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Icelandic Volcanos and the Illusion of Control

by on Apr.19, 2010, under Filmmaking

Eyjafjallajökull - More than just a great name.

I’m about to board the first commercial flight from the US to Germany in over four days.  I’m directing a shoot in Hannover later this week.  At least, that’s the plan.  But I need to get there first.  And the eruptions of an Icelandic volcano called, Eyjafjallajökull has shut down most air traffic across Europe.  It’s a great reminder of just how much is out of our control.

The fact that I’m able to get to Europe at all is sheer luck.  My tickets were bought before this mess.  If I’d been a day earlier (or flying out of a different city, since many US flights are no-gos) I would be out of luck.  As it is, I’m not promised much.  Lufthhansa has given us two waivers to sign and informed us that we’re flying through a ‘Caution Zone’ and there’s no guarantee that they’ll get us past Frankfurt.  (I just heard a rumor we may fly into Spain and take a train from there.)  Oh, and they were kind enough to let us know that–by the way–all trains, busses out of Frankfurt are currently fully booked, as are all hotel rooms.

So I have a bit of rough travel ahead to make this shoot work.  But it’s a great chance to reflect on how much is and isn’t in our daily control.  I think about that when I’m trying to set up a film project.  Directing a film is a puzzle with a million moving pieces.  If you really acknowledged how many of those pieces are outside your direct control, it would be overwhelming.  For me, I pretend I’m in charge, I act like I am, and as long as things don’t change too radically, it’s an approach that works pretty well.  But deep down, I try to remember (sometimes with the help of the occasional volcano) that things really aren’t in your control.  Plans change and the best you can do is try to roll with the changes, keep pushing forward, make something good happen.

Usually the problems on a film are not as obvious as a volcano–your the star you want is going through a messy but secret divorce, the studio is waiting to hear about another project before committing to yours, your business partner fell head-over-heels in love and has no time for business right now.  Often, you never hear about the volcano that blew up your plans.  It’s easy to feel like things are going wrong because of something you’ve done.  And maybe that’s true.  But often something outside your control just blew up and the best you can do is figure out how to pick up the pieces and move forward.

Something to think about for all my filmmaker friends whose projects are moving a little slower than they’d like.  I’ll have a few hours to think about it, myself.

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2 Comments for this entry

  • admin

    Made it to Germany without incident. Frankfurt Airport looked like a refugee camp and travel in and out of Frankfurt was a bit snarled, but all went well.

    Biggest surprise: Even with untold passengers waiting to get into Europe, our first flight was only about 40% occupied. Made for a comfortable trip, but I kept looking at the other seats and thinking that each empty one was twelve-hundred bucks.

  • admin

    Back home in the USA now. It’s fun traveling the world four days at a pop!

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