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Prioritizing on a film-set

Reading time: 4 mins

Prioritizing on a film-set is often troublesome. Everything seems to be important and usually all of them at the same time.

And like it’s not enough. When you get home, there are also new tasks waiting for you in your mailbox, or on the fridge door. All of them urgent and important as well.

So what do we do? 😀

Well… panic and complain of course. But what should we do?


Great… but if you looked up anything about prioritizing you might have also felt that it would be just another task to the end of that long enough list.

But once I stumbled upon a method that seemed to come from a similarly troubled field as the film set. The Battlefield! Yaaay! 😀

Medics on the field also have a hard time. On a film set usually, all of your to-dos happen at the same time. On the battlefield, all the injuries happen at the same time… in the battle.

And those medics can’t panic and complain. What they use instead is a system that will be good enough for us, filmmakers as well 🙂

They have 3 categories of patients:

1.: People who would die even if they help them.
2.: People who will only survive if they help them.
3.: People who will survive even if they don’t help them.

So they spend their limited energy, effort, and resources on the 2nd category. The people who will only survive, IF they help them.
If they have free energy, and resources, they only deal with the other categories then.

They call this system “triage”.

The tasks arising during a shooting day can fall in the same categories as well.

1.: Tasks that even with effort, won’t change anything for the better (at least at the moment)
2.: Tasks that will only not end in disaster if you do them right now.
3.: Tasks that would be helpful to do, but they will happen anyway without you, or just don’t need to happen right now and still will create benefits in the future..

cat. 2: Will survive only if you help

When the “hurry” part is happening of the “hurry up and wait” you will have just enough time, attention and resources to finish the tasks from the 2nd category.

The tasks that are, if not done right now, will cause trouble for the team. Like if the battery on the camera is dying, not changing it will cause the shooting stop for minutes very soon.

This sounds too simple and logical but in the heat of the moment, it is more than easy to forget about logic altogether and panicking about having too many things to do.

cat. 3: Will survive anyway

What is important though, is that when you finally have free time. Like during a closed rehearsal, you have to remember to finish working on the 3rd category.

-Things that are necessary, but wasn’t urgent 10 minutes before when you didn’t have 2 more hands.
-And the things that are really beneficial for the team, but are not time-bound.
Like reorganizing the truck, or bringing the rain jackets from the truck, because the clouds are gathering, but it is still not raining.

cat. 1: Won’t survive anyway

The 1st category? Well… two-fold:
-Some of these tasks were only helpless in that given moment.
Like, someone said they need a specific equipment, but all of you know that if someone will go for it to the truck, by the time it gets back, the shot will be skipped anyway. It is a waste of manpower in the hurry. So it “died even if you helped”.
But when you have some time, it might worth to go for it, and keep it nearby for the next time.

-But some of the tasks might have been really completely useless. Not providing any benefits at the moment nor in the future. If you were not the one who made up this task, it’s very important to communicate about it, before you would trash it and never do it. It will save you a lot of trouble.

After all this trouble you get home and there are those unread emails, and post-it notes from flatmates/family to buy milk.

Without panicking you just pull out your new “triage”-ing skills (I’m pretty sure no-one ever says “triage”-ing :D)

For Example

Email about the class reunion with a date in the title 3 months from now?
Category 3 — it’s 1AM and your ex-classmates will “stay alive” even if you never reply just read the email 1 day before and, show up on the day.

“buy orange juice” post-it on the fridge?
If you checked but there is still some left… they will survive without you going to the 24h shop right now.

Unread text about tomorrow’s precall?
Pretty much category 2. the only thing you have to know right now is when you will have to wake up 😀 you will “only survive” if you read that email.

A missed tax-deadline in your calendar?
whoooaa…. you will only survive if you take that time right now at 1 AM… (yes now…) to transfer the money.

A missed birthday party in your calendar?
You can say sorry to your friends on the weekend when you are well slept. You are dead for them now anyway. 🙂

So triage relieves you from two things.

– the first and most important is Panic.
– but the second is almost equally important is the feeling of guilt.

When you feel you are not doing your best or that you “could have solve that situation”. Not all the time, but most of the time these feelings just arise because you didn’t know what’s important and what’s not

If you know you did what was most important and the most that was possible, then you did your best. It is just simply not possible to do everything all at once. Not on the set, not at home.

Next article The Two-sided Work-life Balance of the Film Crew
Previous article Soft skills you need for a career in film industry

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