Laforte on the Hierachy of Creative Command in Movie Production

Fron Vincent Laforet’s Blog:

One of the toughest things to balance within the formula is how to balance friendship within the equation – especially given the fact that we very often work with friends on both big and small productions.   This is a field where we want to work with talented people we respect and enjoy being around, while also helping them to push their creative boundaries to a new level.  And that can be tough to balance for anyone.

 Early on in your directing process,  you quickly learn that your job is not to be everyone’s friend   In fact, you find out that trying to be a crewmember’s friend in the short term by cutting them a break or cutting a corner, will likely yield the opposite to what you are seeking long term…   For example if you let someone off the hook in terms of an important responsibility at the end of a long shoot day,  that act of friendship can come to bite the entire team the next day, when your shortcut causes problem the next day and turns into a longer day …  

 That act of good faith and friendship may ironically turn around to harm to the overall production, the person you meant to help,  and in the end they may in fact blame you for it long term and possibly resent you for it down the line… 

 So unless you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do what you are releasing them from doing yourself, sometimes you’ve got to make the hard choice an insist that it gets done (now) for everyone’s benefit long term.    The person may not thank you now, or ever.   But at least they won’t blame you along with a few dozen others long term.   And the reality is that you rolling your sleeves up, may cause a multitude of other problems down the line for many people… you might embarrass the person you’re releaving or worse: not do it properly.   Again: a tough balance.

 One of my favorite sayings is:  “Salute the rank, not the invidual.”

 Loosely translated, this means that when you work in a hierarchical system such as the military, or in effect the film business, you salute or respect an officer above you not necessarily for who THEY are as an individual, but instead out of respect for their position within the hierarchy, and in recognition of how the entire system works. 

 Ergo, even if you may hate the “superior” and even if they aren’t inherently stellar individuals, you still need to respect the chain of command or all hell will all too likely break loose and everyone will fall victim to the fallout which is usually failure or in the case of the military:  potential loss of life.   

Point is:  as soon as you start to mess with the system, it will mess with you, and you in the end will likely pay too.

 This is how the hierarchical system is built after all, it’s a top down hierarchy where everyone delegates responsibilities and redundancies downward.  Theoretically if you don’t stray from your responsibilities too much, you should get a good result even with a few failures at several levels.   The system isn’t built to be “clever” or necessarily “logical or efficient” per se:  it’s build to be robust and withstand the inherent chaos of war.  And while people at the bottom think it’s all rosy on top… they find out that with authority comes a lot of responsibility (and stress etc…) as they themselves move up the rank.  

Personally, I have as much respect for people who do NOT take on larger roles within a hierarchy just as much as I do for the leaders within the hierarchy.   I appreciate that some people just don’t want to deal with all that will inevitably with the “authority” and are comfortable where they are.

 Obviously most people reading this live in a much “looser” environment that for all intensive purposes couldn’t be further from the military.     You’re more likely to find a hipster on a set these days than you are a former Marine.  People working on a film crew are traditionally anti-conformists and anti-authority.    

 That being said, everyone on a crew inherently comes to respect the process,  as failure to do so quickly results in inefficiency, chaos and worse:  long, painful and unproductive days…  a zero sum game.  There are simply too many moving parts within the filmmaking process and in the end this top-down system works quite well in fact, and does a good job of mitigating chaos.

 Which brings me back to the role of a director.