“In the film business, when you’re young, you just want to work. But when you’re older, it has more to do with who’s involved with the project – who you’re going to get in the boat with.”
Reputation is everything.
My back story.
In one of my other professional lives, I’ve been blessed with many, I worked as a set dresser on the movie Chicago. The movie won 6 Academy awards and was nominated for 6 more. On Awards Night, the Production Designer, John Myhre, and Set Decorator, Gordon Sim, my boss, each received their well-deserved Oscars. I was happy to play a small part on that talented team. The point of all this you might ask is, what? Gord, had a good reputation as a Set Decorator, to begin with, which helped him get the job. He had done a few films before with the producer and had built a reputation for quality work. But that golden statue opened doors for him like never before, especially in Europe. On other pictures I worked with Gord, he would bring Oscar to his office for all to see. If you have ever hoisted that statue, you know how heavy the little guy is. In Showbusiness, more than many others, Reputation Is Everything! It seems that all the players big or small know everything about everybody. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Best you focus on the Good, your good, and burry the bad and the ugly. Your reputation is like your shadow on a sunny day. It never leaves you.
So much for my moment in time.
“In the film business, it’s basically honor among thieves.” Abel Ferrara
In the insecure world of the Film Industry were ‘thieves’ are many, and sometimes things get so bad people are starting to stab you in the front, you can’t afford to be difficult to work with, a gossip, a slacker, easily offended, insecure, or a prima donna. If that characterization is your shadow, success no matter how great the talent you possess, will be fleeting. As they say, you’re only as good or bad, as your last job.
On your last job, if you’re seen as energetic, knowledgeable, a reliable person that is willing to go the extra mile and easy to work with, people notice and the word spreads. Film production is a collaborative effort that requires interpersonal skills like no other. At any given moment of the day, you may be required to problem solve and work with any or all of the other 16 technical departments, let alone heads of department and management. Putting on a happy face and leaving your ego at the door, will gain you respect and help build a positive reputation. As a bonus, it makes all those 14 hour days easier to survive.
If you can’t handle sticky situations, what are you doing working in a glue factory?
The above line was delivered to me by an agency “suit” when I was directing some commercials for a rather difficult client. At the time, it made me angry. Today I see it at sage advice and chuckle at the honesty of the words. “Suits” are particularly annoying people at the best of times. They act as Account Executives, and part of their function, beyond hand-holding the client, is to liaise between the businessman client and the creative people on the floor. They are more accountant than creative and that’s annoying in itself. However, if you study the line I was given it’s easy to see the truth about our business and why you must always respect those 15 words. Here’s another way of saying much the same thing.
“There are many vampires in the world today… you only have to think of the film business.” Christopher Lee
Beyond doing the job you’ve been hired for, you can lengthen your shadow by asking intelligent questions from the established professionals around you. That’s only when they’re not busy or while waiting to grab a quick coffee and a snack at craft service. Almost all of the pros I’ve worked with are more than willing to share some of their experience but not all. Their trade secrets are just that and those secrets help keep them employed.
Learn to read people. Establish a connection so they will remember you.
I was the ‘On-set Dresser on a movie with Keanu Reeves called Johnny Mnemonic. It was my first on-set dresser job and I had little knowledge of what it entailed. I worked closely with the on-set painter and on-set carpenter. Two men with years and years of experience. I read their resumes and asked others about them to discover the painter was a fine art painter when not working movies and the carpenter was a motorcyclist. Beyond the questions I had about my job, I engaged them in conversations about their hobbies. I established a relationship with them and on the next show they were booked on, they asked production for me to be the on-set dresser.
Your attitude to the job and the people you work with can enhance or destroy your career.
Drama kings and queens, with a lousy attitude, need not apply. Starting off in The Biz, newbies must have enthusiasm, ambition and a great attitude. Shooting days are long, tensions high, location working conditions are usually not the greatest and if it’s nearing the end of the work-week where the PM keeps pushing the calls to avoid paying the crew turnaround, your day starts at 4pm and ends at 6 am the next day. That’s the reality, like it or not. Whining, complaining and infecting your co-workers with a bad attitude is your ticket out the door. What’s worse is how quickly the industry discovers your sins and future work becomes hard to find.
Having said all that, as a lifer, “There’s no business like show business, like no business I know.”
With apologies to Ethel Merman.
That’s a wrap.