The Importance of Working for the Right People

The Importance of Working for the Right People

Like any walk of life, the film industry has its fair share of hacks, setting out to make a quick buck and some fame, all while abusing those standing in their way. Don't let the shiny golden statues fool you -- filmmaking isn't always full of glam. But there are other types of filmmakers. If one type is full of greed and malevolence, the other is full of merit and virtue.

There are a lot of people who think the film industry is full of selfish, double-crossing phonies. Their impression of the film business is that it’s dirty.

In other words, they think it’s evil — fundamentally flawed on some moral and ethical level.

Some of the stories you hear are true: Like any walk of life, the film industry has its fair share of hacks, setting out to make a quick buck and some fame, all while abusing those standing in their way. Don’t let the shiny golden statues fool you — filmmaking isn’t always full of glam.

But there are other types of filmmakers. If one type is full of greed and malevolence, the other is full of merit and virtue.

The A**holes Never Last

In an industry so heavily dependent on reputation, you hope the assholes and jerks get weeded out eventually through a natural process of nobody ever liking them.

If you haven’t yet encountered a jerk on set, then you probably haven’t been working long enough. They’re there, propped up by friends who drag them to shoots or a rare piece of equipment they rent and cornered the market on.

Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

But, it’s hard to last in this business when you’re an asshole. Because if you’re a jerk to everyone, you better be really good at what you do. If you’re an asshole and have no skills to back it up… Well, how do you politely tell somebody to get the f*@! out?

Unfortunately, if you are good at what you do, you can get away with being grumpy, selfish and impolite. People will tolerate you because they need you (never underestimate that need, whatever it is).

That means that if you a) fill a need and b) fill it exceptionally, then you are not required to be nice. Still, if you qualify as c) being a decent person, then you are in a rare group of people — the right people.

I like to think I fall into this category of crew members, within that hopeful realm of being good at what I do while being nice about it. I go out of my way to introduce myself to people, to show production assistants (PAs) equipment if they’re interested, and to be as forgiving of honest mistakes as possible.

When I walked onto my first set, I was lucky to work with others who felt this way as well, but I was warned it was a fluke.

It only took a few more weeks, as a quick wake-up call, to heed the warning. I found myself standing in a group of crew talking shop outside a small-town location in the late afternoon when a grip turned to one of the PAs and asked, “So what’d you want to do?”

“Me? What’d you mean?” said the hesitant PA.

“Yeah, you know, grip? Art department? What?”

And like most of us who came into the industry wanted to do, he answered, “I want to do some directing.

The grip bursted out laughing and made fun of him for a few moments before walking away. Meanwhile I was deeply offended by his reaction. Partly because directing is why I got into the industry (I quickly tempered my expectations), but also because it wasn’t fair.

Who is he to say this kid couldn’t direct? Or wasn’t cut out for it?

Even though I had only a few jobs up on the guy, I said, ”Don’t listen to him. If that’s your dream, I say follow it. He has no right to take that away from you.”

Everyday there are jerks like that grip getting paid to work in this industry.

It’s not always below the line crew. It can be the higher-ups as well — directors, producers, writers. Look no further than the story of the executive producer George, who battled me for no apparent reason about my job.

Whether through word of mouth or a lack of networking possibilities (you can only burn so many bridges), I like to think these people get weeded out in the industry. Or at least plateau at a certain level, never quite achieving the success they so ruthlessly sought.

Maybe that’s a cruel thought, but there’s only so much room at the top and I’d like to save it for another type of person.

The Right People Push You to Do Better Work

For every George in the industry, there are a few more of the “right people.” My prime example is Eric Espejo of 19th and Wilson.

When I worked with Eric on Ghosts Don’t Exist, it happened to be both my first feature film and his first major production as director. Perhaps it was the marriage of firsts that made me connect with him.

At the end of everyday, Eric went up to every crew member, shook their hand, and thanked them. He also made everybody else grab lunch before he would ever get his own plate. Both were small gestures — but we noticed. It showed us that Eric truly appreciated our hard work and understood that, without a solid crew, he wouldn’t have his movie.

