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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Military Style - Order On The Set

Keeping order on the set takes a certain level of discipline for you and your army of talent and helpers

Military StyleHe sat behind a large 35mm movie camera with his eye glued to the eyepiece and a cloud of cigar smoke floating above his worn red baseball cap. There were dozens of other people on the set—extras, crew members, cops—all milling about a respectful distance from the man with the cigar who kept popping his head up from behind the camera to look at the cordoned-off street of downtown Los Angeles in front of him.

Director Tony Scott took the cigar out of his mouth as the First Assistant Director (First AD) James Skotchdopole approached him. They had a brief conversation and then Skotchdopole walked toward the milling masses and started giving instructions. Everyone snapped to his or her job, and the setting went from casual chaos to a tightly choreographed routine.

The movie was Enemy of the State with Will Smith. I was there in a minor capacity to shoot photos that were to be used as props in the movie. As the day unfolded, I watched Skotchdopole deftly manage the location, droves of people, me and about a thousand other elements crucial to the shooting of the scene. It was evident that the set was moving with military precision under his leadership.

The military-style hierarchy translated into an effective, well-run set. It had to. There were too many elements involved in the shot for it to work any other way. As friendly and approachable as Skotchdopole was (and is), there was always a buffer of respect between him and the rest of the crew. He had found a balance of congeniality and command—attributes that my photography sets could benefit from.

Let Me Give That A Try

Inspired and emboldened by James Skotchdopole's style, I approached my next shoot with the intention of running it the same way—just distant enough to be respected, but still personable.

I walked onto the set the day of the shoot with a hint of attitude, anticipating it would garner me the respect I was seeking. What I got was a pat on the ass from the makeup artist, a first assistant who was on the edge of an emotional breakdown because his girlfriend was dumping him, and a recounting of the “shoot I just did in South Beach” from the model that was so long-winded it almost put us behind schedule. Try as I might to move the production forward more quickly, I could see I was only having a minimal effect with my pleadings. It became obvious that there was a lot more to Skotchdopole's leadership style than copping a little attitude.

Wanna Talk About It?

I confess, I've never been much of a dictator, probably because I started working young (19 years old) in an industry full of enormous personalities. When I started, I didn't possess the talent that granted the aristocratic right of the tantrum. So I did the opposite and tried to be everyone's friend. This actually served me well while I was learning the ropes.

But as my career started to evolve into better, more complicated, higher-paying jobs, I began to notice that my sets were becoming increasingly disorganized. There was also this bizarre, constant undercurrent of drama. The drama was effectively masked from the client, but I was starting to feel like Dr. Phil with a camera—minor conflict resolutions, tirelessly understanding when crew members showed up late mumbling something of “my baby, my sweetie, my honey.” It was exhausting and felt unprofessional. If my career was to continue on a successful path, I had to change some things about how I ran my set.


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