July 3, 2013

Directing Tips from Film Consultant Seth Hymes: Leadership Doesn't End When Cameras Stop Rolling

Director's Chair

If you're a director gearing up to go into production on a film, you're probably fine-tuning the script, selecting your crew, and carefully drawing up a shot list. As a director, it's easy to let your mind become fully centered on your artistic vision for your project, but LA-based film consultant Seth Hymes reminds us not to forget the managerial side of your directorial responsibilities.

This is a guest post by Seth Hymes.

Being a director means managing groups of real people. This can come as a rude awakening to many new directors after spending months in the imaginary world of screenplays, fictional characters, and shot lists. Supervisors at Red Lobster get more management training than the average independent filmmaker.

Your crew is like a small family during production. A big part of your job as director is to make sure that everybody gets along. Like it or not, you are the Daddy or Mommy of the set, and you need to adapt a leadership mindset in order to have success. Many an indie production has been torpedoed not by a lack of money or a decent script, but by on-set drama between personalities and the director’s inability to effectively handle these conflicts or situations.

Basic Personality Awareness

It all starts when putting together the crew. You have to get very real about people’s personalities and how they interact with other people. A colleague of mine recently shot a short comedy project here in LA. He wanted to make sure his project looked good and therefore only interviewed DPs with their own RED packages and support equipment. I met his DP and instantly knew this guy was a bad fit.

The gentleman had a lot of impressive equipment and a couple of good credits, but he also had an arrogant attitude. Arrogance doesn’t show up on a resume or when watching a reel. It’s something you have to learn to detect and take seriously. I could feel it the moment I met the guy. He didn’t really make eye contact -- he was restrained. He just exuded the attitude of, “I’m better than you.”

Sure enough, the guy showed up 2 hours late for a production meeting only a couple of days before shooting with the entire crew waited on him. When my colleague finally fired him, this individual tried billing him $500 for “location scouting”, since he had stopped off at a couple of places to see if they would be a suitable fit for the shoot.

Thankfully, my friend hired a new DP whom I could instantly tell was a team player. He was open, smiled easily, and enthusiastically fired ideas back and forth with my colleague. Their shoot was incredibly tight, blazing through 28 pages in 4 days. I shudder to think of how it would have gone if he had stuck with that first DP. It’s not always possible to know how a person will respond under the stress of a shoot, but you can tell a lot about a member of your crew if you are sensitive to the attitude they convey when interacting with other people.

At the highest level in Hollywood, it’s known that certain directors or DPs are arrogant and even difficult to work with, but these are people who have successfully delivered million dollar projects to the market. No matter what “talent” an individual may bring to a project on the indie level, it’s never worth it if that person is difficult to work with. You are better off with a group of people who are enthusiastic and have a positive attitude, even if they have less experience.

Be Aware of The Demands You Will Be Placing on People

A friend of mine works as a gaffer on a popular CBS crime show, and for years he has enjoyed an ideal work schedule. It’s practically a 9 to 5 job shooting in controlled environments with a healthy paycheck. He likes his work and rarely has anything bad to say about it, even when he has a very challenging day.

That’s a marked contrast to many independent film productions. As director, you will more than likely be asking your cast and crew to go above and beyond in some capacity. That can mean working for deferred or lower pay or wearing multiple hats.  Even if everyone is getting paid well, working a 12 to 14 hour day is physically and mentally exhausting no matter how “hardcore” a person may be.

To be an effective leader you need to be aware of the strains you will be placing on your team and how to soften that strain in their experience. You want people who are going to be driven and passionate about your project, but you don’t want to suck them dry. Quite often, simply maintaining an upbeat attitude and acknowledging your team for doing a great job is half the battle. Take each person aside and personally thank them for participating in your project. You want people leaving your production ready to work with you again, not relieved the shoot is over.

Preparation, Communication, and Confidence

An actor friend of mine has an all too common story of his experience on an indie film set. He was a lead in the movie, but he said it would take 6 hours from the time he arrived on set to get a shot off. When they did, the DP and director weren’t on the same page, and the crew began to say the director didn’t know what he was doing. They lost confidence in him, and the entire shoot went downhill.

