Being a Good Director or Photographer Is More Than Just the End Product

Being a Good Director or Photographer Is More Than Just the End Product

Busy week of production, so, this week, I’d like to just offer a short story about how, sometimes, a successful shoot is about more than just the final product.

The other day, I was sitting at my computer, putting the finishing touches on a film project I had shot recently. As is my habit, I always create behind-the-scenes material to go with the production. This helps both in marketing the film and in reminding myself and my crew of our experiences. As I sat there, going through all the behind-the-scenes stills from set and the video gathered both formally and informally for the cast and crew’s Instagram stories, one unmistakable truth became evident. I have absolutely no idea how the audience is ultimately going to respond to my film. But one thing I do know is that my cast and crew were having an absolute blast making it. Oddly enough, as proud as I am of the film, it is this clear camaraderie that developed among my team that I am most happy to see.

This is not to say that the end product isn’t important. Rather, I am simply pointing out that, in addition to creating a final product, directors and photographers are also creating an experience on set. We are setting a tone for our cast and crew. I’ve created hundreds of projects over the years. Some, I love the end result. Others, not so much. But the lasting memories for me, the ones I’ll remember until the end of my days, are the experiences I had while actually creating the projects. The interactions I had with my team. The small funny stories. Overcoming obstacles together. The process matters. Not just the product.

Now, it’s true that some of the greatest artistic masterpieces of all time were created in environments of absolute chaos. But that doesn’t mean they have to be created that way. Some great artists have achieved their goals through bickering and yelling and making the life of their team miserable because they feel that’s key to their magic. But, I think we can all (hopefully) agree that it is possible to create great art without negating our fellow artist’s humanity. We are not fighting a war here. We are creating art. And there’s no reason that can’t be a positive experience for everyone involved.

Sure, many might read those words and think that kindness is one of those things that is “nice to have” but ultimately only of marginal value. But, I’d argue that creating a positive environment for your team is also a practical business advantage. Clients work with people they like. Regardless of your level of “artistic genius,” there are multitudes of other artists equally capable of delivering the goods. I remember having a casual conversation with a client on set for a major athletic brand campaign I was shooting, and he casually mentioned the photographer they had used in the past. I knew the name well and his work was amazing, leading my inner critic to wonder why in the heck they chose me over him. But continuing to speak to the creative director about their experiences with him versus with me, it became obvious that, talented as the other photographer was, the client’s entire creative team seemed to hate working with him on a personal level. In short, he was great with a camera, but made everyone around him miserable on set. Yelling. Being rude to his subordinates. Sometimes rude to the clients themselves. Generally acting as if everyone involved was just lucky to be in his orbit as opposed to everyone feeling like they were part of the same team. I was able to gain a competitive advantage on an A-list photographer simply by not being a jerk. It sounds simple. But just not being a jerk made me money and led to a repeat client.

Two days ago, I was directing a commercial for a movie studio. Because of the lighting in the scene, the mood was very dim in the location. After calling cut on a shot, I turn around and see the entire client team sitting on the floor in a circle as if they were kids at camp crowding around a campfire. I commented on the serenity of the situation and we all had a good laugh because that level of calm comfort had been the vibe all week on set.

That project is just now entering post, so I have no idea how it will turn out. But I do feel confident that the client and I have created a warm bond and that their team felt positive about the experience. A client who feels positive about their interaction with you is more likely to book you on a future project. As a human being, one of your goals should be to provide positive interactions for those around you. But, even if you want to be cynical and calculated, as a business person, providing positive experiences for those around you can actively add to your bottom line. So whether you are doing it out of the kindness of your heart or for purely calculating reasons, choosing positivity on set is always the right way to go.

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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