On the set of Strangetown U.S.A., over a hundred artists came together to unify their visions in a democratic process.

I was interviewed by Suite Spot—a creative production company I’ve been working with since 2016—about what I believe contributes most to the production value of any given project. I said, “Production value begins with the way you treat people on set.” I would revise that to include the way you treat people in the office during pre-production and in the edit suite during post. At the end of the day, it’s the ambitious drive we get from positive reinforcement that improves the quality of our work. Many production companies (some of which I worked with when I first moved to Los Angeles in 2013 and will never work with again) run their crews on fear and loathing and even hunger to get the job done on as tight of a schedule and budget as possible. I’ve always found that this destroys the final product and oftentimes creates unsolvable issues, such as incongruous cinematography, poor performances, and even lost footage. To get the best possible quality out of your project, you must motivate your team. The crew should be happy, cast comfortable, and client, if there is one, confident. This is the formula for an amazing, best-job-I’ve-ever-had production.

Eric Sheehan (Assistant Director), Dillon Morris (Director), and Adam “Ready” Richman (Cinematographer) kept the show running while listening to hundreds of continual notes and suggestions from collaborators of all roles and backgrounds on set.

When I was asked to elaborate on some comments I had about inclusion on set, it got me thinking back to those moments I had been assisting on jobs where the Production Managers strictly enforced a Do-Not-Speak-To-Anyone-Above-Your-Position-Unless-Spoken-To policy. I was on one particular feature, however, when upon returning with cigarettes requested by the Director and the AD—who were pacing around the camera, unsure about a big car crash they were framing up—the AD thanked me and asked, “Well what do you think?” I told him and naturally, he went the other way, but it was that notion that I could be included and asked for an opinion, that opinion respected and somehow—even if he didn’t agree with what I had to say—help push his decision forward to get the shot finished faster and the next setup underway. Since then I’ve always opened my shoots up creatively and oftentimes an actor or a sound engineer or a grip may have ingenious insight—because at the end of the day, we’re all filmmakers, we’ve seen thousands of hours of visual media, and we share a fluency in the language of motion pictures.

Adam reflects on Jen Johnson’s (Producer) insights while Paul Savage (one of 11 Vignette Leads) and Treigh Love (Production Designer) work out the elements of an upcoming scene. At any given point there could be a dozen conversations happening, all to be worked out and the outcomes of which to be shared at the right time.

This entire notion of compassion for the cast, crew, and client and a more democratic process, rather than the standard military hierarchy on set, reminds me of an incredibly collaborative project I was so lucky to just witness—the production of Pancho Morris’ Strangetown U.S.A. music video in early 2018. Directed by Dillon Morris of Here4Fun, with Cinematography by Adam “Ready” Richman, the approach to production was unlike anything any of us involved with experience on set had ever seen. The departmental structuring was more or less democratic and the creative direction was shared by everyone. It sounded ridiculous at the time and many of us were nervous the project would become unhinged and never make it off the ground. But over the course of one weekend, over one hundred artists and filmmakers pushed forth the production of the video. I was invited to document the process, which can be seen below. Photographs of the endeavor are also available in my portfolio.

What are your experiences with compassion and democracy in the workplace?
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You can learn more about the Strangetown U.S.A. project at strangetownusa.com.

And check out Suite Spot, we’re doing some pretty cool things.