Picture this: you’re on set near Glacier National Park in Montana, directing your first narrative short. And suddenly inspiration strikes: you want to go off-script to shoot a key scene over a lake at sunrise, one that’s filled with natural light. But your AD doesn’t think it’s a good idea because the crew will have a 4 a.m. call time and it’s mighty chilly outside. Plus, your DP thinks you should stick with the original, more epic background for the shot — the Rockies.
As you start to debate the shot, things get heated, and the AD angrily grabs a donut from the nearby craft table and throws it into the trees. Ruh-roh. What you have on your hands is a creative disagreement.
How can you hear everyone out, keep things rolling, and pull off your project while keeping the good vibes on set? Here are our favorite tips.
Assess your state of mind
Before you start to hash it out, take a second to see where you’re at physically and emotionally, and consider how your teammates are feeling, too. When’s the last time you ate? How about … sat down? Have you been working 11- or 12-hour days? People are often products of their surroundings, and sets can get chaotic. All of these factors will lead to stressed out crew members. So consider if your on-set environment is cultivating the collaborative environment you want to foster.
Before attempting to resolve an issue, take a collective break if you need one. Call an early lunch, go for a walk, take some deep breaths. Then circle back to approach the problem with an open mind. If the environment isn’t conducive to productivity, consider what small changes you can make to improve the vibe. Maybe that’s having a team huddle, leading a breathing exercise, taking more breaks in between scenes, or making sure crafty is consistently well-stocked.
Listen well, and talk to the right people
Ultimately, everyone wants to be heard. Though a creative argument may be valid, often people just want the opportunity to speak. So when it’s time to break down the details of the argument, the most important thing to do is listen, and listen well. How can you do that? First, make sure you don’t interrupt people, and let them articulate their points fully. Make eye contact to assure people that you’re paying attention. To be certain that you really get what they’re saying, repeat or paraphrase their point before responding.
It’s also key to make sure you’re talking to the right person. On set, there’s a hierarchy, and that means that there’s likely always someone above you. It’s important to realize where you fall on the ladder and who you need to approach to make a change happen. Bringing up the right things to the right people will help resolve creative issues faster, so you can keep things moving on set.
Outline and evaluate solutions
When you’re hashing out a problem, the only way to reach a conclusion is with a specific solution. So bust out the whiteboard, pen and paper, or even a phone, and get ready to list out all possible scenarios and options. This will be a helpful reference, a way to get all team members on the same page, and allow you to visually assess the pros and cons. Don’t rule out any solutions, either: stay open-minded, and give each one the consideration it deserves!
After choosing a good option, go with it, and make a time to follow up with everyone involved in the decision-making process. Did things go well? What could have been different? Filmmaking is about constantly learning and re-evaluating. Checking in as you go will help you grow, and fostering a healthy collaborative process will help the next time a creative disagreement arises … which it inevitably will.
Give your collaborators ownership
When it comes time to carry out the solution you agreed upon, give your fellow collaborators autonomy over their own roles! This will help everyone feel involved and invested in the creative process. And when you get your team in sync early on, there’s less likelihood that you’ll have those creative disagreements in the first place. People will be able to share their ideas, and set a plan in motion to carry those ideas to fruition.
Ultimately, use your best judgement and if a particular issue doesn’t matter, let it go. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight for your best ideas. Stand up for what you truly believe in! But at the end of the day, each project is better because of the sum of its parts and all of the efforts of a filmmaking team. Release your ego to serve the story, and your creative problems will wash away. Your team will come together to help make the project the best that it can be.
Creative disagreements happen no matter what kind of project you’re working on. Remember to assess your surroundings, stay cool, listen, and bring people into the collaborative process as you try to problem solve.
What are your strategies for handling creative disagreements? We’re ready to listen!