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Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker: Robin Swicord

Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker: Robin Swicord

Things Learned

1. If you are a writer-director, choose as your collaborators (director of photography and editor especially) people with strong opinions. As a writer, your vision is already amply represented via the script. Your direction of your own work will be stronger if your choices are sometimes interrogated by an opposing view. A compliant collaborator merely leaves you stranded with your first idea–the work gets better when you are challenged to re-examine your ideas.

2. Go into prep and production as physically fit as possible. Prepping, shooting and editing are all ridiculously exhausting, in different ways. As your mother, let me stress this: Eat only healthy energy foods on set; catch up on sleep on weekends; exercise whenever you can on your days off. A film crew is a traveling Petri dish of viruses and colds. Take simple measures not to catch what is going around. Otherwise you will be sick for months, because you’ll never catch enough sleep to get well.

3. Wear comfortable shoes.

4. Express gratitude constantly. Your crew deserves it.

5. Rehearse with a sense of play, not with a goal of having the actors deliver a performance during rehearsal. Actors are astute emotionally. They delve into the text with the skill of detectives. A director can be their sounding board, but ideally you want the actors to invest in their roles with a sense of ownership, and then to relax and be at play with each other. The director’s job is mostly to remove obstacles so that the actors can be released into play. Actors are not different from writers in this respect–they most love to inhabit what they have discovered for themselves. When that happens, it’s great for your movie.

6. When possible, bake cookies in the editing room. The aroma brings in random people who are happy to hang out and munch cookies while they look at a scene or two. Having “uninvested” people occasionally coming in and out of the editing room keeps you from getting so close to the work that you can’t see the effect of the changes you are making. Embrace the outside eye.

7. If you hear the same comment more than twice, pay attention. And remember that people almost always tend to identify symptoms rather than problems. “I was confused by that last scene” is a comment that may have nothing to do with the last scene–it may well be merely the symptom of a problem most likely lurking earlier in the film.

8. Good or bad, don’t read reviews. Good reviews or bad, they only make it harder to give yourself freely to the next movie you want to make.

9. It’s only a movie. Reconnect with your friends and family. Lie on the grass and look up at the sky. MM

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