Collaboration and Mutual Respect

Frank Sinatra said he lived his life “My Way,” but a filmmaker and screenwriter I met in Providence, Rhode Island has a more democratic approach to life.

All eyes and ears are on Eileen as she instructs the actors on how to sneeze (you'll need to watch the video).

I visited Eileen Boarman while she was directing a Public Service Announcement, or PSA, for Rhode Island Department of Transportation. She allowed me to film a bit of her film shoot, and then interview her. You can see my resulting video from this stop on my cross-country U.S. road trip below.

Much of our conversation didn’t make that video, in particular this theme of collaboration and mutual respect. It surfaced first in her discussion of the PSA. The script was written collaboratively, she told me. One person made the candy used in the shoot, another provided lighting, yet another sound equipment.

She had the same experience when serving as a producer’s assistant during the shooting of the Showtime series “Brotherhood” in Providence. Roles were more defined, but the set was always a team of respected collaborators.

“I’m finding in this business,” she told me, “that when people work together and really respect each other’s roles and aren’t afraid of where an idea might come from, it’s such a better experience.”

Everyone plays an important role on the set, Eileen says, although that boy on the left seems to be playing a Game Boy.

Making sure not to fear others’ wisdom been a driver in Eileen’s career. She began her life the arts as a young actress, but when she wasn’t acting she would help with props or the light board. By the time she was a theater director she knew the importance of every person on the team.

“No matter how small the role,” she told me, “every single person that participates has an equally important role in the final product.”

In the last decade she’s shifted to film. During film school she focused on screenplays — she’s drawn to writing — but has sought out knowledge on all aspects of film production, allowing her to,  say, direct a PSA.

Her drive for cooperation really became clear, however, when she discussed her screenplay set in Northern Ireland, a work she began in film school.

Eileen conducted research by traveling traveled across Northern Ireland, meeting and staying with Catholics and Protestants. She believes most there “want resolution” and desire to “just accept each other’s differences and live together as part of one country.” But that fear among many that their rights will be taken away can keep the fires of discord burning.

“I don’t know why it always has to be ‘my way,'” she says. “We have that problem in this country too.”

For Eileen, ‘my way’ and ‘your way’ can be ‘our way.’ That’s a good approach in politics, art or life.

What role does collaboration and mutual respect play in your creative life?

About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

10 Responses to “Collaboration and Mutual Respect”

  1. Part of why I enjoy writing is because it’s such a solitary function…at least, the writing part is.

    It can be such a challenge to let go of even part of the words and allow others to influence the end product, but I’ve learned that those outside ideas can often achieve something beyond what I can do alone.

    I try to respect that idea in working with others. Respect when they don’t want my input, and treasure the times when they do.

    Collaboration doesn’t always become something written “by committee” as we fear it might…sometimes one plus one is more than the sum of the parts, if that makes any sense.

    • I know what you mean about sharing words written in solitude. Perhaps because I’ve also been an editor, it is easier for me now (but still hard) to turn my work over to others.

      You’re absolutely right about collaboration not being “by committee.” When Eileen was on Brotherhood, she felt free to make suggestions but they could be dismissed just as easily. That role reversed on the shoot I saw her on, where her word was final. Democracy still requires leadership and divisions of authority, right?🙂

  2. As much as I enjoy creating a piece by myself, I crave feedback so that I can make the piece better. As a former teacher, I don’t know how I would’ve survived things like musical productions, art shows, poetry slams, etc. without help from the administration, janitors, music and art teachers and students. Perhaps they were “my idea” to begin with, but the execution of that idea was spectacular after they got their hands on it and made it their own.
    (By the way, here’s a link to my post on a writing group. In the vain of the creative nonfiction discussion we had last week, this is one aspect I took away from trying to find a group. Clearly (if you read it)it isn’t the end of the story. HOwever, I wanted to speak to the idea of how to keep going when it seems we are failing.

    http://dc.todaysmama.com/2011/04/of-running-and-writing-and-failing/

    • Thanks for the link, Callie. I went and looked for it the other day but it wasn’t posted yet. Just read it now. No, the story isn’t done! I’m optimistic it will have a happy ending.

