Successful Communication Ideas and Techniques for Filmmakers

By Lydia Hurlbut

Have you ever said something and regretted the way it came out? Did you wish there was a way to go back in time and redo the moment?

Powerfully assertive communication is equally important to the mood and tone of your story and the visual landscape. The way we interpret others’ comments and express ourselves is one of the most subtle, underappreciated strategies in the business of filmmaking. It is just as critical as the gear you are choosing and the team you are leading. A big reason people get caught in the web of the Drama Triangle is because of their communication style.

Here is another fun example of what not to do!


The Way You Say Something Matters

Effective communication is your trump card. It is a powerful tool for getting a job and building repeat business. It allows you to snuff out competition because people hire the person they enjoy being with if there are two equally matched candidates. If someone is considered difficult or a pain to have on set, they just won’t get called. Consistent long-lasting business relationships are invaluable.

The Devil Is In The Details

Whether or not you are an avid tennis player, we all understand that when the tennis ball impacts the racquet in the dead center it has the most power. Continuing with the tennis analogy, the “sweet spot” or dead center of the racquet is the ultimate goal for your communication. Embodying a calmly assertive demeanor (see diagram-between 5 and 6) is the ultimate goal.

Effective communication

If you are at the bottom of the racquet in the 0-3 area, you are unfocused and barely engaged. It is how you feel first thing in the morning immediately after waking up. Clearly, not a great time for a tricky shoot or important business meeting.

At the top end of the racquet in the 8-10 area, you are becoming so irritated you can’t hear others well and may misinterpret communication. Like a volcano ready to blow, anger is bubbling just under the surface and will be touched off by any little action. This is how you feel at the tragic hour when the shot is not working, the sun is crashing and you are not going to make your day. About the worst time imaginable to have any important conversation.

On the left side of the racquet edge is a weakly passive area where you are in a weak, submissive mode. It appears as hesitant, unengaged and just giving away everything of the racquet. On the right side of the racquet edge is the area of aggression, pushing forward reflexively or offensively: bully mode. No relationship building potential. Back to tennis, a ball that hits on either edge of the racquet ends in a shot that fails miserably.

The intention of this tennis analogy is to make you aware of how you are being perceived by others. The way you present yourself with tone of voice and body language sets the stage for your day and the ultimate outcome of your shoot.

4 Keys To Success

1. Be very aware of your body language and the “vibe” you are giving off to the world. Other people instantly pick up on your stress level, your frustrations and impatience. It is ideal to have a calm, focused, present tone of voice with crystal clear communication directions. Clarity and transparency are the two most important tools to decrease frustration.

2. If you are being bullied or yelled at (pushed verbally), remain calm and just restate the facts as they occurred. Take on the modus operandi of a police officer (just the facts) without expressing outward emotion. Set boundary limits as necessary. Detailed time frames are critical to avoid people feeling tricked or dismissed.

3. Demand respect by calling out disrespect and having a no tolerance policy. “The way you just spoke to me was rude and disrespectful. Please be aware of your tone of voice.” Do not personalize anything or attach meaning! This is a very critical trap to avoid. The minute you spin stories around a conversation, you are in the drama triangle. View it from the lens of a teachable moment.

4. Honor yourself. If you are having a rough day (for whatever reason) take a few extra minutes to calm and center yourself multiple times throughout the day so it does not spiral out of control. Frustrations and their subsequent actions build very quickly into anger and anxiety. It is like a train out of control. Recognize this fact and become proactive. Tools like creative visualization, meditation and deep breathing can be done anywhere. It is like hitting a refresh button in your body.

Positive Communication In Action


What experiences have you had? What communication techniques have worked well for you?

  1. Kevin Larsen 2 years ago

    Great post. I struggle with communicating on set and this was very helpful.

    • Lydia 2 years ago

      Thank-you so much for your kind words. I am glad you found the information helpful!
      Best of luck,

  2. Bob Demers 2 years ago

    This speaks to the core of successful teamwork. I’m always amazed to realize that basic communication skills are pivotal to effective competition. On the issue of demanding respect, I do find it most effective in an “offline”, private manner, in the interest of saving face. I’ve been on both ends of that conversation, it may be hard but it is essential.

    These are the blogs that I find most inspiring. The soft side of production skills that are often overlooked….thank you!

    • Lydia 2 years ago

      Great to hear from you! Thank-you for the kind words about the “soft side” of production. Life and production is not black and white, but in the subtleties of the grey.


  3. Scott David Martin 2 years ago

    Great post. Love to see more of these as this is what I personally need the most – reminded me of a great book I’m reading called “Leading at the Speed of Trust.”

    • Lydia 2 years ago


      I am so glad you found this post of value. I will check out the book.
      Thank-you for sharing the resource which will be of value to everyone.


  4. Corey Steib 2 years ago

    Great post. Back when I was an AC I seen other AC’s yell at there 2nd’s really bad and to me you don’t get anywhere by yelling at anyone because that’s not going to make them do or go any faster and it embarrasses them. I am the most laid back person on set and it doe not matter what department your in I will still treat you as a person and a human being. Thank you for this wonderful blog post.

    • Shane 2 years ago

      Corey Steib, you are very welcome. Communication is something that I am always working on, honing these skills to communicate in ways that keeps all departments in syncs so that we are firing on all 12 cylinders and not 4. I have had difficulty with calling people out in the past and I am taking much more of a Buddhist approach to all of this. ZEN baby, just like you said.

  5. Lydia 2 years ago

    I agree with your assessment that yelling does not improve performance. Thank-you for the kind words. I hope that conscious leadership is a skill that will be implemented on set! Best of luck with your shoots.


  6. Dipankar 12 months ago

    yes totally agree with you . having focus with positive determination can bring a person near to their goal , respective of any field.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

[et_social_follow icon_style="slide" icon_shape="rounded" icons_location="top" col_number="auto" counts="true" counts_num="0" total="true" outer_color="dark" network_names="true"]