Writers on the Web: Dealing With Difficult Personalities On Set

If you’re producing your own work, becoming adept at dealing with difficult personalities is an invaluable (and often hard-earned) skill. Most people you hire will be wonderful collaborators who give their all to help you realize your dream. And if you’ve done your due diligence during pre-production and met every single person you’ll be working with face-to-face, the chances of your having a pleasant, hard-working cast and crew are quite high.

Sometimes, however, even when you’ve interviewed everyone and selected the absolute best candidates, you can end up with a bad apple that (tries to) spoil the bunch.  It’s unavoidable. Sometimes in creative enterprises, there’s a lot of ego to go around and learning how to put on kid gloves can pay dividends (or even save your shoot) in the end.

Here’s five classic difficult personality types on set and some solutions of how to deal with them:

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Still not big enough…

1. The Complainer
Nothing pleases this person. The meals on set don’t taste good enough, they don’t like the choices for crafty, they’re hot, they’re cold, they’re just unhappy.  They’re like an insect buzzing around your ear all day, letting you know that everything you do is wrong. If only they made human-sized fly swatters.

Solutions: Listen to their concerns, and assess for validity–is he or she just ranting and raving, or is something actually wrong?

Take them aside and let them know their concerns are heard, and that you are working hard to to create the best possible environment you can on set. Take care of (actual) problems swiftly, and accept those that can’t be changed (ie. you’re shooting in August and it’s just going to be hot no matter how many fans you have).

If this person just likes to be miserable, and drive everyone mad, then you have to have the conversation about whether or not it’s best to continue the job.  If this person is an actor, it becomes quite complex if you’ve already shot footage, and you may have to either suck it up as long as they’re on set, or reshoot their footage with a different performer. This is where backups come into play–always have a backup person or two in mind for each role and each crew position.

Sometimes this person is a neighbor, a stage mom, or someone else outside the production who gives you grief. In that case, it’s time to gather all of your courage and remember that you are in charge, not them, and ringlead your circus to the best of your ability.

2. The Wanderer (can also be Wanderer/Sleeper)
This is the person who, for whatever reason, is distracted, lazy, or doesn’t want to be there.  So they continually wander off set between takes and set-ups and you can’t find them.  Eventually, you may find them outside talking on the phone, or smoking a cigarette (or something else.) They may also wander off and then fall asleep somewhere because they stayed out drinking too late at the Cat & Fiddle the night before.

Solutions: You simply can’t have this on your set.  Not only is it disrespectful to you, but also to the actors and crew who are focused and working their butts off. It also wastes valuable time and money. I would talk to his person once about their behavior, and if it continues, let them go.

3. The Entitled One
This person feels that they’re doing you a favor by being on your set, particularly if they’re working for a lower rate than they normally would, or for free. They may chronically show up late, be disrespectful, or even neglect to do their job. They can sometimes spread a negative vibe around the set or distract others from their work.

Solutions:  Talk to them directly about their behavior and how it’s affecting the rest of the cast and crew. Ask them to voice what’s going on, and see if you can come to a compromise, or increase the benefit to them if they’re kindly giving their time for free or cheap (maybe offering additional compensation for gas, for instance.) Realistically assess if it’s the best arrangement for both of you to continue.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Who gave her gluten?!”

4. The High Maintenance One
He or she is allergic to absolutely everything, and cannot be within 100 yards of a nut, a dairy product, or fabric that isn’t 100% cotton. (I’m talking extreme here, not the usual allergies or food restrictions, which I also have.) They crave comfort, and expect you to accommodate their every need. A cousin to The Complainer, they may buzz around airing grievances, but are usually nicer about it than The Complainer would be.

Solutions: You can pre-empt these issues by asking everyone to spell out their dietary restrictions and allergies in advance. That way you know to order them special meals and drinks and place them in a comfortable environment. For instance, they’re allergic to smoke, you’ll make sure they’re assigned somewhere else for that cigar smoking scene. Follow up a couple of times during production to make sure they’re happy and their allergies are under control.

5. The Know-It-All
This one is the hardest to handle. He or she wants to be the director or producer, and believes they can do a better job than you. They may make comments under their breath while you’re giving direction, or at the extreme, loudly question your judgement in front of everyone. They may try to manipulate your words to make you appear weak or not in charge, and try to get others to follow their lead instead of yours. At some point they may actually “take over” and give orders to the cast and crew. This person often has a large, boisterous personality and can easily influence others.

