix of these two caricatures-- someone who is strict when needed, but not a control freak. Someone who is fair and caring, but not a pushover. I’ve flip-flopped between both ends of that spectrum, and let me tell you-- letting someone go from a webseries after contracts have been set in stone because you feel bad or freaking out at someone because they stress-cut their hair and you might have to do a reshoot somewhere where you don’t have the location anymore is not good leadership!
PUT ON YOUR LISTENING EARS
So it’s your project, and that’s great! That’s super cool! You have a vision for everything and a plan to run the show and you’re handling everything and that’s an awesome thing to do, my dude. But here’s the thing-- honestly, it’s not exactly yours anymore. And that is terrifying to think about, especially with how much time and money and emotion you’ve invested in this, but you do also need to think about how much time and money and emotion your cast and crew have invested this. If they have an idea, then it’s only fair to hear it out. Even if you’re dead-set on what you’re doing, it might give you inspiration for something else, or it honestly might just be better than what you’re doing. Or it could just add to the scene and make it better! No idea is a bad idea. Mostly.
The hilariously faux-clumsy Gina Montani first had the idea to do the above, and now has mostly talked me into doing a spin-off for her character!
HAVE STRATEGIES FOR ON-SET CONFLICTS
There’ll probably be some kind of big blowout argument on set at some point. Or maybe the tense aftermath of a big blowout argument. Or maybe someone’ll screw up and you’ll have to focus all your energy on not being petty, and then you’ll probably just end up being petty. No matter what the conflict is, whether it’s set-related or not, if it happens on your set you need to handle it. And here I direct you to How To Not Fight On Set by the incomparable Bri Castellini, because I learned all my tactics from her and without her guidance I would be an even more melodramatic disaster than I already am, which is saying something. If you’re like me and you have no time to film anything ever, another less-helpful tactic is literally just shutting down the argument and continuing it (or letting those involved continue it) when you’re done filming so you don’t waste time. That might derail the shoot a bit though, so like… do not recommend unless you’re desperate.
At the end of the day, you just need to remember that the people you are working with are kindly devoting their time for probably no pay, and they are also human people who feel emotions and make mistakes! It’s like the old ancient proverb: “Everybody makes mistakes, everybody has those days, everybody knows what-- what I’m talking ‘bout, everybody gets that way.”
Treating people as equals and treating them well does not mean you lose your power or your control. It can be scary to be flexible with other people’s ideas and it can be scary to rightfully tell someone they should have their lines memorized. To me, filmmaking, collaboration, and leadership is all about trusting your gut. Have no fear and make wise choices. Shape your power like a helping hand instead of a smoking gun. Believe in yourself, and believe in your cast and crew.