Monday, February 22, 2010

When It Hurts To Ask.

I got an e-mail today from a Producer I know. It read something along the lines of, "Hey, I've got a project coming up. Can you help me out? Unfortunately, it's for no money..."


Usually, when I get requests like that, if it's from someone I know, I'll gladly do my best to help them. (After all, we're more or less in the same boat, trying to get our careers started.) But not this time.

Let me take a break from the story for a moment to tell you how much respect I have for some Producers. Yes, many of them try to skimp on your equipment budget, don't know jack shit about your job, and the truly evil ones see you and the rest of the people in you department as expendables. But there are many of them whom I admire, especially on the low budget indie level. Those are the ones who will do whatever it takes to get a project made with the best people possible; even if it means they'll have to drive the grip truck and empty the trash. They'll beg, borrow and steal whatever the shoot needs, but don't have the budget for. They're resourceful and scrappy, and they'll call anyone they have to for a favor. "It doesn't hurt to ask," is usually their policy.

Only, this time, it did hurt to ask.

I met this particular Producer through a friend who was on one of the guy's shoots. They needed an extra hand, so my good-natured buddy gave them my number. It was a freebie gig, but it was only for a day and it sounded easy enough. Plus, my friend vouched for these guys, so I figured what the hell, I'll go meet some new people.

They ended up loving me. They liked me so much that they asked me to help them out on their next project... And the one after that... And the one after that...

Notice I said they asked me to "help;" not "work."

Today's e-mail marks the 4th or 5th time in the past couple of years he's asked me to "help" on a project of his. It's starting to piss me off.

The sad thing is that I kind of liked working with this guy. He's nice, considerate of the crew, and tries to wrap under 12 hours. But when you're asked to "help him out" so many times, you can't help but start to feel used.

I guess things would be different if I got something more in return than just a hot meal. Like money. Or a hook up to paid work.

I know it can be hard to repay people with the promise of a paid gig, especially when you're not in a position that does the hiring. But a quick IMDb search shows that this guy was definitely in some positions with that power in the recent past. And even if he didn't, I'd settle for any kind of gesture to show that I'm not just being used.

Another Producer I know asked me to do a similar favor a couple of months ago. Only this time, Producer #2 took me out to coffee to not only discuss the project, but to also chat and catch up. Whether he was sincere or faking, it seemed like he really cared about what I've been up to. And while he wasn't really in a position to hire me for paid work in the near future, he gave me a list of people he knew and companies for me to check out that might help further my career. And when I showed up to set, he made sure my favorite kind of doughnut was waiting for me. I would have happily settled for any one of those things. I guess I'm just cheap like that.

Or maybe that's all it really takes to show that you appreciate someone who's doing you a favor.

The fact that Producer #1 made no effort to at least attempt an empty gesture in return for the hard work I've done for him makes me feel like I'm being exploited. The only time I hear from him is when he's putting together another freebie project. I don't even get a generic, mass-sent "Merry Christmas" e-mail from him. He just pops up in my Gmail account once every so often with a "Hey... Can you help me out?"

So in this scenario, it does hurt to ask. He revealed himself as just another selfish Producer, and myself as a fool for hoping otherwise.


Nathan said...

But the thing didn't hurt him to ask. You're not going to do the job -- which, of course, you wouldn't have done if he hadn't emailed you either.

He's like one of those assholes in a bar who keeps hitting on women with progressively lamer come-ons until he finds one as drunk as he is and she says yes. The attitude in both cases is, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I'd send him back a very polite reply pointing out that you've already done 'x' number of "favors" for him with nothing in return -- not even any real show of appreciation, much less a paying gig or recommendation. I'd point out that you're aware of the fact that he has had paying gigs to offer.

It doesn't achieve much, other than the satisfaction of standing up for yourself (and injecting him with a small dose of shame, if he has the capacity). And it's not burning a bridge. The bridge was an illusion to begin with.

And that second producer? Yeah, he's making a visible effort, both tangibly and not so tangibly within his ability. He's worth the additional effort for working at it.

Being considerate doesn't cost squat...just a little thought.

I'll stop pontificating now.

A.J. said...

Nathan - I guess I should clarify the title of my post. I'm the one who got hurt. By asking me to yet again work for free, it kind of shattered any hopes I had that this was a guy who could open a door or two (or even crack open a window) for me. Plus, all the hard work and effort I put into his projects and the realization that it meant nothing leaves me feeling dejected. Ouch.

Nathan said...

I don't see any reason for you to feel dejected or like a fool. We've all been there. We've all worked for free or cheap to get to know people, earn favors, etc. And I'm sure most of us have been burned by it at least as often as benefited from it.

I just always wrote off the assholes and moved on...while hoping that one day they'd get their comeuppance.

A.J. said...

Nathan - Very true. I guess this one was just one burn too many.

Michael Taylor said...

A repeat offender like that can only be classified as a Grade A Douche Bag.

As the old saying goes: "If you're going to fuck me, at least give me a kiss." If he won't even pretend to care or make an effort to feign interest in playing the game, then tear up that DB's phone number.

Unfortunately, getting burned and growing the subsequent scar tissue is all part of the process.

Live and learn -- then move on...

Nathan said...

I have no idea whether or not this is real, but it seemed to be appropriate.


A.J. said...

Michael - It's definitely a "live, learn and move on" moment, but it still kind of stings for at least a brief moment.

Nathan - I don't know if that's real either, but it's definitely appropriate and awesome.

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