And thus, all things that begin must end. What have we learned so far?
- Divisions of Labor – Have clearly defined ones so no one steps on anyone else’s toes.
- Hierarchy, a.k.a. Who’s in Charge Today? – Because divisions of labor mean nothing if expertise can be thrown away by the inexperienced. Power can be shared, but control must be yielded.
- Jokes should be written around the story, not the story around the joke.
- Morale = Poor Artist’s Payment
- The importance of a singular vision, even if it changes.
- Having clearly defined motives from the get-go.
- You can wear many hats on a project but you can not wear them at the same time or else your work will suffer.
Vital, sometimes infuriating and tiring (and redundant) but all of these points are important when working in a group, and yet they all take a serious back seat to this last lesson. It was where we as a group failed and the thing that really sent AirSWAT to an early grave: Communication. Constant communication.
Now imagine you’re me (lucky you, you only have to imagine. Do you know what it’s like here in my brain?)
You’ve spent the last two months writing and compiling a very large script, constantly rereading and editing to get rid of the fat. You have combed over every scene to create character lists, prop lists and locations. You have slaved hours over some small but important props. You have made a comprehensive list of every major airsoft manufacturer in the country, every large airsoft retailer in the west and every airsoft field in California, and have started to place blind calls into them to inquire about sponsorships. You’ve printed the script so many times that you’d be able to reconstruct the tree, and you have carried it all in your backpack, which is ten pounds heavier. Now imagine that when you email or call your fellow group members regarding a shooting schedule, or about writing a new scene, or about sending a picture for their bio on the website, all you hear is this.
It’s not so much the anger that gets you, or even the frustration that brings you down. It’s the isolation, the loneliness. In a project where everyone has equal power and where support must come from within, you feel alone and unheard. And when you do get together there are disagreements with the direction of the project. So either your partners changed their goals or you never really understood them in the first place. Suddenly your hopes for the project slowly fade and you look back over all the work you have put in and all you can think is, “How futile.” This does not for a successful arrangement make.
How do you take a project with absolutely no money and make it successful? How do you overcome every obstacle (and there are many) that’s thrown your way? How do you work with people you no longer agree with and that you find hard to stand? You talk to each other, constantly. If we had all been clear with each other from the absolute beginning and had remained to do so throughout the project, I believe we could have kept going. Knowing where people come from and what their hopes and dreams are can go a long way in smoothing the tides. If there is a difference or a disagreement, then things like hierarchy and division of labor can be used to help forgo potential issues. I’m not saying we would have been able to avoid all of our problems, but we could have prepared for them so that when they did arrive we wouldn’t have been blindsided.
And it’s not just communicating but how you’re communicating. If you’re speaking in passive tones, sending messages between the words, you need to get the fuck out. To quote Sidney Greenstreet from The Maltese Falcon, “Here’s to plain speaking and clear understanding.” Be forward, be direct; although confrontation isn’t fun, it is necessary. By doing anything else you are only adding to the problem. But it doesn’t help to be combative either, which is where I faltered. When my heart is in something and I believe that I’m right I can be incredibly difficult and stubborn. But to my credit I never claimed to be otherwise, and in those instances I would always go with the majority rule by the end.
To be fair to all of us, we weren’t adults or professionals, not really. This was the first major project that any of us had ever taken on our own and we didn’t understand what we were doing. How were we to know that gone unsaid our motives would end up breaking us apart? These are hard lessons that must be learned the hard way. So hard, in fact, that we still haven’t talked about any of this since we disbanded. And in the end, I can only speak for myself. It’s been two years and we’ve only gotten together as a group once or twice in that time. Not one of us has a full picture as to why things fell apart and it’s hard to talk about because there are still emotions running high. At least they are for me. I’m only just now realizing my thoughts and feelings about what happened and I get upset. In my experience, I worked so incredibly hard and made a lot of compromises make things work, and it still fell apart. I try to own up to the part that I played in it all, but how do you do that when you don’t know what the experiences of the others are?
This was the last PSA that we shot and I was extremely happy with it. A wonderful performance as Brick, a wonderful script by Pete, and some almost scary caricatures of us all by yours truly made the PSA fresh and quite heartfelt. But this was not the last thing that we shot. There is an entire episode “In The Field” that we shot out in the desert that was supposed to be our fourth episode, and then the first half of what was to be our third called “Orders” that had an incredible performance by my friend Michael Etzrodt, the only man that, to my knowledge, has ever wielded a hammer taped to a gun.
I am sad that we weren’t able to see it through to the end, but I am extremely proud of what we have done. It was original, it was funny and it was well received (with what little audience we had). But most of all, it was true and it was real. Through our fun and play we spoke on the friendship that only young men can have, a brotherhood based on laughter and loyalty. Did we comment on these directly? No, but that was the point. Like the last seasons of MASH, if we had tried to force some grander message into the series we would have come off preachy. Instead watching us four act like idiots on the screen was like meeting old high school friends and starting exactly where you left off. We were a reminder that some friendships never change and that’s the way it should be. In the short time AirSWAT was active, we made our viewers feel like they were part of the group, and I was happy to have them. As I am happy to have had you.