Friday, January 1, 2010

Film Making 201

In depth- from what I can remember.
The night before I slept in a deep way- forcing myself to relax knowing I had set the alarm and trusting in technology.
I'm glad I slept.  It would have been nice if the clock had not had the AM and PM mixed up.  My daughter woke me up at 6:45 am.  We were supposed to be there at 7.  I took a deep breath and said- guess what, I am going to be late but there is nothing I can do about that right now so I will accept it.
And I was late.  About a half hour. Not really so bad all in all.  It was a rough start but we got through it. What was worse was my daughter's attitude.  She was whiny, combative, mean and uncooperative.  Like I was forcing her to be there and making her do something unpleasant.  Like this wasn't her idea and her story and what she was excited about for the last month. As if I was some loony stage mom.
I felt shreds of my sanity ripping away.  I was exhausted, nervous, stressed out and this brat was giving me lip.  My own brat who was making a point of letting everyone know I can't control her.  She is twelve.  You know, the age when kids start to think their parents are stupid and she was making the biggest diva show.  Part showing off, part showing her ass.  I was almost in tears most of the day.  She fought me on every direction I gave her- from take a step to the left to do it again.
It was a very long day.  Fourteen hours.
I had to have a confrontation with a crew member that was unpleasant but we got past it. I had to assert myself as in control and it was frustrating to have to do that.  But once I got there, it was okay. It was better.
I think the biggest struggle as a female director is that the guys want to test you.  I think part of them want to take you down or push you around.  Part of me is easy going and is cool with being part of the team.  I remember when I was in grade school, I think in fifth grade when we were electing class officers- I thought these words to myself.
 "I can never be a leader.  I'm not strong enough and I don't have a big enough voice.  I'm too shy and I'm too uncomfortable with everyone looking at me. But I don't want to be just a follower, either.  I don't want to just do what people tell me to do.  I have a brain and I have ideas and I have thoughts that need to get out.  I can be part of a strong team where people listen to my ideas and someone else takes the spotlight but I help them lead from behind the scenes."
    I was half right.  The first time this became a problem was when the idiots were in charge.  I should have known I could never sit back.  I was self aware enough to know my own limitations.  I had no idea how key a skill that would become. Also, I discovered I could force myself to overcome shyness- which, for the most part, I have overcome- except for the times when it creeps back and I have no idea it is coming and it catches me by surprise.
   But I like to be familiar with my skill set.  Taking charge became a skill I mastered out of necessity. There is no sense bitching about incompetance if you aren't willing to step up and fix it.  However, in surrounding myself with the best, I often end up with strong personalities and I find I have to assert myself.  I hate having to puff out my chest and have that showdown.  I'd much rather do the work but it becomes necessary at some point to have a conversation.
   That night after I got home with my daughter, after I had repeatedly tried to talk to her about her attitude and her wasting time and her fighting me, I threw up my hands and said "Well, I guess after this, we just can't work together any more."
She turned around with tears in her eyes and said "But- WHY?"
I stood there, in my kitchen, too stunned to speak for a minute. "Surely you can't be enjoying this? Because I would rather be burned alive than have to suffer another day like this one."
It is amazing to me the capacity for the child to completely tune out the effect their behavior has on another person.
And yet, there she was nodding and crying, having no clue that her behavior was negatively affecting everyone.
I do have to say this, between the words action and cut- she was nearly flawless.  The kid is riduculously talented and has never behaved badly on set before or during rehearsal.  When I called action, she was one hundred percent in the moment-
It was her other behavior that was driving me up a wall.
I tossed and turned all night- trying to find a way to fix this, to deal with this.
The following morning on the way to the set, I said to her:
"For the rest of the day I am going to be your director but I am also going to be your mom.  When you find yourself disagreeing with me or feeling the need to act against me, I'm going to offer you a quarter- if you accept the quarter, you have to shut up and do what I want you to do- in spite of feeling like you don't want to.  Keep track of what I owe you, and you'll have a payout at the end of the shoot."
    Now, some people will think I bribed her- but what I really did here was give her a sense of control about her options.  Once she had that, her behavior completely modified and became positively reinforced. She had control, she had power and the relationship was balanced for her. In fact, it was only her perception that she had no control that was causing her attitude.  I had to just figure it out.
In reality, the $8 she tallied up meant nothing- in fact two weeks after the shoot was over, she hadn't even asked for it. And thankfully, she became more willing to listen to me about direction, communication became more open and the whole machine worked much better.  She even apologized to the crew for being a pain in the ass the day before.
Now- I'm not saying this was perfect.  It was not- but I had a much better kid the next day and some of the work she did was simply amazing.  And we were able to survive the rest of the shoot with one another. It will be a long time before I cast her again. Let some other director get her ray of sunshine- she is much nicer to them!


Contra Yogini said...

How intense! I'm glad you were able to come to an amicable solution. (An ingeniously reasoned one, too!)

VanessaMRR said...

I think that people all have key holes somewhere symbolically. And I think of myself as a key master. When I am working with an actor, I try to find the key to them understanding the character and opening themselves to me and to the character and when I find the opening, I simply turn the key and it is like something unlocks on their face. It is a connection we have made together.
I find the same sort of thing with my children, especially teens- I need to find the key that unlocks their goodness and love and makes them put away their attitude and resistance- but it is a two way street- I often find myself poking around on a dark and angry door...