Nobody I’ve worked with since has been as gracious as Eric.

Eric also had passion for his project. He cared deeply about the movie he was making and wanted to deliver it the best he could.

Without directors like Eric in this industry, you would hate your job. You’d show up to set working for someone who cares less than you about the production.

And it can’t be that way.

Working for the right people is crucial, because those people will guide you when you want to give up, when you are unsure of something, and when you feel like you’re just limping by from scene to scene.

Working for the right people gives you the room to maximize your own efforts on set. You do a better job because they push you to. You are more successful because they need you to be. You work to impress them because you hunger for their approval.

And, most importantly, you enjoy working for them because, in some way, they give your job purpose no matter what it is.

Three Intangibles of the Right People

These are the signs you’re working with the right people. They go out of their way to push the project beyond its original scope, both in creativity and logistics. Much of the time they are able to do this because they’ve convinced their crew it’s worth working hard for.

So how do you know beforehand when somebody is one of those right people? Well, you just have a feeling. You won’t judge accurately everytime, but there’s always a leap of faith on each job you take.

To help you calculate those leaps of faith better, here are some consistent intangibles all the people I’ve loved working with have shared.

1. Creative Talent

You can be a cynic and claim money drives this industry or be an optimist and say the people do, but both are slaves to what is truly fleeting in film: raw creativity.

That’s why when you find somebody you connect with creatively, you have to latch on and never let go.

You don’t even have to be doing a creative job to appreciate this talent, you just have to believe in what they, as a filmmaker, are trying to achieve. If you do this, your job becomes infinitely more fun, easier to do, and satisfying.

2. Passion

You’ll find consistently that passion will drive creativity for most people. Their enthusiasm and drive pushes them to develop imaginative solutions to basic problems of storytelling, character, and even logistics.

But don’t be fooled thinking passion only exists in some ethereal realm waiting to be plucked on by the directors of narrative masterpieces.

Passion exists in all arms of the industry from fiction to commercials to industrials to training videos. It bleeds through because it promises something — a future.

Directors, even on boring commercials, will be passionate about getting it right because they know it promises more creative freedom later. These people are ones you want to be friends with. They realize putting in the time now is worth it for the rewards they will reap eventually — and you will reap along with them.

3. Respect

Respect from the right people trickles from the top all the way to the bottom, wherever they fall in line. If it’s a camera operator you are working for, they appreciate the camera assistants as well as the loader and PAs.

The right people know how to stay respectful while also being demanding. They can tactfully acknowledge when you’ve done something wrong, but help you understand how to do it right.

It’s hard to see in some of them — they’ll seem arrogant and immodest — but don’t ever mistake being pushed as being disrespected. There’s a fine line there and the best filmmakers know how to tip toe it.

You Can Help One of These Filmmakers — Today

The best way to keep the best people in this industry is to show them your support. That could mean you help them on future projects, you give them honest critiques of their work, or you share their films with everyone you know.

You can also show your support with small donations through platforms like Kickstarter.

That’s exactly what I did when I donated money to an independent film called Man-Child.

And you should donate too.

Why? Because the man who is writing and directing the film is one of those right people. His name is Ryan Koo and you may have been to his website – NoFilmSchool.com – which I’ve constantly shared with my readers, even writing a guest post on the site.

It doesn’t take long while watching Koo’s excellent pitch video to realize he is committed to not just making any movie, but making this movie – one he cares about — and making it great.

The reason I donated to Koo’s campaign is because I connected with his story and his dream. Koo is one of those directors I would love to work for because I know he will work 100% harder than anyone else on set.

As I wrote in my guest post on his site: “If you can get someone to trust you and believe in your creativity, they won’t be able to resist your project.”

He also shares so much information at his website that I consider my donation payment for his free DSLR Cinematography Guide — and I’m still coming out with the better deal.

So head over to the Man-Child Kickstarter page and give Koo a chunk of change (the minimum donation is $5) and help keep one of the right peoples in this industry.

