Sunday, January 23, 2011

The power of acknowledgement

Like most people in my industry, I have a day job that is not in the industry. I won't tell you anything about it, because that's not the point.

But what I will say is that today I noticed something that might seem really simple but is ridiculously important: everybody is always saying thank you. Today when I left I told one of the managers that I would see her in a couple days. She replied, "Thanks for all of your help today."

Two things occurred to me. First, that I can't remember a day when I've said goodbye to the managers there and NOT had them say thanks. Second, they always are genuine about it, this isn't just some rote thing they say because they're supposed to. They mean it.

It also made me think about the fact that my co-workers are always saying thanks to each other, and that in general we're all just very grateful to each other when we're helping each other out.

This is a really important thing, because it's something I've noticed in every industry I've worked in, for every project I've worked on, and everything that I do. The simple act of saying thank you or acknowledging someone is one of the best and easiest ways to get good work from them. When I'm directing, I try to make sure that I say thank you to each individual crew member, at least once during the shoot. Of course, I also spent the entire month of December writing thirty one posts to say thank you to the people and businesses who supported my last film shoot.

It goes further than just saying thank you, but acknowledgement in general is something extremely powerful. Hearing that I did something well improves everything that I do. It helps me to improve the things that I'm good at, and I think it's good to address your strengths as well as your weaknesses. One of the best experiences I've had in grad school was a long talk with a professor where he laid out the things that he felt I was good at, so that I could work on strengthening those areas and making myself even better at them.

We have a tendency to always focus on what people need to improve and how they can get better. We have performance reviews and tell them what they need to work on. We are always just telling people what they've done wrong, without focusing on what they've done right. But when you take the time to tell somebody they've done something well, it doesn't just change their day but it always is just good management, and it's being a good human being.

So I say you should take today or tomorrow and make sure that if somebody does something that you like, you should say so. Take the time to acknowledge someone's strengths or the help that they've given you. Say thanks.

I promise, I'm not like this all the time. It just was a pretty good day, and I've had a really rough month.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Girls Play Games: Get Over It

I've been a gamer since before I could read, which I suppose some people will think a travesty, but I personally think is awesome.

We had an Atari, and I remember playing the E.T. game that now tops almost every list of "worst video game ever" along with Cosmic Ark, Demons to Diamonds, Frogger, and all the other classics. When I was four, my family got a computer and I became a PC gamer. I still might have gone towards consoles if my mom hadn't put her foot down around the same time and said, "We're not getting a Nintendo, you already have a computer to play games on."

So, PC games it was. Now, I've branched out since then and played some great console games. I actually have gone back and played some of those classic Nintendo games that I missed the first time around.

All in all, I have almost three decades of gaming to my name. Which is not neccesarily that impressive if you consider that most people my age grew up with gaming.

But the thing is, I'm a girl.

I hear you all gasping in shock now. Or maybe you're not, I certainly hope you aren't. Because for some reason, despite the fact that there are millions of us out there, girl gamers are still treated like some weird oddity. Like we're some rare species of bird that you'll only get a chance to see once in a lifetime. Oh my gosh, there she is! A girl with a level 85 in WoW! I hear she even RAIDS too! I can't believe I can mark this off my life list!

Where is this STILL coming from? Why are girl gamers like myself STILL fighting this fight not to be treated like an abnormality? And while I'm at it, what's so weird about the idea that girls are reading comics, and have been for our whole lives?

I thought maybe things were shifting a bit, don't ask me why. For some reason I thought maybe, just maybe people were starting to understand that girls like to pwn just as hard as boys do. Maybe it was because I started to see that we really were almost reaching an understanding in the science fiction fandoms that girls ARE ALREADY THERE so maybe they deserve some respect.

I got hit hardcore with a lesson when I went to a Major League Gaming event here in DC last October. I started keeping count of the number of women I saw, and I never got into double digits. The hotel had actually taken all of the women's bathrooms in that area and put signs over them switching them to men's, leaving the few female stragglers to go to the "family" restrooms.

I was there to watch the Starcraft 2 tournament. In general, I think I saw more girls in the crowd around the SC2 area than anywhere else. But we were still few and far between.

