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You can’t prevent the mess

Photo by Steve Johnson

These two blockbuster movies show the messy nature of complex work, though what comes out is the opposite of a mess.

The two movies had opposite starting points:

Movie A : They knew from the outset they were trying to do things nobody had done before. They failed to make an accurate planning or budget.

Movie B: they were oblivious to the obstacles for making the movie until they happened. They did not find a way to overcome them, but chose to follow a different path to work around them.

Movie A:
• The director knew nobody had done the special fx needed for the movie before. He started a special fx company to make the movie possible
• Almost nobody working on the special fx understood the movie. Only at the first screening did they realize the gem they had worked on
• 10 million in overruns on a 18 million budget
• Director was so upset with movie progress it was causing him massive chest pain. He was rushed to the hospital because he thought he was having a heart attack. The doctors said he was too stressed, causing the physical symptoms.

Movie B:
• The director thought the special fx were possible, but the mechanical creature kept breaking down, constraining them to create suspense using Hitchcockian devices — you don’t see it but you have to imagine it. This also forced the whole script to be rewritten.
• Script was rewritten while filming. Actors would receive their lines on the day of filming and not know ahead of time
• Director wanted to film the movie at sea in natural light, not realizing there was a reason nobody did that. Every day the weather conditions and light were different, making it difficult to preserve continuity. Plus doing your work in those conditions is very tough
• 4.5 million in overruns on a 4.5 million budget
• The director developed PTSD from all the stress of the obstacles he had to face while making the movie

The director of movie A?

A 32-year old George Lucas who was directing the iconic Star Wars.

The director of movie B?

A 27-year old Steven Spielberg who was directing the legendary Jaws.

Both directors were close to quitting and almost gave up. George Lucas even exchanged some shares with Steven Spielberg because he massively doubted his movie. At the first screening there were only two people that liked it: Spielberg and a movie executive.

When you’re in the thick of it all you see is problems and the stuff that doesn’t go as you like.

Lucas and Spielberg massively doubted themselves. Only when they were close to completing the movie with all those obstacles out of the way did they begin to see the gold they had on their hands.

When you do complex work it is easy to get fixated on all the problems and obstacles you are facing.

Only after you’ve dealt with a sufficient number of them can you begin to see clearly.

And unfortunately, as these stories illustrate, the fog only disappears close to the end of the project.



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