Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Old Stuff: Learning To Manage Feedback

As part of a formal filmmaking community (Filmmakers Alliance in Los Angeles), I cannot even conceive of making a film without the creative support I get from my family of fellow filmmakers. From script stage through editing, I use my community (many of which are talented filmmakers) to reflect back to me a perspective on the work I've created so that I may get a sense of how what I'm doing is being received by an audience. Granted, my filmmaking community probably views films with a slightly more specific and, perhaps, jaundiced eye than the general public, but the feedback is almost always littered with great ideas. And if I can get filmmakers lost in the film and not thinking about the filmmaking behind it, I know I've done what I want to do. Frankly, I find feedback the single most important creative tool in the development of my work.

But managing feedback is a skill, no, an art, that many filmmakers have difficulty mastering. Some get very defensive and protective about their work. A lot of filmmakers simply refuse to get feedback, preciously guarding their work from outside opinions and contributions. Yes, exposing your work to comment, especially at early stages, can create a sense of personal vulerability. But the benefits are worth it. Besides, the work will take much harder hits once it is realized and out in the world.

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Feedback can be both immensely valuable and incredibly destructive - all depending on how the filmmaker responds to and manages the feedback. Here's some tips/thoughts on how to handle feedback:

1. Prepare yourself for feedback. Make sure you are in the proper headspace to receive it. Sometimes that takes simple breathing, sometimes it means pre-visualizing worst-case scenarios. Whatever your technique, work to keep yourself open and non-defensive.

2. Know when the work is ready for feedback. First of all, you need to be ready. But the work should also be at a place where you can receive clear and meaningful feedback. That is, you've taken it as far down the road as you alone can. If you know there is more to do before showing it to others, then do it.

3. Resist immediately commenting on the feedback. Unless you need greater clarification, just take in the feedback. Sit with it and don't give in to knee-jerk reactions. Although feedback can feel personal, it is not. It is about the work. Do cut off or ignore any feedback that is indeed personal or abusive in any way, but otherwise flow with it and take the time to understand why your work is generating a particular reaction.

4. Don't be afraid to communicate and/or "guide" feedback. Often times it's best to just shut up and hear what others have to say, letting the work speak for itself. But if you have specific issues, concerns or questions don't be afraid to direct people to those points. When necessary, let them know specifically what you are trying to address and/or accomplish. This can sometimes really pinpoint the feedback.

5. Consider the source. Feedback is, of course, very subjective. Some people may not respond well to your work because they are simply coming from a very different aesthetic perspective. That doesn't mean they don't have valuable feedback to offer, and may indeed toss out some great ideas, but you will have to filter through the over-all feedback based on your understanding of their own aesthetic agenda.

6. Feedback is just that, and not necessarily the solution. Sometimes it is, but often it is not. People may be stopped or bothered by something so they give you "solutions". But often, they are just bad ideas. You have to interpret the feedback/solutions and think about why they are stopped beyond what they tell you. Film is a visceral medium and you are looking for the gut-level reactions to the film, then trust your own gut in working out how to respond to them.

7. No one knows better than you. At the end of the day, you need to feel right about responding to feedback and not just roll over for it because it is coming from someone you respect or because you feel some kind of pressure to respond to it. You must, must challenge yourself and look hard at any feedback that you feel needs to be taken seriously, but in the end, you are the filmmaker and must live with your decisions - and learn from them, if necessary.

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