The Art of Compromising On Set

We all start with a vision for what our film will be – but even the most big-budget professional filmmakers compromise along the way. Sometimes things just aren’t logistically possible, sometimes you have to solve problems you didn’t anticipate, and sometimes you can’t afford to do what you really want. How do you pick your battles and prioritize? Below are our trips for how to compromise – and when to hold your ground – when shooting your film.

First, compromising during filmmaking isn’t always a bad thing. “Movie making is nothing but problem solving,” says Shazam director David F. Sandberg, who released a new YouTube video. There are big, expensive, complicated problems, like making your actor fly – but then there are little problems, like what to do when you’ve already shot your expensive scene and you realize you can see crew members in the shot. See below for more problems he faced while shooting – and how he solved them:

“You’re going to have some sort of problem to solve in every scene,” Sandberg says, “but that’s kind of the fun of it. And when you come up with a solution that actually makes things better, it’s awesome.” Sometimes you’ll get criticism online for things that seemingly don’t make sense, or you might even get credit for a brilliant plan that only happened to turn out that way – but viewers just won’t ever know about all the ways filmmakers compromise to solve problems behind the scenes.

Richard Curtis, the screenwriter of Yesterday and screenwriter/director of Love Actually, says that an important skill is deciding how important something is to you, and comparing your passion to that of the person you’re fighting against. “Every working relationship is always very complicated – two people’s visions are never going to be the same,” he says. “Learn the art of determination and stubbornness, but you also have to be able to step back and say: ‘he feels more passionately about this than I do.’ Pick your battles, and never get angry.” Remember that you don’t always have to solve every problem or answer every email immediately.

Also, be flexible. It’s never fun when an actor shows up late, but you can use that time to run lines, set up lighting or work on shots that don’t contain the actor. If an actor has to leave early, shoot all their scenes first and/or have a different person read their lines in the coverage shots you’re getting of the other side of their conversations. If a shot looks empty and you don’t have time or budget to get more extras, try a new shot or have one extra wear different outfits and walk through a scene twice. If it starts raining, try to do an indoor scene first, or even try your indoor scene outside – you might realize that your scene doesn’t HAVE to be indoors. Maybe this will even lead to a new shot you love.

Filmmakers compromise and let go of control all the time – it might actually be good for your film! Drinking Buddies director Joe Swanberg says that when he was given a bigger budget than he was used to, he was worried about losing creative control and having to compromise.

“I’m coming out of a micro budget world where I could basically do anything I wanted,” Swanberg said at the premiere of the film. “In the end, I have to say, having all the extra people and the bigger infrastructure really liberated me to be a director. A lot of jobs, that I sort of by default had taken on in the past, other people were there to do them — people who are better at them than I am.” Let your crew members do what you hired them to do! Use FilmUp to find qualified people.

filmmakers compromise

So compromise doesn’t have to mean losing your vision – it can mean gaining collaborators who actually add value to a film rather than taking something away from you.

Of course, you shouldn’t have to compromise any of your important beliefs or values just so that you can be part of a film. Actress Mila Kunis says a producer threatened to ruin her career if she didn’t pose nude to promote a film. But she refused, the movie was a huge hit and she realized that she didn’t have to compromise her values – OR work with that producer ever again.

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