Mutiny! And How to Avoid It: Managing Delicate Temperaments on Set

If you want to avoid mutiny on your set, you probably shouldn’t be reading this. That’s because the best way to avoid mutiny is to believe rebellion is impossible.

You want to walk, first into production meetings, and later onto set, the way Cesar Millan walks into a dog park. You want to project, at a subconscious level, an air of confidence. “No matter what the crisis, I can handle it.”

When I made my first feature (On The Inside, starring Nick Stahl and Olivia Wilde), I expected my Pittsburgh crew to be a collegial group of moviemakers, eagerly hanging on every word of my directorial wisdom. Instead, virtually every time I approached my crewmembers I felt like a new stepfather in a swimsuit. Their gazes would harden, and whether I was making a suggestion about schedule, protocol, or technique, they’d counter with the same conversation stopper: “That’s not the way we do it.”

You can’t fake authority. A lot of amateurs think they can, but they can’t. If you’re trying to look powerful, most people will see through your guise. Accordingly, any calculated, false demonstration of strength could hurt your cause. For the most part, posturing reads as rudeness—which is the weak man’s imitation of strength. And being rude can ignite a tinderbox of resentment. We instinctively know that people who deserve our confidence go about their business and don’t draw attention to their authority. That’s why puffing out your chest and raising your voice (before you’ve even been challenged), doesn’t broadcast leadership: It invites distrust.

Experience Trumps Everything

When you’ve already ridden a bull, you’ll naturally carry yourself like someone who’s ridden a bull. Especially if people are familiar with your body of work, they innately trust and respect that you’ve actually climbed on the back of the beast and survived. In all likelihood, when you set out to direct your first feature, it won’t be your first time calling “action.” But if it’s your second time calling “action,” you might find yourself in over your head. This is a Catch 22, of course. You can’t have experience without first getting experience. But the tough truth is, a movie set can be a very unfriendly place to test your leadership skills. If you want respect from your cast and crew, there’s nothing like experience. So, figure out a way to get some—even if you have to shoot a natural-light, stolen-location, short on your iPhone…

Check out the rest of this article from MovieMaker Magazine.