blacklist

The Unwanted Job of Curating a Blacklist

He never even knew it happened. I didn't tell him and, as far as I know, he has never found out. What effect it's had on him, if any, I'm not even sure of. But adding him to my blacklist was something I needed to do -- because I never wanted to work with him again.

He never even knew it happened. I didn’t tell him and, as far as I know, he has never found out. What effect it’s had on him, if any, I’m not even sure of.

But adding him to my blacklist was something I needed to do — because I never wanted to work with him again.

And that’s what my blacklist is full of: directors, producers, crew, production companies, and rental houses that I would be happy to never encounter in my professional life again.

It may sound petty, but maintaining a blacklist has helped me miss some sketchy shoots and avoid crew that would ultimately steer my career in the wrong direction.

Plus, I’m not the only one keeping a list like it. And, in all likelihood, I’m probably on a few myself.

How do you know if you’re on a blacklist? Short of somebody telling you they never want to work with you again, it’s hard to say. Often the blacklist is a silent, mental catalog of crew whose reasons for being included range from petty to profound.

But a clue may be to think about who’s on your blacklist: if their name comes up and you get disgusted at the thought of seeing them again (professionally, at least), they’re on your blacklist — whether you knew you had one or not.

Another way of putting it is: your blacklist is full of crew you don’t think are the “right people” to work with. In fact, they’re the opposite of everything you stand for in your job.

It’s hard to imagine you don’t inspire those emotions in at least a few people — even if it’s unintended.

Why Don’t You Make Yourself Useful? Take Out the Trash.

Politics aren’t foreign to film sets. I’ve had my fair share of unfair fights with producers, nasty remarks made my way as well as getting caught in the web of on-set gossip.

On a few occasions, I’ve let it get to me and found myself angry, upset, or hurt. But sometimes the ill-will towards you is so silly, you can’t help but laugh.

I’m reminded of a shoot in which I was doing media management and, though I was constantly checking and downloading footage, data management jobs simply have a lot of downtime. If setups were taking awhile, or the takes were short, there weren’t always memory cards to be transferred.

As a result, I was a drifter on this set — floating near the camera when I was bored, by the monitor to watch takes, and of course by craft services to get a snack.

It was on one of these trips to crafty I struck up a conversation with the craft services girl who was close to my age. She had been complaining for several days about the wardrobe women she was sharing a room with at this particular location we were filming at.

In some ways, I felt bad for her, but mostly I listened to the stories because the petty gossip humored me while I scoped out the table looking for my favorite candies.

“They were talking about you the other day, you know,” she said.

I stopped my treasure hunt and looked at her, confused. I kept a low profile on set, hung out mostly with the camera department, and each day I said good morning to both women from wardrobe.

“They were complaining that they didn’t even know what you did and why you were here. They said maybe you could take out the trash to be useful.”

So maybe media management isn’t the most prominent position on a crew, but every piece of footage was being filtered through me. I single handedly had the ability to destory it and waste thousands of dollars or keep it processed smoothly all the way into post-production.

I didn’t necessarily feel like a big man on campus, but I held some order of responsibility. I talked with the director of photography (DP) and the editor about the footage everyday. On several occasions I met with the director to show him some dailies.

At first listen, I was puzzled. But it was hard to stay upset over a statement so obviously misinformed.

What mostly confused me was the fact they were even talking about me at all. What had I done to warrant that talk? Why did they just assume I had nothing important to do? And who were they to judge my usefulness?

In the end, I stayed friendly with the wardrobe department, but I also had no qualms breaking ties with them after the wrap party. And, to be fair, they probably felt the same way.

No I didn’t add them to my black list — after all, they didn’t actually do anything other than gossip — but I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m on theirs. Or if they just don’t think to recommend me, just as I don’t think to recommend them.

It’s for the best that our careers haven’t crossed paths again.

What I realized after the “take out the trash” incident is there are different levels of a blacklist: there are those you are ambivalent to work with; those you would prefer not to work with, but might; and those you definitely don’t want to work with.

The wardrobe women, they fell in the 2nd group for me.

The first group is made of crew who I don’t find particularly bad, but whom I think still need to grow professionally. They aren’t crew I feel comfortable recommending to somebody else, though they very well could have a capable career eventually.

It’s really the third group — those I definitely don’t want to work with — that’s the most important to keep track of.

The Top of the Black List is a Lonely Place

At the very top of my blacklist is a director I worked for as 1st assistant camera (AC). It was one of my first times pulling focus and I’ll admit I made many mistakes — not every take was crisp and perfect — but damn was I trying.

One day, the director had edited together a short promo trailer of the footage we had shot so far. It was a simple piece designed to excite investors and boost morale.

When I noticed the crew drifting away to watch it while waiting for a lighting setup, I decided to join.

On my way over, I happened to cross paths with the director.

He stopped me and said, “Hey why don’t you go check out all that blurry footage you gave me?”

In a bout of disbelief and genuine offensiveness, I gave an awkward chuckle and continued walking. Later, I told the DP and the producer who were both astounded at such a blatant slap in the face.

It wasn’t that he claimed I gave him blurry footage that made me angry, it was the passive aggressive tone in his voice. If he had a problem with the way I was doing my job, he should’ve come out and told me. Instead, he resorted to sarcasm and it came across as a cheap shot.