  • Adam Richlin

    Hey Evan,

    You wrote a great article, but it turned into a sales pitch at the end. A sell-out sales pitch amid an article on how to be a better person. Conflict of interest much?I was seriously embarrassed for you as I read what you did there.Please don’t whore your credibility and reputation out like that. Thats how you lose that stellar reputation, and subsequently your readers, too. You’re better than that. Your long-time fan,Adam

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Hi Adam,

      First of all, I know you have been a long time reader/fan and I truly appreciate that. On more than one occasion you have left great comments and contributed significantly to this community — so thank you.

      I do, however, think you have misunderstood my intentions with the ending of this post. To address your first concern, I was never selling-out. I stand to make nothing from Koo’s film except the DVD copy I am given as a backer on the film. There are no rewards for my endorsing this film besides seeing it as a completed project.

      I donated money to the film because I was genuinely impressed with Koo’s presentation, have always enjoyed his website, and admired his efforts to fulfill his dream of making a feature film. I should also point out that Koo of NoFilmSchool never asked me to write this post and I have never accepted sponsored posts and never will.

      I would like to think if I tried to fund a feature film, that I would have the kind of support I’m trying to give Koo for my project. That is any filmmakers dream.

      If I am being honest, I was planning on writing a post straight up directing people towards this campaign or sending it out in one of my email newsletters. I ultimately decided I didn’t want to do that because I don’t like posts that’s relevance is tied to a small time frame — basically, I knew there was no true value in simply writing a post that directed people over to the Kickstarter page. That’s a type of post I have moved away from on The Black and Blue.

      Instead, I thought it would be beneficial to write on a related topic, and share the film at the end of the post. To me, this was a win-win: readers got useful information and an entertaining article while I got the opportunity to present them with a feature film I believe in. Seemed like a fair trade to me.

      With every post I write, my credibility and my reputation is certainly on the line and I take that seriously. I curate the ideas and words very carefully before I ever hit “publish” and I assure you this was no accident or experiment.

      Ultimately, if my credibility and reputation suffers because I am supporting a project I genuinely believe has creative merit, then at least it will suffer for a good reason.

      I like to think my credibility stands tall on this post since I invested in the film myself and gave many qualifications for why I thought it was a good idea.

      In the end, whether you decide to follow that advice or not is beyond my control and, frankly, I don’t care.

      I do care that you understand I take your criticisms seriously and that’s the reason I took the time to write this response. To those who may feel similar to how Adam feels, I hope you take the time to read this as well.

      I’ve always appreciated your readership, Adam, and if this post offended you on some fundamental level, then I am sorry to hear that. It will be sad to lose you as a reader — if that happens – in which case, you’ll always be welcome back.

      I hope you understand.

      Best,
      Evan

    • http://twitter.com/_brettharrison Brett Harrison

      The part at the end supporting a ‘right person’ is a case in point; it’s not a sell out. By and large the best operators out there are ‘right people’ and you can recognise them from their style. That’s what I believe Evan was trying to demonstrate.

      • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

        Thank you Brett. You understood perfectly

  • http://www.michaelaangelique.com Michaela Angelique

    Hi Evan ,

    I can see your point by posting the kickstarter website, I understand, I would take pride of the people who I have known that they are hard working people and great to work with and the fact I care to make the project happens at some point. Maybe you should’ve added something explanation in it. But it doesn’t disturb me at all at the first place.

    However, talking about your post.
    I agree with you, I worked as director before and I had a production consultant that kept telling me, to consider what I do , because every take I take, means every crew needs to work more for that take. Be considerate. I do AC-ing most of the time, there were times that I couldn’t wait to go home because the director kept doing another take another and another..endless. The director was one of the producer too, there’s no coffee on the set, lunch was late, everything was so unorganized, the food was from 2-3 days ago. I do understand the low budget world,  I have done few producing too, so I don’t get why it is so hard to treat your crew a little bit nicer.

