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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

Sometimes You Have To Be An Ass

Throughout your career, you'll have to make tough decisions. Not all of those decisions will make everyone happy, and that's okay. Get used to the idea that you're not on the set to be everyone's friend. The reason you were hired is to create images. Your absolute loyalty is to the job and your reputation. If there's a person or situation endangering that ideal, don't compromise because you're worried about hurting someone's feelings.

With that said, don't be an ass just because you're the boss. It harbors a lot of ill will. It also tends to cause your crew to keep to themselves, which can be a handicap. Some of the best ideas that I've had on a shoot have come from my crew. The distance between you and the people who work for you should be just enough that a hierarchy exists, but not so much that ideas can't flow.

When I started directing commercials, the executive producer of the production company representing me wanted to take me to a shoot of one of his other directors. I had met the director once before when he showed me his reel. Between you and me, he didn't have an ounce of talent, which is probably why he had a ridiculous tantrum over a lukewarm caffe latte. Apparently, he wanted it hot. I saw some poor PA get reamed for the egregious offense of a few degrees of temperature.

Everyone else on the set had that weird, uncomfortable look that you get when you watch a movie and you're embarrassed for what's happening on the screen. Morale on the set plummeted. The crew and everyone else maintained their professionalism, but no one was offering any inspired suggestions. And no one was having any fun.

Conversely, some people who work for you will screw up. It's a reality of the gig. Ninety-five percent of the time, they don't mean to screw up—it's just inexperience. Don't lose your temper and make them feel like crap. Trust me, they're already beating themselves up worse than you ever could. I've found that the person who made the mistake is already halfway to a solution by the time the problem reaches your ears. Give them the opportunity to redeem themselves. They'll put a lot of passion and energy into it, and you'll command even more respect for addressing the problem with a cool head.

Finally, there are the ding-dongs—people who put themselves up for work on a photo set, but have no business being there. Fortunately, this business has a wonderful gossip network, and the bad apples get ferreted out rapidly. But if you find someone on your set who's beyond redemption, dispatch him or her immediately. Working on a photo crew is for those with a motivated work ethic. There's no room for anyone else.

I Want To Be Alone

Advertising photography depends on a convergence of different talents and personalities that exist to serve one unique vision that is yours. You can't micromanage a set and be creative. The two disciplines are mutually exclusive. The idea of employing and maintaining a military hierarchy on the set is to keep you insulated from the insignificant, mundane details and focused on the big decisions that are required for making a flawless image. That's what you're getting paid for.

Style Breeds Success

I found James Skotchdopole's style of direction to be fantastic. It has a brilliant balance of approachability and authority. But I'm not the only one who thinks so. His list of producing credits is huge. When I interviewed Skotchdopole for this story, he had just finished producing Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse. Billed as an old-fashioned double feature, it was really two separate movies in one. It had twice the number of cast and crew, twice the number of decisions—and one effective style of governance.

Louis Lesko is a fashion photographer based in Los Angeles. He's also the owner of Blinkbid Software, estimating and invoicing software for photographers.



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