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.