You’ve probably crewed on productions where people were unhappy with how it was run. Use that to your advantage and learn from those situations. The pressure is on you to inspire confidence in your cast and crew. Do them the service of pre-producing the heck out of your project.

The good news is that you have all the time you need before a project is shot to make sure things will be running well. You need to have virtual telepathy with your DP and your AD and have a vision of how each day is going to go. Be direct and honest. Plan things down to the smallest detail. If you wait until the day of the shoot to figure out shots or set dressing, you will slow things down and waste people’s time. People will begin to talk. If you show up prepared and focused, and allow your crew to support you, then people will trust you and follow you.

The Power of Good Food

If your crew consists of recent film school grads or absolute beginners, then ordering out sandwiches and pizza every day should be fine. But if you are working with professionals at any level, you need to feed them better than that.

You know the deep hunger after working hard on set for those first few hours. If you feed your crew bad food, it’s literally a recipe for disaster. Even basic catering at $10 a head helps keep crew morale up and also shows that you care about them and appreciate the time and energy they are putting in to help realize your vision. One my friend’s shoot he served kabobs, rice, and grilled vegetables. I can only imagine how the 12 hour day would have gone if people were eating pizza 4 days in a row.

I once produced a project where I had 2 DPs working in tandem on deferred pay. They were doing me a great favor, shooting in the rain at a baseball stadium as the weather changed to Autumn. Even though I was low on money, I made sure to order food from a popular local pub that I knew served great burgers and sandwiches. There’s also something great about ordering from a restaurant and giving the crew a choice of what to eat. It would have been an insult to give these guys cheap food after they’d helped me out so much. It was an incredibly satisfying meal for everyone, even if the pay wasn’t fully up to par.

Final Thoughts

The underlying message here is to be thoughtful and aware of your cast and crew. Directing means being consumed with a vision of your story, your shots, and your actors' performances. Paying special attention to the people who are going to help you realize that vision will increase the quality of your production tenfold.


Seth HymesSeth Hymes is a Film Consultant living in Los Angeles. He is the founder of filmschoolsecrets.com and also runs a free biweekly hour-long webinar on Starting a Directing Career at filmschoolsolution.com.

Your Comment

17 Comments

Great post!!!!

July 3, 2013

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Rob

I just wanted to say how helpful your thoughts have been. I was on a set last week where we had the same issues with people loosing confidence in our director because he kept sneaking off to have a smoke break. every time he disappeared and we were all left waiting, what were we talking about, none other but his incompetence.
I have a series of shots coming up of my own and the empathy/experience of having been in their positions and what if feels like is something I'm taking to heart because I want to well by them for helping me bring this script to life.
If you have anything that breaks down from script to storyboard and shot-list I would love to check it out.

July 3, 2013

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Great post. It's hard to think about directing without honoring the relationships you have with the cast and crew, but it happens a lot more than it should on productions. I liked that you stated how important personality is when selecting collaborators. My motto is "personality first," and by following through on that I've been able to build teams who are able to accomplish a tremendous amount of work in a day.

I also LOVE that you mentioned having good food on set. If you're sitting on a computer all day you can get by without eating much, but 12+ hours on set requires good nutrition! The final product will surely suffer without it.

I'd also like to add that I try to schedule group gatherings so production personnel can all meet before we shoot. Sure there's rehearsals and tech meetings, but having a chance to talk in a casual environment is really nice. BBQ outings are great for summertime! The stronger the connections are within the cast/crew the more you'll be able to accomplish during production.

July 3, 2013

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I just directed my first feature in February, 105 pages in 15 days. It was brutal and the fact we got through it in one piece is completely down to the best set atmosphere I've ever experienced. Great first, great dop and just an awesome crew. We had some really tough days but everyone kept hustling for each other and we'd have been screwed we're that not the case. This is one of one things were experience really does matter.

Trailer just came out http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=-1pQScWzN_U&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D-1...

