Co-Creating With Your “Audience”

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As we continue to plan our development and release strategy for “Inside-Out, Outside-In,” we are struggling to come to terms with our relationship to the eventual audience of the film. It doesn’t take much reflection to come to the realization that 20th century definitions of the word “audience” no longer apply. So, I’d like filmmakers to consider how greatly things have changed in terms of the audience’s consumption of media and then build your film in accordance with new realities (or at least in awareness of them).

First of all, in 2017, practically every human being in the United States under the age of 50 is a content creator and a content curator, because of social media. In days gone by, people identified with their profession – maybe they were a bricklayer or teacher or doctor or cop – and to a great degree, left art to the artists. They certainly – for the most part – didn’t conceive of themselves as part-artist (perhaps some of them did, who had a painting hobby or the like). But now, almost everyone in America is part-artist. They are part-actor-photographer with the selfies they share on Instagram and part-writer with their Facebook posts. They are part-curator with what they choose to retweet on Twitter and part-filmmaker on Snapchat. And building followings in these various platforms affords status in a similar way that authors used to receive from being on a best-seller list or winning a prestigious literary award. Perhaps it’s a cruder version of that sort of status, but on some level, achieving a higher status and more cultural influence is achieving a higher status and more cultural influence. And now, what anyone expresses may legitimately, in terms that data can measure, accrue status. In 1950, artists and filmmakers and fashion designers might affect how the culture perceived this or that issue or trend. (Think of the style influence of Audrey Hepburn). But now, social media “winning” could easily strike a bricklayer with an iPhone (I have MANY friends who would follow a hot shirtless bricklayer on Instagram), who could accidentally launch a new catchphrase or look. We’re all actors now.

In one way, this is great. Why shouldn’t everyday people have a shot at influencing their own culture through what they express? Why should only elite-level artists have this potential to influence others culturally? Maybe, in the past, artists have abused the privilege and overestimated their insight and observations of life compared to non-artists. So perhaps, the scales are evening up…and for the first time.

Some artists have responded to the democratization of cultural influence by trying to make their work less accessible to the common man. This impulse for abstraction grants the artist the ability to retain feelings of superiority and greater economic power from his creations. Accessibility is all too easy to interpret as the “part-artist” energy of the prosumer, so artists work double time to make their work abstract and intellectual, sometimes for the sake of vanity rather than purity of purpose. After all, if everybody’s expressions are equally valuable, artists would have an extraordinarily difficult time getting paid (which is already happening, of course). Then, there are other artists who pander to the masses even more, by making their content shorter or more shareable, more focused on viral potentiality. This is just base greed, a desire to brazenly profit off a new set-up before bothering to understand the implications of technological change or the purpose of artistic ventures in the first place.

So what is a conscientious artist to do? Some well-meaning artists try to deny the changing landscape and hold onto the past. But this seems foolish – times they are a’changing and denial/obstinance serves no one. Others become so overwhelmed that they retreat from the landscape altogether but this seems like, well, weakness. As artists, we must meet the challenges of our time and, hopefully, provide some insight for others to do the same.

So, knowing all that, I think the best model for the future is thinking of the audience as fellow artists and to see your project as a mission to create something together. This is especially true during the phase of the project when your film touches the audience directly. Their reaction should be incorporated as part of the story of the work itself. We no longer live in a world where people sit in a darkened theatre, let the film soak into them and leave, a grateful and changed audience. So why pretend we do, even if that sort of arrangement used to grant incredible status to the film’s creators? Now, your audience is making the experience with you – and deserves much of the credit, too. Yes, your feature film is the most intense part of the experience created, but it is no longer the only show in town, even in terms of the experience of said feature film.

How do we successfully co-create something with the audience? This is where creativity and ingenuity come into play. For my current film, Guys Reading Poems, we’ve created a series of open mic poetry readings in Los Angeles as a way for our audience to express their own poetry, not just watch the selections we included in the film. And sometimes, we find gems that are superior to what we make ourselves, such as the poem “Millennium” by Elena Secota. So we then double back and use our growing audience to turn a spotlight onto Ms. Secota, a fellow co-creator of the “Guys Reading Poems” experience. This provides a positive feedback loop that truly serves both our film and the community – as equals.

So what’s our co-creating strategy for “Inside-Out, Outside-In”? To be honest, I don’t know yet. They call it brainstorming because it feels like a raging thunder crossing back and forth in your head. But eventually – and hopefully soon – we’ll land on a good idea. And then, you can be part of the film…and share in its accomplishments.

In the meantime, I offer you “Millennium” by Elena Secota.

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

The Voice of Your Film

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One of the founding principles of my production company Fatelink is our belief in the organic development of material.

What does that mean exactly and how do we organically develop material in an age when time is a precious and expensive commodity for the higher profile actors who sometimes drop in for only a day or two of rehearsal, if that?

For me, at the core of the concept of organic development of material is an idea – the idea that the material itself has a life of its own. Furthermore,  over time – the film will communicate with you and clarify what it wants to be, much like a child asserting to a parent the profession that suits their personality. I see directing films not so much as a general leading troops to battle to execute a plan, but as a meditator quietly listening to the “voice of the film” that’s already forming itself somewhere beyond our ordinary day-to-day life. Then, it’s the director’s job to support that voice and to encourage it, just as a good parent enrolls his child in karate classes when they express a desire for a career in the martial arts. The “voice of the film” doesn’t scream at you – it whispers, it entreats, it inspires and, sometimes, it vexes you, especially when the “voice of the film” wants to shoot underwater or rewrite a scene to require more speaking parts that will prompt a difficult conversation with the producer. And the “voice of the film” doesn’t speak in a rapid-fire monologue that is discoverable in one sitting. It requires a number of sittings, over time, and there is room for negotiation. Interestingly, if you really can’t afford those other actors and go back to the “voice of the film”, it may come up with an alternate idea. What I’m calling the “voice of the film” also may evolve as you the director gather information through research, thought and rehearsal.

Admittedly, filmmaking in 2017 seems particularly unsuited for this meditative directorial style. In the studio world, hiring a general makes a lot more sense. After all, they have hundreds of people to be corralled to make the film (some of them, quite frankly in my opinion, who are unnecessary). And even when the “voice of the film” begins to call out to the people involved that the plan needs to change, it’s more effective to execute the plan that was drafted before. After all, hundreds of people have committed to it (and in some cases, it seems like hundreds of people had to agree to it, too) and it’s already in motion. Studios feel they must populate their films with actors that drive box office returns, so when a fragile voice expresses, ‘we need someone with XXXX quality to embody this role, not that huge star’, it’s a business imperative to ignore that voice.

