If you don’t know already I work in the film/video realm. When I started as an intern I loved being on set so I could observe everyone first hand. I learned a lot about different positions just by watching. We’d have different directors every day, each with their own style. The rest of the positions remained the same, so it was interesting to see how work flows were adjusted to the individual styles.
The Stage Manager (or First Assistant Director) usually held my attention the most. Yes, he’s the loudest on the set. He’s got his on microphone so he can be heard over all the noise, but that wasn’t the only reason he held my attention.
He was there every day and worked the closest with the director. I could tell that he had his own practices and tricks he learned from over the years. One day I finally found a moment when he wasn’t busy where I could talk to him about his job.
He explained to me the basic job description but said the most important part of his job was understanding philosophy. He said it wasn’t about the technicalities, experience or trainings it was about understanding people.
He gave me an example about how he handled getting people back to set after a break. I had heard him call loudly to people every day. You could hear him from down the hall say “And we’re back!” I knew he was loud but I never realized that he put more thought into it than just that.
He said that he needed to make sure people always heard him. That they never got used to how he made his calls. If he called out the same way every day then it would just become a norm so the alarming effect would disappear.
He explained how he would use different tones; bringing his voice from low to high one day and high to low the next. Slightly changing the wording from “And we’re back” to “We’re back everybody” could make just enough difference he needed to keep people’s attention.
That was how he dealt with the masses, but dealing with the different individual directors was a bigger change. Some directors were more hands on, some liked working directly with the crew and talent and others were more laid back. The trick the stage manager shared with me was finding the right level of involvement. With the more hands on directors he would have to tone down his own personal directions. It was his time to be more prominent on set with the directors who were more laid back. He was about to give directions to crew members and requests for talents. Never once would he want to step on the director’s toes.
You could clearly tell that he put a lot of thought into his techniques. I had never even noticed the difference in him until he told me how he made his conscious decisions to be louder or take a step back. After this conversation with him I noticed which approach he would take with the different directors.
I come to you with this story because although this was a lesson learned on the set, I feel that the overall philosophy can be applied in any work atmosphere. In any group dynamic you need to know when it is your time to shine and when it is your time to step back. We’re always looking for a time to shine, so I think it is especially important for us to realize when it is not our time. We need to honor other people’s limelight moments.
A great leader knows when to act and when to listen.