BLG Leadership Insights Features Managerial Competence

Execution in the World of Make Believe

In the realm of film and television, one would assume that ideas, concepts, premises and visions fantasies are the key element, the backbone, of the business model. While ideas may be the spark that fuels the fire, they aren’t enough to put money in anyone’s pocket without follow-through, hard work, tweaking, and the collaboration of a small army of professionals.

Consider the concept of a pitch meeting: a writer walks into an office armed solely with his an idea. In a best-case scenario, the producer or developmental person likes the idea, and, assuming this person is in a position to make decisions, asks them to do a treatment or a short narrative detailing the project.

A friend of mine recently pitched an idea to a major cable network. The network liked it and asked him to present a more-developed presentation and submit a treatment.

So how did my friend handle the preparation for the pitch meeting/ treatment?

He worked for hours laying out possibilities for exactly how the show would be structured. He looked at other shows on this particular network. He studied the number of commercial breaks during similar shows. He learned how many segments their shows were broken up into. He figured out how many locations the network used per episode. He went through sample scenarios for various episodes, writing jokes, and key phrases crafted to seem like off-the-cuff, improvisational comments during the meeting. It wasn’t enough to simply see the show in his head, he needed to convey it in a concrete manner that the network could understand.

His entire approach to the meeting was, for the most part, pragmatic and calculated.

My friend didn’t depend on his great idea carrying him through the meeting. At the end of the day, he realized he would have to transform his idea into something concrete. If his idea gets picked up as a pilot, his focus will move further away from the world of ideas and more into the world of executing.

A pitch or a treatment is an early step in the developmental process, but these things are not in and of themselves, a commodity. The difference between a pitch and a TV show, or even a treatment and a TV show is the difference between a crudely-drawn sketch of the Empire State Building and the building itself.

But it doesn’t stop at a well received pitch and treatment. The writer has to next jump through a few more hoops. They have to present an outline for a script and receive, respond to, and incorporate notes from numerous sources into a revised treatment. Then and only then will the writer be finally asked to submit a script.

If the script is good and liked by the right people and it undergoes another process or re-writing and feedback an order to produce a pilot may be issued. The tweaking and feedback sessions become more frequent and the intensity increases during this period.

Let’s say my friend’s pilot gets picked up and the show becomes a series. He’ll next have to focus on getting things done and delivering results.

My friend was smart. He realized that although he may be a creative person in a creative industry, creativity alone is not enough.  Even in the world of make believe, you still have to translate vision into action.

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Alfred Hitchcock’s Leadership Style [Video]

Alfred Hitchcock, director of over 60 films, said, “When an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say, ‘It’s in the script.’ If he says, ‘But what’s my motivation?, I say, ‘Your salary.’”

His no-nonsense leadership style, while not endearing to actors, propelled Hitchcock from his position as an assistant director in an English studio to one of the biggest names in Hollywood in fewer than five years.

Hitchcock was born in England, the son of a greengrocer, and got his start in the film business by drawing sets and title cards. He quickly and passionately absorbed the processes involved in making films and started to write scripts for practice.

His dedication paid off and he was eventually allowed to direct his own full-length movies in England. His success brought him to Hollywood where he searched for bigger and better opportunities.

The rest is history. Hitchcock became a household name, synonymous with murder, intrigue, and espionage.

On the set Hitchcock was a notoriously low-key, hands-off leader who expected his crew and actors to do the job they were responsible for. According to one anecdote Doris Day eventually approached Hitchcock on the set of the The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and wondered if she was doing a good job. He said he didn’t think she was doing a bad job and that was the end of it. He wasn’t prone to emotional flare-ups or tense dramatic moments. He simply wanted to get the job done.

In a more dramatic incident, Hitchcock called actors “cattle,” but later recanted his original statement and said, “My actor friends know I would never be capable of such a thoughtless, rude and unfeeling remark, that I would never call them cattle . . . What I probably said was that actors should be treated like cattle.”

Hitchcock believed in an authoritarian system that required his actors and crew to be autonomous while being responsive to commands.

Before Hitchcock set about making any film he would have most components planned before he began shooting. He was detail orientated, had no room for improvisations, and didn’t have kind feelings for ideas outside the boundaries he set. Each film was mapped out and rarely subjected to tinkering after it had been finalized.

Hitchcock blended a highly organized authoritative leadership structure with his laid-back, everyone-can-do-their-jobs attitude. His peculiar mix of leadership styles worked and it created tight story lines, fostered consistent productivity, and earned numerous industry accolades while letting the people he worked with flourish naturally.

Hitchcock was a champion of common sense (he once said, “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder”) and a creative powerhouse. His ability to get things done while still being able to express himself consistently was a true skill and one that informs his dichotomous leadership style. A leadership method that combined practicality with a sharp focus on individual imagination and ingenuity.

Picture Credit: Moneysox