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What you can learn from making mistakes

Mary Mazzio, a documentary filmmaker, is used to getting knocked down. Years ago as an elite rower, she was cut from the U.S. Olympic team multiple times before making it to the 1992 games. When she started working as a lawyer, her first performance evaluation said she might lack the intellectual heft to succeed at her firm. Mazzio went on to make partner.

Now, in her most recent career, she just saw the premiere of her new film, The Apple Pushers, about New York's Green Cart initiative to bring produce to underserved neighborhoods. Mazzio reflects on the lessons she learned from the myriad things that can go wrong when you're managing a team of 200-plus people, and chasing after street vendors for interviews.

Don't get too attached to what you lose. With actors staging a fictional scene, you can shoot more takes. With real people being peppered with questions, this is not usually an option. "This is stuff we can not get back," Mazzio says. She still shoots on film. It's a beautiful but fussy medium, and the streets of the South Bronx aren't exactly a climate-controlled studio. One time when she got back her "dailies," she learned that "some of the most compelling footage we had had a scratch right through it." You can point fingers, scream and brood, or you can just accept that life is difficult and you'll have to keep working (more carefully next time).

Have a back-up plan. Mazzio was scheduled to interview New York mayor Michael Bloomberg on a date that had been confirmed multiple times. Then, at the last minute, the mayor had to cancel. She already had the 12-person crew assembled and was paying them for the day. "I thought all sorts of profanity," Mazzio says, but as the meter of her payroll was running, she decided that she had to figure out "what is going to be the best use of time." The answer? Lots of New York City B-roll -- shots of streets, buildings and other footage that wound up being used in the film.

Be more prepared than you need to be. Mazzio understood that in New York City, you don't need a permit for certain roving film shoots. However, her team decided to get as many permissions as possible, which she was glad to have when they were shooting out the door of a van in Times Square. The crew was pulled over by the police who, quite reasonably, thought this seemed like suspicious behavior. But Mazzio had the paperwork to assuage the cops' concerns.

Keep cool in front of your team. When things go wrong, "if you freak out, that will translate to everybody on the set," says Mazzio. "In order for them to do the best work, you have to look calm." After all, for most things in business, "we are not operating on a patient for open-heart surgery. It's all about keeping things in perspective."

What have you learned from screwing up?

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