I just returned from the South by Soutwest Music, Film, and Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas where I spent the week as a producer for a movie that followed the festival. Allthough I have worked in many facets of film production before, this was the first time that I actually got a producer credit. I’ve come a long way since my days as a PA (read how here!).
I learned a lot of lessons from my intense experience in charge of a film production crew that can easily translate to any leadership position. A producer is basically the CEO on a movie set, which is a microcosm of the business environment as a whole.
The nature of the film industry is short, intense bursts of activity where people are thrown together for weeks at a time and told to produce a movie. Unlike the traditional business environment, where people have years to develop systems, relationships, and communication channels; movie sets have lifespans of only a few weeks or months in which people are forced to be efficient immediately.
It’s funny, by the time I really got the hang of it and my team was hitting on all cylindars, the movie was over! Oh, well. At least I can take the knowledge I learned and apply it to my next production job.
In the mean time, you can benefit from my experience. Here are the top five things I learned as a first-time movie producer:
1. Be Decisive
On a movie set, or any organization, nothing is worse than indecision. The inability of a leader to make up his mind wastes everyone’s time and patience. If the team is getting mixed signals from their leadership on what their mission is, they start to doubt the ability of the leaders.
When you are in a leadership role, it is often better to make an imperfect decision than no decision at all. Don’t let yourself suffer from analysis paralysis trying to make perfect decisions all the time. Use sound judgement and intuition to make decisions quickly.
2. Lead by Example
The best leaders are those who are willing to get in the trenches.
Your team is much more likely to respect your decisions if you are the first one to pick up some equipment and start hauling it to the next site. Too often, leaders get comfortable thinking that their time is best spent deligating. Don’t get stuck barking orders from the comfort of your director’s chair.
3. Get to Know Your Team
There is a natural division between leaders and labor. It has always existed and happens for a reason. In any situation, when a laborer is promoted to a position of leadership, her relationship with her co-workers changes. While she used to hang out and socialize with the other laborers, there is now an imaginary wall between them.
As the leader of any group, you have to walk a fine line between boss and friend. As their boss, you have to be able to create order and discipline within the group in order to get anything done. At the same time, if your team dislikes you, they will be working against you when you turn your back.
It’s important to get to get to know your team so that they feel comfortable communicating with you and trusting your judgement. Take the time to ask questions and shut your mouth. The way to get to know someone is to let them talk.
4. Look Like You Know What You’re Doing
Half of being a leader is acting. The team looks to you to decide how they should feel. If you look like you don’t know what you’re doing, they’ll start to get nervous, and chaos will ensue.
Even if you don’t know what is going on, you have to act as if you do while you immediately figure it out. Don’t be dishonest about it; just keep your cool and think quickly. Project confidence and control of the situation.
5. Whatever You Do, Don’t Panic!
This advice from my Grandpa came in handy on the movie set. Film sets are naturally chaotic because so much is trying to be done in so little time. Naturally, some people will panic. As a producer, or any leader, you can’t!
In the emotion of the moment when everything seems to be falling apart, it’s easy to get caught up and break down in self-pity. Giving in to panic doesn’t solve anything. The only way to get yourself out of a fix is to remain calm and use your head. Panic distorts your judgement and paralyzes your brain.
Furthermore, if your team sees you losing control, they’ll lose control. Project calmness at all times.