Pay close attention, ladies and gents. Herein lies one of the most hard-won lessons of my career in Hollywood. There are days I still struggle with the practices I am about to lay out for you… and if I’m being completely truthful, the fact that they remain a challenge for me also means that seeing them go totally ignored by others can fairly blind me with frustration.
But I play it cool. Cool breeze, they call me.
Now you know my personal interest in writing this article. No matter. Personal hang-ups aside, the methods I now reveal will actually work for you.
My name is Tennyson E. Stead. From my early days as a stagehand in the East Coast theater community, I have worked my way up through the ranks both as a film executive and as a produced, award-winning writer/director. Today I have over ten years of experience in film development – and over twenty years of experience telling stories on stage and screen! I’m the founder of 8 Sided Films, the producer, writer and director of our current projects, the epicenter of our social media presence… and I know a thing about multitasking.
Check out more videos from this interview series
with Tennyson here!
Being in ten places at once is not only possible, it is a staple skill of the successful entrepreneur. Would you like to know how? It’s a two-parter:
PART THE FIRST
Stop micro-managing. Right now. Cold turkey.
People in Hollywood have an insane, backwards relationship with responsibility. Basically, we cling to control over the things that either don’t matter or aren’t really in our job description, while avoiding control over those variables we can actually use to advance our goals. I’ve certainly done it, and I know you have too.
Buddy, it’s no good!
Stop trying to figure out what the casting director thought of your audition. Stop worrying about whether or not your agent is submitting this week. Stop checking in on your editor. Let your screenwriter alone until the deadline. Trust people to do their jobs.
If you want to be in ten places at once, two things need to happen. First, you’re going to need all your energy. Once you learn to stop panicking over the loss of control, letting other people do their jobs will actually save you a truckload of energy. Secondly, you need the people out there who are conducting business on your behalf to do so in the most efficient way possible. Things are always, ALWAYS harder when there is more than one decision-maker in the room.
Forgive me this analogy: Telling someone how to drive a car while they are in the middle of a lane-change is never safe. You’re dividing the driver’s attention and placing lives in jeopardy, basically because their way of doing things is different than yours. Correcting them is stressing you out, and so is watching them try to listen while they navigate between big rig trucks at eighty miles an hour… and you still can’t help yourself! Most people can’t.
Wait until the car is stopped. If it’s still important (which it won’t be), tell them then.
Why don’t people just wait? Why are folks so impatient when it comes to telling other people how to do their jobs? In the end, there is only one reason. Letting another person drive the car “wrong” takes a high degree of trust in an approach to driving that you either don’t understand or don’t agree with.
In practical, film terms, this means that there is a difference between telling someone what to do – and telling them HOW to do it. Define your goals with any partners or collaborators before you agree to work together. Check in to see the results. Don’t worry about how those results are achieved.
My question, dear reader, is why you’re getting into a car with this person if you can’t trust them to drive?
“Well, I KIND OF trust them.”
PART THE SECOND
You KIND OF trust them? Boy, howdy.
Stop working with people you don’t trust. Right now, cold turkey. Yes, I know that finding an AMAZING, professional actor, director, writer, editor or DP can sometimes take years. Finding an entire production full of them seems nigh impossible. Building the ensemble I am working with today has been a process I can trace back to 2000. After twelve years, most of my team is made up of people with whom I’ve collaborated before – and these folks are still with me because we have all learned to expect the best from one other. We trust each other, and we trust our process together.
Put in the time. Find those amazing people. Put in the twelve years.
“What am I supposed to do in the meantime? Just sit and wait for some magical Get-Along-Gang of filmmakers to appear and make my movie with me?”
No. Of course not. Produce content. Just don’t start developing a project that depends on resources or people you can’t realistically lay hands on. If your ambitions are greater than your community, why not work on a project that makes your community stronger and better?
Check out more videos from this interview series
with Tennyson here!
THAT is how I found my team. There’s never been a time when working on projects like my current film, Quantum Theory, didn’t appeal to me. That said, this is the first time in my career when I have the production team and the audience to make something like this work. Before this, I was at a place where a no-budget camcorder production was about the best we could manage – so my creative partners and I settled on a story we loved, got to work, and produced the award-winning webseries “The Starmind Record.” Many of the people who are now making Quantum Theory possible joined us through our experiences on Starmind. In turn, Starmind worked largely because of the folks we met on previous shows.
