I was impressed and awed by artistic director Danny Boyle’s Isles of Wondershow at the Olympic Stadium on Friday night. I had the pleasure of watching it with a number of interesting people drawn from the good and great of the UK’s film, business, television and sports industries at Chez Freud. My take-away from the Isles of Wonder show was that Boyle’s desire was to put the Great back into Britain. I felt that he set out with an inventive effort to tell a thousand small stories of the rich tapestry of English history in one evening. A particularly poignant part for me (as I live in Newcastle) was the industrial parade of Jarrow marchers and colliery bands, together with the hundreds of nurses who so represent the National Health Service, as I see it in my work with them.
In view of the recent very poor UK Plan A economic results, where we are seeing a double-dip recession, bank bailouts, financial crises and weary cynicism, Boyle looked to remind the UK of its glorious past, and my take on his strategy was to build optimism for the future. Boyle used the Olympic flame to shine a light on all there is to celebrate about the heritage of the UK. To me, as an Irishman abroad, as an advert for UK plc, I think it was a priceless piece of marketing in front of an estimated worldwide TV audience of four billion. I felt proud to be part of UK plc on the night, and those who know me will confirm that is a big statement.
During the course of the evening, Don Boyd, Scottish film director, producer, screenwriter and novelist, engaged me in a lively debate on how a film director has so much to teach today’s leaders about the art, science, and behaviour of real leadership. He provided some rich insight into Boyle, with whom he has worked, on the challenges, creative needs, and strategies he faced in delivering the Isles of Wonder extravaganza. Don felt that today it would benefit leaders to study the way directors get the most out of actors, which could provide insightful tips on leading a team at work. He was eloquent in explaining that the director’s job is to translate, in an inventive and creative way, the script to the screen, yet be able also to direct a very diverse group of highly technical and artistic people to reflect best the artistic vision for the film.
My summation: the director must be a sort of human lens through which everyone’s efforts are focused to blend all the very diverse talent into a single consciousness. Don feels a great director is a great leader with drive, patience, inspiration, and imagination. They are responsible for working with a cast and crew of sometimes very egotistical, insular and creative individuals, to ensure the vision is played and transitioned to film in the way that captures the human imagination. I think Boyle managed that and more, in the Isles of Wondershow as he also built in a huge number of volunteers to augment the professionals.
My take on our debate, Don, is that being a director is an appealing and competitive career field which requires unflinching dedication, balanced leadership skills, ingenious creativity, and a keen knowledge of the business of making movies. The challenge always, not just in film making, but in any domain, is to create innovative and fresh ways to punch the edges of capability and creativity and the restrictions we place upon ourselves from the inside out. We tend to contain our capabilities and imagination within a box in our brains and that is why we are always looking for the out-of-box thinking. The challenge to us all is, how do we hit those edges hard? I could not help but think, as in film making, this is the only way to make sure we grow and develop, the only way to actually achieve the drive, the creativity and innovation we all need. After all, who says we need to be restricted by the mental paradigms that we use as a box within our brains in the first place?
To Boyle and Boyd I will look at the lessons from directorship on leadership, and for the Olympics, the very best of Irish luck!