The beauty of being an independent filmmaker is that the lower budget and freedom from bureaucratic power struggles mean that the “voice of the film” has a much better chance of emerging. But don’t be fooled – even an independent film has internal political pressure and time is always a factor. So it’s important to set up your process in a way that empowers the “voice of the film” rather than disempowers it.

Here are some simple steps you can take to ensure that your film discovers and heeds its own voice in an organic way.

  1. Don’t be fooled by magical thinking that says rehearsal is unnecessary in film. I’ve heard so many director’s commentaries where it’s said that a chosen moment in the film was “the first take” and that the film did not rehearse the scene whatsoever. I’ve then heard 23-year old directors mimicking that sentiment with broad statements like, “I don’t believe in rehearsing for film.” But it’s dangerous for new and emerging filmmakers to adopt the attitude that rehearsal is something for amateurs and theatre actors. First of all, so often what underlines this attitude in newer directors is hubris rather than a genuine philosophical point of view (The subtext of that previous quote from Mr. Hot Young Director is, ‘I’m so brilliant that I don’t need rehearsal – it would only slow down the magic that is flowing from my brilliance….’). Done properly, rehearsal is a time when the “voice of the film” reveals itself and, if you’re listening, you will find a moment or two that you didn’t know existed when you wrote the screenplay. You’ll discover dialogue that’s unnecessary and other dialogue that can be simplified. You’ll realize that the intricate shot you storyboarded isn’t as important as an ordinary medium or close-up that reveals something more important…and will footnote that moment as a priority for later on set.
  2. Hire high profile actors. But don’t put them in every single role. The economic reality of independent filmmaking is that you must put some high profile actors in your film to increase your chances to sell and distribute the film. But I strongly, strongly suggest you resist the temptation to put high profile actors in every single role. Why? Usually, these actors – even when working for scale – are less available for rehearsal and conversation before the film starts. They tend to drop in on your movie for the allotted amount of time, then go away again. They do what they do extremely effectively, but you don’t want an entire cast that is under that sort of time crunch. If you have an ensemble film of seven main characters, I suggest going for high profile actors for three of the seven roles, at the most. With the other roles, choose amazing working actors that perfectly fit the archetypal quality of the character. And make sure with their agents that they are available for an extensive amount of time for rehearsals. Usually, these actors are extremely grateful to get a leading role, so you will have an easier time going out with them for coffee just to talk about the film and the role. And this time is crucial because, again, it’s simple conversations like this when the “voice of the film” starts to emerge. And you want to feel 100% confident in those conversations, rather than feeling like you owe an agent a favor for an hour’s discussion with his or her client. What I’ve seen is that once the really high profile actors come on set and realize how much development and work has gone into the film and the other characters, they are inspired to dive in and are suddenly on their A+ game, so you end up getting the best of all worlds.
  3. Storyboard the entire film. Shotlist the entire film. Again, related to the point I make in #1, I’ve heard directors as young as 21 insist that they never shotlist or storyboard their films, but rather discover everything on set. Usually, this is accompanied by some sort of statement about shotlists being too “limiting” or a desire to shoot things, “in the moment.” And again, I am skeptical of whether this mentality is hubris or just laziness. Here’s why storyboarding and shotlisting are important, other than their advantages of keeping the crew informed, organized and prepared and just having a plan generally. Storyboarding and shotlisting force a conversation with the “voice of the film” that you might otherwise be too busy to notice. Going shot by shot allows you to organically hear what your film is resisting and what makes it enthusiastic. It’s sort of a boot camp for understanding what type of film you’re directing. If you have enough of these sorts of conversations, you become attuned to the “voice of the film” so much so that if you decide there’s a scene you need to improvise, you will know how to direct that scene without a shotlist. But again, that ability to be “in the moment” can only come from the weeks of work listening and understanding the “voice of the film” through the storyboarding and shotlisting process.
  4. Read. Then Check in. Watch Movies. Then Check in. It can be difficult to separate yourself as a private individual from the film you are serving. So one simple, but effective tactic for developing the “voice of your film” is to check in with your film immediately after reading or watching a film. As an individual, you may have one reaction to a novel, poem or essay, but the film inside you may find something else of value in what you’ve just read. The same concept applies to watching films. So it’s helpful to ask the “voice of the film” inside you, ‘What did you find interesting or useful about that? You might be surprised at what comes back.
  5. Meditate. First of all, let me be honest. When it comes to meditation, I’m like an alcoholic – on the wagon, then off again. However, I have noticed that meditation helps draw up the ideas needed for a film. The process through which that happens is a bit mysterious and also important to keep private, I feel. But don’t take my word for it. Learn meditation from someone who knows what they are doing and you will see results (send a message if you’d like me to recommend someone).

These are just five out of an infinite number of ways you may begin listening to the “voice of your film.” If you have any more methods helpful to directors or screenwriters, please leave them in the comments!

 

 

New Film Distribution Models – 7 Ideas

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I’ve talked to a number of filmmaker friends who feel that the distribution phase of a film – even more so than fundraising – is the most challenging part of the process. Yes, it’s extremely competitive to get the attention of sales agents and, in turn, distributors. But even passing that hurdle leaves hard questions: is my distributor telling the truth about these numbers? Are they paying on time? Are they using their leverage on my film or for a different film on their roster? Are they being smart about how they are marketing my film?

So I thought I would swing for the fences and suggest ideas – some quite radical and others common sense – for the future of film distribution with the hope that one or two of these ideas might empower you in the distribution phase of your film. I’ve based my suggestions on the business plan of my first feature film Guys Reading Poems, brainstorming sessions for the new feature Inside-Out, Outside-In as well as conversations with lots of my filmmaker friends about films they’ve sold or distributed.

So if you’re an indie filmmaker looking for distribution options, consider this:

