Archives for category: Decision making


Steven Soderbergh is the Academy Award winning director of Traffic, Erin Brokovich and Ocean’s Eleven. At 26 he was the youngest winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for Sex, Lies and Videotape. As a writer, producer, director, cinematographer and editor on many of his projects, the success of his films is to a huge extent dependent on his ability to make efficient and effective decisions.

When in Australia for Tot Mom, Soderbergh’s STC play about media attention in the case of the missing toddler Caylee Anthony, he generously answered some questions about his decision making processes for our UNSW College of Fine Arts, Masters of Art Administration, Organisational Psychology class. This is an excerpt from that interview.

Interview by Eliza Muldoon

How do you make efficient decisions?

Well, I think the most important thing is to remember what your goal is overall, in the case of a film, what the overall intent of the film is. You have to have a 30,000 feet view of the entire project in order to successfully filter out all the potential parallel answers. You have to be able to filter out the ones that are not going to get you to your goal.

I think that efficient decision making becomes difficult when you are in a pressurised situation and you may be leaning towards a solution in the short-term, one that is going to get you to the next step but in the long term it is going to actually disrupt the overall piece.

Staying calm is a big part of it. There has never been a situation in the history of the world where panicking has helped. Sometimes I will slow everything down and send people away so I can think on my own and not feel the pressure of the external factors. I have done that a lot.

Film-making involves many thousands of decisions. How do you reduce the amount of decisions that you need to make?

What happens in a film is that there are 10,000 little questions that get answered in the pre-production period. If you have chosen correctly, that will result in a situation where a lot of potential questions have already been answered.

In my experience decision-making really becomes important when things are not going well, when you have to make decisions about how to get the piece back on track. That is where having a really good support system helps a lot. Being surrounded by people who also understand the film and make suggestions that tip you in a certain way. It is actually where my philosophy about how people are treated comes into play. If you do not treat people well and they are not having a good experience on the movie, they would just clam up and enjoy watching an arsehole wallow.

I also tend to work with the same people a lot and that also makes the decision-making easier.

Have you ever found that you have had to prioritise the project over people’s feelings or needs?

There is usually a way to handle a situation with humour: even when you have to move quickly, move people in a very different direction or correct them in a way that might seem severe. You do not want the way you have made or communicated a decision to affect the execution of that decision. If people feel they have not been diminished in any way by your decision or the way it was made, then they are more committed to its’ implementation.

How do you know when your decisions are satisfactory?

Usually, the indication that you have made the right decision is that things happen very quickly. The solutions to everything are right in front of you. When that is not happening it might be an indication that you did not make the right call.

That is why I am willing to slow things down when it is not working. I had a two-day scene once that I had such trouble shooting, that on the first day I sent everyone home – we did not shoot anything. I figured out that night how I wanted to shoot it and the next day we had finished the scene by lunch-time. So we actually saved half a day. It was better choice than trying to grind through it.

You seem to have a lack of angst when making decisions. Why is that?

It just does not help. Worrying is not going to get you to the solution. In my experience of problem solving, I need to be in a relaxed state. I also do not want to create anxiety around me. It is infectious and it really locks people up.

Another reason is that I had a mentor when I started making films, a documentarian, and he worked in a very similar way. If you had seen him work and then watched me work, you would see where I get my approach.

Interested in more on decision-making?


The arts and creative industries play a vital role in developing our culture, communities and economy. Despite this, the arts are still fraught with challenges that can cause decision-making to be difficult. This week’s arts interview, former Arts Minister of NSW, Virginia Judge, gives us an insight into her passion for the arts, the value of the arts sector in NSW and how she handles decision-making in a government environment.

Interview by Georgina Sandercock

How important do you think the arts are to NSW?

I think a vibrant Arts sector is really the surest sign of a healthy democracy. It is very much the mural that we can hold up to our society and its legacy by which we will be judged. It is absolutely vital that the arts are open to everyone to enable individual creativity and joy. Our culture is very much strengthened by our diverse voices. Filmmakers, musicians, artists, dancers and storytellers all have the power to inspire empathy and command understanding. They challenge the status quo to hint very much at what lies beyond the edges of the unknown and help to illuminate visions of our better selves.

