Most of what you do doesn’t matter.
Watching that Youtube video. Not gonna get your film made.
Tweeting about directing. Not gonna get your film made.
Frame fucking your edit to death. Not gonna get your film made.
Today we’re talking about a framework I’ve found extremely useful in the last couple of years.
It’s called the Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 rule.
Let’s dive in.
The Pareto principle stems from Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. In 1906 he observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.
He then observed similar disparities in more countries and in different fields.
The concept was later popularized and applied to a whole host of concepts.
- 20% of the input creates 80% of the result
- 20% of the workers produce 80% of the result
- 20% of movies make 80% of the money
- 20% of TV shows get 80% of the viewers
- 20% of your clothes get 80% of the usage
- And on and on…
So how do we use this as filmmakers?
Optimizing for greatest impact
If we accept the general truth of this principle: a minority of our efforts create the majority of our results, we can start applying it to making films.
As directors we always face questions, choices and compromises.
When we develop the skill of identifying our highest performers, we:
- can give better answers
- make better choices
- come to better compromises.
A great example is to edit your projects to learn what footage ends up in the film vs what ends up on the cutting room floor.
With this knowledge you can be more specific about what you shoot on your next project.
I’ve found that doing an 80/20 analysis gives me a better understanding of how I spend my time, and where I’m getting results.
If you are a time-poor filmmaker, this principle can be a game changer.
It helps you figure out where to spend your limited time to get your next project done.
How we shot Wild Boys
Before I’d even heard of the 80/20 rule, I’d applied it to the way we shot Wild Boys.
We had a packed schedule.
We had to average 10 pages per day to get the film shot on time.
I knew I had to make some sacrifices.
The question was; what do we sacrifice, but still ensure that we got all the footage we needed to make a film?
I wanted to optimize for the following:
- Minimize lighting changes per setup to save time.
- Let the actors do most of the movements to keep the camera work simpler.
- Take advantage of their improv backgrounds.
- Have a simple plan that was easy to remember when shit got crazy.
The plan we came up with breaks down like this:
- Shoot one side of the room/set first.
- Let actors interchange positions and move in the space to create dynamic blocking.
- Do a medium/wide shot first and then move in for closer coverage once the blocking of the scene was set.
- With one side of the set done, we’d turn around and do the same on the other side.
This was our 80/20.
80% of our footage came from this simple approach.
The final 20% were what I defined as key moments.
I identified the most important moments in a scene where I knew we needed a specific shot.
This could be a reaction, an impactful line, or a vital piece of action.
In the scene where Kate meets the Wild Boys it’s almost all shot/reverse shot.
For a few key moments like when Kate tries to run away from the Wild Boys, we opted for more specific shots.
In the script this scene was 10 pages.
We finished shooting it before lunch.
The rest of the day we spent shooting 1/2 page worth of action.
This is not an ideal world scenario, but an example of how we compromised to work within our limitations.
In our dreams we'd have more time to shoot, more people to make changes and the ability to be more specific in our shot selection.
I've seen many directors fight tooth and nail against the limitations they're working within.
Every single time it ends up hurting the story.
We have to accept the conditions we're working under.
It's our jobs to figure out a way to realize our vision of the story with the tools we have.
When we use the 80/20 rule we get ahead of the problems, and can make informed decisions before we get ourselves in trouble.
Is 80% enough?
We’ve identified how to find the 20% that gives us 80% of the results.
Does that mean we forget about the last 20%?
Not at all.
If you’re anything like me you want your film to be 100% awesome.
The 80/20 principle is great for helping us be more efficient and productive.
Often we can use what we learn from this analysis to also improve the last 20%.
But it is not an excuse to not aim for greatness.
It is a powerful reminder that the fine details take lots of work and time.
This work tends to make all the difference for the final product.
The Pareto Principle states that 80% of our results come from only 20% of our efforts.
It’s a powerful reminder to work hard on the right things, not on everything.
How are you going to use the 80/20 rule on your next project?