  1. Start a film group, with the intent to buy or build a movie theatre as an extension of your work. I see so many working theatre groups, many of whom own or operate their own small theatre very successfully. I think it’s largely just cultural heritage that actors and content creators feel comfortable with theatre groups, but so much less so with film groups. But I think that in 20 years, every actor will be thinking about which film group they want to join the way we used to think about trying to find a theatre group. And if there’s not a great film group in your area, start one yourself. Bonus: if you can find a way – as a film group – to own and operate a small cinema, it will provide a lot of leverage for you in talks with distributors and sales agents. This is true not only because you can provide a theatrical run for the film you’ve made, but also because you’ll be able to more cheaply provide them a rental space for their other titles. Now, all of a sudden, you look like someone they want to know….
  2. Make three movies instead of one. Making one feature film and finishing it is an incredible accomplishment, but having only one film leaves you vulnerable at the negotiating table with sales agents and distributors. Once you sign the paperwork, what leverage do you have? None, really. So it’s only their integrity and sense of professionalism that will get you paid at that point (and some distributors have more integrity than others….). But by making more than one movie – even holding one or two in the pipeline – you have leverage because assuming you deliver three quality films, they will want the second one…and the third one. So you can use that as a negotiating tactic. And they might be more forthcoming with statements and payments because you now can contest problems with three titles they own, not just one.
  3. Sell a product. Major studios greenlight films, in part, because of the merchandising opportunities that a film might provide. They think of each film as a profit center, not a work of art. Independent filmmakers (myself included) tend to make a film because it’s a story they want to tell and it feels a bit like whoring out your own child to think about the movie as a profit center. And yet, it’s possible to brainstorm products that could go with your film and why shouldn’t you? You’re spending three to four years making this film so why not have something organic that goes with your film to sell? You might end up making more money off this related product than the film itself. That product also might affect how you distribute the film. Perhaps the consumer gets a copy of your film when they buy your product or purchasing the product provides a coupon for the product, etc.
  4. Identify your audience early, then join that community. This isn’t rocket science, but if your film appeals to specific groups, go be part of that group to lay the groundwork for your film’s eventual release. If your target market includes married women with kids in their 40s and you’re a single gay guy in your 20s, then you better go out there and meet some married moms! Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.” A similar sentiment applies to building an audience for your film. The Hollywood glamour machine does a good job of building the illusion that films become hits because of magic. But if you’re an indie filmmaker, you can’t afford to be fooled by the magical thinking that your film will somehow win over audiences because….destiny. The reality on the ground is that you are forced into becoming a politician to sell your film to the groups that are willing to buy it (and, yes, your inner purist artist will rebel from that ‘politician’ label, but try to convince your inner artist to get over it). If you’re not on the ground mixing and mingling with your target audience, why should they trust you enough to watch your work? How do they know you accurately reflected their lives? If you don’t intimately know people in your target audience, who will your brand ambassadors be? If you can show sales agents and distributors that you have credibility with one of the big target audiences of your film, that will be helpful and just plain smart.
  5. Cross platforms. Be thinking about how your film can be reinvented across many platforms – and select three or four that are powerful to drive folks to you. You can’t just keep sharing the trailer all day long and hope for the best. So think about how you can reinvent your film’s content in a way that would appeal to the users of Twitter. If that platform doesn’t work for you, fine. Then, how can it be reinvented and repackaged for Instagram or YouTube or Snapchat or on and on. It goes back to the concept of making three movies instead of one. You are really never making one singular movie. You’re making an experience that goes across platforms, with the feature film the most intense part of that experience.
  6. Roll the dice and plan for your film to get a major pick-up deal at Sundance or Cannes. Of course, there is a school of thought that says to only focus on the quality of your film, then go sell your film at Sundance and let a distributor deal with all this “political and networking bullshit” that you don’t want to do. Fair enough. Go for it. Just know your odds going in. This year, Sundance had upwards of 15,000 films submitted for around 250 slots. And I think that the interpersonal politics at film festivals is even more pronounced now than 15 years ago because of changes to the distribution model. Even powerhouse distributors are feeling the pinch of fewer dvd sales and an uncertain market and are highly motivated to buttress their films with credentials like Sundance. So, some pretty heavy hitters are out there calling festival programmers to lobby for their film to get one of those slots. That’s not to say that these festivals don’t consider new work from less established filmmakers, they do. But politics is a factor – and I would argue a bigger factor now than ten years ago because the uncertainty in the market motivates the power players to exercise as much power as they can while they still have it.
  7. Forever Theatrical/Films as Precious Art Objects. With piracy of films online so problematic, I could imagine a day when major filmmakers rebel and refuse to allow their films to be released online at all. It’s so very annoying to see your film ripped off and some low grade version of it circulating the internet that I’ve heard at least one indie filmmaker say that he wants to turn his films into sculptures, more or less. He makes a film. It has a festival, then a theatrical run, then he sells 100 encrypted copies of the film to high-end art collectors. Every now and then, he reintroduces the film in a new theatrical run, but it never goes online and never becomes available as a dvd or bluray. This filmmaker felt this was the only approach that held a future for indie artists because it actually allows us to value our work in the same category as others working in the fine arts. Now admittedly, I heard this idea at a late-night party when everybody had been drinking, but you know what? Who knows what the future may bring?

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

 

The Duty of the Artist

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“I’m dating a musician. He’s in a band that plays every Friday night here in town, but they’ll be headed off to do a mini-tour to support their iTunes album soon,” says a friend of yours. You study your friend, somewhat skeptical…and definitely worried.  The sentence, “Please remember, you’re dating an actor,” is a commonly overheard refrain – and sometimes an exhortation – in Los Angeles when raised voices, sobbing and genuine confusion alert you that two friends at the table next to you are discussing relationships and heartbreak. In fact, I had an acquaintance who developed a sort of cruel shorthand for dealing with his female friend’s numerous complaints about an on-again, off-again boyfriend. When she lamented about the newest strange and unwanted behavior by her boyfriend, he would reply emphatically with a poignant, one-word reminder, “Actor.”

There is a sense that actors, musicians, poets, writers, comedians, artists can be intelligent, sensitive, passionate, certainly sexy, but also dangerously self-centered, not quite a solid bet for forming relationships. In some ways, artists seem the opposite of dutiful, a worrisome thought when pondering a potential son-in-law.

Now doctors, they clearly have a duty – to heal their patients. Sure, some doctors are unscrupulous but those scandals are the exception that prove the existence of the rule. Teachers report to schools to discharge their duty to transmit knowledge to the next generation. New police officers take a “Law Enforcement Oath” at the beginning of their career, outlining their duty as public servants. So do Senators and U.S. Congressmen and our President. Lawyers are bound by duty to represent their clients and that duty swears them to secrecy about the conversations held in private with clients. And members of the clergy have duties defined by their religious beliefs. Many practitioners in these fields fall far short of what their duty prescribes, but it is significant that entire career categories are defined by aspirations towards fulfilling a duty, perhaps ennobling those who pursue them. After all, if your job requires you to serve an ideal beyond your ego, perhaps you start transcending selfish desires in your personal life as well.

In contrast, on the surface at least, artists seem to gravitate towards the “love” in the classic “duty vs. love” theme. The stereotypical artist engages in some kind of rebellion to join the ranks of his profession, against a future safeguarded by more steady and predictable work. (There are certainly exceptions – people born into esteemed families of artists, for example). Like Romeo or Juliet, the artist falls in love…with the pursuit of his or her craft or with the field they aspire to join. And that love is a kind of river that sweeps the artist along – sometimes here, sometimes there. Desire asserts itself as the key component of the artist’s choice to make a career of the creative life. In the best case scenario, it’s an authentic desire of the soul to discover and express something of value; in the worst case, it’s the desire for the enviable results that accompany success at the highest levels of the creative class – fame, money, cultural importance and influence.