I very much believe that culture in essence belongs to all of us. It does not matter where you come from; we have all got our own particular stories. Sometimes we use these as metaphors to weave a beautiful fabric, with each fiber representing a particular story and the relationship we have with each other and the environments that have inspired that creativity. The arts are a great unifier, which can strengthen our diversity and emphasises that culture belongs to all of us. We have a wonderfully innovative, imaginative, talented and sharing group of people in our creative industries and this is one of our greatest assets.

Tell us about some key projects you initiated when you were NSW Arts Minister?

I wanted to develop an arts policy and cultural strategy, and decided to run a series of forums. Sadly, a program was never launched, but the initial forums held were a success and provided great information and insight into the arts and creative industries. The series of forums I ran ended up involving over 600 practitioners, peak organisations and a number of government departments, cultural institutions and a number of businesses from the corporate industry. The aim of these forums was to find out how we could really benefit from the needs of creative works. They were very much a valuable way, a tool for me to find out about their ideas, issues, problems, strengths, hopes and aspirations.

The forums were very innovative and had never been attempted before.
I brought all the different industries, government and businesses into parliament. People were very shocked and were amazed that bureaucrats and practitioners from creative industries were all in one room and talking. I based the arts policy and strategy and my funding guidelines on the key outcomes from the forums. It was amazing that in every sector the same things kept coming through. One key outcome was that everyone needed the affordable space to create. Affordable space can be hard to find in NSW, in particular the metro areas of Sydney. This outcome highlighted the huge area for all governments to look at and consider how we can improve this.

How did your personal passion and arts practice inform your decision-making?

I only have limited experience in life and the sector. Whenever attempting any sort of decision-making, I would go to the people in the respective fields and talk to them. It is important to hear what they have to say and then act accordingly. I believe an organic process is hugely important to decision-making. You do not have many other opportunities to do this, so you do not want to waste time.

It is important to ask yourself ‘What decisions am I going to make’? These decisions should then be informed by other practitioners – it is important to use people’s real life experiences, talent and wisdom. Once I had gone through this process, I had to put it in a way that I could present to the Government. Obviously, there is always a huge demand on the budget – our education, health and transport etc. are important and sometimes the arts and creative industries are not always up there. You need to position your debate as a member of parliament and convince them of the wonderful things these industries have to offer and how it contributes to the economy.

What advice would you give to any future practitioners with regard to decision-making?

When I talk about decision-making, I always try to emphasise the positive impact of culture and broaden their thinking about the sector. You must be hugely persistent and not give up. You have to make people feel as if they are doing a disservice to society if they do not support this vibrant sector. Effective decision-making is networking through people, using the resources that are there, and working as a collective – it is much easier to get results if you work together. I think it is very important to be active, push hard and be extremely vocal.

Further reading on decision-making and politics in the arts:


Bryce Youngman is the artistic director of Poetry In Action, a performance company that focuses on poetry as a performance medium, which has been rapidly growing for the past 7 years expanding across Australia, making its way to a national level. Bryce speaks to arts interview about his personal and professional experiences, the decision-making involved in running a business and building a career, with insight into pros, cons and outcomes.

Interview by Natalia Ilyukevich

What influenced your decisions to get involved in poetry and how does that tie in with your background in performing arts sector?

The poetry concept came about when my business partner and I first started talking about helping schools generate revenue for other theatre shows that we wanted to do. So we asked ourselves what our skill set is and what we can do in the same way to start our own business. We knew we could do acting, had script growing skills, organisational skills and all this kind of stuff. We then thought about putting together sized down versions of plays that kids would have studied, presenting them in 45-minute performances and doing poetry reading. Having this off-idea of doing poetry, we have realised that no one else was doing it. We had a lot of skills and people to call on from our networks who could do what we needed to do. We decided to show kids that poetry is something that could really be very vibrant, very relevant, and that you just need to have the courage to put your own voice, feelings and emotion behind it and go on this little journey.

Do you have a career plan that influences your decisions or do you wait and see what opportunities present them?

