The Value of Teamwork in Creative Endeavors

The Value of Teamwork in Creative Endeavors

A few brief words on why it sometimes pays to have more hands in the kitchen when cooking up a creative project.

I’ll be uncharacteristically brief with my essay today. Largely, this brevity being the result of the fact that I am knee-deep in preproduction for a commercial ad campaign I am shooting in a few days. The type where even your approvals have to get approvals. Legal teams as well as standards and practices watchdogs have as much sway as the client’s creative director. Or the countless other creatives from your team, the agency team, the client team, and any other team that might be contributing to your masterpiece of artistic commerce. When coordinating all these disparate pieces into forming a cohesive whole, the amount of time you spend shooting pales in comparison to the amount of time you spend preparing. So, the vast majority of my time and mental energy this week has been consumed by making sure no details fall through the cracks.

I enjoy working with creative teams. But this enjoyment is somewhat ironic given the fact that one of the major things that most interested me about still photography was how effective one could be working completely independently. Having found my way to still photography accidentally as a result of my work as a filmmaker, I was well used to having to assemble large crews, raise production funds, and manage a mountain of logistics every time I wanted to create even the shortest of films. So, being able to pick up a still camera, walk out my front door, and create a piece of art in 1/8,000th of a second was a major benefit. Of course, as my career as a photographer developed, and I discovered my niche would be in working in commercial advertising, I quickly found that my type of photography was not so many degrees removed from filmmaking. Large crews. Extensive production requirements. Very few projects coming together quickly without having to run a number of obstacle courses along the way. So my introvert’s dream of being an island of my own was not meant to be.

But here’s the thing. Having to account for all of those ingredients, while they may sound like impediments to your individual artistic expression, can often give your final piece a richness and scope that you simply wouldn’t have accomplished if working alone. Everyone on the set, from the creative director to the caterer can contribute to your shoot in a meaningful way. I firmly believe that a good idea is a good idea, no matter who it comes from. And even when your own ideas are being challenged, this can be seen less as an annoyance and more as an opportunity to re-examine why you have chosen a specific path. I’ve often had someone ask me why I was doing something a certain way, only to find that I’d chosen that route by sheer gut rather than the decision being artistically motivated. My gut may have been right. But sometimes, my gut is wrong, and having that second pair of eyes can help alert me of a potential error while it’s early enough to correct. Or, better yet, my mind may be opened up to an entirely different and superior way of approaching a scene.

Other times, the team you build, and the individual creativity each of them brings to your project, can be your hidden superpower. Just yesterday I was watching a short behind the scenes clip of someone talking about the famous scene in "Midnight Cowboy" where Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight are crossing the street in Manhattan and Dustin is almost taken out by a passing taxicab. Apparently that was not a stunt driver, and that was a real taxi cab that almost took out the actor. When Dustin, staying in character, pounds on the hood of the car and exclaims, “I’m walking here,” that most famous of lines was not in the original script. It was something that Dustin ad-libbed at the moment as well as his followup line about insurance. Now Waldo Salt, the screenwriter of "Midnight Cowboy," is a legend in the industry. But even he didn’t think up that most perfect of lines in that most perfect of moments beforehand. It was only because the entire team was bringing their own individual talents to the project and making the whole greater than the sum of its parts that such a moment exists on film.

So, next time you are launching a project, take a moment to appreciate the awesome contributions being made by those around you. It might be our names at the top of the credit list as photographer or director, but without the contributions of others in support of our craft, it is often impossible to make those images in your head into a physical reality. 

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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1 Comment

100%, it takes a village.

I hate doing shoots without an art director. I'm thinking about a bajillion things, and having someone able to look at what we're doing, from 10,000 feet up, is invaluable. It makes the work 10x stronger when someone chilling out can call shots and notice things.

I am not an artist, I'm a craftsman, so any input from a Creative Director or Art Director on set helps.