When I was a young filmmaker and before there were web series and vlogs and all manner of content types we have today, I could often be heard saying things like “I can’t make it today, I have a shoot”. I’d say it just loud enough for other people to hear. I might be seen on set throwing my opinion around like a monkey throwing his poop. Or, I’d take self-righteous stances on ‘how things should be done’. I didn’t have many credits. I hadn’t sold anything of note and what little success I had, I wielded like I had just won an f’ing Oscar. That, my friends, made me a glory-seeking asshole.
There is a famous quote by Constantin Stanislavski, the Russian acting teacher and dramatist that can take full credit for developing the modern day acting style we see in today’s film and television (look him up, he’s a badass). The quote goes something like this: “Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art”.
I’ve followed this ever since the day someone told me to stop being a big shot and start doing the work. It’s basically saying, put your focus on the work, do it quietly and forget the idea of getting people to take notice of how cool you are.
The best creators I know are humble, I mean truly humble. I never hear them talking about how successful they are, how much they get paid, what well-known people they work with. They just quietly and patiently do the work and because of that, their work stands on its own. If they get all the credit, great. But if they don’t, that’s okay too. They move on to the next job with ease.
I have a simple guideline I follow: find the loudest person on set, the one throwing every manner of opinion around, the one that’s critical without being constructive, the one that’s saying how awesome their work is and that’s the person that is most afraid. That’s the person who knows the least and is simply acting out to fill the holes called ego, fear and insecurity.
Now, I discovered early how to work with a group, but I had to learn. Someone had to be brave enough to tell me I was in danger of being a distraction to what was truly important; the work. So, I say this because glory-seekers can literally destroy a project. They can sap the energy from a production in minutes.
PROFILE OF THE GLORY-SEEKING EGO-MANIAC:
They are afraid of being found out. They hate not being seen as the smartest person in the room.
They have made the process about themselves and believe everyone is there because of them.
They don’t believe others have an internal emotional life so they fail to take it into consideration. In other words, they lack empathy.
They NEED outside validation/attention whether in the form of a compliment or derision in order to ‘validate’ their importance.
They are in pain (this is a biggy)
There is always one on set. Could be the person who brought the money, could be a person who suddenly found themselves with the title ‘producer’ (this is a frequent one) or could be the director. It’s usually always someone in a position of power. So how do you, as a producer, director or creator, deal with that person and keep the positive energy and forward motion going on set? How do you maintain leadership in the face of the more destructive forces?
HOW TO HANDLE THE GLORY-SEEKING EGO-MANIAC:
First, know they are afraid. Knowing this puts their unhinged emotions into perspective for you as the person on set who has a real and important task to accomplish.
Validate them- let them know you hear them. Thank them for their input. Say something like “That’s a great point and I understand your frustration. I can assure you that everyone here is working on the problem. We’ll get it taken care of”. They have nowhere else to go after that.
If it persists, draw clear boundaries. Yes, stand up to them. Be kind and calm but firm. They rarely have this happen, so they often back down.
If it continues further, and this takes real guts, be willing to walk. Yes, be willing to shut the whole thing down, lose your job and move on to a project with a healthier atmosphere. I’ve had to do this only a handful of times in my 22-year career, but every time, they blinked. You have to realize that they believe everyone is here because of them, so if the project folds they are more afraid of looking the fool than keeping the train rolling.
Now, this isn’t to say that you don’t have to eat shit every now and then and just suck it up, but if it gets bad enough, leaders need to lead and usually when it’s least convenient. The truth is though, my career suffered more when I didn’t stand up to the distraction. Why, because the work suffered and that, in the end, is all the people paying the bills care about. But whenever I’ve drawn clear, rational boundaries, I quickly gained the reputation as someone who could be counted on to deliver the project in an orderly and effective manner. Today, people who work with me, even the people who hire me, know I run a calm and productive set, so I rarely see this kind of behavior anymore. But if you do come across this, it’s time to lead. Your career will thank you for it.