The company has a 5-year plan and I have a 1 or 2-year plan. I do not like to have anything too much further ahead at the moment. I have things that I want to achieve personally and with writing and acting I have a plan set out to do. I have allowed Poetry In Action to take some precedence over personal things, but I was ready to make that sacrifice and wanted to have this to build on. We are booking quite well across Australia, doing a lot and it still feels like it can be bigger. I just have to give myself time, which I have been doing with my agent, to make decisions and plans about the things that we want to do. It can be as simple as a new headshot and making sure you always do something for yourself. My advice for anyone starting a company is to not let the company consume you and maintain some self.

In hindsight, have you regretted any or many choices, and if so then why?

It is hard for me to say that I regret choices when I feel like I am in a very good position. If I was asked this 6 months ago, I would have said that I regretted splitting Shaman Productions (primary company prior to Poetry In Action) and Poetry In Action in half, but I have realised that it is a momentary split which actually empowers the project, and I guess that is about trusting the people you work with. A lot of the time my business partner and I have a lot of friction. We both have input in everything, but his main job is to look after the brand and functionality, Facebook, the public face of Poetry In Action, and I am a little bit more on sales and artistic direction wrangling the actors and other creative things. So sometimes I do not understand where he is coming from, but I respect the fact that he is a very smart bloke and there is a reason that somehow what we do works. And although on this occasion, I strongly felt in my bones that it was not something I wanted, in hindsight I realise that it was probably the best thing to do. So I do not regret any choices that I have made as it has not stopped me from doing anything.

What decisions relating to your career would you make differently and why?

There are not really any decisions that I would make differently. There were some vital moments in my life where I made some good decisions. When I got accepted into Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), I also got accepted into the University of Western Sydney Nepean drama course which was very reputable at the time, in my suburb, much easier and cheaper to do. By choosing WAAPA I realised how much I needed to get out of home, stretch my legs and be on my own as an 18/19 year old. I have taken opportunities when they have presented themselves, and some of them have not worked out, but I would not do anything differently as such for the business. However, there was a tough time when starting a business with friends. You need to set rigid roles and structures, there has to be someone leading. It is extremely difficult to make decisions on group consensus democracy, it just does not work. Instead, you can take people’s opinions in by all means, but at the end of the day someone has to make a call on the basis of what is the best thing to do. Otherwise, it can lead to friction, confusion, and ultimately anger, because people may feel they are doing more and not being financially rewarded.

Further reading on decision-making in career and business development:


The former lawyer was roped in to direct a quiet art fair in a small village, Basel, which he transformed into the center of the art world by turning collectors into celebrities, introducing corporate sponsorship, and supporting emerging artists. He also initiated and created the glamorous Art Basel, Miami Beach, as well as ShContemporary in Shanghai, and is currently at the helm of his new baby, Art Stage Singapore.  He took the time to discuss with arts interview how he makes decisions and their potential repercussions.

Interview by Shivangi Ambani

What are some of the key areas in which you have to make decisions as a director of an art fair?

You have to make decision on every level. On the one side, you are an entrepreneur, and you have to make decisions as a businessman. On the other side, you have to take decisions as an exhibition-maker. You also create a get-together platform, where you match-make the right people. You have to invest yourself in all these aspects, and then make the right decision. And I find this most fascinating.

What are some of the most difficult decisions you have made at Art Stage?

If you take decisions on a business-level, many can be very important, but they can be quite logical and clear. Difficult decisions are more often in the cultural direction – for example the selection of galleries. There are certain galleries, where you say “forget it”, but you have many galleries where it is difficult. Sometimes, it is hard to have to say no, but you have to do it. And you have to stand for it and explain it. You know these people, and you can hurt them with such decisions, but it is part of the game.

What influences decision-making when putting together an art fair?

For Art Stage, I try to travel through Asia and the Pacific to see as much as possible to form an impression of what is going on. Then I try to find what I want to show – the right artists, the right pieces and the right galleries. Especially, in Asia where you do not have a structured scene or market as you have in Europe or America, you have to work like an exhibition-maker. If I go to China, I have quite a good structure, in Indonesia, it is weak, and in Philippines, forget it! Nevertheless, I want to integrate all these in the show, so we have to find totally new ways.

Who are the stakeholders and what is the decision-making process you follow, particularly, when working closely with the Singapore government?

There are different levels. When it comes to content, the government takes no interest – I would also not allow it. That is absolutely no problem because we share a clear vision and we have full respect and confidence in each other.

