Harnessing the Hydra: How to Be a Better Collaborator, by Southbound Director Roxanne Benjamin

Good collaboration happens when a film’s creative heads move in unison.

We hear over and over that film is a collaborative art form. At the same time, we place the creative onus upon the director as auteur, the primary vision behind the machine, steering the ship. What does that contradiction mean for how we work?

I’ve worked as a producer, director, writer and even actor on two different anthology series—V/H/S and this winter’s Southbound—with a sum total of 22 directors, 23 writers and a whopping 44 producers between them. (And that’s not even counting V/H/S: Viral, which I was peripherally involved in.) How do you create one cohesive vision with that many voices, all equally a part of the creative process, and all with their own individual visions at stake to protect? In a series of mixed metaphors, allow me to tell you the most important lessons I’ve learned about creative collaboration from my time as an anthology moviemaker.

1. Pick Your Team With Care

Working with people whose visions you trust to complement yours is a big key to success. TheV/H/S and Southbound teams challenged each other constantly to explain why we wanted something a certain way or how a decision would affect the overall film. We wouldn’t have been able to do that if we didn’t already have a common ground in terms of creative tastes or a respect for each other’s work.

“It’s more important to work with people whom you’re fans of than it is to work with people you’re friends with,” says Simon Barrett, writer of You’re Next and The Guest, and a V/H/S/2 director. “You might be working with the nicest, best communicator on the planet, but if their work doesn’t induce excitement and respect, the collaboration will be a disaster. [Frequent collaborator] Adam Wingard and I started out as fans of the films the other person was making. We then discovered that we got along, but that ‘Hey, you’re good at this; let’s work together’ spark is what makes us good collaborators, even when I’m infuriating Adam by singing ‘Hey Ya’ while he’s editing.”

Articulating the whys and hows externally helps you focus those ideas and cement them internally, as well. You should be able to answer those questions and explain what your vision is—the better you do that, the closer the final film will be to what you set out to make.

There’s also less pressure knowing you’re not holding up the whole feature alone—you can bounce ideas off of each other to come up with something even better than you could alone. Debating notes in a group always led us either to a new, better solution or to a better understanding of the choices we made…

Read the rest of this article from MovieMaker Magazine.