A Film Director’s Perspective on Stephen McNeil’s Leadership Style
February 11, 2017 at 2:54 am
Watching the McNeil government repeatedly bungle negotiations with teachers, I can’t help but reflect on how I have learned as a filmmaker to approach an issue when my original plan wasn’t working.
Watching the McNeil government completely botch yet another serious labour dispute – this time with Nova Scotia’s teachers – I can’t help but reflect on my own experience in directing a film, and how I have learned to approach an issue when my original plan wasn’t working.
There was a major scene in my most recent feature film, Exit Thread, that we had lit, blocked, and set the cameras up for, and thought we were good to go on, but when we started shooting it just wasn’t working, on any level, from the acting to the framing to… well, all of it. We tried it several times, and each time, despite tweaking it, I got the same results.
Now, I suppose I could have kept pounding away at it in the hopes that it would work eventually… or I could have blamed the actors or the crew. But I knew who was really at fault – me. I had set it up in a way that it wasn’t going to work.
I learned the hard way years ago not to let my ego get in the way of doing the right thing, so I stopped shooting, told the cast and crew to take a break, huddled up with my DOP Ken Leblanc, and asked him what he thought we should do differently. We talked it over, and decided to take the camera off the tripod and shoot it organically, on a shoulder mount, in the hope that this would create the conditions for a more dynamic scene. Then, as he got the crew ready for that, I went and talked to the actors about how we were going to shoot it, and asked them if they agreed (they did).
The result was one of the best, most powerful scenes in the film. But it never would have happened if I had just stuck my head in the sand, refused to acknowledge my error, and plowed ahead with my original plan. That doesn’t make me Orson Welles, of course – it just makes me a reasonably competent professional.
If the McNeil government was more responsible, or had even a scintilla of vision, it would have learned something from reasonably competent professionals like me at this point, and started to try a new way of doing things, because the approach that they have taken over the past three years, whether with the film industry, or nurses and doctors, or seniors, or students, or teachers, just hasn’t worked.
I’ve lived my entire life in Nova Scotia, with the exception of a year spent studying abroad in Scotland when I was an undergraduate. I was born at the Grace Maternity Hospital in 1967, and grew up in Dartmouth. I graduated from Acadia University with an Honours degree in History and Political Science in 1989, and from Dalhousie University with a law degree in 1992.
For the next several years I was involved in the burgeoning Halifax music scene at the height of the Halifax Pop Explosion as a member of the bands Tall Poppies and Julia’s Rain. In 1997, I transitioned to the film and television industry, first as a consultant for Salter Street Films, where I worked on the creation of the Independent Film Channel, and then as the Program Administrator for the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation, where I managed the Provincial government’s film funding programs, including equity investment and the film tax credit.
In 1999 I left the civil service and entered the private sector as a producer, writer, and director. My work since then has included television series and documentaries for a number of networks both here in Canada and internationally, as well as three feature films, including the award-winning thrillerExit Thread, which was released in 2016.
I’ve been involved in industry-related public policy organizations for years, including terms as president of the Nova Scotia Film and Television Producers’ Association and a member of the Province of Nova Scotia’s Film Advisory Committee. I’ve done my best to give something back to the community as well by mentoring young filmmakers, visiting high schools over the years to talk about a career in the film industry, and taking high school film students on board as interns on various productions.
I have also been an instructor and basketball coach for the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, and was the founder of the Festival of Hope, a music benefit series that raised money and awareness about AIDS. I was actively involved in student politics, serving as the Chairperson of the Acadia Students’ Union, as well as the Deputy Chairperson of the Students Union of Nova Scotia. I also served a term as one of two student representatives on Acadia’s Board of Governors.
I’m an avid photographer and naturalist, and believe that moving towards a green economy is not only vital to ensuring a sustainable future, but also a tremendous opportunity for economic growth. I spend a lot of my spare time wandering about the wonderful trail systems located within Clayton Park West.
I’m a lover of poetry (particularly the War Poets and the Beats), Shakespeare, vanilla milkshakes, conversations about the nature of space and time, history, all types of music, baseball, Bergman films, and Monty Python.
Most important, I have a family and group of close friends who keep me grounded and happy, and who appreciate my quirky and self-deprecating sense of humour.
That’s my story. I look forward to meeting you and hearing yours!