Everyone always tells you how good they are at something… well let’s talk about some real stuff here. I’m pretty good at critiquing something… so let’s criticize my ability to do things. Hopefully we’ll all get something out of it by looking at something I’m not good at.
I’m not talking about patting someone on the head, or giving credit where it’s due (yet) but praising cast and crew at the right time for the right things. I recently had a friend visit and we discussed past projects and it made me think about how I was on set with him. I sometimes was short with his ideas in a rush to get the shots for the day. It wasn’t because I didn’t like his ideas, on the contrary. Some of them I’d thought of in pre-production, others I liked and used, some I liked but couldn’t use them as they were and used them in another way. All of this was internal and had the potential to be a praising moment. I should have been more vocal about my thought process but I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t even think I was being dismissive of his ideas until recently.
As one of the few people I really enjoy collaborating with, I naturally never want him to feel like his ideas were being dismissed. Instead of taking his input and internalizing the idea and seeing how it would fit into our project I should have acknowledged the idea and discussed it briefly as to why or how the shot could or couldn’t be used in conjunction with the other shots in the piece. At the time I felt rushed to get the project finished and that was my fault. I hadn’t planned things out properly, and didn’t rehearse things with the cast and crew. The only person who knew what was going on was me. I learned then that I needed to be better prepared, but now I know that I also needed to prepare my crew much earlier in advance so they know what I’m thinking. I also need to be able to step back from the project and take in ideas as they come in, and acknowledge the person who said them.
I’ve never really been a person who praises things that don’t live up to my extremely high standards. Going through as much of SJSU that I did really beat the last remnants of praise out of me. Be it line work, composition, editing, or story I’ll usually have some critique on a project. I don’t enjoy criticizing a piece, but I also don’t see the point in offering praise to an unpolished work. Especially student work. Student work is rife with mistakes, unintentional blunders that make a student film stick out like a sore thumb. I’m not sure but it seems like it’s because we’re enamored with the idea that we’re making something rather than the process. Many student projects I’ve seen are trying to swing for abstract ideas, themes the writer hasn’t experienced, or self-congratulatory pieces that lack substance. I criticize the piece to show that I am watching and thinking about the themes put before me. To analyze and think about the piece as a whole, and it’s parts. If I didn’t tear it apart then it’s fine, if I did, maybe that’s an area one should improve upon. Sometimes a project is so bad I won’t say anything because it’s too rough to critique, other times I just don’t care about the person’s growth to critique them. I’ve been trying with friends to give positive praise and hold my criticism unless it’s specifically asked for. Trying. Not really succeeding, but I’m trying.
In my life I’ve been brought up to believe that there is no such thing as “good enough”… there is 100% success and there is failure. The closer you are to me, the less room for error there is. This has put me at odds with many people over the years. I have little patience for grey areas and here is where you can learn from me. Instead of a curt “ok” and a nod, I’m going to try to discuss an idea, and to lay out my thought process. This really can’t be done on set without extensive prep and key players that are making things run smoothly… but have those people and you’re golden. Outside of filming, these things still apply. It’s not enough to simply think critically about the work, the wrapping matters too. I can tell this is going to be a really long road for me…
In any case I hope you learned something from my mistakes. Give praise for the help you get, and don’t crit anything anyone hasn’t asked you to crit! Good luck!