Handling Criticism on a Film Set


Reading time: 4 mins

Receiving feedback is usually hard. We human beings just don’t like when others feel entitled to tell us how we should have done what we have done.

In a creative industry like film, it’s a daily thing.

But it’s not just creatives who encounter this, it’s also part of the technical side of filmmaking as well.

What I really want to share with you for these occasions, is a mindset/perspective I recently met. It helped me to avoid hard feelings and made me able to dig up the useful part of the negative feedbacks.

It came from the masterclass.com course of the screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin. He recommends to scriptwriters, to listen to the critique they get, but throw out the actual “how you should do it” part people are giving them.

(I will use the scriptwriting “case study” first but stay with me, it is just as applicable for a life in on set technical position as well.)

It looks like this: other people might sense that a scene in the script wasn’t working for some reason.

The audience is really good at sensing what is not working, but then they immediately start giving you their own solutions for making that part work.

Like “I don’t think he would say this… he would rather go to the window and say that.”

And why we don’t like feedback is because we focus on this part, the actual advice too much.

In the case of a screenplay, the writer knows much more than the audience about how their scenes should work.

What he/she doesn’t have is a fresh eye for the piece.

When we hear other people pushing their own “outsider solution” onto us, we usually just feel offended. “How dare he tell me how I should do it, I’ve been doing this for many years”

And you’re right.

Other people might be telling these to us, because they genuinely think they can help this way, and of course, sometimes they do it to feel like they are better human beings than you. (Which of course is always proving the opposite 😀 )

So regardless why thy shard their feedback, we should ignore the advice part, and focus on what the original “problem” they felt was. Then come up with your own solution for that.

(Of course maybe a mentor you asked for advice, will have some useful solutions to the problems they spotted, but this is just not the average case. Se just keep it in your mind before you get too ignorant 🙂 )

So how can we apply this in a technical career?

For example as a grip trainee, or as a camera assistant?

We also get feedback. And although it is about how we do technical things, it is still about how we solve certain problems creatively.

We feel the same. “How can he tell me how I should do what I do, I was the one spending the whole morning figuring out how to do it. He has no idea of all the failed experiments I had to go through to come up with this solution”

And we are again in self-protection, survival, self-justification mode.
To cancel this out, we have to ignore once again the actual advice or alternative solutions offered to us (or forced frequently). What we should look into is, what feels “off” or “not right” for the other person. And then come up with our own solution to the problem they pointed out.

A simple but maybe good example might look like this.

As a camera trainee, you get the comment of dead batteries laying around the maligners. So the person telling you this tells you to get them to the charger right away. But of course, you know that why you have not brought them to the charger yet. Because they told you to stick around closely, and don’t go to the trucks.

As a trainee, you get contradictory orders a lot.

But if when you get the comment about the batteries, instead of thinking about explaining yourself, you just look a the core of the same thing, you will see the useful part of it.

Their direct advice to stay there all the time and to make the batteries gone immediately is contradictory and useless.. so you ignore them and come up with your own solution to the problem they pointed out. Which is this: they don’t want to look for you when they need you urgently, and they don’t like if dead batteries are staying at hand.

So you might come up with a variety of solutions. Maybe you start collecting the batteries at one place on a separate liner and then bring them all up when a scene is complete. Or you start asking them on the radio in calmer moments if it is okay for you to take the batteries to the charger now. Or you start asking people who go “truck-wards” ( just made up this word, but I like it :D) if they could put 1-2 batteries on the charger for you because you have to stay close to help.

Or any other solution.

This whole example might be stupid, but the point is to create your own solutions, for the problems they spotted.

It is a bit about separating your self-worth from the evaluation of what you do.

Coverphoto by Bernard Hermant 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.