When you’re working towards a creative pursuit, there’s always the allure of perfection – to get things just right. This manifests itself in many areas of filmmaking. There’s a reason we shoot many takes (to nail the perfect performance), multiple angles (to reconstruct the perfect scene in the edit bay), and tweak, tweak, tweak (a bit of makeup to cover the shine, an extra light to provide a kicker, some extra blood on the wall) until the 1st Assistant Director tells us to stop.
The most productive, stimulating, and creative sets I have been on have all been working towards the goal of perfection. Every department, every crew member, and every cast member pushing themselves to strive for the best of whatever it is they’re on set to do.
But there’s a dark side to perfection. It takes time, money, and resources – three things many film productions are scarce to provide or stretched too thin on.
Luckily, those same sets – the ones united in working towards the best – were also some of the most incredibly pragmatic. Because after reaching for perfection for so long, your arm can get tired.
And practicality sets in.
Perfection may be the goal, but practical is always the reality.
There’s always going to be mistakes, miscommunications, mishaps:
- Out-of-focus shots
- Missed tail-slates
- A dropped lens on the ground
- Batteries that were unplugged and never charged
- Or simply unlucky circumstances out of your control
It’s impossible to have a healthy career without being personally responsible, at some point, for a shot / take / scene not being perfect. That’s the reality.
And if that seems intimidating to you, then that’s because you haven’t yet dealt with a mistake large enough to realize that you’ll survive it. Life goes on and “in the end, it’s only a movie” has to be your mantra. It can be reshot, it can be redone, it can be reworked.
Perfection, as a goal, is a noble pursuit, but it will always be on opposites ends of the scale with practicality. To be a truly great crew member, you have to know when you’ve contributed enough to tip the scales close enough towards perfection without compromising the rest of the shoot.
This isn’t to say that you should settle or make lazy excuses for your work:
I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.
– Michael J. Fox
As Michael J. Fox astutely points out, the lack of perfection does not mean a lack of quality. The best crews and the best shoots are always going to look at perfection as a goal, while continually acknowledging they’ll never reach it.
After all, you can’t make a perfect movie without the perfect budget. And last time I checked, nobody had unlimited funds to pour into their pointless pursuit of perfection.
Instead, the ones doing great work are practical and they know when their work is excellent.