      I’d have to think about it, but I suspect everything I’ve ever created of which I was really proud involved others in some way, perhaps in executing, perhaps in providing a sound board, or simply encouragement.

  3. Thank you for sharing this Patrick! An inside take from a theater and film perspective that isn’t specifically from an actor is new to me. Love hearing it. 🙂

    Mutual respect … well, that is critical in my career and in life. I won’t elaborate there. I have only done one truly collaborative piece, with my friend Susannah Lints – a triptych on panel that includes ceramic pieces she created for me to launch my ideas from. You can see that piece on my website (http://www.amybuchheit.com) at the bottom of the “Abstracts” page. In some ways, the mural I recently finished and an illustration project (long on hold, getting ready to finish) were collaborative as well. I worked directly with the clients to not only do what they said to the letter, but to guide them in finding the best fit for their needs and giving them my expert input so they receive the best end result I can provide.

    • Of course, collaboration can be viewed broadly. When you’ve had gallery shows, you’ve been a partner in a larger event with a curator and others. Same was true when you were working on your thesis project in art school. So creativity has many windows open to others.

      As I said on your blog, I love the mural you just finished!

      • What you say is true, my friend! My stuffy head wasn’t thinking along those lines (I tend to think smaller when my head is congested, *sniff*). I can’t think of anything more collaborative than when my cohort and I put on the “RISE” and “SHINE” exhibitions at the Seattle Design Center. Yes, a few people took the lead, but we all put in our final vote on marketing materials, etc. Many of us were there to actually hang the show (what an undertaking THAT was … SO wouldn’t happen with one person doing it). Done that for several other shows as well. Not to mention jurying a show last year with a group of artists (whom I’d never met before, interesting experience!), etc. Now that you mention it, collaboration is happening all over the place.

        Thank you for the compliment on my mural, I appreciate it! 🙂 I am really looking forward to painting gallery pieces again. All that is in the way right now is $$. I need panels to paint on, and then I’ll need to pay a photographer to shoot the work. I’m working on it! Already planning *what* I’m going to paint. Lots of ideas …

  4. My husband and I collaborate all the time on our individual creative projects. A couple of examples recently…

    I had been encouraging my husband since last fall to get a blog going about what he is working on, but he was too busy working on his project. So one day I just put up a template and filled in a few things about his project. I showed it to him, then I found an even better template and right away he got the bug. For two months now he’s been filling up his blog and we collaborate when he needs to. He’s glad I gave him the nudge.

    On my part, this week we were discussing something we both are interested in and my husband suddenly started giving me a plot about it for a novel. He had so many interesting ideas that I was soon on-board and offering my own. By the time we finished our collaboration over our morning espresso, while I took down notes, we had the whole book mapped out! I’m so glad he had those ideas then said to me “Now you go write it…” and he has no charge on it because I’m the writer in the family.

    Another area in my life that needs mention is the collaboration at the fearofwriting 10K writing days. Most of the time us writers are isolated in our own homes writing away. This is a wonderful chance to collaborate with each other through encouragement of whatever each of us is working on and to give each other tips about eating, exercise, resting, etc to enhance the long day of writing. Now that I’ve started them, I can’t wait for the 10K days to come towards the end of each month and I really, always get a lot done, even if I don’t do 10,000 words!

    A very nice post Patrick! Good video too.

    catherine

    • That’s fantastic that you collaborate with your husband like that! My wife is most definitely a sounding board for me creatively. We’ve worked out a good routine where I float ideas by her and get feedback, but I don’t have her actually edit my copy, because she doesn’t welcome that level of pressure.

      I should note that while I came up with the idea of the road trip and interviews, it was Laura’s idea for me to write about it, and this blog came about as a result.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Creativity Tweets of the Week — 6/10/11 « The Artist's Road - June 10, 2011

    […] “Finding Creative People is Easy (and Here’s How),” Kate Canales, The Atlantic: Here’s the subhead: “Instead of searching for creativity, we should be fostering it in people we already work with—and redefining what it is.” (Related: Collaboration and Mutual Respect) […]

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