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Do Your Best Or Don’t Do It At All

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When I was first starting out, I was fortunate enough to be on a set with Mickey Rooney and was able to spend some time with him. It was great; he talked about the old days of filmmaking and reminisced about past friends, Orson Wells and Betty Davis to name a few. He also told me about how the studios were set up to shoot films quickly, were able to crank them out in a couple of weeks and how Hollywood was a machine. He spoke of having knowledge and confidence on set. Of leading your cast and crew and making good use of everyone’s time.

The shoot we were on was not going exactly as planned and during one of our talks he asked me, “Why is it going this way?” I told him, “They are doing the best they can.” His years of experience told him they weren’t and he then told me something that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “If you aren’t going to do the best you can then don’t do it at all.” At first I thought that was kind of rude. Yes we were behind and yes they weren’t going by the pre-planned shot list, which made more work for the cast and crew, and yes they were very nervous because of having Mickey on set and they let it show.

Weeks after the shoot my thoughts kept going back to what he said. I have always tried to do my best, and yes I have made mistakes and had delays also, so I wondered what he meant. After much consideration I decided to take the word ‘try’ out of my thought. “Always do your best.” It was now a much stronger statement. He was right. As a director and producer I must always to the best job I possibly can. I must take the responsibility to make sure the project is the best that my team and I can make.

Dawn and Mickey-1

Dawn with Mickey Rooney

Since then I have kept what he said in the back of my mind. Now I’ve never been one to cut too many corners, but with this new ‘do your best’ without the try, I found myself spending more time and effort then the past. I have made sure that every project I work on gets 120%, every time.

I will take the extra time to read the script too many times to remember. I let the story take me over. I go to sleep thinking about it and wake with the story as the first thing in my thoughts. I don’t put my notes on post it notes and transfer them over. I hand write them, that way when I rewrite them I get new images, ways of showing something, or new insights to a character. This extra effort helps when creating the shot list, I put down every shot I could want. I make this list very clear so there is no confusion on set. The extra effort also helps when I need to drop shoots to make the day.

I spend time with my actors. If they request more time with me they get it. We rehearse but don’t over rehearse. I let them own the character and tell me what they think that character would do when a question comes up about what that character would do. I give them the script far enough in advance to let them have the time they need. I let them bring new ideas to me with their character development.

I give the script to my department heads in advance also and let them sit with it for a while. I even give it to my composer, editor and post effects person. I will go over it with all of them and make changes when great ideas are born from those conversations.

On set I will let the actor take another shot if they feel they will do better, and if we have time, let them experiment a bit with the performance. I give production time to play with the set if they see something better happening. I always go over my shot list with my director of photography before we shoot and then on the day off we will see if there is a better angle or a different camera movement that will improve the visual story.

I will work closely with the editor, the composer and CGI person to talk things through or even try something I never even thought of to. I use the same process at all stages of a project. I even design my rolling credits. Could I put white type on a black screen? Yes, but it would not be my best.

The point is I will put in whatever effort is needed from me. I will never cut corners or ask my crew too. I will take the extra time and put in the extra effort. I never want to hear ‘let’s do it this way because it’s easier.’ I’d rather take the rougher road to get the results I want. When you are performing your duties, at whatever position, be sure to stop and ask if what you are doing is really your best. You’d be surprised when you say ‘no’, more creative ideas will come and the results will shine through, and we’ve all seen some stuff out there that we know got rushed though, or short cuts were taken or prep wasn’t done. It comes through on the screen. You can’t hide stuff like that.

Your audience will appreciate it, your peers will respect you more and you will stand tall with your best on the screen.

Dawn Cobalt

About Dawn Cobalt

Beginning her education in art, Dawn made a natural progression into film and after graduating from The New York Film Academy, founded the production company FutureView Entertainment. Her entrepreneurial spirit and thirst for knowledge had her winning awards in numerous categories such as best director, editor and special jury prize. Dawn’s unique perspective and styling has made her the auteur of her films since the beginning of her multi-creative career now spanning over two decades. Her films have been seen all over the world, and her stories strike at the very chord of the human spirit. They are emotional, inspiring, comical and always directed with a compelling message of truth and humanity. “One of the joys of filmmaking,” Dawn exclaims, “is the collaboration when working with actors, both seasoned professionals and new talent. Being an actor’s director is a role that I take seriously, letting them shine is my intention.”