Welcome to our archive of the "Ask a Filmmaker," a column that was devoted to your questions and concerns about the filmmaking process. Our guest columnists were screenwriter John August (Go, Charlie's Angels), director Penelope Spheeris (The Decline of Western Civilization, Wayne's World) and cinematographer Oliver Stapleton (My Beautiful Laundrette, The Cider House Rules, The Shipping News).
|Ask a Director|
|by Penelope Spheeris|
When you were younger how did you find your working relationships with the cast and crew as a young filmmaker, and indeed as a woman?
Did you find it hard to get people to listen properly? I've found that due to both my age (and actually my height) that I have to put that little bit more effort into my actions to initially get fresh talent to listen on set. Once we get to know each other though and a level of trust is built things move smoothly. Any tips on how to work with people who view you as lacking authority?
You are most certainly correct in assuming that a director must have the respect of the cast and crew in order for a shoot to run smoothly. For me, it was a natural instinct to take charge because at the early age of seven I was placed in charge of my three siblings. I greatly resented it at the time (and didn't have much of a childhood), but had that not happened I believe I would not have had the skills to be the `person in charge'. As far as being a woman goes, I never let that be an issue, but as I look back I can see that there was a lot of discrimination going on that made the road pretty rough.
A director needs to either innately have the skills to `get people to listen' or systematically learn them. You seem to think that your age and your height may be the culprits, but I will venture to differ. My bet is that it is your own self-perception that is inhibiting you, especially since you say that once the talent gets to know you things run better. Your perception of yourself is what others see and feel. Your confidence has to come from within no matter how old or tall you are. There are plenty of well-accomplished young, short directors who have never had the problem that plagues you. As a matter of fact, there is a reason why they sometimes call a diminutive megalomaniac a `little Napoleon'. Nobody slowed Bonaparte down and I could site lots of major industry players (that I happen to tower over) that kick my ass around the block in terms of accomplishments.
If you are creatively productive, really know your craft and are making great films, then you will have the confidence you need to do the work and others will sense and respect that.
Penelope Spheeris made her feature film debut with The Decline of Western Civilization, an energetic documentary about the L.A. punk scene in the early 1980's. She has since directed a number of diverse projects, including Wayne's World , Suburbia , and The Boys Next Door , as well as completing two more films in the Decline series (The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years in 1988 and The Decline of Western Civilization Part III in 1998). We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n' Roll, debuted at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. In 2004, she produced and directed The Kid and I, based on a true story about a young man with cerebral palsy, who wants to be an actor. Learn more about her work at her official website.
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