Ron Howard had this unusual way of getting feedback when making ''How the Grinch Stole Christmas''
Ron Howard wanted input from everyone — even the accountants.
Being a director is a true balancing act. You're trusted to be the final word on the creative direction of the movie, and you may have to hold firm on your vision even if nobody else sees what you do. Yet, simultaneously, you need to be aware of the danger of creating an echo chamber that only tells you what you want to hear.
Ron Howard learned early on about that balancing act. At 26, he directed the legend Bette Davis in the TV movie Skyward. She was skeptical of letting such a young kid order her around, and Howard had to prove himself.
"She wasn't crazy about me directing," Howard said on the Harvard Business Review podcast, HBR on Leadership. "She thought I was this young guy from a sitcom, and I really had to struggle to earn her respect, which I ultimately did by leaning in, in my own way. Also, not trying to dominate, but using a kind of creative logic, that problem-solving that I had witnessed as a kid of rolling up your sleeves and saying, 'Oh, this isn’t quite working. How might it work? What should we do? What do you think?'"
By the end of their time working together, Howard had earned Davis's respect and she spoke very highly of him. It's clear that he took those lessons on listening to those around him onward in his career.
The book How the Grinch Stole Hollywood points out that the most influential voices on a set are the actor, writer, director, and producer, and "everyone else on a movie set is in service of that quartet." However, the book notes, "Ron Howard's productions are unique in that he welcomes and even encourages input on creative matters from his crew."
"He doesn't do this to be polite," the book continues, "rather, he does it in his continual quest to avoid working in a vacuum." Howard knows that his perspective on a creative choice is only one; so he likes to understand where someone else is coming from and look at the choice through their lens as well.
One day, after finishing Grinch, Howard took an especially unusual approach to gaining those outside perspectives. "One month after wrapping on the film, Howard invited the production office staff and the accounting department to a screening. Delighted to be included, since they were rarely on the set or in dailies, they were downright flabbergasted the next morning when Howard assembled them for an hour-long session and asked them what they thought of the movie and whether they had any suggestions."