Fast food restaurants employ minimum wage workers with high turnover rate in order to maximize profits. This is sustainable because each employee is not skilled in any particular area, with minimal training invested. Thus the employee themselves becomes a minimum viable product and can be compensated/replaced accordingly. Every employee is trained to do everything to a minimum standard, and no employee is trained to do any one task exceptionally well. Every employee suffers from a variation of Quintet Disease.
Does this sound like the way you’d like to treat your film? Well surprise, surprise, that’s exactly how tons of indie filmmakers do it. When a would-be filmmaker decides to do every job on a project themselves, the film often suffers. They place themselves in every creative, authoritative position on the project because they don’t trust anybody else. Objectivity suffers and collaboration disappears. They develop Quintet Disease, a series of five symptoms that if left untreated, spreads like a cancer. Many a good idea has suffered a long agonizing death at the heads of the unholy Quintet. Many others ignore the warning signs of the ailment and suffer the consequences.
Each symptom alone signifies a slight concern. But as each symptom adds to the previous, watch out: the filmmaker may be suffering from Quintet, and the crew shall surely suffer as well.
May God have mercy on their souls.
Here are the five symptoms, in no particular order, of Quintet Disease you need to watch out for:
You attempt to gather the necessary resources for a project, then freeze up. Mid-crisis during production, all interpersonal communication ceases. Joints lock and mental acuity degrades rapidly. Normal side-effects such as willingness to compromise quality for speed manifest. Logical reasoning gives way to self-gratification and “being in charge” of the film. Producer Paralysis is brought on by unwarranted self confidence and a circle of yes-men to reinforce your poor decision making. You bought everything, so doesn’t that mean you know everything?
Treatment: Can be prevented if a filmmaker understands what the job of the producer actually is before starting a project.
“That’s not what I wrote!” is the frequent cry of the writer suffering from a parasitic organism related to egous tripous. Writer ringworm results in rigid adherence to the script; no compromise, no way. Your written word is perfect, thus it shall be followed. These are the maxims of a writer suffering from the ringworm. Normal treatment involves extended quarantine from the production after the script is purchased. However, when you’re the director AND the writer…look out. Possible Quintet on your hands.
Acute writer ringworm also causes multiple revisions and re-revisions and reversions and nobody ever knows what the hell is going on.
Treatment: Once production starts, forget the script. You’re making a movie, not an audiobook of your screenplay.
Every crew member wants to be the big D. Well you are now, and everyone’s gonna feel it. Whether they like it or not. When you spray your creativity all over the set, the film will be one they certainly won’t forget. The 18 hour days, the 50 takes of a 5 minute shot…you’re the director, and nobody gets your vision. And guess what? Since you’re also the writer and producer, nobody can stop you either. Filmmaking’s a tough business, you’ll say. Putting in the hard work is part of cutting your teeth, you’ll say. You’ll give actors weighty directions like “be more sad” and “say it like Jack Nicholson”, which will yield equally weighty performances. On with the show!
Treatment: Don’t be an asshole and for God’s sake, study the discipline of acting.
Your eyes glaze over and form tunnel-vision. Nothing exists except the camera. You will get the shot. You deserve to get the shot, even at the expense of everybody else’s time, energy, and mental stability.
You’re the director, so you control the camera. Right? That only makes sense, right? It’s your vision, after all. Besides, you purchased or rented “real” gear, so you’re a “real” cinematographer! Spared no expense. Cinematographer conjunctivitis sets in rather rapidly, often without a single thought to hiring a competent Director of Photography. At it’s worst, the symptom pulls the director/producer/writer’s attention completely away from the actors and the crew, meaning every inch of the production suffers because you can’t be bothered to take your head out of the fucking camera screen.
Treatment: Hire a DP worth a crap.
The deadliest of the symptoms. A poorly motivated edit can ruin a film. If Quintet Disease is in full-swing, you, the editor, are also the director, producer, writer, and cinematographer…and there’s no stopping you from trashing your film. Worse yet: you’re locked in your basement alone, editing alone, with exactly zero objectivity. If you show someone and they don’t like it, they just don’t “get” it. You’ve spent countless hours writing, producing, directing, shooting, now editing your darling film. Don’t let anybody kill your darling! Terminal symptoms include having zero grasp of codecs and using nifty transitions like star-shaped wipes / rapid digital zooms.
A filmmaker suffering from Quintet Disease may be doomed. If they are acutely aware of their condition, the film may be salvageable with large doses of discipline and humility. But left unchecked, Quintet Disease will overrun any production quicker than you can say “well that was a waste of time”.