Good Relationships are Like Making Movies

Good Relationships are Like Making Movies

As a therapist and an ex-Hollywood Assistant Director, I have unique insight into both careers.  Throughout my twenties I ran around with youthful exuberance on many a film and television set, walkie-talkie strapped to my belt and headset perched atop my baseball cap wearing head.  The Assistant Directors (or A.D. team) in production are the set managers, the folks who set the schedule and instruct the actors, crew and extras about the day.  We made sure the actors got through hair, makeup and wardrobe and were on set when needed.  We set extras up to camera to create the realistic background of people you see but likely hardly notice when you watch a movie.  I was in the thick of things and have had some very interesting and memorable experiences working in this world.  Many years later, I’m happy to have transitioned out of the “glitz and glamour” into my current psychotherapy profession where I get the opportunity to help people sort through their emotional and relationship issues.  A far better fit for me.

Why is a good relationship is a lot like making movies? 

They both require trust.  Trust is an important element of emotional safety – one that is paramount to the stability of any relationship.  Trust allows each person to relax and know, it will be alright.  The other has their back.  Without it, there is always an underlying baseline of uncertainty which compromises the integrity of the relationship.

In movie making, there are a number of departments, or cogs in the wheel of the process, that have to be relied upon to do their part.  For example, the Director of Photography has to be able to trust his Gaffer and Key Grip (and their crews) to create the desired lighting effect for the scene.  The hair, makeup and wardrobe departments (often referred to as the “glam squad”) have to be trusted by the director to create the intended “look” for the particular character the actor is portraying.  Without allowing each department to do their job and trust in each other’s abilities, production delays can result.

They both require collaboration.  A relationship without some sort of teamwork mentality runs the risk of being out of balance and breaking down at some point.  I believe that couples who lean on and seek advice from each other in their own unique ways have a greater opportunity to experience a deeper level of vulnerability and connectivity.

People who used to visit me on movie sets would be amazed at all the scurrying around that goes on.  For me, what looked like chaos was actually a very organized and collaborative process where each person played a role, knew when it was their turn to come in – or out.  The most rewarding part of the whole movie making process for me was sitting in a theater or in front of my TV and watching what all of this collaboration had created.  Movies and television shows would never be made without all of the moving parts working efficiently – at least not on time or on budget.

They both require vision.  Couples who strive to create a future vision together know of each other’s hopes, dreams and desires individually, for the relationship and the family (if applicable).  Those who have a sense of their “vision” are in a better position to support each other and be on the same page moving forward in life.  Those who don’t have a good sense of this have the potential for misunderstandings to occur about their future direction which can create resentment and hurt feelings.

I did a movie called “Artificial Intelligence,” directed by Steven Spielberg.  On this particular film, my role was to be on set, front and center at all times, paying close attention to what shot was coming up next, which actors were up next, what elements were needed, etc – and to relay the information to the crew and other A.D. staff.  Every morning Steven arrived on set early, before the crew’s call time, to plan the scene he was about to shoot.  He, myself and a camera assistant would stand by as he put his hands up in front of his face like a camera frame and plan each shot.  He had a very particular vision of exactly what he wanted to show up on film.  It was almost as if he had the movie in his head already, before it was actually made.  It was quite amazing to watch.  Without vision, movie making is far more difficult and chaotic.

They require hard work.  People who believe in their hearts that relationships “should be easy” are setting themselves up for disappointment.  Sure, there are times when relationships go smoothly and without a hitch – but it is normal and expected for difficult times to come.  The couples who know this are far better equipped to buckle down and do the work when things go haywire, instead of assuming their relationship is doomed.  They realize that the payoff is huge and the more effectively they can work through challenging times, the easier it will get for them as each triumph can create a closer connection than they had before.

Movie making is incredibly hard work.  People often assume it’s a glamorous existence to work in this field.  I suppose if you believe working with famous actors is glamorous, then yes – I suppose it is.  But the harsh reality for me was the long hours, sometimes unpleasant egos and often harsh working conditions (all night shoots in the rain, fog machine filled sound stages…) and it’s impact on MY relationships and emotional health that finally got the best of me.  I didn’t love the work enough to endure the personal consequences.

Though my movie making days are a thing of the past, I have some pretty incredible memories.  I also have immense gratitude for successfully shifting away from a career that I didn’t ultimately have passion for – to one that I do.

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of with emotional and relationship health articles, guides, courses and other tools for individuals and couples. She is a frequent consultant for the media having appeared in,, and others. Lisa has a private practice in Marin County, CA and offers Emotional Health and Relationship Consultations via email, phone or video conference.

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