On the Set: Your Job Is More Important Than Mine

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I recently had the chance to work on a big-budget film that I’m not allowed to talk about.
(So, what am I gonna do? Talk about it!)

The who, what, where, when, and why is irrelevant. It’s the HOW always fascinates me.

The Crew Works Hard

I love watching all the crew members in the various departments buzzing around getting everything ready to film the scene:

The camera crew tests out the various camera angles, while measuring focal distance and light levels.

The electrical department heaves heavy, hot lighting equipment around the set, securing it all into precarious positions.

The sound department finds the best way to record the sound accurately without getting in the way of the actors or the camera.

The Grips start gripping, and the assistants get to assisting, and depending on the size of the production, it could be anywhere from 10 to over 100 people running around in organized chaos — and, it all comes together almost miraculously without any one person orchestrating all the departments and keeping them in order.

The Actors Have it Easy

Then, after all those hard-working people slave over that heavy grunt work for about a half-hour or more straight, it all comes to a halt. The actors are called to the set, step gingerly into place, stand on their marks, say all their lines, and…

“CUT!”

After only a few minutes of shooting, the actors step off the set to a comfortable “green room”, and all the busy hustle and bustle starts all over again for the next scene.

I’ve told friends in the past that being a principal actor in a film is probably the easiest job on the set, and how unfair this arrangement seems. That the actor should be considered so important when all these other people appear to be doing all the really hard and truly important work on the set.

They do so much more to make me look good on the screen than I do.

“Your Job Is More Important Than Mine”

So, the other day, while working on this film, I expressed these thoughts to the assistant director.

“Oh, noooo,” he tells me. “Your job is WAY more important than ours. If you guys don’t act well, then no amount of lighting, sound recording, camera angles, or editing will make the film any good.”

Other crew members I talked to agreed.

True, I thought. But, it goes the other way around, too: If the lighting, sound, and camera angles are bad, no amount of good acting will make the film any good.

So, of course, we essentially agreed upon what we all already know: that filmmaking is a collaborative effort. You can’t really do it alone. (Although technology is making that easier to do these days.) Each piece is an important part of the whole.

Mutual Respect

But the takeaway for me was that there’s something to this attitude that the other person’s job is more important than your own: It makes you work more diligently on your own job well.

When I see all these people working their asses off, I think, “Man, I’d better have my lines down, hit my marks, and be on point! Or all their hard work will be for naught!”

And the crew member thinks, “Geez, if I don’t light/record/film/orchestrate this scene well, all that good acting talent will be wasted!”

Ok, sure, you might also do your job exceptionally well if you think your OWN job is the most important on the set. However, that attitude doesn’t cultivate the mutual respect that’s necessary on a collaborative effort.

And this mutual respect — respect for your coworkers as peers — is the kind of asset that gets you called back to the set, to the next job, to the next networking opportunity.

Because people want to work with those who are their equals or better. People who not only respect them for their talent and hard work, but whom they, too, can respect in the same way.

Whenever you next get to work on a show or a film, take some time to observe how well and hard the people in the other departments work. Develop a respect for what they do, and remember that whatever your job is, it’s probably worthless without theirs.

And vice versa.

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