• Let’s collaborate. 5 tips toward successful team-building.

Hiya, I’m Dom, and I’m a Connector at Story & Heart.

Story & Heart is one part film licensing platform and one big part filmmaking community—a place for storytellers to learn, encourage, and collaborate.

In that sense, we foster a passionate group of like-minded filmmakers drawn together to focus on one thing: helping you tell amazing stories. Because we believe that what we grow together will be something so much greater than anything we could have nurtured alone.

So, in the spirit of collaboration, Stillmotion asked me to write a bit about the idea of collaboration.

Imagine, for a moment, a storyteller. Do you picture writers laboring, lonely, behind a stack of paper in a dusty study? Or animators alone poring over the same drawing, over and over, changing it slightly every time to capture the precise pose, or the right mannerism, to convey that perfect purpose?

Now, for one more moment, imagine a freelancer—the storyteller who is bound to work alone, for whatever reason, be it financial or physical.

Because the truth is so much simpler: Storytelling requires collaboration.

That book that writer behind the lonely typewriter is creating? It’s so much bigger than the bounds of that study. It needs an editor—or a team of them—if it has any chance at reaching a greater audience. And that writer, beyond just her editors, also needs an agent, a publisher, a publicist, and countless others to hold her hands throughout the process of publishing, before the book can end up in your hands.

The same, of course, applies to film. When the credits roll, you aren’t bombarded with hundreds of names because of some elaborate joke.

Yet, as filmmakers, we can probably all remember a time when we’ve had a strange relationship with the idea of collaboration. Maybe for you, that time is now, and at the moment you’re staring at this screen hoping we’ll convince you that teamwork isn’t as frustrating or difficult to manage as it’s seemed so often in your career.

Still, like we said, the truth is simpler than that. We’re not about to claim that a solo shooter can’t tell an amazing story, but let’s be real: filmmaking is a team sport. There is just too much going on, so many moving parts, way too many interlocking pieces to juggle on your own that the risk of burn out—of losing all that passion you once held dearly for a craft you’ve always loved—should be convincing enough.

This is why we’re building Story & Heart: to give filmmakers the resources, tools, and community they need to be able to work together safely and confidently. When filmmakers have such a place they can call home, we believe that both their career and their craft will breathe with a new sense of purpose.

We’re doing this because we know collaboration can be difficult—that in many cases working together may just seem like it’s not an option.

What if there aren’t any like-minded filmmakers in your area? What if you can’t find the right work to support a crew of more than one? What if you’re just completely self-conscious about some skill or technique you’ve never actually had the opportunity to learn?

We want to make collaboration as easy as possible. We want to remove all barriers between you and telling your stories the way you know they should be told. We want to do this because we’re storytellers ourselves, and we’ve been in your well-worn shoes. We know what it’s like to lose sight of the energy that drew us—that probably drew all of us—to filmmaking in the first place.

So with that, while we keep putting all the pieces together to make Story & Heart a haven for storytellers, you can start right now—on your next shoot, in the middle of your next production.

Whether you are a team leader or part of a team, you can make your next project a collaboration in the truest sense of the word.

Here are our 5 tips toward collaborative success.

1. Start with “why”.

Storytelling is nothing without collaboration, but is the same vice versa?

As a director—who for all intents and purposes is the “team leader”—your first priority is to establish the purpose for your team. This is your whole project’s “why”: the reason you are gathered together, the reason you are telling this story.

What, ultimately, are you trying to do, say, or convey with the story you are telling together? It is a director’s duty to make this clear to every single person involved—and make it clear from the moment the project begins.

As part of a team, you have to understand your ultimate goal. All decisions and actions will stem from that very basic premise.

Disagreements among the team? Your “why” is your filter. It’s like your code, your mission statement, your thesis sentence. It is the reason, above all, that you can return to when anything is in question: your role, your motivation, your intentions.

As long as everyone starts by knowing why everyone is there, the rest is just a nice cruise to the finish line.

Our purpose at Story & Heart? To make the world a better place for storytellers through collaboration, education, and encouragement. That’s our mission, and everything we do—from community events to working out the legalities of our licensing platform—is aimed at this “why”. Every person at Story & Heart knows this from the moment we join the family, and together we look forward to the time when we cross that finish line together.

2. Give everyone something to own.

Once you’ve made sure everyone understands the production’s—and, above all, the story’s—why (or you’ve had it explained well to you), you need to translate the individual passion of each of your team members into a reason to follow through on that why.

A team is like any community: in order for the community to work, every person has to not only play a vital role, but every person has to know they are playing a vital role.

Whether you’re a story’s actual owner or you’re someone who will help tell it, you must have a stake in the story being told well.

This is ownership—by feeling truly valued, you will devote that value to the story. Ownership by nature is a matter of accountability, and so when any collaborator holds a sense of ownership over the successful completion of any project, the collaborator is also held accountable.

At Story & Heart, we encourage this accountability through making sure that each member is giving as much as receiving—that each person in our community feels as committed to helping others tell amazing stories as they do telling their own.

Every storyteller is both a teacher and a student, a leader and a follower.

Imagine what kind of magic could happen when everyone is on equal footing, when the clearest feeling amongst any team is one of mutual respect.

3. Admit your weaknesses.

No matter whom you are or what you’ve accomplished creatively, you will never be the fantastic at everything. That’s not a negative thing, it’s just reality.

You have your strengths, and you have your weaknesses—and frankly, no one’s perfect. This is why we collaborate in film: to chase the horizon together, and believe that when we join forces we could get a glimpse of that perfection.

Think of all the moving parts of making a film. From direction, to audio, to writing, to business, to interview tactics—if each collaborator can communicate how and why he or she needs help, then others can pick up the slack. Each person’s strength is essentially filling in for the weaknesses of another. Together you excel.

