April 2, 2024
I’ve mentioned Willingness and how crucial it is to making a Film. But what about Unwillingness?
What makes someone Unwilling? I still don’t know exactly, but I’ve felt it, and I’ve got the scars to prove it. Unwillingness is resistance, and in its purest form, it comes from Fear and is relatively innocent. When someone has doubts about themselves or a deep-seated conviction from childhood that they have no value, the first thing they do is take it out on everyone around them, especially the Director. Especially when they’re feeling pressured. This is Rule #1 of Unwillingness.
If you’re able to respect that literally, everyone on the planet is dealing with some childhood trauma, then you could take a deep breath, remind yourself not to take it personally, and remind yourself that you, too, have felt vulnerable, worthless and exposed, and choose to approach the situation calmly and maturely.
Try to get a sense of what the person is immediately fearful of. Go easy. I wouldn’t suggest saying something like, “What’s your fucking problem, asshole?!!” even though the clock is ticking, everyone is waiting, and you’re about to lose half a day. I’m speaking in this instance of Actors, though Unwillingness can come from anyone on the film, usually the ones with the most responsibility.
Start with a gentle approach. Let the Actor know you’re willing to invest personally in helping figure out the problem. Humor is useful, but it has to be real. If the Actor feels you’re faking concern, they will pull deeper into their shell. Compassion is helpful; again, it has to be real—or seem very, very much like it. This is one of the reasons why Directors go home exhausted at the end of the day. It takes tremendous effort not to simply flip out. Especially when it’s taken you four years just to get the film off the ground.
But this approach has worked for me many, many times. And the rewards are great. The Actor begins to trust you. You get to know something personal about them. And out of that exchange, the set starts to become a fertile and exciting world.
Rule #2 of Unwillingness is about power; who has it and who doesn’t. Every film has its own very specific hierarchy of importance. Some of it is earned; some of it isn’t. But, it starts to get very tricky when power shifts into manipulation.
It could come from a Star you’ve been fortunate enough to hire. It could come from one of your key crew positions. Be very wary of anyone making you feel like they’re doing you a favor. Again, it’s a tricky balance; you want the Star’s talent, and any idiot would appreciate their name value. You want the Cinematographer’s unique visual brilliance to lift your film out of the ordinary. So, when these people you really need something from start to show signs of steady and increasing Unwillingness, what do you do?
Photo: Tom DiCillo, Steve Buscemi and Dennis Parlatto on the set of Delirious.

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Independent Filmmaker & Musician