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How to Keep Yourself Sane on Film Sets: Tips from 'The Little Blue Book for Filmmakers'

By Carl Gottlieb and Toni Attell | Indiewire April 9, 2013 at 10:58AM

In this excerpt from "The Little Blue Book for Filmmakers," Carl Gottlieb and Toni Attell explain how to stay sane on a fiction film shoot. The larger book is a series of chapters that provide a guide to navigating the day-to-day and the job ladder of the contemporary filmmaking world.
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Little Blue Book for Filmmakers
In this excerpt from "The Little Blue Book for Filmmakers," Carl Gottlieb and Toni Attell explain how to stay sane on a fiction film shoot.  The larger book is a series of chapters that provide a guide to navigating the day-to-day and the job ladder of the contemporary filmmaking world. 

What follows is half of the book's eighth chapter, "Defend Yourself: Physical and Mental Challenges Facing the Director, Writer, Actor, and Producer."  View the book on Amazon by clicking here.

The following is an excerpt from The Little Blue Book for Filmmakers by Carl Gottlieb and Toni Attell, published by Limelight Editions, an imprint of Hal Leonard. Used here with permission of the publisher.


The source of most drama outside of the script is the actors, and anywhere they congregate may be a hotbed of intrigue, gossip, and disinformation. This is also true of anyone who talks to actors, so view the makeup, hairdressing, wardrobe, and transportation departments as minefields. Even on a low-/no-budget production, where all the departments are combined in the person(s) of your overworked colleagues, a few misplaced or ill-chosen words will resonate throughout the production, and anything said in confidence is public knowledge as soon as it can be repeated. A favor for one will be expected by all, and any violation of boundaries will result in the loss of those limits.

READ MORE: The Six Things You Must Know to Make It in the Film Industry

This is not to say a director cannot speak or be spoken to; if that were true, directors would be the loneliest people on the set. Feel free to chat about wind and weather, but remember that in all close-knit male groups, from nineteenth-century British colonial armies to the crews of nuclear submarines, there are three topics deliberately ignored: women, politics, and religion. In a less gender-specific world, include members of the opposite sex as subjects to be avoided. Add to those topics these sources of friction: the problems of the production, the character of the personnel, and the personal lives of everyone on or near the set. The director’s problems are uniquely off limits; like the captain of a ship or the leader of a combat patrol, his or her thoughts must remain private. We discussed the director’s isolation before; it goes with the job, it even has a name: “the loneliness of command.”  If you must share gossip and commentary, do it with someone far from the set or the production: a therapist, a life partner, a close family member, or an animal companion (these may all be the same individual). If you're a writer, your closest confidante may be the director. If he or she is not sympathetic, the same limits apply to your options.

A strategy (or habit) that many executives (including directors) find useful is to acquire or maintain a group of friends or confidantes with whom you can share frankly and safely. The advantage of this is that the natural loneliness of command is softened by a close-knit circle of advisors, sounding boards, and lieutenants who can be trusted to keep people and things organized and functional (including yourself, on the bad days). But, beware—the inherent danger is that your group becomes a “posse,” a gang that gives the appearance of a support group but is, in fact, a barrier. These individuals are people whose principal interest is preserving their turf, influencing your decisions, and insulating you from all criticism and useful input. They become gatekeepers and relish the role. How can you tell the difference between a small circle of friends and a posse that’s a clique and a claque? A quick checklist is in order, again. They’re not your faithful friends and confidantes if:
 
    •    The only people close to you are on the payroll. If that’s the case, you’re buying loyalty, not earning it. Think about it: A person has the choice of telling you what you need to know and losing his or her job, or misinforming you and staying employed. Which do you think will be most useful to you? (Think Elvis, Michael Jackson, and the like.)
    •    You learn crucial information from outsiders who tried to get to you directly but were diverted.
    •    Other old friends complain about your inaccessibility.
    •    Items shared in your circle become public knowledge or gossip, or wind up in the tabloids (if you’re newsworthy).
 
And speaking of being newsworthy, if you’ve achieved a level of success that includes managers and agents, be aware that they have other clients and “relationships” with employers and studios, and unless you’re their only client, there are other people they have to “service” (an inelegant word for what they do). Agents and managers may certainly have professional and business goals that are not in your best interests, although they will never tell you, and they may actively dissemble (lie) to you about their reasons. They can also function as an effective firewall, an impenetrable barrier between you and everyone else. If you are fortunate enough to have this level of professional management, always be aware that firewalls can keep the good, as well as the bad, from reaching you. Which is why gossip is important.

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit: Production