Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Thesis question: Solo or Team?


Thesis question: Solo or Team?

Many students have asked me that question before they’ve gone into prepro in their third year. No one really can answer this other than you, but I can give you some tips to help you understand better how to approach this dilemma.

First, let’s look at the pros and cons of each option.

Working Solo


  • 100% full creative freedom-- your own ideas and vision.
  • You can work at your own pace and according to your own priorities.
  • You can make creative decisions very quickly
  • You are responsible for everything-- your entire film is your demo reel.
  • You can improve your skills in each field.


  • You are responsible for everything (which can be frustrating at times if you are weaker at or don’t enjoy specific parts of the pipeline)
  • You need to come up with all the ideas, which can lead to an increased feeling of pressure, especially during Faculty critiques.
  • With less manpower, you are limited to smaller-scale stories

So why you should pick Solo?

There are plenty examples of people who have worked solo and made amazing films. They wanted to create something personal with their ideas, and were confident taking on every step in the pipeline (and confronting the challenges that could happen along the way). It might be scary and intimidating for sure - but remember that as long as you are wise choosing the scale of the project (one or two characters and a SIMPLE setting), as a senior at Ringling, you DO have all the skills to make it a reality. Even though it might feel like you’re on your own, you still can get support from your teachers and classmates. This might be your only chance to make a film that is really, truly yours, every step of the way-- take advantage of it!


The Final Straw (Ricky Renna)
My Little Friend (Eric Prah), 
Reviving Redwood (Matt Sullivan)

Working in Groups


  • A team can brainstorm, develop, and strengthen ideas together
  • Together you can create longer, more elaborate stories with more characters
  • By working closely with a teammate with different strengths, you can help to elevate each other’s work
  • Companies are looking for people with good teamwork abilities.


  • Every part of your project needs to be agreed upon together, which can slow down and complicate your workflow.
  • You must communicate with the others about every step you and they are doing, to make sure you’re all on the same page and are carrying equal work loads.
  • Collaboration can sometimes lead to confusion if two team members want the same shot/element for their demo reel.
  • Your working schedules and time management skills may be different (day person vs. night person; fast worker vs. slow worker) which can lead to a perceived unfairness in work load, which leads to resentment.
  • Many people think that, as a team, you can delegate tasks-- one person doing animation, one doing modeling, one doing lighting. This is a myth! You will ALL be working on EVERYTHING whether you want it or not.
  • Teams of three can easily evolve into a “two against one” dynamic, which is poisonous for morale.
  • Teams of three or more can run into problems in certain film festivals (The student Oscars for example only recognizes up to two directors, so if you win, only two out of three will get the reward)

Why Choose a Team?

Choosing to work in a team can be great. Some undeniably amazing films have come out of this type of collaboration. It’s a great opportunity to learn how to work with others and to be a part of something that’s “bigger than yourself.” However, it definitely comes with its challenges. A normal film has one director calling the shots and making the decisions, and that’s why even hundreds of people can work smoothly together. In your case, you’ll have two, three, or even four “directors” competing to have their visions on the screen. Everyone’s opinion matters, and there will be a LOT of compromise. That being said, if you’re all willing to put aside your egos, you can create something great together.

Examples of great films made by teams:

Colors of Evil (Alyse Miller and Phillip Simon)
Defective Detective (Avner Geller and Stevie Lewis)
Chicken or Egg (Elaine Wu and Christine Kim)
Ballad of Poisonberry Pete (Adam Campbell, Elizabeth McMahill, Uri Lotan)

Further advice for those thinking of working on a team:

  • Your first priority is to find people with whom you can work well together and who will share your vision. Don’t just partner with someone because they’re talented-- talk with others about what kind of film they want to make, and find partners who have similar taste and priorities. Talent won’t matter much during pre-pro if your partner wants to make an action movie while you’re trying to tell a romantic fable.
  • That being said, skill level does still matter. Try to team up with people who are around the same level as you, or higher. It might sound harsh, but you don’t want to have to carry a weaker team member.
  • Do practice projects so you can test out your group dynamics and identify potential problems. This is especially important at Ringling, because there are not very many group projects in the curriculum and you might realize too late that it’s not for you… Consider taking some time to do it during the summer and semesters before pre-pro.
  • Don’t team up with someone just because they’re your friend-- thesis is extremely stressful and can permanently strain your relationship. Same goes for romantic partners.

For current groups:

  • If you’re in pre-pro together reading this or doing practice projects and it’s not going well, it might be a sign that your group should split up. It will only get harder with thesis, not easier. Remember to talk to your teacher about your issues, and do what’s best for you!

  • For groups in their senior year: If you feel like your group dynamics are not going well try your best to make it work! Be adult about it and put the cards on the table. Talk about your issues and see how you can make this year the best together despite your differences. Sure it’s easier said than done - but - you don’t have a choice at this moment so you should at least try to fix it.

I hope this has helped to clear things up for some of you. I wish you good luck with your film whether you are in a team or working as an individual! I’m sure it will be AWESOME!

Special thanks to Lindsey St. Pierre and Ricky Renna helping me writing this post.