crew in action

On Wednesday I heard Simon Hartley speak about what makes a team world class at the national Academy For Chief Executives conference held this year at Allianz Park, home of The Saracens.  By studying the world’s elite sports teams, Simon has been able to identify six things that differentiate a world class team from the rest, and it struck me that some of the most successful films I’ve made have been those where those six characteristics applied to the film crew.

So what were the six characteristics?

  1. Shared purpose. When everyone is really engaged with the project and want to make the best film possible, the outcome can be amazing. When you have crew on set who are more worried about what time lunch is and what time we are going to wrap than making the best film possible, the final film always gets compromised to some degree.
  2. Shared standards. Standards can vary widely in the film industry, and you only get stunningly good films when each member of the crew pays really close attention to the detail of their area of responsibility. That applies at all levels: if the runner isn’t on time to pick up the actor from the station, the actor is late, make up is delayed and the shoot schedule is compromised, something ends up having to be cut from the shot list, and you’ve one less option in the edit.
  3. Total appreciation of each individual in the team. Film shoots are very hierarchical, but that is because time is money and if there are blurred lines around who is doing what and who reports to who a lot of time can be wasted. To be efficient, a crew needs to operate like a well oiled machine. When I started on the bottom rung of the film ladder doing runner work, if a more senior crew member showed appreciation when I handed them a coffee or ran off an errand for them it made me feel like a valued part of team and part of the shared purpose.
  4. Strength in diversity. As a creative discipline it is particularly true for filmmaking that embracing diversity in the team can lead to brilliant results. If everyone in the team sees the world from the same viewpoint you end up with bland, predictable films, but if you put together a crew with an eclectic mix of experiences and backgrounds that’s when you get something truly original. As Simon said, managing the diversity is the challenge, but I would always choose a diverse team because the films end up being more interesting because of it, and if our shared purpose is to make the best film possible, then you need the diversity.
  5. Brutal honesty. The dynamic between the producer and the director is a complex one. The best results I have seen are when they are brutally honest with each other and there is a healthy push and pull tension between them.
  6. Always be learning. By its very nature, every film is unique and so you are always trying out new stuff. Formulaic films made up of the same camera angles, lighting looks and scripting styles that you’ve used before are usually pretty dull.

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