Consensus Building

While directing and shooting TV commercials for 30 years, I developed some methods that worked to facilitate smooth shoots. Much of the effort was in the pre-production stage. There was little room for error on the set as we spent large amounts of money with tight deadlines. By the shoot day I was in control, but also in agreement and with the support of all concerned.

At the beginning of every project, people NEED to express their own ideas of how to do things. This takes time. Appreciating everyone's ideas is very important. Even if you think their ideas are wrong and unworkable, DON'T SAY SO. That can be changed in time. It is important to not loose someone's participation, especially if they are a source of creativity, money or they are ultimate decision-makers. You might even discover that their ideas that seemed dumb to you in the beginning were really good and it was YOU who didnít understand.

Ways to insure participation and consensus:

1. Appreciate everyone's contributions. Suppress your fear that their ideas won't work, that time is being wasted, and that your own ideas are not being accepted. The best thing is to wait for the right time to present your ideas or better yet, help others discover them. If you can twist people's ideas into more workable ones, they will be very supportive of them. It costs nothing to give others credit for good solutions. If you have facilitated the creation of workable solutions and even if they get the credit, you have won.

2. Don't let any contributors be left out of the loop very long. Often people's availability leaves them out of the loop during pre-production and their participation gets bypassed. Get them on the phone and ask what they think about things the rest of the group is considering. Appreciate their concerns and comments. Donít just fill them in with changes made in their absence. Be especially careful with advertising agency creative directors.

3. Let solutions evolve. I always got less controversial but necessary things like casting and location scouting in the works so that decisions about something were being made. What we were ultimately going to shoot was yet to be discovered, but I was building confidence in me and my team's ability to do the job. People also get to know each other during waiting at casting and traveling to scout.

4. If there was something that I had grave reservations about, I waited for the right time, but not too late, to approach it. After I had built some confidence I'd say, ala Peter Falk's Columbo, "Forgive me, but I don't quite understand ......... could you please explain that for me again". Two outcomes are possible. In the attempt to make it clearer to me, they discovered their idea was no longer appropriate or I discovered that the idea was really a lot better than I thought. These were sometimes pet ideas that may no longer be relevant to the project, but were originally dear to the heart of the idea's creator.

5. Lunch. They say that little creativity happens over a $500 lunch. True. But if before diving into emotionally charged production issues, food is shared, some important things happen. People find out that you can be reasonable about babies, baseball, bouillabaisse and Bordeaux. After lunch, creative juices are bypassed to the stomach and discussions are less charged with emotion. People will be more reasonable and comfortable among their new found friends.

6. Get everyone's ideas out in the open. Write them down. Make them feel that they are participating. Periodically review the list and ask if each item is still relevant. As the time to shoot approaches, put the ideas on cards with names for each shot and put the cards on a board to try and fit them into a workable schedule. (For commercials where a shooting board is not often used) Give relevant names for every scene, feeling, or concept so there is no confusion about what you are talking about. It will save time and confusion.

7. Do tests of anything possible to see if ideas work. Try things on friends, fellow workers or actors during casting. See if they react as you predicted. Record and study the results for what works and what doesn't. Don't assume that what usually works will if your project is very different. Test all rigs!

8. Ask questions. What are we trying to accomplish? What audience will we be talking to? What language will they understand? How can we realistically change their behavior or attitudes? What has worked in the past?

9. Establish priorities. What is most important. What is doable considering budget and schedule?

10. Be pessimistic. Consider what problems might arise and what to do when they do arise. If all goes well, it is often because the problems are solved before they become real problems. Over-optimism is a formula for failure.

11. Make a list of names. Under shooting pressure we forget. People respond much better if their names are used.

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved