Know yourself, your counterpart and be like water

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I have heard that making motion pictures can be a lot like waging war.  Now, I have never actually been to war and I am certainly not trying to equate filmmaking to a life and death situation like combat.  However, I find there are some similarities between the two processes.  They are both typically administered with limited time and resources and they both involve the precise coordination of many people, usually in the face of great resistance, to lead to victory.

On a recent project I found this to be all too true.  I was up to my eyeballs in the proverbial, “shit”, concentrating on creating a great script, finding the right location, casting the right actors and creating a shooting schedule.  Simply, I was producing and directing what would ultimately be an award winning project, all in the face of great resistance or as they say in combat, ”under fire”.  That may be a problem for some, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love pressure situations; I tend to thrive in them.  However, in this case I made the mistake of not getting to know my counterpart in this endeavor and as result increased the resistance to my goals and subsequently, the cost of the endeavor.

Let me be the first to say that I am no expert in the study of the Art of War. I am looking back on the mistakes of this specific project and vowing never to make them again!  To help me with this I have found anther two of Sun Tzu’s lessons that would have helped me make a difference.  This project was a unique experience where I had some great victories and ultimately brought home the prize, but not without unneeded cost.  The main reason for the cost, I didn’t know and understand completely the forces that were working against me.  I also didn’t realize that I was one of those forces.

One of the most important principles according to Sun Tzu is to know yourself and know who you are engaged with. He says:

“Knowing the other and knowing oneself,

In one hundred battles no danger.

Not knowing the other and knowing oneself,

One victory for one loss

Not knowing the other and not knowing oneself,

In every battle certain defeat.”

So, the “Big Gig” was moving along, as were several other productions, forcing me to play many roles and deal with lots of pressure.  As I stated earlier, I don’t have a problem with this, in fact, I prefer it.  No, the issue I was having at that moment was, well… hubris or ego, the place where all my failures are born.

I was feeling “pushed around” by this point on the project. There had been some date changes, which pushed the timeframe back even farther than it had been previously which gave us even less time for an already short post production schedule.  Fun stuff!  On top of that, our script review was pushed back to a day and a half before the shoot and we had an eleven-page script that had to be made into a production schedule.  In the end, it was fine because I had a great team, but it could have been gone better.

In a nutshell, I didn’t understand why my counterpart in this process communicated in a way that I felt was harsh and rude.  That in turn, caused me to react defensively.  I let my feeling be manipulated by someone I had never met.  I let it get personal instead of keeping it “strictly business”.  As I said, I had never met this client and as I result didn’t understand their perspective.  That led to misunderstanding, which in the end equated to resistance and cost.  That was a tactical error that I will do my best to never repeat.  Even if I couldn’t have met this person face to face, I could have done more to further my understanding of their “M.O.”, as it were, and by doing so, understood myself better in that situation.  Now this person still may have been rude and still pushed my buttons, but I could have minimized the stress they caused me, and ultimately I caused myself, by understanding where they were coming from and where I was at that time in my own headspace.  I could have flowed like water around the resistance and that would have been more ideal.  Next time, it will be done!

Sun Tzu talks about being like the nature of water. Allowing circumstances to unfold and then making adjustments.  Not unlike a stream or river of water in nature, the water moves around rocks, fallen trees, narrow and steep earth and whatever obstacle it encounters.  The water finds a way to its goal.

“…thus water determines its movement in accordance with the Earth. The Military determines its victory in accordance with the enemy”.

Lesson Learned #3:  First of all, know yourself and know your counterpart, and second of all, adjust like water to the forces of resistance around you.

Video Production and the Art of War

I got the “big gig” after a long season of very few checks from even fewer clients. Thank God I play guitar and sing as if it wasn’t for hosting an open mic for cash, I’d have very little money in my pocket.  The open mics kept me at least in, what my grandfather calls being in the basic comforts, which means having a roof over my head and “enough money for a cup of coffee”.  Love him and to this day enjoy his company, I’m grateful.

This “big gig” came by way of a good friend, who works for creative ad agency. Had I read Sun Tzu’s Art of War before I started this job, I would have saved the client an additional $20g, saved $10g more in my own expenses, and had saved a good relationship with my friend.  I was playing my guitar in my studio when I got a call, explaining that it was a great opportunity, challenging project, quick turn-around, and they wanted me based on the recommendation of my friend.

I had just finished with the 48 Film Project in Chicago, where our movie “Undone” had a great showing.  I directed the entire piece, it was recognized enough to get shown at the “Best Of” night and my lead actor got the Best Actor award best in show award for his performance.  As a small token of endless hard work (granted, I am grateful as it was just 48 hours), I took runner up for Best Cinematography.  After that high-charged, fast-paced event, I was in “super-speedy mode” so I figured… Bring it! Bring on the new project and all it entails!  I just hadn’t been prepared for what was in store.

