A top director’s advice on how to run a creative working environment

It comes down to respect, hydration, and clean socks.
It comes down to respect, hydration, and clean socks.
Image: AP/Invision/Jordan Strauss
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Last year, a rookie filmmaker contacted the writer, director, and producer Ava DuVernay to ask for advice before starting her first feature. DuVernay, who directed Selma, 13th, and the forthcoming A Wrinkle in Time, responded with a list of tips ranging from practical matters (“Change your socks at lunch, makes you feel like a new woman”) to personal interactions with coworkers on set.

DuVernay recently posted a selection of her email on Twitter for the benefit of others tasked with managing a creative working environment. Certain points are specific to film making, such as on blocking, line reading, and allowing actors to watch videos of their own performances. But the rest apply to anyone looking to lead a team of people in the production of an ambitious endeavor.

From DuVernay’s email:

Know your crew members by name. They are the lifeblood of your film.

Remember that actors and crew are the same. Grown-ups. Treat them all with the same grown-folks respect. No one is better than anyone else just because they’re in front of the camera.

Never tell an actor it was good when it wasn’t.

Be prepared for hundreds of questions per day. You are now Question Answerer [in] Chief.

Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer. You don’t have to know all the answers to everything. More than half of people’s job [sic] is to help you find the answers.

Hydrate throughout the day.

Laugh and keep a warm atmosphere. We’re making movies not splitting the atom.

Remind yourself why you’re telling this story every morning on the way to set. Why it’s important to you. What you want to say. Every morning.

Knock it out the fucking park.