Aren’t we Leaders?


Are we really just artists and technicians?

I am a cinematographer, and a year ago I joined an organization called Toastmasters. Possibly your two questions immediately are:

  • What is Toastmasters?
  • I am a [fill in your role in film industry] so why is this important for me?

This organization’s tagline is “Where leaders are made”.
And quoting its website:

[tabs][tab title =”Toastmasters”]“Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development. Our organization has more than 345,000 memberships. Members improve their speaking and leadership skills by attending one of the 15,900 clubs in 142 countries that make up our global network of meeting locations.”[/tab][/tabs]

Does it sound like something for people in the office?

What am I doing there as a cinematographer?

The members of these clubs also asked me the same question.

In Toastmasters, among the many things we do, we practice public speaking. The First speech you give in your Toastmaster career is called the Icebreaker and its goal is to deliver a short talk about yourself. Since so many asked, I decided to answer this second question there.

As a part of my speech, I did some quick and “non-scientific” calculations for the audience. In the auditorium, there were people from every sort of professions, except film industry.

The math was multiplying the shooting hours by the amount of crew needed for certain types of production. This way I was able to show how much work is put into creating 1 minute of screentime.
I started with a run and gun indie example, then daily soap operas, touching tv drama, up to Hollywood blockbusters.

The numbers for the latter came out quite shocking.

A couple thousands of human work hours are easily put into the production for just 1 minute of screentime.

We know that there are a lot of us working together on a movie. Although seeing these incredible numbers gave me a whole new vantage point.This amount of work has to be coordinated in order to produce something coherent.
Let’s take a look at the amount of communication and team coordination that’s going on. For example, the cinematographer is continuously in communication with:

  • camera operators
  • focus pullers
  • 2nd assistants
  • trainees
  • dolly grips
  • the Gaffer
  • electricians
  • Production designer
  • the set designer
  • the costume designer
  • producers
  • the director
  • actors.

Similar amount happens in every department, and not just on the HOD level.Also, this is not only communication that happens. It is leadership. We are not just pushing buttons on machines, we are coordinating human beings.

Discussing, bargaining, motivating, managing time, solving problems, delegating, giving feedback, resolving conflicts.

I really don’t know corporate life but I believe this is what managers and CEO-s do… not artists.

Now you know why I’m in Toastmasters.

The Heads of Departments are not just artists and technical people. But what even a lot of us don’t see… is that we also need to be competent in communication and leadership, to be able to put what was imagined onto the silver screen.
As Toastmasters says: “Leaders are Made”
Leadership is just like any other skill. It is not born with us, but we have to gain it.

The Corporate world out there puts a huge emphasis on researching, training and coaching leadership. Yet there are close to zero resources about these topics for film industry.

[blocktext align=”left”]Filling this hole is one of the purposes behind “Film-Life Lab”.[/blocktext]

Filling this hole is one of the purposes behind “Film-Life Lab”. I aim to research the immense leadership knowledge already existing in our industry.
Technical and artistic knowledge is widely available. We want the leadership knowledge also to be accessible for everyone in all the departments.

Let’s start discussions about leadership and communication with our colleagues.

These might start with a simple question:
What is it you learned about leadership throughout your time in film industry?

I would love to hear your answers in the comments below!

[bctt tweet=”Experts in every field research and train for leadership. Yet there are no resources on the topic for film industry.” via=”no”]
Coverphoto by Alice Achterhof on Unsplash

About the author

Peter Varnai
By Peter Varnai

Peter Varnai

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Heey, I'm Peter. Father of 2, filmmaker, solopreneur, and a helper of other solopreneurs and self-employed people. :) Feel free to reach out to me and let's have a virtual coffee. or Sign up for the newletter.