Indie Filmmaking Lessons I’ve Learned from my Kids

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Sugar is NOT your friend.

My youngest, who is 4, had one of his worst public tantrums ever recently and I blame sugar. Typically, we eat something healthy for breakfast, but we were running late the other day and left the house without getting a chance to eat. Then, a nice woman we know at a bakery gave the boys donuts. It was sweet, so I said yes and we all thanked her. However, about an hour later when Caterpillar (my blogging nickname for my youngest) had an utter meltdown at the coffee shop that left me rushing out the door as quickly as possible, I realized that pure sugar in the body of a small child first thing in the morning when they haven’t eaten in about 12 hours is a REALLY BAD IDEA. I do NOT recommend it.

The same thing goes for film sets, it can be tempting (because of budget limitations and how happy candy makes people) to have lots of sugary goodies available for cast and crew on the set, however it’s best to keep the sugar to a minimum or to offer it through fruit not processed and ultra-refined empty calories because if you think adults are immune to sugar-induced meltdowns or comas, you are wrong. Trust me on this one. Keep nuts on hand as a much more valuable snack item.

Friendship is a beautiful thing.

Recently at a friend’s wedding, Wild Thing (my blogging nickname for my oldest, who is 5) made a new friend. Their instant ability to embrace each other as friends in just a few minutes reminded me of the magic of childhood and of the beauty of friendship. They announced to me: “We’re best friends.” Then, looked at each other and asked “Wait, what’s your name?” Classic.

I actually don’t recommend working with friends on sets unless you know that you work well together and that your friends possess the skills you need. (This goes with casting, too. Do NOT cast your friends just because they are friends). That being said, DO hire cast and crew that are not only right for the job, but who also FIT the culture/vibe of your project and your team. No, you don’t need to become “best friends” instantly like children can, but you want the team to work well together, so personality does matter. Take the time to get the right person for the job. I’m proud that some of the very talented individuals I’ve hired on film crews have now become friends.

Clumsiness Just Might Be Genetic.

I am NOT graceful. I am ABSOLUTELY prone to minor accidents, trip often and, to be honest, occasionally run into things (when perfectly sober). Well, so does my oldest son. He’s knocked over an entire box of wine bottles at a store, and he trips over his own feet at least three times a day.

What’s the filmmaking lesson here? Well, it’s the importance of me knowing my limits as a producer. I’m clumsy, so I don’t offer to “help” by carrying something really expensive and important as I might trip and drop it. I also keep my eye out for cables that need to be taped down for safety or other easy tripping hazards, making my film sets safer for all, and this tips serves as a reminder of the importance of being honest with ourselves about our weaknesses as filmmakers. Know your strengths and your weaknesses and make sure you’ve got others on your team whose strengths counter those weaknesses.

Always have cereal and peanut butter sandwiches on hand.

The other night, I was tired and we arrived home later than usual. My husband and I had enjoyed a lunch date, so we weren’t really hungry for dinner, and we were both way too tired to cook anything. What to do? Cereal and peanut butter sandwiches, of course. I love cooking healthy, yummy meals for my family, but everyone loves cereal and sandwiches.

Don’t worry. I don’t feed my cast and crew cereal or peanut butter sandwiches as actual meals on set, but I have found that cast and crew (especially crew) appreciate having both available on set. People metabolize food at different rates and some individuals, especially very physically active crew members, need like 5 meals daily, not two or three. I try to always have cereal (good cereal) and bread and peanut butter and jelly/jam available on every set. The peanut butter and jelly is particularly substantial offering whole grain carbs and protein, and it’s quick and easy for a crew member to make and take when they just need a quick left (and to quiet a grumbling tummy between takes).

Learning opportunities are everywhere.

This week, an art activity also offered a science lesson (when heat interacts with wax on a candle or crayon that solid becomes a liquid), a bike ride became a study in opposites (slow-fast, stop-go), and, according to Wild Thing, anyplace and anytime is an opportunity to teach me something new about Star Wars!

Film sets are similar. I seek to create the type of atmosphere on set that allows for shared learning and opens each team member up to doing the best work they can. On film sets, I’ve discovered that a particular grip has a knack for “bug wrangling” and have seen first ACs or gaffers come up with creative solutions to lighting or space challenges. When you create an open, safe space, everyone feels comfortable sharing their knowledge and learning from those around them, which will only make your project better. Don’t assume you know it all. Listen to the talented individuals around you and learn from them.

What can we learn from you? If you’re a fellow #MovieMakingMama, share a filmmaking tip/lesson inspired by your children or by motherhood. Tweet at me, @IndieJenFischer, and use the hashtag #MovieMakingMama!

Jennifer Fischer

About Jennifer Fischer

Jennifer Fischer is a film producer, editor, and the co-founder of Think Ten Media Group. Her latest multi-award winning film, "Smuggled,” saw her tackling distribution, successfully securing theatrical screening events at universities, colleges and community organizations throughout the United States and abroad. She fell in love with filmmaking while at Harvard getting her MA in Middle Eastern Studies as she discovered the power of media to explore difficult topics. Her first short film, "Songs of Palestine," was presented in conjunction with her Masters Thesis and premiered at a Quaker International Relations Conference. Jennifer also ran a film festival for 7 years when she first moved to California, and she curates various film-related boards on Pinterest; her Film Articles and Resources Pinboard was recognized by Indiewire as one of the Top 10 Pinboards for Independent Filmmakers to follow. She is currently producing, “The wHOLE,” a short film series about mass incarceration.