Solutions:  Once you get a whiff of this behavior, it needs to be put to bed before it spirals out of control. Take the person aside and remind them that it’s your project, and you are the one making decisions and giving direction. You are the one cutting the paycheck, not the other way around. Be gracious but firm. Tell them if they have an issue, they need to bring it up directly to you, privately. If it continues, the person needs to be replaced.  No one is permitted to undermine you and your project.  I’ll repeat what I said in an earlier article: Don’t give away your power.

You can also avoid this situation altogether by being on the lookout for these traits in the interviewing process. No matter how much clout or experience they have, if they’re a jerk in the interview, they’re going to be a jerk on set. Period. Don’t spoil your hard work by allowing this energy in your life.

Now, in contrast, here’s five personality types you definitely want to have on your set (and work with again and again):

1. The Team Player
He or she loves collaborating with others toward a common goal.  Has helpful ideas to make the project the best it can be, and doesn’t mind coming in a few minutes early or staying a few minutes late to help out however possible.

2. The Overachiever
This person wholeheartedly believes in your project and wants you to succeed.  May go above and beyond the call of duty to help other departments when there’s a need, or take additional responsibility. He or she becomes a close advisor and collaborator during the production process.

3. The Early Bird
This person is always the first one on set, even sometimes beating you, the producer.  They’re always ready to work well before call time and are back on set, ready to go before lunch ends. His or her work ethic pays off in spades as you have them top of mind every time you’re hiring.

fresh air

Some people are like a breath of fresh air…

4. The Super Nice Guy (or Girl)
He or she is just a pleasure to be around. Friendly, funny, and delightful, this person keeps morale up on set and makes you look forward to going to work. They’re easy, go with the flow people who make friends easily and are grateful to be involved in your project.

5. The Organizer
This person might be Type-A, but it’s the kind of Type-A you want. Masterful at multi-tasking and organizing, this person dots all the I’s, crosses all the T’s, and keeps the engine of your production running. No job is too big or small. They can handle gobs of paperwork that would make someone else go blind, and can anticipate problems before they happen.

I’ve had the great fortune to have worked with many fantastic collaborators like these who just love moviemaking and want to do good work. There’s nothing more inspiring than being around those who are inspired, and it’s up to you pick the best team possible to give yourself that gift.

Do you have any stories you’d like to share from the trenches? Leave them in the comments below!

Rebecca Norris is a writer, producer, web enthusiast, and creator of the award-winning web series Split with her production company, Freebird Entertainment. Follow Rebecca on Twitter at @beckaroohoo. 

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4 thoughts on “Writers on the Web: Dealing With Difficult Personalities On Set

  1. Rebecca NorrisRebecca Norris Post author

    Hi Babymango,

    Thanks for your kind words about the article and for sharing your story! I would categorize the situation you’re describing as falling under #5: The Know-It-All. Whether it’s an actor, DP, or any other crew member who’s not showing you respect, it’s absolutely not okay and should be dealt with immediately before it spirals out of control.

    I have had a few situations myself with this type of personality–in two instances, it was the DP, in one instance, a camera assistant, and in another, a supporting actor. Their behavior ranged from snickering and muttering judgements under their breath to literally trying to take over the set.

    Know that it probably isn’t just you they’re acting like this with. They may want to be a director themselves and therefore feel qualified to judge you on your directing. But remember, they’re not the director. YOU are. If they want to be the director, they can go pay for their own project. But as long as you’re signing the paychecks, YOU are in charge.

    Also know that since you’re the leader of the project, you might end up getting snickers and looks no matter what. Sometimes people just want to complain about the boss, no matter how good you are at your job. It comes with the territory; as they say, “it’s lonely at the top.” But it’s especially hard when you’re still learning, and other people expect you to be at a level you’re just not at yet. However, regardless of where you’re at, you always have a choice. You absolutely do not need to tolerate people that you’ve hired treating you in a disrespectful manner, no matter how little experience you have.

    I also understand how hard it can be when you’ve already shot footage and then you start encountering issues with certain people. This is why it’s so important to have backups. Have the names and numbers of a few DPs in your back pocket whose work would be good enough if yours needs to be replaced. And at least two backup actors in mind in case your lead falls through. Have a contingency fund in your budget in case you need to re-shoot some scenes.