But even when the impulse to become an actor comes naturally, out of genuine curiosity and passion, basing your profession on desire is fundamentally different than joining a profession defined by its duty to others.

So that begs the question – is this stereotypical initiation of the artist into his profession a healthy one? Perhaps living one’s life based on desire and rebellion is the source of the accusation that many artists are suffering from arrested development, trapped in an extended adolescence that’s simply not possible for those who serve others as doctors, teachers, police officers and nurses. Have we entered the arts simply to avoid growing up? Or, perhaps, to avoid having to consider the needs and requirements of others, who are, after all, equally human to non-artists? Are we as artists only living to satisfy our own self-centered needs and to express the passion, thoughts, emotions or imagination within us with no sense of duty towards anyone else or anything greater than ourselves?

I don’t think so. Indeed, I think there are many noble artists fulfilling an important duty through their profession, whether they are doing so consciously or unconsciously. But, it is much more difficult to describe what an artist’s duty should be, compared to other professions, and it is easier to set aside one’s duty as an artist precisely because that duty is so much harder and more elusive to define.

Let’s start out with some heavy hitters and see what they had to say about the duty of the artist. Here are two quotes from Marlon Brandon & Robert Schumann:

“To grasp the full significance of life is the actor’s duty, to interpret it is his problem and to express it is his dedication.” – Marlon Brando

“To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist.” – Robert Schumann

Both statements have a ring of truth to them, although they certainly contradict one another. Granted, Brando is a first-rate actor, while Schumann is a composer. Brando’s statement would seemingly embrace the actor grasping, interpreting and expressing both dark and light, while Schumann sees art (perhaps a la Schopenhauer) as the lightness that illuminates our otherwise dark hearts. Presumably, under Brando’s description, it would be excellent for an artist to bring a hidden dark color to bear in his work so that we may understand the meaning of that darkness, while for Schumann the artist must strive to conjure light to relieve us from darkness.

So – knowing the statements contradict one another – how can I possibly contend that both Brando and Schumann are correct?

Because – unlike police officers and teachers – the artist’s duty is more closely related to the individual self. In the case of Brando, his duty was to ‘grasp the full significance of life’ and he did so, in the process unearthing unforgettable moments on film. But Brando’s mistake here is in trying to imply that EVERY actor’s duty is ‘to grasp the full significance of life’ rather than accepting it as his duty alone.

In the classic SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, the late Debbie Reynolds, only 19 at the time it was shot, overjoyed a nation with her irrepressible, optimistic performance. I would dispute that Ms. Reynolds’ duty in that role was to “grasp the full significance of life.” No. Her role called on her to do something else, something also very valuable to a nation in need. Her performance embodied the American can-do spirit after a vicious world war through a performance that exuded joy. If Debbie Reynolds’ duty had been – “to lift the spirits of others” – she certainly fulfilled it in that role, just as Brando fulfilled his duty to “grasp the full significance of life” with his own, very different, oeuvre. He saw the meaning. She brought the light into the darkness.

Landscape jigsaw puzzle of a greyscale wheat fieldAnd the variations of duty with regards to artists are not binary, but rather limitless because there are an infinite number of individual variations of important qualities that need embodiment and exploration for the greater good. Artists must just take more time – and indeed walk through a bit of a creative process – to become conscious of their own intrinsic qualities that can be helpful to the culture at large…and how to then formulate those qualities into a sort of vision statement, or duty that serves their fellow citizens.

The problem for actors – and artists – is that because determining one’s duty is a two-step process that requires sober self-reflection, it’s easy to ignore the concept of duty altogether and slip into adolescent thinking and self-centeredness when the nature of your duty is not obvious. And once we slip into a self-centered life without the yoke of duty, we can become “that guy” that Los Angeles friends discuss through tears over cappuccinos.

So maybe it’s worthwhile for all artists to spend an afternoon or two or three asking themselves, “What is my duty? What is the intrinsic quality I have to share that could be helpful to others in need?” I believe that once you figure out your artist’s duty (consistent with the qualities you possess) – and perhaps even just by asking the question – then life may be as meaningful and selfless for artists, as for anyone else doing their part to make our world a better place.

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

Research Recap: La Grande Illusion.

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Before I became a film director…first and foremost, I was a fan of the movies. That remains the case. I love movies. And when I first watch a film, the “fan” in me dominates the working artist. It’s as if the kid in me rises up and orders the eager professional side of me to sit down, shut up and enjoy the ride. Sure, I notice a few things here and there that go above and beyond how I experienced a film for the first time when I popped in those ancient VHS tapes as a youngster. But I’m not one of these artists who feels that peeking behind the curtain has somehow eliminated the magic of a filmgoing experience. No. If anything, I feel like appreciate movies more now (and I definitely have more respect for the credit scroll, seeing just how many collaborators it takes to make the film, knowing how hard they worked).

But now that I’m prepping this second feature, I need to watch movies not just for fun, not just as a fan, but for inspiration and to better understand the mechanics of shotmaking, story and character that might be applicable to my own film. So I’m trying to consciously ask myself a few questions about each film I watch in preparation to make “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” We’ll see if this works for me in identifying some specifics about the way the films I research are crafted and in improving my own film.

So for each film, I force myself to answer the following questions: Why are you choosing this film as part of your research? What was your favorite shot? Why? Who was your favorite character? What did that character add to the film? What was your favorite scene? Why did it work for you? What was your favorite moment in terms of the acting? Why? What is your favorite piece of dialogue? Why?

The following answers are from the film “Le Grande Illusion” (1937), directed by Jean Renoir.

 

Why are you including this film as part of your research? I knew I had to see Renior’s “The River” since it was one of the first studio films to shoot in color in India and my film also takes place partially in India. So I saw “The River” and really enjoyed it and decided it would be worthwhile to then take a look at “La Grande Illusion.”

Favorite shot: The opening shot. We open on a shot of the record player, then tilt up to a medium of our protagonist, who starts singing along to the record as soon as he hits the frame. As he’s singing, we see (out of focus) a few guys sit down to play cards in the background and another guy passes through the frame (this part is crucial – it helps to set up the bar location even in a medium). Then, the camera pans to the right as our hero walks in that direction and becomes a wider shot of the bar accommodating about 10 French soldiers between the soldiers we see now and those we saw in the blurry background previously. Our hero has a brief conversation with the bartender, then heads back towards the record player as another soldier walks in the door. We follow the new soldier back to the record player, where our protagonist has already settled and the shot becomes a two-shot as our hero takes one step back to frame it up (we still haven’t cut). They have another brief conversation. Then the camera pans right once more to follow these guys as they leave the bar. The shot runs about 55 seconds.

