Psychological safety for filmmakers

Jul 26, 2022

Traditional film productions can be toxic environments with intense pressure to perform challenging work in tough conditions. 

Long hours, arduous schedules and unrealistic deadlines are the norm.

These demands often choke collaboration and hamper honest communication, the very things needed to feel psychologically safe.

Lean Filmmaking opens up new opportunities to make meaningful work in sustainable, responsible and thoughtful ways.

The first step is to form a well-balanced squad. And this isn’t just about having the right mix of technical skills.

Yes, squads need three to nine people that together have the expertise to write, direct, act, edit, shoot, market and produce a film.

But characteristics like being curious, open-minded, solution-oriented and tenacious are just as important.

These traits help form a squad that has a sense of psychological safety.

Creating psychological safety means all squad members share a mutual respect and can express themselves candidly, without fear of repercussions or negative consequences.

A squad that feels psychologically safe can:

  • Take risks
  • Ask questions
  • Seek understanding
  • Embrace creativity

All without getting defensive, making excuses or being afraid of failure!

One tool we use to build trust, and develop psychological safety, is the squad retrospective. In this ceremony, the squad reflects on how they work together and find ways to improve teamwork in future Make-Show-Adjust Cycles.

The squad retrospective helps detect and resolve problems as they emerge, rather than letting them fester and blow up.

It also makes space for compassionate (and frank) conversations about inevitable failures, weaknesses and fuck-ups.

The squad’s non-hierarchical structure provides a framework to question practices, values and ethics, rather than normalising unacceptable behaviours. 

It changes the power dynamics, giving everyone an equal voice and encouraging discussion about ethics, equity, representation and responsibilities.

Squad members have permission to speak up and make filmmaking safer for everyone.

No doubt, working in this way takes a lot of vulnerability, transparency and consistent effort but the benefits are worth it.

After all, the squad is the creative force that brings a film to life. And a well-balanced squad (that feels physiologically safe) is crucial for true collaborative teamwork.


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