July 3, 2013

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watched the trailer.. amazing

July 3, 2013

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Ira

Dude that was pretty amazing. If you're ever in NYC first pint's on me. Do I recognize the blonde lead from MI-5?

July 4, 2013

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Haha, yes indeed, Miranda's really great to work with, proper pro. Post's going to be a long old road for us. No money is fine but you pay in time. So... but been talking to Ryan and there should be more info about the project coming on the site before too long. I've written a few articles for NFS in the past...

thanks for the love!

July 4, 2013

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Well if there's anything you need a hand with in post I'd be happy to help with something that looks this cool.

July 6, 2013

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Looking forward to this. Dig the concept.

July 5, 2013

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TCJ

Being a director is not easy. Couple of things Seth mentioned are really gems: most directors should take note on. I'm currently shooting my first feature film, with 10 actors and 8 crews. They all working voluntarily. 86 page, shoot during weekends, only 1 or 2 scenes a day. The only thing i can add is a director should be honest to your talents and crew. In a way they will admire your decision and listen's to you carefully. Also listening to their inputs also creates a healthy relationship between you and your team. Good day mates :)

July 3, 2013

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Ira

Great article! I have to agree on all of those points, and maybe even go further to suggest that if directors find these areas daunting, then to hire a really good 1st AD who they can trust to help rally the troops if needs be. I also have to absolutely agree on the food thing. I just finished work on a set where we were all fed really well. The crew's mood and attitude to their work was so much better after some down time and a good meal, just after the pre-lunch slump where our energy dipped.

July 5, 2013

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Natasha W

Pretty useful article I guess, but I was wondering if we could see some of Seth Hymes work. I tried to google and IMDB him and nothing came up. Advice is good and all, but I would love some more creditability to the writer! All I could find were some DVDs he sells.

Also, regarding the location scout fee...it is standard in the working film industry to pay your crew members to take time out of their day to go scout locations. Union scale for a DP is around 900/day for 10 hours, so if we was charging close to scale and spent half a day scouting, that isn't that ridiculous at all.

July 6, 2013

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josh

Hi Josh,

Thanks for the comment. You are right, on a fully budgeted union production a scouting fee would be completely normal. This was a non union low budget passion project. What's ironic is that I've dealt with highly accomplished music video directors who have shot for some of the major talent, and they are typically very down to earth and understanding about low budget passion projects. When the director is up front about the constraints of the project, as this one was, and then a crew member proceeds to act as if it's a fully funded union shoot and acts arrogant and entitled, that's when there is a problem.

I've advised thousands of filmmakers in the past few years, and I don't have a listing on imdb. Not sure how that is relevant; I think a better gauge of credibility is to read what I actually wrote and see if it makes sense, which it does, as you can tell by the many positive responses.

July 14, 2013

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seth,

the reason a proven track record of experience and success should be a sign of credibility is because it is, in fact, a proven track record of experience and success. it's comforting to know when receiving counsel that the consultant has "been there, done that". it instills confidence and comfort. would i ask someone to counsel me on car mechanics if they'd only read instruction manuals? not likely.

while the advice you've offered is incredibly useful, i think josh just wants the confidence in knowing it comes from a source that is experienced in the industry first hand. i know you feel no need to validate yourself, but perhaps if you shared some links to projects you've consulted on, it would ease josh's mind a little.

thank you for this article. these are points everyone in the business should take to heart.

July 14, 2013

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I would disagree. You are selling "how to kickstart your career as director" and you don't have a single credit or film on display. Anyone can call themselves anything and in this industry generally do, but work speaks for itself. Show us your work.

September 18, 2013

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Lucian

I love directing a film but I don't know where to start from let anybody help on how to become a good film director

October 2, 2013

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Adeyinka Gbenga

I have a good DP and I was wondering how to handle the crews and actors. Having been a supervisor on a drilling rig I can tell some pretty wild stories. The food is always important where ever you work. I really enjoyed the tips and agreed with it. Mike Edwards Author GHOST RIG

December 30, 2013

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Michael L Edwards