Why I like it and what can be learned from it: It’s just classy when an opening shot of a film runs a minute without cutting, managing to seamlessly sneak in a shot of a record player, a medium of our hero, a wide and a two-shot all in the same continuous shot. Somehow, in a very subtle way, such a shot announces to the audience: you’re in the hands of a master who’s thought things through…and this is a film worth watching from start to finish. Buckle in. On a story level, I feel like the shot sets up our protagonist’s relationship to his group – his fellow soldiers. This fluid shot establishes him as an individual who has a voice (indeed, a voice that sings) yet he’s inextricably connected to the group of soldiers. Lt. Marechal can’t just break away from the army, any more than the actor playing him can break away from this shot. It contains him for a full minute. And by the way, there is nothing expensive whatsoever about that shot. It’s all ingenuity in the design and perhaps some good ole fashioned trial and error on the set to get the timing, blocking and focus exactly right.

Favorite character: I personally loved the Lt. Rosenthal character, played by Marcel Dalio, perhaps because I related to him most.

What does this character add to the film: Rosenthal is a former Vaudeville performer stuck in the army, who even produces a drag show in the barracks. [Side note: Certainly the most provocative scene in the film is when a young man enters dressed as a woman and the entire barracks falls completely silent as the other guys (presumably) cycle through feelings of both attraction and consternation at being attracted to a pretty boy dressed as a girl.] And that expressive element of the men captured just would not have been possible without the character of Lt. Rosenthal. His humor, his showmanship and his almost annoyingly upbeat energy opens the door to a sense of fun in spite of danger that the movie needs. It also reminds me of the “Orchestration of Character” chapter in Lajos Egri’s book about playwriting. Lt. Rosenthal balances out the traditional aristocracy of Captain Boeldieu and the salt of the Earth Lt. Marechal.

Favorite scene: Erich von Stroheim’s character bemusedly calling out the guys for previous escape attempts. I know it’s not the most profound or gripping scene in the film, but it’s a soldiers’ spin on the “honor among thieves” in the sense that every military officer prides himself on his valiant attempts at escape from the opposing side’s prison camp, something von Stroheim’s character can appreciate, even if it’s his duty to make sure these guys stay locked up.

Favorite moment in the acting: This movie would be a treasured French film, rather than an international classic, without Erich von Stroheim. His humanizing performance as the German captain is not only the best in the film, but effectively empowers Renoir to depict a world in which opposing soldiers have more in common than what divides them by circumstance. To this end, I could easily have picked von Stroheim’s brilliant moments of wry humor mixed with self-confidence in the previously described scene where he reads off all these escape attempts of his captives. But instead, I will choose his touching moments at the bedside of his dying French counterpart, Captain Boeldieu.

Why that acting moment? First of all, it’s the small touches that sometimes make for a great moment. Erich von Stroheim captures all of the physical pain of his character, the war injuries, in his stiff movements towards the bed. There’s even a slight grimace of pain as he sits down next to Boeldieu, which he hides even from himself. Those details make the moment when he tenderly touches Boeldieu’s shoulder even more moving. He says his first line of dialogue here, “Forgive me,” with the simple tones of someone who means it, no extra dramatics to call attention to the weight of the statement.

What was your favorite piece of dialogue in the film: Well, I don’t speak French, full disclosure. So, I’m sure some of the subtle humor in certain moments of the dialogue was lost on me. But, just a few hours after watching it, I only clearly remember one line of dialogue. [SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT] It’s the scene when, after Boeldieu is shot, he tells the German captain who shoots him, “I would have done the same.”

Why I liked that bit of dialogue: First off, it obviously stayed with me. Also, it just drives home this feeling that war is absurd, even more than tragic. If one side isn’t morally superior to the other or more just than the other, then it seems so stupid that they’re fighting in the first place. I mean, if all you learn after years of war and escape attempts and lost lives is, “The other guy is just like me,” then that seems both cruel and an undeniable step towards enlightenment.

Best Takeaway for my Own Film: That opening shot. Finding just a few cheap, fascinating shots that have that sort of variation and purpose, uninterrupted, would be pretty rad for my own film.

Feel free to let me know in the comments other aspects of a film that are worth serious thought and observation as you’re prepping your shot list.

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

 

 

Selling vs. The Work

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I’m going to admit one of my biggest sources of frustration as an artist: the balance between creating work and promoting it.

Some artists appear to only care about creating work and delegate all responsibilities of promoting themselves and their work to others (agents, managers, publicists, publishers, distributors, etc). And I really envy those artists, even if I’m sure it’s an illusion that they are free from the responsibilities of promoting their work. After all, even if you delegate to a publicist, you still have to pay the publicist.

salesman-iooiNonetheless, very established artists do seem more free from the idea of having to “sell yourself” to get through the door. Which – in my mind – frees up their energy to focus even more on creative pursuits, sharpening their skills as artists. On the other hand, the unestablished artist must spend a fair amount of time on promotion, taking away valuable time for creating and enhancing your work. Most unestablished artists can’t afford to hire someone to shoulder these responsibilities, either. And the work is all the more difficult because promoting a known quantity is far easier than promoting a new artist, even for a skilled publicist. So the promotional aspect is not only more for the unestablished artist in terms of doing the work herself, it’s also more challenging work with fewer results. It’s easy to feel both overworked and perpetually behind. In my case, fears abound that I’ll never catch up to my more established counterparts. The flip side of that fear is the scary notion that I might be a phony for spending too much time promoting work at the expense of investing time and resources into creating better work. And the fear underlying both is the ole, “Well, perhaps they are just better artists than you are and that’s why success comes easy to them.”

So…what to do?

I’ve asked myself this question a lot and the answer seems to be the very unmagical response of, “Keep creating work and keep promoting said work to the best of your ability.”

Sometimes, I add to that, “Shame for not having financial success as an artist is not productive or even an indicator of long-term success.” Many artists who were popular in their time are now long-forgotten Emperors in New Clothes. And many unheralded artists rose significantly in their fields well into their old age or even after death. This knowledge is difficult, but freeing and brings up a challenging but pertinent silver lining. When you feel badly about yourself for not being as established as you want to be, remember the strategic benefits of your position as well. The unestablished artist may have more work and harder work to do, but at least he is free in a different way, free from the hubris that seems a byproduct of conventional success. Hubris can blind one to the truth of oneself and the culture at large. Conventional success almost certainly is isolating while struggle forces a confrontation with the self and others.

I don’t think it’s prudent for unestablished artists not to use social media and conventional networking to forward their career. I sometimes feel that more established artists are looking down on me for doing so, but I really try not to care anymore. I was recently told by a well-established sales agent that my art film could secure a meeting with a major distributor if I could prove we have 100,000 social media followers regularly tuned in. It may not be my favorite to build up those kinds of numbers, but if it helps me make the films I love and return capital to the brave investors who believe in them, I’ll build that online audience. And if somebody important at some prestigious institution snickers at me for it, oh well. Building a social media following is just too important to ignore, even if it’s out of my comfort zone.