This was the final straw that got him the top slot on my blacklist.

What else happened before that?

One night at dinner close to the end of the production, when the producer asked me how I thought he was doing, I threw him under the bus.

“I’m just saying, if someone gave me that much money to direct a movie, I would put in every single ounce of effort I had to make it good”

“So you don’t think he’s trying very hard?” I was asked.

I shook my head, “He fell asleep at the monitor today. Again.”

Did I feel bad selling him out? No. We were far enough into the shoot that he wasn’t going to be replaced. Plus, I considered the producer my friend — he deserved to know the truth and aware of how his funds were being spent.

Was it a potential bridge burning incident? Yes. Someone could’ve told the director what I said and, in the worst case scenario, I would’ve been fired. I was prepared for that, however, and, since he was already on my blacklist, I had no qualms about not working with him again.

(I had nothing to gain from selling the director out. I wasn’t trying to gain brownie points with the producer or get him replaced — I knew by this point, late in the production, that replacing him would be more harmful than helpful. I was just frustrated and being honest.)

Instead I thought back to the dream my 14-year-old self had to be a movie director — I didn’t appreciate watching somebody else squander the opportunity that kid dreamed of while also working me and my department to the bone 15 hours a day.

I also didn’t appreciate the unprofessional tactics being used to (mis)manage myself and the crew.

The top of the blacklist is occupied solely by him at this point. It’s a lonely place to be — and I hope it stays that way for awhile.

Avoid the Crew Who Make You Hate Your Job

I don’t enjoy keeping a blacklist. I do my best to keep it small and limited to only the worst offenders.

Sure, these moments make for juicy gossip when I’m out at the bar with other crew, but when you experience them in the moment, they’re miserable. I felt terrible when I was told to my face that I had missed focus on so many takes. I didn’t enjoy knowing the wardrobe women (who I thought were friends) considered my job was useless. I don’t like working with a director who cares more about the IMDB credit than the film.

And that’s the exact reason why you keep a blacklist — to weed out those crew who make your experience in this industry toxic. Maybe they go on to big things and, if you had put up with them, you could’ve come along for the ride. I’m sure that’s happened to some who have held a bitter grudge.

But instinct has taught me that there’s a difference between a professional who’s an asshole and just an asshole. You put up with the first group. The second group gets slammed in the blacklist.

There will be some who read this and don’t agree with me — “take what work you can” or “stop being a baby,” I can hear them say. That’s fine. We all have our own ways of working. And some crew don’t care what life on set is like as long as the paycheck shows up in their bank account.

For me though, I don’t want filmmaking to be just a paycheck or only a job. Of course it’s both of those at some point, but if I can avoid those who make me feel like I hate the film industry when I step on set, I’ll do that.

And I won’t even blink an eye as I shake their hand at the end of the shoot, thank them for the opportunity, and never work with them again.

  • http://twitter.com/johnmiguelking John Miguel King

    All too true, every single one of them words you’ve written. There’s no shame in wanting filmmaking to be a paycheck. We certainly haven’t chosen this path because of the money, but without the money, how do we continue?

    Therefore, money first, passion second. All summed up in this great sentence I came accross “Fuck you, pay me”.

  • peterblue11

    I think every 1st AC can relate to your story. I am at that level right now and I am glad that all crews I worked with so far (mostly ad shoots) were very supporting. If you are working with new lenses, new cameras and on a busy location shoot, pulling focus can be very tricky. Shows the insight of a director and a DP when they can relate to a (often much younger) 1st AC/focus puller.

  • http://www.facebook.com/orensoffer Oren Soffer

    Amen. Filmmaking is more than a day job. It’s a way of life, and I know that sounds corny and cliche, but considering the amount of hours spent together and the level of collaboration required to truly make a good, successful film, there’s really no other way to put it. And at the end of the day, I think the experience is equally as important as the money. If I’m just going to be miserable and work with people whom I don’t like and don’t respect me, I might as well do it at a 9-5 job with less hours, less responsibility and more pay. But I think many if not most of us got into this field because we had a passion for it. And there’s no reason to work with people who make you want to give up on that passion! Great, honest post, Evan. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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

    Good article! I don’t have any tangible lists, though after reading this, I’m more poised to create them. Thankfully, there aren’t many on my blacklist, though there are plenty on my “ambivalent” list. Unfortunately, there are only a few on my “definitely” list and having a list of backups would help me in the long run.

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  • Ole H.B

    Was on-set soundrecorder once. (or whatever it’s in english). The production had a budget of around 10.000$ with an Alexa, a somewhat skilled DP and an even more skilled 1. AC.

    My job as an on-set sound recorder? 90% of driving the actors around. And in the most essential scene, a rape scene, I was not allowed on set. “Yeah, we can’t have you there, just put your boom on the table and stay outside with your recorder”. Needless to say, the sound ended up as shit, I knew that, the crew knew that, unsure if the directors knew that.

    I burned that bridge pretty quick after that wrap.

  • Dave G

    This is a briliant article, thanks for sharing. I find as an AC if you are miserable when rocking up to work there is no way you will be motivated to put the full 110% that is expected of a camera assistant. Work with good people who appreciate and respect you and you will be suprised that working those 15-16 hour days (sometimes) is not as bad.