When I heard that the next topic of discussion for the New Breed group was going to be collaboration, I sat down with my co-writer/co-director, Alec Boehm, and we sketched out some of the thoughts that we’ve had about it, both when doing our own projects, and when working with other people on theirs.
Most of these were very obvious — though sometimes hard to accomplish:
• Communicate constantly, and if there are problems, address them immediately. Problems almost never heal themselves, so don’t let resentments and issues build up in the unlikely hope that they’ll go away.
• You don’t have to like your collaborators, but you do have to respect them. I actually believe that if you don’t respect someone, you shouldn’t work with them — (though of course that’s a problem if you stop respecting them part way through the project…).
• Stay flexible and open to new ideas. The thing that makes great collaborations so transcendent is the unexpected chemistry that happens when different people combine their ideas, then come up with something totally new as a result. (The most sublime example of this is being a writer/director and working with an actor on your own material — somewhere between the two of you, a character takes shape that’s neither you nor them.)
• If you make mistakes, take responsibility and try to remedy them. Don’t throw other people under the bus.
• Collaborations are like a romance — there’s a chemistry or there isn’t. The good in a relationship will outweigh the bad, or it won’t. And sometimes, you have to accept that it’s just not going to work (for whatever reason, no blame attached) and cut bait as early as possible.
• At the same time, a good collaboration can sometimes be really contentious. But that can still work — if the fights are good fights, if the attacks aren’t personal, if both sides can work that way. (Personally, I don’t like to — I much prefer the happy, calm, grounded kinds of collaborations. But I admit to my bafflement that several of my most pivotal, life-changing working relationships have been of the fight-all-the-time variety.)
I will admit that I found collaboration the most challenging part of making our feature, the thing that I’ve kept going back to in my mind over and over, trying to sort out what we did right and what we did wrong.
During production, we were surrounded by the largest crew we’d ever worked with, and we learned to accept that and to collaborate. But for most of post-production, Alec and I contracted into a very small unit of two; I believe we under-collaborated during post, didn’t reach out for enough help. Maybe it was financial, or maybe it was our need as fledgling directors to do as much of the work ourselves as we could, to wring every last lesson out of making the movie.
I think we also became very protective of our vision of the movie. There came a time during post when we felt we were getting barraged with comments that were not in keeping with the movie we wanted to make. For a while, to keep peace with people around us, we tried out some of those suggestions, only to feel that the movie we set out to make was slipping out of our grasp. We realized that we were sawing through the thin rope that tied us to our movie, and that if we cut that rope entirely, it would become in essence an outside project, where we could no longer tell what was good or bad in the very world we had created. So we undid all the changes and restored the movie to the one we set out to make. Whether that was the best choice — whether the movie would have been better if we’d followed the other roads — is impossible to say.
The other challenge was trying to speak the language of the people we were working with. Despite the fact that Alec and I had both spent years playing music, I don’t think we ever managed to communicate what we wanted from the composers we spoke to. And I wonder, what could we have done or said differently to get our ideas across more clearly?
But enough of words: for this round of New Breed conversation, it was strongly suggested that we filmmakers try to act like filmmakers and get out our cameras. So Alec and I tried to coalesce our ideas about collaboration and come up with something we could shoot that would get across a little of what we’ve come to believe.
The following is the result: Collaboration, as seen by three thieves from The Red Machine: Bad-Eye Bedrosian (Jon Amirkhan), Frankie “The Finger” Dexter (played by Mike Rock) and the Impeccably-Dressed Mauricio Delano (Nicholas Tucci). We wrote it last Saturday, shot it on Wednesday night, and finished it by Friday — a new personal best!
(Incidentally, the actors are themselves an example of a great ongoing collaboration — three very different individuals who found an instant chemistry on the feature and who willingly stepped back into their 1930s personas for us just do this little featurette.)
Posted in The Red Machine creative collaboration