Dealing with Drama on Set

We’ve all been in those situations. And there are hundreds of different scenarios to describe the drama I’m talking about; from losing control of your shoot to a pushy stylist to dealing with petty cat fights between the crew. Some of the inner turmoil with yourself as an emerging fashion photographer is that you want to work with really talented people, and you might get a great opportunity to work with a stylist or make up artist but he or she is further along in their career than you are. So when they start directing your shoot you fall back and let them because there seems to be this invisible hierarchy on set that they are the one in control and not you. But that’s just not the case and you need to get over that “less-than” feeling. You are the director of your shoot, every time. So if you let a stylist or make up artist take over and change the art direction or original concept, you have no one to blame but yourself. You let them take over. And you have to stop thinking that small of yourself.

I know it’s easier said than done, especially if you’re like me and hate conflict or confrontation, but it’s unavoidable at times and you’re going to have to step up to the plate and rein in that over-zealous stylist and tell her crazy ass styling idea was not in the original mood board that was sent to her way before the shoot.

That’s the thing right there. Be prepared before you ever get to your shoot.

a. Send everyone a mood board. By everyone I mean the make up artist, the hair stylist and the wardrobe stylist.

b. Pick up the phone and talk about the concept. Don’t just send them the board and hope they “get it”. Pick up the phone and ask them what they see in the mood board and what special element they can bring to this story.

c. Send specific mood boards to each stylist. Send hair ideas to the hair stylist, send make up comps to the make up artist. That way, no one can come back to you on set and start pushing their way around because it was planned and spoken about way in advance.

Okay so what if it does happen. I’m not very interested in adding fuel to the fire. In other words, why create even more drama to something that looks like it’s starting to come unraveled. Maybe everything WAS set in stone and everyone seemed to be on board, only to find out that the make up artist really had her own agenda and was starting to veer off on some space aged theme when you’re doing Victorian lace and that lime green eye shadow ain’t working. I like to pull the artist aside and have a discussion about it, letting them put their two cents in and then ultimately telling them while the idea is great, it’s not for this particular shoot. I might suggest to keep it in mind for a future story. In other words, I don’t cut their idea down, I just tell them the idea is good but not a good fit for the particular shoot we’re on. That usually works.

Okay, what if all of a sudden, a weird energy comes up on set and you have no clue what it is. For instance, make up artist and hair stylist can’t stand each other. This can be avoided by letting everyone know who’s working on the shoot by sending the mood boards ahead to everyone, CC’ing everyone in on the email and listing their names and agencies on the mood board. That way there are no surprises. Also making a call sheet with everyone’s details is a good idea too. But there are those times, when the argument starts after they get started. It happens. Not often in the pro world, but it still can happen. It hadn’t happened on one of my sets in a really long time but last year, on a shoot for L’Officiel, the hair stylist and the wardrobe stylist got into it and the hair stylist pulled the hair pieces off the model’s heads and stormed out of the studio. I didn’t see the argument; all I saw was the tornado leaving the building. My thought when it happened was, I had a fire to put out and that fire was to replace my hair stylist. I wasn’t interested in who/what/where/how. After securing an available and talented hair stylist in 5 minutes (not an easy task, even in NYC) we waited until the new hair stylist showed up and prepped the girls as much as we could since we were already almost 3 hours into hair and make up. I let everyone tell their version of the story (let’s face it, people like drama) and stayed neutral just letting them get it out of their systems so we could move on. After all, I had 10 pages to shoot and it’s like 4 PM at this time.

I stay calm during these bitch fests. I don’t choose sides or jump in the middle or engage on any level. Even if I do have opinion, I try to diffuse a touchy situation by changing the subject or navigating the one team member away from the one that’s annoying him or her. Occasionally I’ll let them vent to me and then I’ll just say something dumb like, “the show must go on, let’s get through this shoot and then we can drink and you can bitch all you want about them”. The thing is, I have a huge crew. A lot of work and prep goes into my shoots. For me to put up with petty indifferences between my crew, it’s really mind bending. And something I don’t tolerate. But instead of screaming and yelling on set, I diffuse the situation and then I just never hire that person again. Because here’s another fact: there’s talented hair, make up and wardrobe stylists that are dying to work and dying to get awesome editorial in their books. There’s just no need for the drama.

At the end of the day, and you’ll hear me stress this over and over again… my shoots and my final images cannot be accomplished without a great team working together. If my make up artist sucks, it pulls the shoot down. Or if a model comes in with a bad attitude, it pulls the whole shoot down. So whatever I can do to reach my goal of a successful shoot, I’m going to do it.

Melissa Rodwelltodo