At this point in my career, finding people I can trust isn’t all that hard. There are people in my community who have repeatedly demonstrated good judgment, and I ask them for recommendations. Before that, there was a lot of trial and error – but the stakes were never too high, because at any given point we had only bitten off a LITTLE more than we could chew. Of course, there are things I always look for. Some people show up when they say they will, consistently deliver more than they promise, and have the experience to back up their creative goals. Others just talk about these things. Most of the time, it really is that simple.
Sooner or later, I’m bound to hire people who don’t live up to the needs of my project. If someone’s not right for the work we’re doing, then delegating them some of that work is the surest way to find out. Owning up to my mistakes and firing someone is the hardest part of being a leader, but it is also necessary to the growth of our company. Other people on the project are pulling their weight, and they deserve to be surrounded by folks just as dedicated and effective as they are. If someone doesn’t meet that standard on a particular show, the first thing to do is make room for someone else who does.
This brings up a critical point. When it comes to people, do not settle. Do not compromise when it comes to the quality or professionalism of those involved in your projects. Never let your standards loosen. If anything, let them become more selective!
In Hollywood, a great many decisions are made because folks are afraid that nothing better will come along. Something is better than nothing, right? Some crappy agent is better than no agent, right? Some crappy screenwriter is better than not having a screenplay at all!
Stop thinking that way. Having some crappy screenplay as the foundation of your movie only limits the quality of the people you will get to help you. It sets your standards low, and you can’t afford to do that. Set standards, but set them high. Bring people onboard, but only bring people on who you can trust to make the movie great.
Have you ever seen a contract negotiated between two people who are both afraid they’re going to get screwed by the other party? What the hell is the point of that contract? Why would anybody let themselves get so desperate that they would rather act against their own self-interest than not act at all? People, get a grip!
Every cheesy movie about successful business trots out the gnarled old trope that good relationships are grounded in trust. This is true. Trust, in turn, is grounded in experience, reputation, shared interest and mutual respect.
Respect. There’s a big word.
Telling some other guy how to drive is disrespectful. Even if it’s your car. Even if you don’t agree with the choices that person is making, you have to respect that it’s their turn at the wheel.
Hire people you respect. Then respect their expertise.
Respect their process, and know it may differ from your own. If you choose your people well, they will do a better job than you ever could have done – so choose them well, stop fussing over having things your way, let them do their work and move on to something else.
Do this, and while someone else is handling one part of your production… you can be off handling another! Look! You’re in two places at once!
Work with people you respect and trust, and then let them handle their responsibilities. Be clear about the demands and direction of a project up front, set goals, and then give your team the slack to follow though on their own. Check in when the first of your goals comes due, and see where you’re at.
In the meantime (by which I mean that freaky, dark limbo of the soul when all those people you’re working with are off doing their jobs), your own pile of work is right there waiting for you.
If you’d like to find out more about me, my ensemble, and my stories, we welcome you to our online community at 8sidedforum.com and please, please support our upcoming feature, Quantum Theory. Quantum Theory is the story of two brilliant, goofy, passionate women of science who invent a technological means to alter and shape the very universe itself…and we are currently running an Indiegogo campaign in support of a webseries that will bring these characters to life! Please support our show and follow Quantum Theory’s development at here and at Quantummovie.com.
Tennyson E. Stead is a writer, director, and producer of film and transmedia. In his childhood, he spent all his time building cardboard spaceships and rescuing his sister in them. These days he does basically the same thing.
For any production to realize its full creative and financial potential, every creative element must reflect the overall goals of the project. Every great collaborative work was produced by a team of talented people, united by a common intent.
8 Sided Films and the 8 Sided Forum represent our collective stewardship over the stories born from intent too multifaceted, specific, or unique for studio production, and our commitment to honoring that intent as the foundation for a more personal relationship with our audience.
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Check out Tennyson’s prior Film Courage articles:
….THE STORY OF TWO BRILLIANT, SNARKY WOMEN OF SCIENCE WHO DEVELOP A PROTOTYPE THAT GIVES THEM THE POWER TO CHANGE REALITY ITSELF.