Apart, you can only make it so far: to the extent of your strengths, and far behind the potential of your weaknesses.

Perhaps most importantly, though, is knowing that sometimes weaknesses are just that for a reason: there is simply no passion behind something in which a person is weak.

During our recent Ask Us Anything Live Community Event, it was  our pal Joey Mathews from Film Lab Creative who described his attitude toward collaboration with this very idea in mind:

A lot of people will tell you don’t hire your friends, but that’s exactly what I did. It wasn’t really even about skill, it was about personality…

Give people opportunities to do what they’re passionate about, support that.

Successful collaboration is not solely about successfully identifying weaknesses in order to mitigate them with strengths, it’s about digging deeper: trying to understand why they are weaknesses, and then supporting that why.

4. Listen.

Listening is important, undoubtedly. This is something we all learn from a young age. It’s how we ever figure out…well, anything.

But when it comes to working in sync with a team, listening is so much more than being open to feedback.

Listening creates safety. Listening creates a space where feedback is welcomed because a sense of sharing is paramount.

This is why we hosted the Ask Us Anything Event: to give storytellers and filmmakers a place free from judgement, fear, and unreasonable expectations. A place where they could feel secure not only sharing their work, but themselves—their passion, pitfalls, and creative purpose.

For a director, creating such a space means that listening is also a matter of humility: realizing that your perspective isn’t the end all, be all, and that a story well told is a confluence of ideas and perspectives, not one idea squeezed through a hierarchy.

For a member of any team, listening is at the core of collaboration—it is that idea of ownership in practice: not only assuring each person that they are an invaluable team member, but showing them that.

5. Speak.

Just as any team needs to find that sweet spot between championing the individual and supporting a crew of like-minded creators, so too, collaboration is about balance: careful listening paired with careful speaking.

So: the opposite of listening. Raising your hand. Giving a hoot. Speaking up. Holla!

But seriously, as is the case with listening, one must, within the context of a larger team, know when and when not to speak.

Really, when it comes to collaboration, speaking is about balance—proactively.

This isn’t just about constructive criticism—speaking is the front line in how you present yourself. If you’re aggressive and critical without much constructiveness, then that is the role you will take on your team. If you are soft of volume and even softer of impact, then your team may forget about you altogether.

The positive matched snugly with the negative. The give and the take. The knowing when to listen—and the not.

At the heart of any successful collaboration is an almost obvious ideal: that the amazing things we can do on our own will pale in comparison to what we can nurture together.

There’s magic, then, in that: an alchemy, our individualistic fervor tempered with the good of the many. It’s like we say all too often—and we even got it put on our tee-shirts!—magic happens when we work together.

Does that sound like the kind of place you’d like to call home?

Come visit us at www.StoryandHeart.com—or, take that extra step and apply to be a member of the Story & Heart community: storyandheart.com/filmmaker.

Help build this world with us. Better yet, let us know how we can give you the right tools and resources to build it for yourself. We believe that when you collaborate to tell the stories you love, the stories you love will change the world.

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7 Thoughts on “Let’s collaborate. 5 tips toward successful team-building.

  1. Reading your posts brings back memories of the experience I had at my department’s team building activity that was held at Club Auto Sport in San Jose, CA. The venue just set the mode for a day of fun & relaxation. We had lots of exciting activities like tricycle racing, exotic driving experience and much more… Their service is incomparable! You should check them out at clubautosport.net/event-center/team-building/ (408.770.1200), I highly recommend them to anyone desiring the best when it comes to team building programs.

  2. Thanks so much for the advice! After film school, I moved to another city. Without my friends and filmmaking community I tried doing things on my own realizing it just doesn’t work. There are like-minded people in your area that feel the same way do and if brought together are capable of amazing things they could never do alone. Like you said, filmmaking is a team effort, it’s just a matter of taking initiative and breaking the barrier to create collaboration. Very inspiring, thanks for the write-up!

  3. Hi Dom, thank you! I think you’ve got the most important points covered and it’s a good read to refresh my attitude towards this ;) Keep up the good work!

  4. Very well put, Dom. I think all too often we are jealous or each other or are caught in a arms race of filmmaking gear. But rather than worry about what they have that you don’t. Reach out and work together. This filmmaking stuff you can manage to do it alone but why would you want to? So much talent just sitting around judging each other, get and go make something together.

    Also I get to many positive comments when I wear my “magic happens when we work together” shirt it is a distraction but a good conversation starter.

    • Heh, at least it’s a bit clearer than the “&” shirt, which is usually greeted with “and what?” That’s my favorite one, though. And to be honest (I’m confessing a secret), until I became part of the Story & Heart family, I was always opposed to ampersands. “Just write out the word!” you could hear me say in conversation. But now I’m quite fond of the symbol. I’m not sure what changed…probably community influence.

      As I think I told you when we were in Philadelphia, any freelancer has a weird relationship with collaboration, but usually the first sign that working alone is adversely affecting your work and creativity is the dreaded “burn-out.” There’s nothing worse than that. It’s a heartbreaking feeling to lose that passion. And one of the things I’m most looking forward to with the Story & Heart community—and just with the idea of talking about collaboration in general—is watching as people who do feel burnt out find that passion again. It’s like starting over, refreshed. There’s no easier way to re-discover that passion than through collaboration. When you think you’ve got nowhere left to turn or you’re not sure whom to trust, if you have the support of a team—then there’s your answer. They’ll pick you up, give you and your stories purpose again.

  5. Very well-written and thoughtful article! Thanks for creating and sharing it. I’ll pass it on too.

    Howard

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