First Person Singular

Department heads often speak of themselves as if they are the entire department. I ACed for a DP once who was continually saying things like, “I’m going to put the crane over there,” or “I’m gonna set the camera here.” No, you’re not. You’re going to tell the grips and ACs, and they’ll do it.

This “I” is a peculiar thing. It’s like the inverse of the royal “we.” I know heads who do use “we,” at least. My current boss will say, “We’ll set up the table read.” Of course, what he really means is, “You’ll set up the table read.”

These verbal ticks have always bugged me. Telling someone to do something is not the same as doing it yourself. Which is why I was surprised to find myself falling into the same habit.

I was directing a short film, and I said to the actress, “Just one moment, while we make some adjustments to the camera.” But “we” weren’t doing anything. My DP changed the settings; I just watched her push buttons.

Observing this behavior in myself, I wondered if this is really where auteur theory comes from. Is it possible that all this talk of a director’s “vision” is really just a bizarre kind of metonymy?

Well, no, directors are still tools, but it’s good to remind myself how easy it is to judge from my seat of no-power.

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12 Responses

  1. An interesting point, but that only applies if you and your team screw up. I’m assuming you won’t. 🙂

  2. I had a recognizable yet hack director once tell me to say ‘I’ instead of ‘We’ because I was the head of the department. So even if I’m not the one who was going to paint the location blue for example, I am the one who will take the fall if it doesn’t get done right.

  3. Hey there, another “Let’s Go Visiting” commenter here.

    I have no experience in the film business, but unfortunately have lots in the corporate world. Corporate flunkies are always saying “Yeah, we need to go a head and do that.” When the meeting’s over, they delegate the work to a manager, who then delegates to a supervisor, and on and on down the food chain until there is no one else to pass the job on to. When we, the real workers, get the job done, the the credit works its way back up the chain by use of “corporate peristalsis” until the director gets a fat bonus for something he/she had nothing to do with. Such is life, I suppose…

  4. Hello Anonymous, I too, am part of the Polybloggimous horde.

    I’ve noticed that the “we” thing is very common among medical care professionals. As in, “Are we ready for a sponge bath?” or “Are we ready for yet another blood draw?”

    Why no, no I am not. Ready, that is.

  5. Hello Anonymous, I’m also over here from the Polybloggimous “Let’s Go Visiting” horde.

    I know that in the various work environments that I’ve worked in I certainly picked up words, phrases and gestures of the people around me. Sometimes they were peculiarities that annoyed me when the other person did it so I had to stop myself from doing it. Eventually it all faded away, I think.

    My wife does the “we” thing, when really she means me. Like when she said “we” need to clean the fridge, it was really her way of telling me I needed to clean the fridge. & let me tell you, it was gross.

  6. I think it’s just lazy semantics. Saying, We’ll take care of that is a way for the boss person to tell you to do something without having to, you know, p0olitely ask you to do it.

    However, I think there is a distinction between, “we will” do something and “can we” do something. And also between we as speaking for a group or company and the royal we.

    “We’ll do everything we can to fix your computer” has you speaking for the company/organization,” to someone who is not of the company/organization. Because, face it, the customer sees you as part of the organization, not as an individual, so it makes sense to use we there.

    “We need to move that heavy piece of equipment,” when one has no such intentions of lifting oneself is simply annoying.

    “Can we move that heavy piece of equipment over there?” at least gives others the appearance of having input, as in giving someone the chance to respond, “that’s really a bad place for that heavy piece of equipment, because it blocks the air vent, but over there is a good space.”

    The difference is in whether one has input in the decision or not.

  7. The undertow is so great I got swept up into this blog without even realizing! I have nothing to add to the comments on using the royal “we” except that it is supposed to make your underlings feel all warm and cozy ’cause they were included in your thoughts. It’s the “group work” mystique.

  8. I don’t think it’s just a verbal tic. When “I” (whoever “I” is) have the responsibility to make sure something gets done, getting it done is “doing it.” “I’m gonna set the camera there” is functionally equivalent to “Get however many of your guys it’s gonna take to move that camera there, and oh, by the way, make sure it will work there, once you get it there.”

    So I think you’re right. It is the “royal” we, but here in the US we don’t allow that “royal” nonsense. It’s the “team” we, and the “team” I. It’s just that the “upper” members of the team are more “I-ish” or “we-ish” than the rest of us poor slobs.

    And yeah, I’m part of the LGV horde.

  9. Hi Anonymous! I am also part of the Polybloggimous “Let’s Go Visiting” horde.

    I have nothing witty to say, as i am just coming home from work and am in desperate need of a nap. But I can add that the speech patterns that you speak of are also common amongst toddlers. Not that you were referring to anyone that behaves like a toddler..unless of course you WERE…in which case…WOO WOO i nailed it..and without coffee too boot!

  10. Hello Anonymous! I’m part of the Polybloggimous “Let’s Go Visiting” horde. Well, maybe “group” is a better descriptor.

    I’m not in the film business as you and Nathan are, but I would say that the bad verbal habits you refer to are a danger in any industry (Office Space, anyone?)

    Since I work in sales support (I’m a Systems Engineer with a military background), I get all the pretentious clap-trap as soon as it hits the lexicon. The first time someone asked me if they could “engage” me with a customer, I immediately thought, “They want me to do battle with their customer? WTF?” And yet, I found myself using the word “engage” myself a number of years later. How times have changed…

    And don’t feel bad – sales people are tools, too.

  11. Congratulations Anonymous,

    You’re the first recipient of the Polybloggimous “Let’s Go Visiting, Shall We?” meme. Shortly, you will have thousands of new visitors…well maybe 6. As a fellow toiler in filmdom’s salt mines, I decided to send my readers this-a-way today.

    Not only do I get to refer my fellow bloggers to a site I think they’ll like; I also get a really easy to write post out of the deal.

    P.S. Today’s valuable tip for Production Assistants is: Leaving today’s dailies in the taxi while running into Starbucks is a bad career move.

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