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Stanley Tucci: A director’s guide to project management

Stanley Tucci has played a lot of different roles on movie sets, both in front of and behind the camera. As a director, though, Tucci stands in the center of a many-sided collaborative effort. While a film may be a realization of an individual’s vision — typically the director or the writer — at the same time it’s the creation of a team of individuals, each contributing their own expertise toward an end result that begins with words on a page and takes shape through countless logistical, technical and creative stages. This team effort in service of a common goal, with a continually shifting need for either pure skill or creative imagination, may sound familiar. It could describe any group mounting an ambitious project. In his Big Think+ video, “Lessons Learned from the Set of Stanley Tucci — A Director’s Guide to Project Management,” Tucci spotlights the sort of fluidity required of a team leader in charge of mounting a big production, theatrical or not.

Vision goes so far

When Tucci begins work, especially if he’s a film’s writer as well as its director, he approaches each scene with a degree of structure in mind. He knows where the actors are when the shot begins, and maybe how they move into his intended final positions. As the cameras roll, his actors execute his plan. Sometimes it works.
Sometimes it doesn’t, and when this happens, Tucci says it’s important to invite everyone around you into working out a solution. “OK, this is not working. What do we do? How do we make this work? Why isn’t it working? How do we make it work? What is it that we need from this? What does it need to say?” There are flexible elements in the execution of any undertaking, and allowing your team to improvise with those elements can lead to unexpectedly great solutions.

A place for collaborating

Tucci’s production offices are small, and he feels that the proximity they offer is a big part of his team’s success. He believes it’s helpful to, as a leader, provide a comfortable physical space in which team members can easily assemble. This should be a safe space in which good and bad ideas can be freely offered and exchanged, and collectively incorporated or discarded.


A final tool Tucci endorses is the judicious use of feedback, always observing the helpful — or unhelpful — impact of your words on individual team members.
Tucci considers praise a potent motivator, and a useful means of directing his performers, as in, “Great, okay, that’s great. Now let’s do one blah, blah, blah like this with a little more of the thing. I love when you did the thing like this. I need this in this moment blah, blah, blah.” In a non-theatrical context, try identifying further opportunities for a team member to do what they’ve already shown they can do well.
Of course, there are times when an individual needs guidance. This may be an adjustment to the way something is being done, or it may simply be a request for amplification. Tucci fondly remembers an older director telling him, “Okay, now do it better.” He says, “I loved when he said it to me. Everything was there. It just needed to be better.”

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