Hollywood Leadership: Where Star Power Meets Team Power

It’s the central leadership paradox for creative industries. How do we create and configure true collaborations among members of a group, company, crew or team while still maintaining the essentially hierarchic format of the history of creative development and production?

Or to paraphrase my friend Rob Brezsny “How can we be both a charismatic star and a cooperative team player?”


Let’s use Hollywood as an example. Hollywood has always been and probably always will be fueled by Star Power. Whether it’s an “A-List” actor, a “name before the title” director, or a “mini-mogul” producer films, studios and projects will always have a “star.” Star Power can fall anywhere on the spectrum between box office muscle to creative visionary to financial alchemist. The “star” is the driving force, the person without whom the camera does not roll and the phone calls do not fly which generate the mounds of messages, paperwork, agreements, pay stubs or ticket stubs.

But what happens when the “star” is the “boss?” Should be key person, by virtue of his or her clout or deal making weight, be the one to call the shots and essentially tell everyone what to do?


The question’s been asked before: What do you feed a 500 lb gorilla? Answer: Anything he wants! The truth behind this old joke is that the person in power tends to get what they want and much of Hollywood is organized and run as such.

However, today’s enlightened, empowered gorilla knows that just because they can squash or trample anyone below them in the food chain that in order for them to collect the most bananas and have the shadiest spot near their favorite watering hole it’s in their own best interest to get the best out of their team.


Ok. So now you’re a 500 lb gorilla and you’re making a movie, or running a company, or leading a department or a rehearsal. If only we could do it alone we’d have so much less conflict and hassle! Unfortunately nothing would ever get finished and ultimately our work would be less interesting and our days less fun.

The concept of teams is obviously borrowed from sports and has become quite the buzzword in all sorts of corporate and manufacturing arenas with varying degrees of success.

Essentially, I believe that Hollywood Leadership is currently creating it’s own form of “team work” that will retain the power of individual “Star Power” while also developing new configurations of “Team Power” that will have us working collaboratively without grinding productions or meetings to a halt.

We’re developing a creative collaborative culture where leaders understand both how to lead AND how to be part of the team. And where team members learn how to lead as well as how to best meet their responsibilities as part of the team in order to be of most value and service to their supervisors, their projects and our world at large.


Film productions tend to run a bit like military operations. Which makes perfect sense when we have an army of cast and crewmembers, vehicles, catering, parking and holding areas. Obviously we can’t have everyone on the call sheet involved in every decision or we’d never get the first shot off ever. Film production operates under a hierarchical structure where the orders essentially come down from the top and get communicated, filtered and communicated down the line with what is generally quite an effective system of disbursement.

Even when we run our productions like a military operation, there are always departments working together in ways that more or less operate like a team. The art department, the grip department, the location department all have their “orders” from above and all work together to solve their unique challenges together.

The grip department will work together to create an amazingly creative solution to a particular need for a camera rig for a certain special effect shot. The art department will work together to create an amazing visual interpretation of another time or place on a shoestring budget in no time flat. Craft services will find a way to get that “third meal” to the hard to reach place where the “first team” is working, tired and hungry.

These creative solutions come from professionals who bring their experience and collaborative skills to apply to the shot at hand. Fixed resources, fixed time constraints are the creative cauldron from whence new ideas are born.


As leaders, when we know the strengths and vulnerabilities of our crew, and trust them enough to find their own creative solutions we get the best possible results in the shortest amount of time. And yes, there’s always a degree of risk that we won’t always get exactly what we want. And an important skill for the new Hollywood leader is to recognize our own responsibility in the results we get or don’t get. What’s the lesson here? Did we communicate our ideas as best we could? Did we give enough information? Did we allow enough time for our team to do their best work? Could we have gotten their input earlier on in the process so that our vision matched the constraints of the production reality?

Film creation, production and development operate as an interwoven system of stars and teams. As we develop our leadership skills with an eye towards our team work skills we are suddenly freed to do our personal best work, while reaping the benefits of powerful teams of creative players who’re freed to do their best work as well.

Who do you consider the most effective and powerful leader in Hollywood today? Where have you seen effective team work in action? Where have you seen a team crash and burn? What do you consider the most important elements of Hollywood teamwork?