That being said, at the end of the day, as artists, we must be willing to sacrifice self-promotion for the sake of the work. Just this past month, I missed almost all my self-imposed deadlines for writing blog posts right here at insideoutthefilm.com. That’s because I’ve been rewriting the film. And I had to prioritize that. I just didn’t have the energy for both and I had to choose. Rightly, I chose “the work” not promoting the work. Now, I’m shotlisting. I shotlist at least one scene every day, come hell or high water. If it’s between shotlisting and a tweet, I choose the shotlist. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to have a presence on Twitter and Instagram and work on building that up, too.

If anyone has ideas on this subject or practical suggestions for how artists can manage the balance between selling and creative work, please leave your comments below.

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

 

 

 

 

Rewrite.

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What a difference four years can make…

Originally, as many of you know who’ve been following the development of this film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In” was supposed to be my feature film directorial debut. Instead, I got very lucky to get a different feature off the ground, Guys Reading Poems, which is currently touring the festival circuit. Now that I’m returning to a script I began writing four years ago, I see that changes are necessary. Sigh. Rewrite.

First of all, major developments in our political landscape render the original draft looking a bit outdated after only a relatively short time. For starters, the fact that gay marriage is now the law of the land will have a big impact on the gay couple in the screenplay. I’m left with the choice of updating the script or keeping it as a “period piece” that takes place….in 2012. Updating the script is smarter.

Putting the gay marriage issue aside, I also see that there are opportunities to make pragmatic adjustments to the plot. The film tackles conflicts within the media business and a few more years going through the process of making a feature film (not to mention hearing new industry gossip) empowers me to better understand a world that I now occupy as well as observe.

And then, there’s my online philosophy class. For better or worse, all this talk of existentialism and the meaning of life really got my head spinning about some of the themes in the script. I do feel that there’s symbolic content floating around the edges of the screenplay that I may skillfully make a bit more conscious with a little luck, hard work and caffeine. So I’m going to try.

My process for rewriting always includes some unspecified amount of time existing as a sponge, internalizing ideas, inspiring works of art and music (and that online philosophy class). It’s kinda like the Time Machine for Mac computers. Somewhere in the background, without being noticed, my system is working to catalogue. But one of the hardest aspects of re-writing is moving beyond an abstract phase and actually conquering the previous draft with a red pen. Basically, my soak-up-the-ether-time with this script has been going on for the last eight to eleven months. The question then becomes, how do I start squeezing that sponge into the content of the screenplay? Where to (re) start?

For some reason, I was drawn to my favorite Shakespeare play, “Romeo & Juliet.” [Yes, my pug’s name is Romeo, too]. I really just wanted to read the prologue of the play. Since it’s so good (and in the public domain), I’ll copy/paste it for you:

“Two households, both alike in dignity. (In fair Verona, where we lay our scene), From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life, Whose misadventured piteous overthrows doth with their death bury their parents’ strife. The fearful passage of their death-marked love and the continuance of their parents’ rage, Which, but their children’s end, naught could remove, Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage— The which, if you with patient ears attend, What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.”

The famous balcony of Romeo and Juliet in Verona, Italy . Juliet's balcony

The famous balcony of Romeo and Juliet in Verona, Italy. Juliet’s balcony

So that got me going and I decided to write a prologue to “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” I was surprised by just how quickly I was able to get it down on paper. The first new words to “Inside-Out, Outside-In” in more than three years…and effective words, too. Maybe all the sponging worked. Satisfying.

The new prologue clearly tips its proverbial hat to “Romeo and Juliet”and I’m okay with that. If you’re writing a romantic drama, you could do worse that align yourself with the most iconic star-crossed lovers of all-time.

Who knows if I’ll be able to use it? But – as an exercise – it forced me to at least attempt to sum up the script and make it exciting for audiences on page one. It forced me to find a comparison for the film. (Now, I can be one of those Hollywood douches who says….it’s “Romeo and Juliet” meets ?????? ). It forced me to start the rewrite. Several days later, my insomnia inspired me to write an epilogue, too.

Now, it’s just a matter of the 93 pages in between.

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

 

Fail better.

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As I watch the U.S. Open, I’m reminded of Samuel Beckett’s insight from “Westward Ho” every time I see a medium shot of (now) finalist Stan Wawrinka. The quote goes like this, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

stan-tattooI think of it when I see Wawrinka because it’s tattooed on his left forearm.

Four years ago, I set out to direct the feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” The film never got made. Simply put, I failed. (Or at minimum, did not succeed on my timeline). Ouch.

To be fair to myself, I did direct another feature film in this time frame that’s currently touring film festivals, the neo-noir poetry mindbender Guys Reading Poems. But the achievements of that film don’t remove the stubborn reality that I wanted to make “Inside-Out, Outside-In” and it didn’t happen.

Failure seems especially daunting in a culture dominated by a materialism that has even managed somehow to take over spirituality (VISUALIZE IT AND THE MILLIONS ARE COMING, DUE TO SPIRITUALITY!). We expect materialism with the Kardashians and reality television and, more cynically, in a corrupt political system. But now, even many self-help gurus and ministers peddle the idea that financial success and empowerment come to those who pray (correctly) and really believe it. So failure can feel not only like a setback, but also like the sign of a moral and spiritual shortcoming (YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN YOURSELF OR IN THE POWER OF THE UNIVERSE ENOUGH!).

Also, for those of us who identify with the struggling artist motif, there’s a shadow side to failure that sees in it not only moral shortcomings, but also moral superiority. After all, it’s easier to embrace failure if we think of those who’ve succeeded to higher levels than ourselves as cheaters or sociopaths or spiritually bankrupt lawyers (and indeed some of them are). The danger in thinking that way is that a failure can reinforce a false narrative that you failed because you’re too good to succeed, akin to the mantra “only the good die young” – which implies that the old among us are not so good. In this case, we can harbor thoughts of “only the good go unrecognized and fight on as starving artists” which implies that “only the corrupt (or sellouts) succeed.”

Neither of these strains of thought works for me anymore. Self-help gurus craft good soundbite, but I guarantee that 99% of them could not direct a feature film and pull it off. In fact, most of them wouldn’t get past dealing with SAG-AFTRA. And struggling artists holding onto their purity and embracing failure’s more noble undertones sometimes sell their passion project and then they buy condo’s, too. I’ve seen it happen.

My thinking now is that failure – especially failure in terms of the materialistic world – is just not that grandiose. In itself, it doesn’t show much about who we are as people. Some amazing artists never succeed financially and some do. Some extremely successful people got there because they cheated, lied and manipulated their way to the top. Others worked really hard and conscientiously extend a helping hand to those on the way up.