    Also, there was a sound guy asked me for a tape. I repeat. A sound guy.
    I shoudn’t take personal, but yes I did.
    He was so noisy and kept talking on the set and making the there crews distracted and finally we had bunch people talking with him. 
    The actors finally got pissed off by him.
    He WAS FRIGGIN sleeping on the set!
    He kept asking random people, what’s the frame.
    His batteries died and we had to wait for him , it happened couple of times.
    He basically had no idea what every department does, and yes, I can tell, this guy is a joke.
    Almost every morning he asked me for the tape, I finally stood up,
    ‘Don’t you have your own tape?’
    ‘No I don’t have it.’
    ‘You know that I bought this tape with my own money. ‘
    ‘Yes. So what? I don’t care. Just give me your tape.’
    (I was very annoyed) ‘I don’t think ACs in general would give their tapes for sound, especially when you behave like that.’
    I know, I was kinda an a**hole. BUT, I was pissed by this guy.
    Few weeks later, I met a person who has worked with him on the set, and she told me, that guy was totally a JERK.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Yeah he sounds like a jerk. Those are the type of people that annoy me. It’s always a fine line to tip-toe. I usually just start ignorning them or pretend I don’t know. I would’ve told him I ran out of tape, then used it in front of him. When he asked for clarification just say, “Oh, I meant I ran out of the tape I had reserved for Sound Department.”

  • http://www.michaelaangelique.com Michaela Angelique

    I forgot to add something.

    I agree of what you did with the PA who was made fun by the Grip on set.
    I attended to a camera assistant workshop the other day, a bid DP came as a guest sepaker.
    He told us, to always treat people nicely, you never know.
    He knows somebody that was a 3rd PA and now that person is a producer.

    Also, I agree with you working with right people makes you want to work harder!!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      It’s true. You never know who will be on their way up when your’re on your way down. Plus, it’s just part of being a decent human being!

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  • thedreadpiratewesley

    Hey Evan, I love your blog. I recently completed my first feature as an AC, and your blog was instrumental to me preparing for, performing, and improving my duties. Thanks for taking the time to share your expertise with others.

    I’m just wondering, however, if you have any advice on what to do if the guy you’re working for – the DP – is the asshole!? I got along well with the rest of the cast and crew, but the DP was arrogant, sexist, and condescending. Each time he directed his assholery my way, I just worked and tried harder… but I was pretty conflicted the whole time as to whether the anguish was worth it, considering it was a “deferred payment” low-budget film.

    Should I just have called it quits and walked away from the production? Was sticking at it and working even harder the right thing to do, or did it just affirm this DP’s douchebaggery, so that he’ll continue to be bad to people in future?

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      I would like to answer your question, but this is such a dense topic (and a great one) that I’ve decided to turn it into a blog post.

      But, I will say quickly, sticking to it isn’t a bad option. You shouldn’t be ashamed about doing that. And you never know who else on set noticed he was an asshole and took note that you still quietly toiled away doing your job.

      • thedreadpiratewesley

        Thanks Evan. I am a bit concerned about being identified from the comment (or, indeed, others being accused falsely), so I think I’ll treat discretion as the wiser part of valor and delete my original comment, and await your blog post for your advice. :) Thanks again!

        • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

          No problem! I understand. I’m going to quote your original comment, but will not use your real name or any identifying factors.

  • http://www.diyfilmschool.net/ DIYFilmSchool.net

    Yeah, dude, F that grip.

    I’m not a fan of this weird elite, closed door attitude of the Industry at large. Thankfully, I haven’t worked with many jerks in the ten years I’ve been doing this, but they are out there. That’s why you hang on to the people who treat you well. That’s also why, newbie or not, it’s important to introduce yourself to everyone on the crew (or everyone on set, for that matter) — it gives you a chance to evaluate your coworkers and the people in charge of the production.

    As a producer/AD, I reward people who love to learn and who have great passion and interest in something. PAs can be seen as unmolded talent. Being a PA is a great opportunity to learn.

    I guess being weather-worn and jaded breeds oppression in one way or another. You handled that grip’s comments with compassion. I appreciate that.

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