Lessons I Learned Working on a Major Motion Picture
When I tell people that I worked as a Production Safety Consultant I hear a lot of the same things, “ooh that’s so cool!” or “that sounds like so much fun” or did “you get to meet (fill in the star d’jour)” but the reality of the movie set is a lot different than people generally think. There’s a lot of waiting, then a little bit of action, then a lot more waiting.
Working on the set of a movie is something like doing your laundry, except that no one has ever offered to sleep with me on the off chance that I might get her a job folding towels. One thing that is really nice about working on a film is that you get a lot of time to think, albeit sometimes it’s atop Detroit’s second tallest building or in the decaying bowels of an abandoned factory in what is arguably Detroit’s premiere bad neighborhood. As is so often the case, while on the set I drew important life lessons that have made me a better businessman.
Time really is money.
Knowing something and understanding something are two very different things. I have always known that time is money but in that rudimentary way that I know gravity keeps us from being shot out into space and that geometry is important to somebody, but not me. None of that is comparable to the understanding I achieved seeing tens of thousands of dollars being spent simply because time was passing by.
On a movie set, a minor setback can cost $100,000 while putting you behind schedule, which caused further delays that cost more money. Regardless if we are sole proprietors or have a sizeable staff, every wasted moment of the day is money thrown away.
You have to know your next move and the one after that.
I remember on one shoot that the Assistant Director pointed to a cloud in the sky and said, “when that cloud there moves to over there we need to be shooting, so everyone pay attention and be ready to move when we need to.”
Shameless self-promoting plug: One of my very first stories published in Entrepreneur was about lessons in survival learned by the three companies that sell ice. Each was in business in 1900, along with literally 1,000 or more competitors. These three are still in business 100-plus years later but the other 1,000 ice companies have long ago failed.
Adaptation needs to be even faster and more agile in this century. Survival will always be a struggle if you wait until you need to adapt to act.
Remove “can’t” from your vocabulary.
When most people say “you can’t” they mean “you shouldn’t.” Nowhere is this better evidenced than on the set of a movie. I couldn’t just say “you can’t…” or “don’t…” I had to come up with an alternative solution and propose it. This translates so clearly over to other businesses. If you keep telling your customers what you (or they) can’t do, you won’t have those customers very long. Find a way to do things better and you will find success along the way.
Simply enforcing rules isn't leadership.
The first thing I would ask someone when I met them is what they do. Not what their position was but what they actually did. I found that people enjoy explaining exactly what their jobs are and in knowing what they do I can find better ways to advise and lead them. Each day I would approach the crew -- from carpenters, to painters, to pyrotechnic technicians, to grips, to gaffers and everywhere in between -- and ask them what they would be working on that particular day. If I didn’t know what something meant I would ask about it; it was easier to gain their trust and therefore easier to do my job, by taking a genuine interest in what they did.