Managing Creative PeopleThe film industry is populated by creative people. Directors, producers, writers, and cast members are all creative, and their collaboration makes a production successful. But screenplay business management is not an easy task. Creative people are often described as prima donnas, undisciplined or self-absorbed people who finds it difficult to work as part of a team. These qualities present a problem since bringing a screenplay to life is an exercise in teamwork.

The Problem

At the risk of sounding negative, creative people can be a combination of challenging qualities. They are often unaware of their own limits, imagining that they can accomplish more than is possible. In addition to having unrealistic expectations, creative people tend to be impulsive, making rules up as they go along. Finally, they are difficult to depend on because they do not always comply with deadlines or milestones. According to the creative person, theirs is a craft which cannot be wrangled by prearranged time constraints. In most circumstances, creativity cannot be controlled by financial incentives either.

Creativity is a special gift, one that cannot be forced, drawing upon the imagination to create artistic works.  But perhaps creative people are lauded a bit too much by writers like John Adair. Yes, they are talented. But the qualities that make them creative likewise make them difficult to live and work with. If you are called upon to work with them, the following observations may help you ensure that goes smoothly:

  • Creative people can seem arrogant and self absorbed because projects depend on their unique personal vision. They are accustomed to relying solely on their own instincts and ideas. As a result, they often take criticism very personally. Therefore, when presenting them with notes or feedback, creative people should be approached with caution. Be prepared for any reaction to their work, whether positive or negative, to be emotionally charged.
  • Praise and recognition are vital for the creative person’s self-image. To a creative mind, it is paramount that their project(s) be published, complimented, and valued. For some, receiving recognition as a result of their work is more important than receiving payment. This is not always true, of course, but recognition validates a creative individual’s effort and ingenuity.
  • Many creative people complain about the “big breaks” that others in their industry have experienced. These big breaks may take the form of money, appreciation, or luck. In any case, this tendency toward envy and bitterness manifests itself in creative people who have not had the same opportunities but believe themselves to be just as talented and creative as those who have.
  • Creative people can be rebellious when it comes to authority figures. They reject conformity and the idea of ascribing to a status quo. This quality reveals itself in several different ways. For one thing, they expect and demand regular access to management; they need to be assured that their work is being taken seriously. Aside from contact, though, corporate hierarchy holds no allure for them. They are not tempted by job titles because they value intellectual status over any particular position. As a result, offering creative people promotions is an ineffective tactic when attempting to pacify them.
  • Because the creative person relies on inspiration to get things done, s/he is not particularly good at complying with deadlines. All people procrastinate to some degree, but to creative people procrastination is akin to necessity. In order to defend their actions, they might use “lack of inspiration” or similar phrases by means of explanation.
  • They know their worth and expect their demands to be met—even when they are unreasonable.
  • Creative people can be a “flight risk.” They generally have connections, and in an artistic community, who you know is often more important that what you know. They are valuable to an organization based on their tacit skills, and they need to be constantly challenged. If their needs are not met, creative people have no qualms about switching organizations in order to be appreciated.

What this list of qualities boils down to is this: creative people do not like to be led. Due to an aversion to conformity, they resent being corralled and prodded to produce. In spite of its consequences, they will not offer thanks for a job well done. The sensitivity of a creative person can cause problems, since  much the development process involves constructive criticism, notes, and feedback. Therein lies the problem for a producer.

The Solution

So, we’ve established a list of problems that can occur when the creative person contributes to a project. But what is the solution?

Managers are not going to get the best out of creative people by being tough on them. Because creative people are insecure about their work, treating them harshly will only increase existing feelings of inadequacy. It is true that they are intelligent beings who contribute valuable insights to a project, but they do not always possess the resilience that is necessary in the film industry. While their creativity and imagination make them valuable to the business, creative individuals lack the thick skin necessary to take criticism in a productive way.

According to literature on the differences between artists and non-artists, creative people are known for the following characteristics: emotional fragility, aloofness, arrogance, anxiety, and even hostility. In the same vein, creative people exhibit a lack of warmth or concern for others. But this behavior should not be taken personally. As described above, the creative person’s unique personal vision contributes to the  appearance of arrogance.

Not everything about creative people is negative, of course. If that were the case, why would we choose to work with them? The creative person has unparalleled ambition and drive when properly motivated. S/he is independent, a quality that can be positive or negative depending on the circumstances, and open to new experiences.

Here are a few ways to ensure their cooperation:

  • Keep them intrinsically motivated.
  • Keep writers “in the loop” by Involving them in other aspects of the project as well.
  • Offer spontaneous rewards for a job well done.

This creative dynamic is not impossible when the right tactics are employed. By being sensitive to the creative person’s needs, projects will benefit from and reflect your extra effort.