Monday, March 16, 2015

Benefit of the Doubt

In my last few years at One Life to Live (ABC version), I was directing sets of scenes fairly regularly. Once in a while, the scenes were enough for me to be the "director of record" on a show. Most of the time, they were just a new challenge, and a little extra money in my pocket.

I worked hard to prepare the scenes I was to direct--reading scripts before and after for context, studying floor plans and camera angles. There were things I just knew from all my work as an AD, but I appreciated the learning curve of having to figure out something new, and the experience of having to express my intentions to and talk things through with the actors and camera operators.

Now, a soap opera studio is a fairly collaborative environment. Unlike some other places where I've worked, where hierarchy gets in the way, soap opera production companies tend to welcome input from a lot of people, since the actors live in their characters, every day, often for years, the camera people work in the same sets every week, often for a long time. People in different departments just know things, so collaboration almost always creates a better product. And so when I got a chance to direct, people generally welcomed me, and I, in turn, welcomed the opportunity to collaborate in a new way.

Every so often, however, there was an actor or a crew person who challenged me from the moment I walked in the door, as if we'd never met, and hadn't worked together for years. In a world where it seemed to me most productive to start with the idea that people were good at their jobs, there were people who preferred to attack first, rather than support one of their own. It made for unpleasant directing experiences (for me and the other people working), and probably for lousily directed scenes, since creative time became "pick up the pieces" time. Perhaps it taught me to be tougher. Mostly, however, it reminded me how important it was to approach every interaction with the presumption that people are competent and doing their best--to give the "benefit of the doubt" whenever I could.

This experience was a long time ago. Whatever came of it is long over, but I think back to it sometimes when I count someone out before seeing what he or she can do. Whether it's your children or your coworkers, people aren't only what you've seen them as before. When you believe in them, give them the room to do something new, to succeed in new ways, often they do. The directing days when people judged too soon or challenged just for the sake of challenging were among my most unproductive. Similarly, the days when I don't believe that my children can accomplish a goal or that my coworkers can achieve a product become my most unpleasant ones. I wasn't afraid to work hard on my directing days, but I did want the support of the people who knew me. Perhaps that's what we all want. Perhaps that's what makes us work harder and aim higher--the support and belief of the people who know us, rather than the attack of sharks smelling blood in the water.

Sometimes that's all it takes to create success. A little hard work from us. And the benefit of the doubt from everyone else.

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