The quote implies that if you’re NOT failing it’s because you’re not trying. The only way you can’t fail is by having no aspirations at all in your life. And that’s the ultimate losing approach to being human.

This week, I set up our Google Drive and re-ordered all the folders with regards to “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” I called the first meeting of the few people involved with the project at this stage – my manager Bradley R. Bernstein, my brother J. Parker Buell and longtime Fatelink collaborator Camille Carida, who was in the reading of the material way back in 2013 and has been a constant source of encouragement on the script. We talked about our system of naming files, scanning receipts, recruiting producers, investors and talent, creating talking points for the film and organizing a reading of the revised script in November. Afterwards, Bradley said it was the best meeting I’ve ever run. For now, the film is like that. It’s just meetings and lonely hours at coffee shops rewriting and determining file naming conventions with the hopes that it’ll save us effort six months later when the team expands from four to 124. To the extent that I succeeded in this one meeting, I attribute to a willingness to try again, fail again, fail better. Thank you, Samuel Beckett for your wisdom. And Stan for enduring the pain of a tattoo (and for being amazing enough at tennis that we all get to see it).

Tomorrow, I’m heading to a very successful friend’s condo to watch the Stan Wawrinka-Novak Djokovic final (to save money, I don’t have a television or cable subscription right now). I love Djoker, but I’m pulling for Stan. I hope I catch a shot of his tattoo.

On Monday, I get back to work on “Inside-Out, Outside-In.”

Scene 10 Shot B - Inside-Out, Outside-In

Nathaniel is taken aback by Jason’s performance. Note: It’s a solo shot, unlike the other two auditions. (storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker living and working in Los Angeles. His feature film, Guys Reading Poems, is currently on the film festival circuit and will screen at the Breckenridge Film Festival on Friday, September 16th. His favorite tennis players are Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic.

If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

INFP filmmakers: Top Ten Strategies to Lead your Team

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Some of the most creative minds on the planet – now and in the past – have been INFP on the Myers Briggs personality index. Artists and philosophers like Bjork, Terrence Malick, David Lynch, Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Kurt Cobain, Soren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, George Orwell and even William Shakespeare are reputed to be our fellow INFPs. We are, by many reports, a rare type – around 2% of the population at large (although some stats show us at more like 4%) and are alternately described as “dreamers,” “visionaries,” “healers,” and “imaginative idealists.”

By contrast, the classic “CEO” personality type is widely considered to be ESTJ. Yep, that is pretty much the polar opposite of the INFP type.

So that begs the question…INFPs may have vision and insight and empathy…but can we lead?

As a feature film director of Guys Reading Poems, I’ve found that the answer is “yes.” However, we INFPs are by nature a different kind of leader than other types. Here are some steps I suggest for maximizing your potential as a team leader. After all, sometimes having a dream is not enough. You have to rally others to executive your vision!

"I could never work with a team member who questioned my decision to shoot the film in black-and-white," says Hunter Lee Hughes. Luke Judy as The Boy. Photo by Michael Marius Pessah

“I could never work with a team member who questioned my decision to shoot the film in black-and-white,” says Hunter Lee Hughes. Luke Judy as The Boy. Photo by Michael Marius Pessah

1. Select the right team. This is more important for INFPs than for any other type, I would argue. We are focused internally through feeling so if someone on the team simply does not agree with our values for the project – or at least respect them – conflict is inevitable. Avoiding these sorts of power struggles is imperative because it takes more energy for INFPs than other types to deal with conflict. So making sure you hire folks who respect your vision and values is the most important way you will set yourself up for success as a team leader. (I would be remiss not to acknowledge that I had the most wonderful cast and creative team on this film that I could possibly imagine. Truly. )

2. Use your intuition to spot potential. One of the best ways to shore up an alliance is to spot someone’s hidden potential and nurture it. INFPs are good at encouraging and nurturing and, as a team leader, that asset can be used for the benefit of the project by bringing out untapped potential in your team members. The rewards for you and the project will be better work and greater loyalty down the line.

3. Lead by example as much as humanly possible. INFPs are not the type that gets a thrill out of barking orders at people. But we are perfectionists by nature so use this to your advantage. Put in the long hours and make sure that your team is impressed with your output and presentations to the group. Even without being told to work harder and longer, you may spark the competitive spirit in them and find that they work a little harder to make sure their work stands up to your own.

4. Accept that not everyone will be as passionate and perfectionistic about the project as you. INFPs are known for being internally motivated and highly perfectionistic. But you have to accept that not everyone on the team is like that. Others may need a different kind of motivation that might not occur naturally to you. Maybe it’s time to take members of your team out to dinner or a beer. Or highlight them on your social media feed so they have some bragging rights. Or make an introduction that might help their career. And of course, some people see their job as just a job and financial motivation is far and away the biggest for them. As INFP leaders, it’s highly likely that you will care more about your project than anyone else. If you start getting angry with others on the team that they don’t feel as passionately about it as you do, that will spell disaster. Instead, remember that you are working with a number of different personality types and it’s perfectly normal that they may need some additional forms of motivation!

5. Compliment with feeling. You are a natural empathizer and know when someone went the extra mile to accomplish something for the project. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge a team member with your feelings behind it. If you are moved by their effort, acknowledge that to the team with feeling! Sometimes, it seems like “feeling” has no place in business. But, after all, people feel great about themselves when their work is received warmly, especially if that warmth is genuine and deeply felt, as is often the case with us INFPs. The only downside to this is sometimes you may get carried away complimenting one person on the team and don’t do the same for another. But keep an eye on this and over time, things will even out. People love to feel valued and it makes their commitment and work on the project better!

In the film, Christos Vasilopoulos plays 'The Director.' But how are INFPs at leading projects?

In the film, Christos Vasilopoulos plays ‘The Director.’ But how are INFPs at leading projects? Photo by Michael Marius Pessah.

6. Try to articulate the things about your project that are not negotiable. Because we are quiet leaders who are capable of listening well, some on the team may think everything is negotiable with an INFP leader. This would never be assumed with a more traditional CEO-type like an ESTJ and it is not true for an INFP leader either. INFPs are perceivers rather than judgers and can be very open to the stories and experiences of others. This makes it doubly confounding for your team when suddenly they find you extremely inflexible about certain aspects of the work. We know as INFPs that our intrinsic values and feelings will not be crossed without a serious fight, but other personality types may not understand why a certain value of the project is not negotiable while other aspects of the project are open for collaboration. As a leader, you have to be honest with yourself and your team about the areas where you are not flexible….or at least give them subtle clues. If necessary, you may have to remind the team of the core values of the project and stand firm on those. You may get pushback at first, but it’s important that you stand up for yourself and, more importantly, the project!

