Recently I heard a quote by Jeff Bezos (of all people) that resonated with me as a filmmaker.
Drawing from his experience growing Amazon into one of the biggest companies on earth, he said:
“We need to be stubborn on the vision, but flexible on the details”.
When I heard this, I felt it perfectly summed up my feelings on being a filmmaker. Especially on a micro-budget level.
Having a clear vision for your film is of course always crucial. Without it you have no sense of direction, and your project (and collaborators) will become aimless.
But having so rigid a vision that you refuse any change to your ideas or methods is a recipe for disaster too.
No film ever goes 100% according to plan. No matter how much money or time you may have. And if you are making a micro-budget film, all bets are off.
So if your approach to filmmaking is to refuse all ideas outside of your original plan, you are almost guaranteed to fail.
Conversely, the more open minded you are to new ideas (and the less you see changes as a bad thing), the more likely you are to create something incredible.
Still, you never want to lose sight of the essence of your project. Which is why striking that balance between creative intent and creative flexibility is the ultimate challenge for every director.
Solving this is about understanding what actually matters, and what is simply decoration.
Your overall vision is almost always going to be centered on the story, themes, performances, tone, and stylistic execution.
These are the elements to be stubborn with, as they will shape your final product more than any other.
But almost everything else is secondary.
Even seemingly big decisions like what camera you’re shooting on, what location you will use, or which lines of dialogue will be spoken, can all change significantly without deviating from the original intent.
Making movies is a messy process. And to not anticipate that at the onset of a project is to do yourself a disservice.
It’s about maintaining a laser focus on the big picture, so you know which choices to make when you inevitably have to pivot on the small stuff.
Without this type of clarity, you run the risk of sacrificing your true vision to maintain control over less critical elements.
So what exactly does that look like?
Going overboard on a big cinema camera choice and losing important coverage on set as a result.
Refusing to change a line of dialogue when the actor’s idea would have aligned more with your theme.
Not casting an amazing actor because they didn’t align with your original description, even though they would elevate the movie.
These type of decisions hurt so many indie films.
A lot of first time filmmakers believe that in order to “have a vision”, they must be totally locked into their choices. But it’s exactly the opposite.
The more clear you are on the big picture, the greater your ability to make smaller pivots that will only make the movie better.
It’s all about knowing what truly matters, and what is secondary.
Making that distinction will not only yield a better film, but make the process a whole lot more fun too.