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What the Oscars teach us about decision making

There’s more than one way to make a film. According to director Alejandro G Iñárritu, The Revenant was the happy accident which followed a series of bad and irresponsible decisions. A feat of perseverance, the film was shot authentically across Canada, the United States and Argentina, in temperatures as low as -25 degrees. As a result the cast have been praised as much for their commitment to the project as for their performances. Iñárritu’s decisions appear to have paid off: The film has generally been heralded as a masterpiece, having absorbed all the real terror of the testing environment in which it was made and put it on the screen as fiction.

It’s not the first film to come together thanks to an ever changing plan, amongst chaotic environments and through seemingly erratic decisions. Cult classic Apocalypse Now took over a year to shoot, throughout which time Martin Sheen struggled with illness and alcoholism; crew members partied around hotel swimming pools like they were in a frat house; and Marlon Brando showed up overweight and without knowing his lines. The script was essentially made up as they went along, but the result was a film that is still regarded as a masterpiece of modern American cinema.

There are, however, simpler processes available. In animated cinema, such as Pixar’s Inside Out, which has also been successful this year, bursts of creative genius, brainstorming sessions, development processes and script writing, mean that every second of the film can be planned out in meticulous detail. In insisting that The Revenant would only be shot in natural light, Iñárritu was handing control over to a force greater than himself, but in animation this isn’t necessary; moving with technology and using the elements available to them, rather than fighting against them, means complete control is possible. Once the idea is honed, the scripts drafted and redrafted, and the technology readied, very little needs to change and there is rarely cause for concern. The process, though both brilliant and ingenuous, is comparatively safe.

Sometimes the mad improvised and opportunistic nature of some film making works just as well in the real world. Ask anyone, they’re likely to tell you that some of the biggest and best things to ever happen to them weren’t succinctly planned out, they just happened.

Just as there is more than one way to make a film, there is more than one way to live our lives. Both the process of second by second planning, and the idea of moving on instinct and opportunism, have proved successful in film making, and both can be equally useful in decision making in real life. Many of us like our lives planned out step by step like a story board; like to have a structure and to be able to see the next step in front of us. Yet sometimes the mad, improvised and opportunistic nature of eccentric film making works just as well in the real world. Ask anyone, they’re likely to tell you that some of the biggest and best things to ever happen to them weren’t succinctly planned out, they just happened.

It’s a situation that students and young people are blessed with. At a time where the world is in front of you and there are endless possibilities, decisions can be made with a clear plan in mind, or by jumping at the opportunities that pop up, trying to roll with the punches and seeing where it takes you. As the examples show, both forms work, so maybe a real-life balance is best. After all,  the ‘Happy accidents’ that come in life could be better than anything you could ever have planned.

 

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