Director in Flight

Last week I got on a flight to Florida. During the four hours I spent on the tarmac, I thought about all the time spent waiting on a film set. I think this was because they kept plying us with free coffee and by the end of the eight hours I spent on my two and a half hour flight, every flight attendant understood that I drank my coffee black and yes that meant no cream or sugar. 

As I sat on the tarmac, I received an email from a colleague explaining her frustrations with how the director on her current job was treating the crew. I don’t understand why directors feel a crew is there to be a punching bag. Your crew is your lifeline. And quite frankly they should be people you respect or you should not have hired them in the first place. If you can’t respect a member of the crew, quite frankly, have them released from set. Otherwise, the crew is your responsibility. I don’t care who you are or who they are – college intern or professional DP – they are your team.

On a film set, you have to go be able to go with the flow and make the most of bad situations. And these flight attendants were such a great example of that. In their heads they were probably thinking, “I’m never going to get home. Why did I choose this profession? My mother was right, I should have married that mortician.” But outwardly, they smiled and pressed on doing the best job they could with what they had on hand.

“We are eighteenth in line for take off – would you like a refill on your coffee?” “Why yes, I would, thank you so much.” “We just got to the front of the line and now have to go back for more fuel because they are rerouting us through the entire Continental US and back to avoid this storm, but while you’re waiting – more coffee?” “Well, if I must, I must.” “We were bored so we broke open all the snack boxes – would you like some beef jerky to dunk?” “Well, who doesn’t love that?”

Being kind to people while things are going very much not the way one expected them to can make all the difference in the world. No one on the plane got irate. Even the 8 people in business class, who exited the plane when we went back to the gate for fuel because they knew they would miss the meeting they were aiming to attend, were quite pleasant about it. “Oh well, who wanted to close a deal on a day like this anyway?” “We’ll do it next week.” “Let’s play hooky and get steak for lunch.” Lemons in to lemonade!

As a director, you are the captain of the ship and your attitude does and will make all the difference. If you whine and stress and get angry when you are kept waiting because the equipment truck got stuck in traffic – well –you might find by the time the truck arrives, the crew has defected to that other film being shot three streets down or more likely has just left for the bar on the corner with your credit card. On the other hand, if you treat people the way you want to be treated, you’ll find that you get the same respect in return. Don’t you want that and the beef jerky? You know you do…

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