Monday, March 9, 2015

Lessons From Nuns and Others

Having seen a production of Sister Act today (terrific show, by the way), I couldn't help but be reminded of an executive producer for whom I once worked who thought not much was funnier than a bunch of madcap nuns. This was part of what made him memorable, but what made him a terrific producer, and a terrific boss, were his clarity of thought, his belief that work could (and should) be fun, and his vision for making small changes that could make a big difference. I have worked for producers for longer than I worked for him, but many of the lessons that inform my work and life today are lessons that I learned from him. Things like--

1. What seems impossible might not be. I will never forget when he gave me the note to fix an actor's line fumble in the edit, which required grabbing certain letter sounds from somewhere else in the scene. Being a rather new editor at the time, I had simply accepted the flub as unfixable, and I was amazed when the fix actually worked. I have since become the champion of the stolen letter sound, and of the belief that if you want it to be, sometimes you can make it so.

2. Three cameras, two actors, shoot who's looking at you. I'm sure that many directors and producers have said this, but for him, it was a reminder that everything was doable--and that you should save your energy and resources for the hard stuff, not waste them on the easy stuff.

3. Expect a lot, and appreciate it when you get it. His standards were high, but you always knew that he saw when you met them. People like to aim high, especially when they know their efforts are appreciated.

4. If it doesn't help the scene or advance the story or the characters, cut it. We tend to get married to our words, our ideas, our original intentions. Sometimes the best thing we can do is cut them, and move on to what's more important.

5. It's TV, not brain surgery. Making it good shouldn't preclude having fun while you're at it. Sometimes the fun makes it even better.

It's amazing how people we encounter can leave us with lessons that affect us many years later. And how those lessons remind us how lucky we were to work with those people when we did.

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