In “super-speedy mode”, I guess I have the tendency of looking and sounding very intense. Some say it looks like I want to punch them in the face. I don’t, obviously.  I love people and hate punching them in the face.   It’s a last resort. 🙂

Anyway, the first call with the agency and client went fine. During it, I learned of their expectations and the time frame. I was tasked to create the script and produce a 6.5 minute video. I would also be in charge of casting the roles, finding the location, hiring the crew, make-up, set stylist, catering. This is the role I play and so I recognize I need a spot-on co-producer and AD. So, I call on one of my oldest buddies, John. He and I have been friends since we were five years old. I walked away from this first meeting realizing we had little time, and that happens. I should be okay with that sort of time-crunch (especially after the 48 Hour Film Project).   Today, anyway, I could have handled this feeling of being overwhelmed a little easier.  Nonetheless, at the time, I knew I could use a check and the quicker, the better.  I called up to have the second consultation about the project the next day, and I’m told the project is already put on hold.  This is where the Art of War could have come in handy first.  Had I just known what the “Shih” was, (pronounced “Shir”), I would have been just fine. To Sun Tzu, the “shih” is understanding that the world is cohesive, however we can mark off temporary and shifting patterns within it, each of which posses a MOMENTARY ADVANTAGE of a certain kind.   Sun Tzu gives a great illustration of this advantage.

“The Rearing Serpent sports in the mists.

The Flying Dragon rides on the clouds.

But when the clouds are gone and the mists

have cleared,

they are no different from earthworms.”

Sun Tzu talks of a counter part to “shih”, and it’s known as the “node”

“Shih is like drawing the crossbow,

the node is like pulling the trigger”

Too often I follow the ill-fated “shoot first ask questions later” approach, that may work in some circumstances, in “death ground” perhaps, but not here, not now.

Finding out that the project had been delayed was disruptive to me. I’m a jackass for thinking that way, looking back. I have been thinking that way for a long time. Why do I do that? Oh, I know, it’s a way for me to mask my uncertainty, and instead of finding the advantage of the circumstance, I find blame. Ill advised

I reacted too quickly and showed I was annoyed. This break down of calm, was the start of the miscommunication.  The shih is about taking ones time in the midst of the disruption, in order to find the advantage. The node is the quick acting one makes to take advantage of the unique opportunity the circumstance, “the disruption”, provides.

Lesson Learned #2:  Allow what happens to happen, take your time to find the advantage, once found -act quickly!

Video Production and the Art of War

Video Production and The Art of War

I came into my film studio everyday.  Tackled my job with confidence.  Went through the motions while editing.  Continued to deliver quality work to my happy clients.  Yet, I felt like I was running on a treadmill going nowhere fast.  I was hitting creative roadblocks.  I was seeking a little guidance (and I knew I wouldn’t find it on a shrink’s couch or at the bottom of a bottle.) Then I read a book and began adapting how I go about my business (video production) and my life to Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”.
As I slowly and surely develop an integrated way to conduct my video business using these powerful strategies, I thought I would develop a blog and share with you my experiences.  My improvements.  My outlook.  My successes.  And yes, my failures.

My name is Dave Hudson and this is the story about how I am applying Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” to my career of making motion pictures. I will show you where I failed and where I was victorious, but most of the true lessons came from where I failed. Ahh, such is life, no?

It began when I was 4… no really, we are going that far back. (It’ll be quick – I promise). That was when I saw my first Elvis movie and it was THEN I KNEW what I wanted to be. I held that dream of being an actor from then to when I studied Radio and TV with a minor in Theatre @ SIUC 18 years later. I kept that dream when I auditioned for an indie Christian film known as “The Calling”. I held fast to that dream all the way through production, post- production and still while sitting in the AMC South Barrington, IL Theater (17 to be exact.) waiting for the movie to begin. Then, the movie started (mind you, I was the supporting lead actor in this picture). The second act came where my character shows, and I was…well…NOT GOOD.  However, the movie still intrigued me as to how it was assembled.  I began questioning why some shots were used and fascinated by how different lighting in certain scenes added to the overall tone of the film.  By the time the movie was over I knew it was going to be my skills in production and eye behind the camera that I would focus the next 20 years of my life on… and beyond. My acting skills…moving on!

Since then I have been in the production world for 12 years. I am the founder and Executive Producer of a smaller production firm, D. Hudson Productions (not bad for a kid from C’Ville) and I make a living whilst getting to learn many new things.

My greatest lesson came the autumn of 2011 when this “Big Gig” came a knockin, this project had many smart, creative, and dedicated people on it, yet there where some rough characters, some poor planning, miscommunication, and budget issues all which led to a lack of sleep, posturing, sore back, constant second-guessing of myself, minor eruptions of anger, and… the list goes on. In the end, I failed in many ways. Don’t get me wrong, the end result was great, we finished on time with zero dollars over budget placed on the client, client was very pleased with the production and the end result, won an industry award, the Davey Awards (no relation), I met some cool people, and got to work with friends and family! However I failed in other ways. This first failure was losing to my own aggression.  I was compelled to read “The Art of War”.  Something inside me clicked.  I had to dedicate as much time to creating a great living environment around my professional life as possible… as well as into my personal life.  As Sun Tzu says “Taking a state whole is superior, destroying it is inferior to this”.    Lesson Learned #1:  In order to be victorious, I must first have victory over my aggression.

I hope you tune into hearing more about my story and how I’ve been able to be “Productive with Production and the Art of War.” visit my site, have a look around.