Since Tommy asked for some stories about managing shoots, I figured I'd tell this one. The memories from this shoot have mostly faded from time but there are important lessons to be learned.
I once worked with a wardrobe stylist that had an abrasive personality. Over the phone the stylist bragged about different shoots and the big players he/she knew in the industry and really just rubbed me the wrong way. I was a little stunned but I thought that maybe I misunderstood the stylist because I couldn't see his/her facial expressions over the phone. Maybe it was my fault?
When I finally met the stylist in person, the stylist asked me why there was no food at the studio because at other shoots there was always food. Now I suddenly realized who I was dealing with. The stylist was my first real diva!
The abrasiveness didn't stop there. This stylist constantly talked down to the assistant stylist. Throughout the shoot the stylist insisted he/she was the most important piece of the puzzle there and literally gave me 8 minutes to shoot the first set before asking me if I was "done" so he/she could start styling the next set. The irony is that makeup and wardrobe took close to 2 hours yet I only had 8 minutes to shoot the set. For the record, I shot the first set in just 10 minutes.
Now I'm a nice guy, but I'm not without a personality of my own. If you come to my studio on an invitation and then act like the whole world revolves around you, you better believe that you're going to evoke a response.
But what's the proper response?
I analyzed the situation as follows: The stylist had a big ego and needed me to feed that ego like a 9 month-old baby. Getting upset and talking back was going to ruin the mood of the shoot and potentially "screw the pooch". At the same time, I needed to pull some slack in the reins and ensure that the stylist knew that I would not lay down and be walked over.
So I did both. I complimented the stylist where/when I could and provided as much validation to that ego as I could. I gave the stylist the impression that this was his/her show. At the same time, when push came to shove I made sure that the stylist was well aware that there were certain boundaries one should not cross. I postured and retorted playfully but firmly in a non-threatening manner when the stylist would say something condescending. I wanted the stylist to see that I was a hibernating bear because we all know not to wake a hibernating bear when he's sleeping.
Things worked out the way I figured. The diva operated within the boundaries that I had provided and did not do anything excessively outrageous. The shoot went on as planned and the pictures turned out well.
The lesson of the story? Sometimes you gotta suck it up and just roll with the punches in order to achieve the collective goal. After all, what would be the point of getting upset and ruining the festive mood of the shoot? As they say, "the show must go on". At the same time, you still have to manage big personalities. I hate posturing, but it's sometimes necessary to show people that you're not a dummy. You have to set hard lines for what can and can not be tolerated at the shoot... but you have to do so tactfully without offending anyone.
Since that experience I'm very leery about working with divas. I can smell a diva from a mile away. Unfortunately there are way too many divas in this industry and IMHO you don't need to be like that. You don't have to be abrasive to be successful.
But I guess the stylist didn't get that memo :)