You’ve experienced it. That desire to throw a match on the set and walk away letting everything burn to its deserved demise. Shit goes horrendously wrong all the time in film production and we, as ADs, are expected to smile and nod as if everything’s going to be alright and hundreds of thousands of dollars aren’t being flushed down a toilet.
Before we can give in and tell everyone to go fuck themselves, we have to understand the consequences of giving into our emotions on set. Assistant Directing is one of the most stressful tasks on set. You’re responsible for everyone and it’s 100% guaranteed that everyone is going to screw up at some point. It’s your job to do everything in your power to turn that screw up into something positive. This comes with lots of experience on set and burning a few bridges along the way. Learning how to keep your emotions in check might be one of the hardest things an AD has to struggle with.
I’m an emotional person. There’s no two ways around that. I used to cry over stuffed animals lying on the ground and I have a rather serious bike rage that could get me punched or arrested at any time. I struggle with my emotions on the set, going from complacent to bitchy in a few minutes if I’m not watching myself. Just like we regulate the set morale, we need to regulate our own morale. It’s hard to run a happy crew when you can’t even smile once in a while.
To use an example, I’m on a production that’s been rather trying at times. We have a lot of elements to coordinate and not nearly enough people or time to do the coordinating with. It’s made logistics on set a nightmare at times, leaving crew frazzled and forgetful. And that’s included me at times. I’ve gotten caught up in an emotional moment because I’m so exhausted from the failing logistics that I’m not keeping my own emotions in check. It’s happened to all of us.
So what should you do if you feel like you’re losing control of your emotions? Yelling will only irritate the people you’re yelling at and crying will just make everyone think you’re not capable of handling the stress. If you feel your blood pressure start to rise during a debate on set, there are a few simple things you can think of to quickly keep yourself in check:
- It’s not the end of the world.
No, really, it isn’t. Put your issue in the context of the greater picture. Of all the things going on, is this really worth getting worked up over? Probably not.
- Your behavior in these situations can and will be held against you in future endeavors.
This is incredibly important. ADs are judged by how they handle stress. Remember that before telling a DP that his shotlist sucks. Instead, think of ways to improve the shotlist and talk about them as suggestions. You will be remembered for presenting solutions in times of great stress.
- This, too, shall pass.
Film sets are filled with all sorts of problems just waiting to happen. A solution will come (or the issue will be swept under the rug). In the meantime, remind yourself that you have a set to run and what is next best course of action to keep that set running.
- You are entitled to take a moment for yourself.
Give yourself a break. In times when the stress is almost too much, take a moment for yourself. Head to crafty, go 10-1, have a cigarette, a piece of chocolate. Whatever it is that you do to ground yourself in tough times, you should also employ on set (within legal means, of course). These breaks are good moments for you to sort the issues at hand and really think through the details without having everyone in your face.
- Emotions are a virus.
When you bring nothing but negativity to the set, nothing but negativity prevails. Yes, it sucks, yes, you’re going to lose time, light, extras, money, patience, dignity… and yes, we all know what production is supposed to be doing and is not doing, but please understand how your complaints spread around the set. A complaining set is a set not working.
Remember that everyone looks to you to at least guide them through issues. How you handle those requests really determines how that shoot’s going to be. When things get tough and you feel like you’re losing a grip on your emotions, ask yourself if you want to be That Guy who brings more stress into the situation or That Guy who got everyone through the situation in a mostly painless manner. Cooler heads do indeed prevail.