Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pyschological Warfare

A popular past time for movie crews is to sit around some drinks and retell stories from the set.  And it's always more interesting a story to talk about the things that went wrong, and the more horribly wrong the better.  It would be a pretty boring story to talk about this one movie set, it was so smooth, that the schedule was never changed.  Eeeewwwww.

In my seminars and in teaching at UTA this semester, I talk about the impact a little knowledge of psychology can have for a producer or a director.  Every single person is flawed.  You have dysfunctions.  I have dysfunctions.  So when you group thirty or fifty people together to work on making a singular piece of art in storytelling, sometimes it can get downright hairy.

I've heard from my friends that have worked nightmare productions.  Maybe the producer was a crook.  Maybe the director was totally inept.  Maybe the lead actor was a prima donna.  Yeah, I know, what are the odds.

But I can only talk from my own personal experiences.  And I'll be sharing some hard core ones at the Directing Workshop coming up on May 15.  More info, registration here.  But here's something I learned from the set.

I was a big-eyed, newbie director.  The recognizable name actor was due in at the airport.  Instead of sending a PA to pick him up, I thought it'd be awesome to do it myself.  This sent a message to this Actor.  We got in my vehicle and I took the Actor to his hotel.  It was one of the nicest in town.  We had gotten a decent deal.  Bellhop comes over to the car and Actor looks around and asks "Does it have a swimming pool?"  I ask the bellhop who shakes his head no.

So off we went.  I immediately called the UPM to start recon on a hotel with swimming pool that could stay in our budget.  And I continued the trek with Actor in my car.  We drove and drove... stopping at hotel after hotel.  Finally we found one, but Actor took one look at the pool and just shook his head to me.  Eventually we got real lucky and found an extended stay type place that had just opened.  But this was just the start.

While driving, I would, like a naive, star-struck intern, would ask him the stupid questions like "What's so-and-so like?"  This guy never had anything nice to say about anyone.  He put them down viciously at every opportunity.  If I knew then what I know now, this would tell me a lot about this person.  Which is they have such low self-esteem, that to feel better, they have to step on others.  If I had that knowledge, I could have reacted differently to accomplish the goal of telling the story of that movie.

But I didn't and so problems kept cropping up on the set.  It was until maybe two-thirds through the shooting that a cathartic event happended.   The Actor was frustrated at something.  And he threw an object in rage.  It accidentally hit me.  And I was angry.  I got in his face and told him that in spite of everything, I expect him to act professionally.  Suddenly, he was a new person.

I realize that he was a child who lacked discipline and many children with lax parents will act out, just trying to find the boundaries.  Boundaries offer security.  Lack of boundaries leads to insecurity.  And this Actor needed security.  Later he even came up to me and said I was finally being a Director.

Psychology can be a very good tool to have in a Director's tool box.

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