Posts Tagged ‘chaos reigns’

h1

The Division of Labor vs “Chaos Reigns”

January 1, 2010

In any hierarchical or corporate structure, the division of labor is integral to the successful completion of any project or ongoing operation. The division of labor is defined by the assignment of specific job expectations to specific individuals (not to “teams”, but to actual humans). Good management properly divides labor to insure the best quality outcome.


The self-cannibalizing talking fox from Lars von Trier’s ANTICHRIST

Worst Practices
Without division of labor, there is no organization. Team members run around, chaotically plugging holes in the dike, or inordinate amounts of work are piled on a few unlucky individuals, while the others spin their wheels on meaningless tasks, or do nothing at all. In either case, the quality of the work suffers, and everyone goes home unhappy.

Some indicators of a poor division of labor in an organization may include the following:

  • People don’t know whose job is whose, including their own.
  • Things frequently don’t get done, or “fall through the cracks”.
  • A key individual leaves the team, and all productivity halts.
  • People are often angry or resentful.
  • People quit a lot.

Every situation is different, and most organizations require at least a modicum – if not a significant amount – of flexibility. People get sick, people drop dead, situations change, the show must go on. That said, even an Act of God is no excuse for an unfair distribution of work. Even the most laissez-faire anarchist knows it’s not fun trying to get a difficult job done in a disorderly environment. Most experienced managers will agree that the morale of an organization’s workforce is absolutely key in maintaining productivity, getting things done right, and preventing attrition of valuable human resources.

The Benevolent Dictatorship
In many ways, making an independent film is exactly the same as running a corporation. Only, its a corporation where everyone works very long hours, for little or no money at all. Such a proposition begs two important questions:

Question 1: Why are people working on my movie if I’m paying them nothing or nearly nothing?

Question 2: If everyone is working for nothing, why would I want to impose a strict management style – won’t they resent me for it and quit?

The simple fact is that in the context of a labor of love such as indie film, the division of labor is your greatest tool in maintaining high morale, because it maintains productivity. Productivity means the movie is getting done, which is why your people are involved in the first place. If the production is inefficient, or gets bogged down in nonsense, the movie stalls, and morale is damaged.

Why are people working on your film for nothing? Because they want the movie to exist. With this in mind, the greatest gift to the independent film cast and crew, is the film’s completion – with as few compromises as possible.

Won’t the crew resent being told what to do and mutiny? Not only will they not resent it, they will appreciate it and work all the harder. Not designating tasks, or allowing individuals to designate their own tasks, is to invite chaos. Chaos can only hurt your chances of getting the film done and done right. People want to know what needs to be done, get it done, and go home feeling they did a good days work. What people don’t want, is to guess what needs to be done, or be obligated to figure it out for themselves. This type of unstructured approach has no place on a film set, where everyone is under the gun at all times.

It’s for this reason, the definition of job expectations and the fair the division of labor should be enforced with an iron fist of benevolent dictatorship. That’s not to say you should be a dick to people – you shouldn’t. But you should not shy away from telling people exactly what to do, what not to do, and make sure they stick to it. Otherwise, you’ll get what you paid for, which probably ranges anywhere from ‘nothing’ to ‘not much’.

Creative Veto
One of the endless pits many independent filmmakers (including myself) fall into, is assuming that every person on set – who is so generously giving of their time and effort – is a creative collaborator. It’s extremely important to recognize that is not the case. To open that door is to open a gateway to hell, where valuable time is wasted fielding an endless cacophony of input from everyone within a 50 foot radius. When every participant is indulged, the result is a kind of Jersey Turnpike mixed drink of seemingly good ideas, stitched together into one giant Frankenstein bad idea. A compromise of good intentions, but still a compromise, and one that will hurt the film.

In most filmmaking situations, the creative process is enabled by three basic vocational tiers, ranging from the purely technical/logistical (line producer, G&E, loader, crafty), to the ‘techno-creative’ (producer, cinematographer, gaffer, art department, stunt coordinator), to the purely creative (writer, director, actor).

Obviously, all the tiers are important to the end result and require immense focus. Every player in the process must understand and acknowledge whether the ultimate purpose of their role is to create or to serve the creative vision (ie, if you are a camera loader, you are not there to direct the actors, you are there to make sure the film is safely loaded into/out of the camera).

Since most people have creative impulses, they will want to share their ideas, if invited to do so. This type of free-for-all is a breeding ground for accidents and oversights, even by the most experienced professionals. If you set up an open-door policy with creative input from a crew full of people that already have jobs to do, you risk splitting their focus and taking away from their primary job expectation, thereby compromising the quality of their work. Don’t allow it. Shut it down if it starts to happen.

Get Enough People and Give Them Jobs
On a classic film set, the producer is essentially the boss hog, who determines what needs to be done to execute on the director’s vision. The assistant director (AD) ‘runs the set’, calling people to set, keeping things moving, and generally facilitating the flow of business. The director is hopefully only dealing with creative decisions, working with his director of photography (DP), actors, and other departments to make the movie all it can be.

On an indie set, you may not have the luxury of an assistant director, line producer and senior producer, but your set will benefit from having at least one individual to act as an intermediary between the director and the crew, who can delegate tasks, monitor the division of work, and make necessary adjustments.

It’s taken me a long time to realize the importance of a crew, and all that it does to make a film better. I have done many jobs myself, through preproduction all the way through post and finishing, that would have been done better by people who were not me. Some may say this was out of necessity, and sometimes it was, but usually it was out of laziness to find the proper person to do the job right. There is no nobility in hard work if the work is for nothing, or makes the final product worse. The will to do many jobs is no excuse for splitting your own focus on whatever your chosen function is. Even the master ninja will get his ass kicked trying to take on ten guys at once. Your film deserves better.

In cases where a crew is comprised of inexperienced people, the producer should figure out what needs to be done, chop it up, and hand out work assignments. If it’s not clear who should do what, this would be a good time to ask the lead crewmembers for input (ie, ‘who needs help?’). Just be sure to keep your hands on the reins and be the one to have the final say on who does what. Maintain the chain of command, or you may find your set is being run by the DP, soundman, or special effects person, as opposed to the assistant director and/or producer.

If there are people present with nothing to do, invent something for them to do, or send them home. If you have people waiting to work (ie, castmembers), try to keep them far away from set. They will only distract your crew, especially if they are attractive.

Conclusion
It’s a fact of life that making an indie is going to be an exercise in compromise, in one form or another. The challenge is to make something creative and beautiful, under these strict parameters of necessity. Dividing labor equally and fairly among your filmmaking cohorts is the first step in making the very most of whatever resources you have available, and ultimately get your project completed, which is what’s most important. Those cast or crewmembers you told to shut up and do their jobs will forgive you at the premiere.

Advertisements