    In some cases, you may not be able to re-shoot and will have to continue to deal with that disrespectful person. In that case, a serious discussion needs to be had. Take them aside as SOON as you get a whiff of their snickering, or eye-rolling, or whatever, and inform them that that type of behavior is not accepted on your set. If they have an issue with something, they must come to you privately rather than bringing down the morale of the rest of the cast and crew. If it continues, you may have to be prepared to let them go. There’s no point in creating subpar work and having a miserable experience, and it could mean delaying the project to do some re-writing, re-shooting, or re-casting if you have to replace a key cast or crew member.

    Over time, you’ll start to get adept at sussing these people out in the interview before they even come on board. To help, you can hold two rounds of interviews, to see how each person is more than once. For actors, hold auditions and callbacks. Is their behavior courteous and consistent both times? If not, as the saying goes, “if you see crazy coming, cross the street.” Don’t fall into a trap of letting someone’s impressive credits or experience blind you to potential personality conflicts. They’re not doing you a favor; you’re hiring them to do a job.

    I have mixed thoughts about people working for no compensation whatsoever. Although I understand having no budget to work with, I think it’s best to try and pay them a little something, even if it’s a $50 stipend. There will automatically be a different level of respect when there’s a business transaction taking place, rather than a friend doing a favor for you.

    For more stories and information on this exact topic, check out my article on Ringleading Your Circus: http://www.scriptmag.com/features/writers-on-the-web-ringleading-your-circus-in-pre-production

    I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any more questions.

    Rebecca

    1. babymango

      Hi Rebecca

      Thank you so very much for your detailed response! As a new filmmaker it really is motivating to know that you too face or have faced disrespectful behaviour on your set too! In fact, EVERYTHING you wrote is true, and i’m going to print out your reply and have it with me when I shoot – cos EVERYTHING you said i agree with, and is truly valuable!

      Thank you so much for penning down your thoughts, and you’re so right, as a “boss”, you ARE going to get people talking or smirking about you, i need to develop a bit of thick skin about that. But yes, when things get bad, i SHOULD nip it in the bud! So right! And a big thank you so much! We young filmmakers sometimes need to hear encouraging words from other more established producers, so once again a big thank you!!!

      1. Rebecca NorrisRebecca Norris Post author

        I just saw this! Thanks for your kind words, and I’m so glad I was able to help. As artists, it’s inevitable that we’ll run into naysayers, haters, critics, and distractors along the way. It’s our job to “eat the fish and spit out the bones,” learn from each experience, and move on to the next project. Every experience and every person we meet is there to teach us a valuable lesson.

        Thanks again and keep us up to date on your progress!

  2. babymango

    Hi Rebecca
    I love this article! I am a pretty new filmmaker – I started with short films about 2-3 years ago, and just made my very first feature film, and your article really pins down the type of people i’ve had to deal with, esp on my feature! On a short film, since the shooting time is so short, i’ve never had problems, but on my feature, some of these types of people have emerged.

    I just wanted to ask about two types which you didn’t cover – what about the DP (or other crew) colluding with the Talent/Actor to snigger or mock at the Director, esp when the Director is new/young and maybe isn’t so 100% sure of certain things?!? I think personally this is MOST disrespectful! And it’s done quite a lot on sets with young/new producers/directors!

    My feeling is this – If an Actor or DP felt it was “beneath” them to work for this new/young Director, they shouldn’t have accepted the job – which of course they mostly do FOR THE MONEY and then turn all diva! – in the first place. However, this type of behaviour usually comes about after a couple of days of shooting – so asking both DP and Actor or even one of them to leave is detrimental to the cost of the project. And sometimes if they are working for you for FREE, it might be hard to even talk to them, for fear they’d walk off your set mid way.

    I’ve resorted to talking to the parties AFTER everything – but then all i get is excuses and denials – and how do you prove a “knowing look” an actor gave the DP, or a “snigger” between them?! It’s not something easily quantified and proven if you know what i mean.

    Another type, and this might be only on a set where actors are working for free cos they too need experience and a reel – is the actor who thinks they can yell at the new/young director or give the said director a talking-down to or a beat-down cos of some mistake the new/young director did – and doing it on purpose in front of the whole cast and crew for ultimate effect of humiliating the director.

    To me, once again, this actor should be fired – but if you’re in the middle of the shoot and can’t afford to recast and reshoot – you’d have to tolerate this until the end of the shoot where you can speak your mind to this rude actor. What do you think?

    I would really like advice and to know how you’ve dealt with this, or would deal with these 2 types? Thanks so much!!!

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