7. Communicate through email and google documents. INFPs are naturally strong at writing and can be more clear and precise with our observations through writing than in person communication. Take advantage of this by sometimes articulating your positions in email rather than in person. We are quiet leaders. The power of personality is sometimes with another person in the room. However, just because someone else may speak the best or the loudest on an issue does not mean they are correct. Articulating your thoughts through writing them down may bring out the merit in your ideas that might go missing in a meeting.

8. Empower the extroverts on your team as ambassadors. Once you feel secure that you’ve hired a team that understands and appreciates your vision of the project, empower the extroverts as ambassadors for the project. Encourage them in their own communication style (which is probably better than yours anyway!). Strategic alliances are important and to be valued. As INFPs, we often are most comfortable working alone or with a small group of people we already know. So it’s important to empower those who naturally reach out to others to make sure your project has the broad base of support and skill sets it needs.

9. Don’t be afraid of the words….’I have decided.’ As perceivers and empathizers, we find it relatively easy to understand another’s point of view or feelings on a matter, even when we completely disagree. It’s an asset that others feel understood with you. But, after all, you are the leader and know the variables of the project the best so don’t be afraid of the words, “I have decided…” after you’ve had a chance to listen to all the input and make a decision. Chances are, it will be a good one knowing how much you wrestle with any decision!

10. Reserve the most passion and empathy for the project, not any one person. As INFPs, we can easily begin to identify with the feelings and problems of others. This can be helpful as a leader if you need to step in and solve a problem that relates to interpersonal issues. However, let’s be honest, it can also be a distraction. There’s work to be done after all! This is why I advise fellow INFP leaders to put their most passion and empathy towards the project itself rather than any one individual. Think of the project as a human being with whom you empathize. Yes, the people working on the project are all important. But if getting wrapped up in the whirlwind of one person’s drama will distract you from taking care of the project, you need to check yourself.

OK, so are there any other INFP leaders out there with thoughts on effective team building, project management and such? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Hunter Lee Hughes wrote and directed the upcoming feature film ‘Guys Reading Poems.’ He founded Fatelink Productions in 2004 and its creative consulting division StoryAtlas in 2013. He is the proud father of a pug – Romeo. If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).

 

Hunter Lee Hughes with Romeo. Photo credit: Obvious selfie.

Hunter Lee Hughes with Romeo. Photo credit: Obvious selfie.

 

Remember: Your film is someone’s first job…

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For years, you’ve been struggling. Rewriting your script between jobs. Drawing up a business plan. Raising money. Meeting actors. Shotlisting. Rewriting your script again. The list is seemingly endless, but you finally get your first feature film off the ground. You’re on set, feeling proud if somewhat overwhelmed. You look around. Spot a production assistant. You realize that although you’ve paid years worth of dues that your film is someone else’s very first day on the job. And that realization helps you remember why you’re on set in the first place.

photo (1)In my case, that somebody was Sergio Cardenas. He’s originally from Peru, studied music at Shepherd University. His long-term goals include producing films and also composing music for movies. After the shoot, we caught up and traded notes about our experience.

Hunter: How many film sets had you worked on before Guys Reading Poems?

Sergio: Guys Reading Poems was my first experience…and I was so nervous because I had no idea what I was supposed to do.

Hunter: What was it like to be on set?

Sergio: Really nice. Personally, I really like it a lot. One thing that I enjoyed from Guys Reading Poems was that a lot of people knew each other before, so you were able to see that there was a nice flow, a good working environment, but also creative because you have to do things on the spot sometimes. People were really considerate of other people’s feelings and situations. I mean, sometimes there were problems but people worked to make things go smoothly. Just the fact of being on the set, watching the camera, seeing how the crew moved, the rhythm. One thing that surprised me a lot was that you have to be there for like 12 hours. I was like, “What?!?!” And it started on Sunday until Friday and we had Saturday off. In Peru, my schedule was different. You start on Monday and end on Friday, you start at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. In that way, it was a change.

Hunter: What did you learn from working on a movie set?

Sergio: Many things. For example, the first thing is teamwork. The whole thing is a result of each department – the people who are doing the electricity, the lighting, the set, the camera, the costumes – it’s amazing. All that has to work on time because there are time limits. You have to finish in one day a certain amount of the script. If you go beyond that, you’re done. You understand that being nice with people makes things smoother than being a douchebag, you know? Just be nice with people and communicate. Listen. That’s very important. There is a lot of trust, which is important. I’m getting to work on Guys Reading Poems and none of you know me at all. But the people who don’t know you at all give you the trust to have the keys to their car, give you the money to go to the store or whatever. Coming from where I come from, in South America, it’s a jungle. But in a different way. It’s hard to trust people because people cheat a lot.

american flagAlso, I like how efficient Americans are. They are super efficient, but they’re not like the Germans. Efficient but not robotic. Not rigid. They also chill out, but doing their thing good and responsible. I really like that. People come, do their thing, do it good and it’s like, “Wow.”

Hunter: What made you decide to try to work in the movie business?

Sergio: At the beginning, it was kind of unconscious. I was not aware of what I was doing. I always liked movies so I found these posts looking for production assistants for making a film and then I said, “Why not?” Let’s discover the process. To that post, I got contacted through Jason [Fracaro]. He wrote me back and called me and asked me some questions and after all that process he said, “Welcome to the club” and that’s how it started.

Hunter: There are a lot of people out there curious to work in the movie business who haven’t quite made the plunge yet. What would you say to them?

Sergio: Try it. Try. Definitely. We grow in a society that is always telling you, “Don’t do this. Do that,” for whatever the reason but the only way if you will know if something resonates with you is if you really try it. You have to experiment. I wouldn’t tell that person try it only once. What if the first time was a bad experience? In that way, I’m lucky because my first time was a good experience. But what if your first experience was bad? You have to give it a few shots and then depending on how you feel and what you think, you take your own decision.

Hunter: What was your favorite moment on set?

Sergio: Many things. The magic when you would say “action” and the silence would come and the actors would start to take life. It’s a movie. It’s not real life anymore. Watching Patricia [Velasquez] and all of a sudden we hear, “Action” and she’s so intense. The movie is coming alive and it’s so intense. I like it a lot.

Hunter: What’s next for you and how will you take the lessons you learned on Guys Reading Poems and apply it to future jobs?

Sergio: For me, keep doing what I’m doing. Working on sets. Knowing people because this is teamwork, so you can’t do it all by yourself. You need a lot of collaboration. Getting more clear on what types of movies I would like to do and finding a way to make it. I still don’t have – “This is the path.” I have a general idea and I’m working how to achieve all that. That’s the stage I’m in now.

Sergio Cardenas

Sergio Cardenas

Talking with Sergio is a good reminder for all of us as filmmakers: if your film is someone’s first job, do you care how they remember it? How it shapes them?

Sergio is a proud freelancer and can be contacted for production work at: universusxxi@gmail.com

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).