So what is that about, ladies? Is it because there are currently no female pro-gamers in the SC2 world?

I ran into a really nice girl who needed to borrow my cell phone charger (long story) and we sat and discussed the whole thing for a while. She told me if I wanted to spot the girls at a competitive gaming event, I should look for two people standing really close together, because the girls usually came with their boyfriends.

Turned out, she was right. I only saw two girls the whole weekend that didn't seem attached to one of the guys next to them*. What is that about?

Most women I know won't talk in vent during WoW raids or use a mike and reveal their gender, because they've been hit with rampant sexism from other gamers. But at the same time, in my WoW guild we probably are at least 1/3 women, if not more. So are we all hiding? Are women unwilling to go to competitive events because they're afraid of meeting the same sexism in person as they sometimes experience online?

Why aren't we out there? I know there's no way we're actually that slim a minority when it comes to game sales and actual play time.

*I have to admit here that I actually was there with my husband, so I'm coming across as a bit of a hypocrite. But I didn't go because he asked me to, I wanted to go because my favorite player was going to be there and my favorite casters were commentating on the games.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Filmmaking is Problem Solving

So, 2010 was a year of complete and total change for me. I started working on my MFA in 2008, and I quit my full time job to focus on filmmaking in 2009. So it only stands to reason that 2010 would be the year where that effort started really coming to fruition.

I learned a LOT about filmmaking and screenwriting last year. But looking back, the main thing that I learned was the way to deal with it when everything comes crashing down around your ears.

Filmmaking is problem solving. Like most things in life, filmmaking is always rife with setbacks and issues. I have never been on a set that runs smoothly. There's rain, actors stuck in traffic, equipment breaking, people getting sick, etc. etc. I knew this, and I've been repeating this mantra for two years now. But I don't that I really came to understand it until this year. As my good friend Colin said, "It's not about having problems, every set has problems. It's about how you handle the problems." And it really was.

On our webseries, "Stage Fright," we had a number of set backs. First, Snowmageddon threw a wrench into our writing process. There were other problems, one on top of another, until we started to think our little series about a haunted production was also cursed.

But frequently, the results of our problem solving created an even better series. A particular snafu with the wardrobe was solved with more appropriate costumes, which improved the final episodes of the show. When a crew member's car was towed with all of our camera equipment inside, we lost three hours but still managed to make our day without cutting a single scene because we spent those three hours carefully planning what we would do and we all came together to make it happen.

Speaking of Snowmageddon, my short film Extraction was a casualty of the same storm. I had already cancelled the film the year before because of a lack of available crew. But once I had everything lined up, a metric ton of snow dropped on D.C. I ended up having to shelve the entire film until the summer.

Looking back at both of those projects, there were moments that we thought about throwing in the towel. On Stage Fright, I remember one evening when we realized we wouldn't be able to start shooting on time because of another setback, someone mentioned that perhaps we wanted to only shoot half the series and then see if we could get the other half together at another time. There was talk of just shooting the pilot instead. Jason, the 1st A.D., and I were on the same page on that decision: we wanted to have a finished product. We had all worked so hard, and put in so many hours, that the idea of only having half of it done and possibly never getting to the other half was completely heartbreaking. We agreed that we'd rather work harder, and put in extra hours so that we could finish.

With Extraction, I had a small breakdown after I had to cancel the shoot a second time. I was convinced this project was doomed for failure and that maybe I needed to give it up. I thought that maybe this was one of those films that would go down in my memory as a good idea that just never made it. My lead actress was moving, and my crew were dispersing to the winds, I just didn't think it was going to work.

But while I was working on Stage Fright I ended up casting Maya Jackson and Katie Foster in a live reading for Catching Up. Somewhere in there I realized they would be great as the two girls in the story. I took a chance and emailed one of my favorite DPs and asked if he was busy in June, and he wasn't. We were a small crew, and a non-existent budget. But we made the movie, and it turned so well that I've submitted it to several festivals (I'm still waiting to hear back).

In the end, the most vital thing was to persevere and FINISH. Just get it on paper, get it on film, get it done. Just keep going.

That's the biggest lesson I learned last year. And now that I'm in my last semester of my MFA, I think it's going to come in handy.