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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Clint Eastwood: Leadership secrets of a hit-after-hit man

Eastwood in 1981 (NASA)
Although a wealth of down-and-dirty experiences did not always make Clint Eastwood’s day, they did go a long way towards making his name synonymous with great cinematic leadership.  During his long years on the action side of the camera, Eastwood developed an uncanny feel for what works and what doesn’t.  The following secrets to Eastwood’s directorial success hinge upon this hard-earned intuition:  Know thyself; trust others; tell it like it is; and keep it moving.

Know thyself
For a director of any kind, Socrates’ admonition to “Know thyself” is essential.  Taking this to heart develops a confidence that doesn’t quit.  Although he was initially criticized for some of the very things that are now his trademark, Eastwood didn’t forsake them.  Instead, he allowed his natural strengths to guide him in making significant career choices.

This type of self-awareness breeds a confidence that inspires.  The author of writes about working as a stunt man for Clint Eastwood:  “The stereotypical demanding method actor, the screaming director and slave running production assistants were virtually non-existent on this set…  While observing Clint Eastwood, it was clear to me that this dynamic of such an efficient crew stemmed from him…  Patient, poised… yet humble because there’s nothing to prove.”

Trust others
A director who has “nothing to prove” is all the more likely to recognize and appreciate the talents of others.  Eastwood often gets such strong feelings of what actors can do by watching them on tape that he doesn’t even require the usual auditions. explains:  “He knows what they are capable of from their past performances and thus trusts his actors to do their preparation and homework.”  Micromanagement is not high on Eastwood’s priority list, and is rarely needed because of the trickle-down effectiveness of his leadership.  He encourages and expects a high level of creative input from all actors, rather than from just a scene-stealing few.

Tell it like it is
Of course, even the best filmmaking team is relatively hampered by a less-than compelling script.  Eastwood has the guts and the skills to tell those stories that need to be told, and to align them with those who can best convey them.  Whether he’s pairing Angelina Jolie with the role of a mother whose child has been ruthlessly kidnapped, or himself with the role of an aging gun-fighter, his knack for such well-matched components is legendary.

Keep it moving
Waiting for the director to yell “Action!” will not yield good results on a Clint Eastwood set.  Such actors might wish to review the motto “Life is not a dress rehearsal” – for that seems to be one of Eastwood’s guiding principles. reports that Eastwood “just rolls the cameras and lets the actors start the scene whenever they’re ready.”  Only Eastwood and the set crew actually know when the cameras are rolling.  This results in an enhanced state of actor readiness, in turn fostering the “one take” style for which Eastwood is famous. 


Copyright September 4, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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