Answering The Questions: "How do I make sure that in twenty years I will feel good about the choices I make today?"

Earlier this year I proposed what I saw as the five most critical questions for someone to answer in order to have a fulfilling and sustainable career producing films.  I went on to list out eighteen more. I think the answers to these questions don't have a right or wrong answer; they should be profoundly personal.  Yet I also think it is very hard to answer these questions on your own.  Frankly, I think the answering of these questions should be part of any film school curriculum -- but I am also not sure that film school is a necessary component for all producing careers.  Anyway, I thought it might be helpful for those considering this path to have someone try to answer these questions.  Today that someone is me. Producing benefits from having addressed certain moral and ethical challenges before they actually confront you.  Hell, what field or way of life doesn't?  I have encouraged the consideration of some of these "challenges" before in virtual party game manner, but I do think it is always worth considering.  I think it comes down to the questions of "what do you value?"  People? Money? Principles? Property?  And how much do these matter to you?

If you've set your values -- or at least have a firm handle on them--, if you then seek to make the product of your labor (i.e for a film producer, your movies) reflect your values, you will be on your way to still feeling good about what you are doing twenty years from now. Essentially this is the "Know-what-you-care-about-and-reflect-that-in-your-work" approach.  But it alone is not enough to carry you through the twenty years.  It is the content driven approach and you will have to also consider the process and the environment you inhabit to stay satisfied.

To feel as good twenty years from now as you do today (and that is assuming you feel good today of course), it is not just the destination that you must concern yourself with but also the journey.  It is the daily interactions and the small things that require as much attention as the big picture.  How do you treat the people around you?  Do you see them as just as important as you?  If you value people, maintaining their equality with you is something you won't want to ever lose sight of.  The hierarchy of a film set can chip away at this if you are not vigilant.  I've certainly seen many filmmakers whose work reflects such values but their day to day interactions reflect something quite different.  Always ask yourself: "How are your values reflected in the smaller interpersonal processes?".

I wish it was as easy as making sure that both your work and your processes reflected your values in order for you to feel as good a couple decades out as you do when you start -- but it is not going to work that way.  The next part of the equation is the one of building an environment around you that you admire.  Certainly for some in the film field, this seems simply to apply to the design and decor of the office -- which usually is meant to convey some sort of power message.  Ultimately, this is really about whom you choose to surround yourself with.

I think that it in the long run it is important to have the people who you work with reflect your values as much as your work and processes do.  It is a bit harder when it comes to people, because not only do you not control them, but they don't always know their own values, and even when they do, they are not always static.  I almost left my first company Good Machine when my partners would not dismiss a mid-level employee who could not treat those below (or really around) her decently; I ultimately wasn't going to leave the company over another person, but it was when I first knew that I would need to move on to something else if I valued my happiness.  Working with decent people who care about things in a similar fashion to you is not a privilege of the film business, but a necessity since the industry is otherwise over run with those that will stop at nothing to make a buck.  Unfortunately, it is also one of the more difficult things to achieve.

Having your values reflected in your work, your processes, and your environment, seem to me to be the three most important factors in making sure you feel as good today or tomorrow as when you started out.  I am sure there is a lot more to it though and I hope you can help me figure it out a bit more fully by your comments.

What Makes A Good Partnership?

The NYTimes Sunday Magazine has a must-read article on my former Good Machine partner James Schamus. The author, Carlo Rotello, does a thorough job on the difficult task of capturing most of the complexity that makes James someone that is fun to collaborate with: he is not easily defined, has many interests (sometimes conflicting), and enjoys deeply both the process and the product.  People so often look for people they get along with to collaborate with; I think that is is mistake.  Harmony may work in other types of relationships, but in a creative one, it is a formula for mediocrity.   If you truly care about the end result of your work, you should look for someone you enjoy arguing with to partner with.

Rotello sums up our Good Machine partnership by defining David Linde as the business mind, Schamus the intellectual, and me "Hope, an advocate of radically decentralized media democracy, was the revolutionary;".  I like how that sounds, but what really worked at Good Machine, and in other creative relationships, is when people can argue clearly and without ego for what they feel will make a story work best.  Trust is the next most required ingredient in a successful partnership, quickly followed by a willingness to accept that you may not be right (that non-ego thing again).

Good Machine had a great number of really smart and passionate people working together who realized that if they spoke up and advocated clearly for what they believed in, they could get things done if they were able to work REALLY hard.  Everyone spoke up, but also learned how to listen.

Arguing about creative choices should be a fun process, because you are chasing a truth and an ideal.  The challenge is making sure the participants are all chasing the same thing.  When partners start chasing different outcomes is one of the ways things go wrong.

Collaborating among producers though is different from the collaboration between a producer and a director, or a producer and a writer.  I have had the good fortune of collaborating with A LOT of producers.  When producers collaborate and recognize that they lifted the project up and made it better, you know you'd always like to do it again together.  That result does not always bring the same result with other categories of collaborators.