On decision-making for content, it is important that you have an entire network of experts with whom you can exchange (ideas). At the end you have to take the decision, but I like to have a lot of discussions before I make one. For instance, if I select artists in China, I discuss a lot with the curator and artists until I have made an impression. Sometimes you have discussions to assure yourself, and sometimes to open new doors and give you new ideas – I think that is very important.

For more local things like the organisation, marketing and political direction, we have many open discussions with various government agencies. That is a very open dialogue and a flow of information and communication with a clear goal.

Can you recollect any decisions that brought unexpected results?

When I started to think about the content of this art fair, I was convinced there would be at the most 4-5 galleries from Singapore – the others do not have the quality. We had a gallery, that I said at the beginning, sorry – in my first impression, it was too commercial. However, as we had discussions we came to totally new ideas, new forms. At the end, this gallery made a project for the fair, which was the most discussed and respected one. Discuss with people and look at what you can do together – this can bring results which you would have never had if you only made decisions at certain levels.

Interested in more reading about decision making?


Patrick Sarell is a film maker, who this year completed a 10-minute computer generated film, Nullarbor. Currently travelling the international film festival circuit Nullarbor, has already won the Yoram Gross Award for best Short Animation at the Sydney Film Festival, Best Animation Short Film at the Melbourne Film Festival and is nominated for Best Short Animation at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards in January 2012. This is Patrick’s first venture as a co-director/writer and animator after working in the industry for a number of years. He spoke to arts interview about the decision-making process when working on such a labour intensive, collaborative endeavour.

Interview by Kim Goodwin

How does functioning as a co-director work? 

Well to be honest, our roles evolved organically on the production and I guess if you want to get brutal about it, Al and I have a fairly complementary skill set with different strengths. I have a natural aptitude for character and performance end of animation, whereas Al is much stronger visually in terms of colours, cameras and mood. While we both have strong instincts across all areas of animated film-making there is something about our partnership that brings out the best in each of us.

At times this can be a fairly volatile process but we always had the best interests of the film at heart and I think we do better work in partnership then we do as individuals.

What process do you use to make decisions?  How do you ensure this is efficient?

Story is king. Story is the tool that guides you in this process. Animation is an art of economy and you can clearly see on the screen where the money goes. In order to makes sure that you get the best possible end result you want to make sure that production value is being put into the elements that matter the most. The only yardstick you have for making a call on what goes in and what gets left out is the story. So every time I had to make a decision I would ask myself “Does this help move the story forward?” If it did not we dropped it, if it did it went in.

Do you divide up areas of responsibility? E.g. allocating resources, time or money.

Yes we do. We had a reasonably large team for a short film (around 15 people) each of whom was responsible for certain areas. Those areas can be loosely broken down into the following departments:

  • Production (Management)
  • Story
  • Art, Design, Modelling and Look Development
  • Rigging and Character technical development
  • Animation
  • Lighting, Rendering and Visual Effects
  • Compositing, Editing and Output
  • Sound and Post Production

People are often misleading when you tell them that you used a computer to animate. They think that the computer does the work for you. It does not. Everything in our film is hand made and animated on a computer right down to the eye darts, blinks and pupil dilation.

Have you had situations where a decision made has caused disharmony? How did you resolve it?

Yes, many times and they were all resolved in different ways. I think that in general we were able to solve them through open discussion using the story as a yard stick for measuring the value of an idea. The major issues came after we had finished the film and it started to do well. For some reason, we all got a bit protective of the importance of our own contribution to the project. I know at one point I caught myself thinking “they could not have made this film without me” and I think that a lot of other people on the crew were feeling that way too.

Ultimately this is true, but I could not have done it without them and we all came to the conclusion that we wanted to do another project together, and the only way that was going to happen was if we believed in each other and supported and valued the work everyone had contributed to equally.

 What advice would you give to other artists working in a collaborative partnership?

Be honest, trust your instincts, surround yourself with people you trust and who you want to work with, and do not be afraid to take your time to get the important stuff right. Always be open to being wrong and learning something new, nobody knows everything. Have a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve, that way when someone else comes up with a better idea you will not miss an opportunity.

Always know that nobody knows your project as well as you do. Finally and most importantly: share the love and share the knowledge. To get the best work people need to feel like they are learning and being appreciated.

Interested in more information on decision-making?