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Writers on the Web: Dealing With Difficult Personalities On Set

If you're producing your own work, becoming adept at dealing with difficult personalities is an invaluable (and often hard-earned) skill. Most people you hire will be wonderful collaborators who give their all to help you realize your dream. And if you've done your due diligence during pre-production and met every single person you'll be working with face-to-face, the chances of your having a pleasant, hard-working cast and crew are quite high.

Sometimes, however, even when you've interviewed everyone and selected the absolute best candidates, you can end up with a bad apple that (tries to) spoil the bunch. It's unavoidable. Sometimes in creative enterprises, there's a lot of ego to go around and learning how to put on kid gloves can pay dividends (or even save your shoot) in the end.

Here's five classic difficult personality types on set and some solutions of how to deal with them:

fly swatter

Still not big enough...

1. The Complainer
Nothing pleases this person. The meals on set don't taste good enough, they don't like the choices for crafty, they're hot, they're cold, they're just unhappy. They're like an insect buzzing around your ear all day, letting you know that everything you do is wrong. If only they made human-sized fly swatters.

Solutions: Listen to their concerns, and assess for validity--is he or she just ranting and raving, or is something actually wrong?

Take them aside and let them know their concerns are heard, and that you are working hard to to create the best possible environment you can on set. Take care of (actual) problems swiftly, and accept those that can't be changed (ie. you're shooting in August and it's just going to be hot no matter how many fans you have).

If this person just likes to be miserable, and drive everyone mad, then you have to have the conversation about whether or not it's best to continue the job. If this person is an actor, it becomes quite complex if you've already shot footage, and you may have to either suck it up as long as they're on set, or reshoot their footage with a different performer. This is where backups come into play--always have a backup person or two in mind for each role and each crew position.

Sometimes this person is a neighbor, a stage mom, or someone else outside the production who gives you grief. In that case, it's time to gather all of your courage and remember that you are in charge, not them, and ringlead your circus to the best of your ability.

2. The Wanderer (can also be Wanderer/Sleeper)
This is the person who, for whatever reason, is distracted, lazy, or doesn't want to be there. So they continually wander off set between takes and set-ups and you can't find them. Eventually, you may find them outside talking on the phone, or smoking a cigarette (or something else.) They may also wander off and then fall asleep somewhere because they stayed out drinking too late at the Cat & Fiddle the night before.

Solutions: You simply can't have this on your set. Not only is it disrespectful to you, but also to the actors and crew who are focused and working their butts off. It also wastes valuable time and money. I would talk to his person once about their behavior, and if it continues, let them go.

3. The Entitled One
This person feels that they're doing you a favor by being on your set, particularly if they're working for a lower rate than they normally would, or for free. They may chronically show up late, be disrespectful, or even neglect to do their job. They can sometimes spread a negative vibe around the set or distract others from their work.

Solutions: Talk to them directly about their behavior and how it's affecting the rest of the cast and crew. Ask them to voice what's going on, and see if you can come to a compromise, or increase the benefit to them if they're kindly giving their time for free or cheap (maybe offering additional compensation for gas, for instance.) Realistically assess if it's the best arrangement for both of you to continue.


"Who gave her gluten?!"

4. The High Maintenance One
He or she is allergic to absolutely everything, and cannot be within 100 yards of a nut, a dairy product, or fabric that isn't 100% cotton. (I'm talking extreme here, not the usual allergies or food restrictions, which I also have.) They crave comfort, and expect you to accommodate their every need. A cousin to The Complainer, they may buzz around airing grievances, but are usually nicer about it than The Complainer would be.

Solutions: You can pre-empt these issues by asking everyone to spell out their dietary restrictions and allergies in advance. That way you know to order them special meals and drinks and place them in a comfortable environment. For instance, they're allergic to smoke, you'll make sure they're assigned somewhere else for that cigar smoking scene. Follow up a couple of times during production to make sure they're happy and their allergies are under control.

5. The Know-It-All
This one is the hardest to handle. He or she wants to be the director or producer, and believes they can do a better job than you. They may make comments under their breath while you're giving direction, or at the extreme, loudly question your judgement in front of everyone. They may try to manipulate your words to make you appear weak or not in charge, and try to get others to follow their lead instead of yours. At some point they may actually "take over" and give orders to the cast and crew. This person often has a large, boisterous personality and can easily influence others.

Solutions: Once you get a whiff of this behavior, it needs to be put to bed before it spirals out of control. Take the person aside and remind them that it's your project, and you are the one making decisions and giving direction. You are the one cutting the paycheck, not the other way around. Be gracious but firm. Tell them if they have an issue, they need to bring it up directly to you, privately. If it continues, the person needs to be replaced. No one is permitted to undermine you and your project. I'll repeat what I said in an earlier article: Don't give away your power.

You can also avoid this situation altogether by being on the lookout for these traits in the interviewing process. No matter how much clout or experience they have, if they're a jerk in the interview, they're going to be a jerk on set. Period. Don't spoil your hard work by allowing this energy in your life.

Now, in contrast, here's five personality types you definitely want to have on your set (and work with again and again):

1. The Team Player
He or she loves collaborating with others toward a common goal. Has helpful ideas to make the project the best it can be, and doesn't mind coming in a few minutes early or staying a few minutes late to help out however possible.

2. The Overachiever
This person wholeheartedly believes in your project and wants you to succeed. May go above and beyond the call of duty to help other departments when there's a need, or take additional responsibility. He or she becomes a close advisor and collaborator during the production process.

3. The Early Bird
This person is always the first one on set, even sometimes beating you, the producer. They're always ready to work well before call time and are back on set, ready to go before lunch ends. His or her work ethic pays off in spades as you have them top of mind every time you're hiring.

fresh air

Some people are like a breath of fresh air...

4. The Super Nice Guy (or Girl)
He or she is just a pleasure to be around. Friendly, funny, and delightful, this person keeps morale up on set and makes you look forward to going to work. They're easy, go with the flow people who make friends easily and are grateful to be involved in your project.

5. The Organizer
This person might be Type-A, but it's the kind of Type-A you want. Masterful at multi-tasking and organizing, this person dots all the I's, crosses all the T's, and keeps the engine of your production running. No job is too big or small. They can handle gobs of paperwork that would make someone else go blind, and can anticipate problems before they happen.

I've had the great fortune to have worked with many fantastic collaborators like these who just love moviemaking and want to do good work. There's nothing more inspiring than being around those who are inspired, and it's up to you pick the best team possible to give yourself that gift.

Do you have any stories you'd like to share from the trenches? Leave them in the comments below!

Rebecca Norris is a writer, producer, web enthusiast, and creator of the award-winning web series Split with her production company, Freebird Entertainment. Follow Rebecca on Twitter at @beckaroohoo.

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