Wednesday, March 31, 2010

You Can Lead A Horse To Water...

Back when I was still in school, a teacher of mine kind of went off on a rant about the No Child Left Behind Act. "I don't want to leave any kids behind, but I'm not about to drag them around, kicking and screaming either!"* she said, as she pantomimed dragging something across the room like a heavy sack of potatoes (I had some very eccentric teachers). "I can't teach a kid who refuses to learn."

That particular moment always stuck with me. Not only because it was a random tangent that had nothing to do with history class and acted out in a dramatic fashion, but because she made a lot of sense. You can chain a kid to a desk and take away his iPhone until he can recite all 50 states, but that doesn't mean he'll actually do it. Eventually, you'll only end up exhausted and punishing yourself by trying to teach a kid who doesn't really want to learn. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

The same holds true for today. A friend of mine really wants to be a juicer. There's no use trying to warn him away from a job of lugging around heavy cable for 14 hours. This is a guy who actually looks forward to it. He has a desire to learn about how all the lights work, the capacity of each cable, etc. He'll even sit there and study the lamp designations if you tell him to. In all, he's the kind of guy that despite still being pretty green, you're really rooting for him to make it.

But like so many people who can't seem to quite make it in this business, you can offer him all the opportunities you want, but you can't make him take them.

Most of the time when I call to offer him work, he'll turn it down. The reasons vary from the understandable ("I told my mom I'd pick her up from the airport.") to the unacceptable ("I already made plans to check out this new club tonight."). And yet, between those calls, he'll complain about how hard it is for him to find work.

But like I said, when you actually manage to get him on a set, he tries his hardest and you really want him to succeed. So, like a sad sap, I keep offering him the work.

I've even gone out of my way to score him some jobs. If I knew someone on a low budget shoot that's gearing up, the kind with some pay and some gear to play with (in other words, the perfect training ground for an up-and-coming kid) I'd be sure to have them let me know if they need a day player or two because I know the perfect guy for the job... But when those calls came in, he'd be too "busy" to take them.

But he kept asking me for work.

The last straw came not too long ago when I actually got him to come out on a shoot. It was pretty last minute (I was actually at the location already) and was surprised to hear that he could make it. I sent him the call sheet and directions, which included pretty clear parking instructions. But you know what? He didn't read them. He just figured it'd be easier if I explained it to him.

Sure. No problem. So I did.

But I only got as far as which exit he should take before he interrupted me. "Hold on... Uh... Let me just get as far as that first, and then I'll call you for the rest." And he hung up. That's when I realized that he wasn't even bothering taking notes. Instead, he was using me as a human GPS.

During the time I was waiting for him to call me, I got to thinking. Why was I trying so hard to help this kid? Sure, he's got potential. He's got the curiosity. The willingness to learn. He's a hard worker (when he gets to work). But he also doesn't jump at opportunities that are handed to him. His priorities are sometimes a bit skewed. And he'll give up on trying to figure out driving directions before he even really looks at them. At times, it felt like I was pushing the kid to succeed more than he was. And when that happens, you know something's wrong. You should be the one driving your own success; no one should have to drag you to it.

I realized that maybe I should let go and see if this kid could make it on his own. I'll still help him if I can, but I can't go out of my way to do it anymore. I can't look for work for him. And I can't worry about whether or not he'll find crew parking when I've got my own job to do.

The only thing I can do now is offer him the tools to succeed. I can give him a call sheet, but he'll have to find his own way here...

And with that, I stopped dragging him across the metaphorical room. Sure, I gave him the rest of the directions when he called (after all, I didn't want to abandon the kid), but after that, he was on his own. No more babying him and guiding him through the day. And you know what? He survived. And he probably felt that something was different too, because at the end of the day, he admitted that he was probably depending on me a little too much.

I took this as a good sign. It means he's aware that maybe he hasn't been the best when it comes to figuring things out for himself. Perhaps now he'll take more initiative and find his own way through this mess of a business.

I'm still rooting for the kid to succeed, but whether or not he'll be "left behind" is now completely up to him...

*I realize that this isn't quite what the bill meant for educators to do.


Nathan said...

Producer: Call _______. The directions are wrong and he's lost.

Me: (on the phone to _______.) What's wrong with the directions?

________: I'm not sure. I didn't print them, so I don't have a copy with me.

Me: (pregnant pause) Uh...OK. Well, where are you now?

_____________: I'm not sure. Somewhere in the Bronx, I think?

Me: The directions told you to take the Manhattan Bridge (to Brooklyn). What the hell are you doing in the Bronx?

_________: I thought it would be easier to take the Tri-Boro.

Me: Whatever. Tell me where you are and I'll tell you how to get here.

__________: I told you. I'm not sure. Somewhere in the Bronx.

Me: Are there any landmarks? Like maybe a street sign or two?

________: I'll have to get back in my car. I stopped at Starbucks.

I'm of the firm opinion that anyone who can't figure out how to get to work when you've (literally) given them a road map, doesn't deserve an income. You've already gone way beyond the call of duty.

A.J. said...

Nathan - Haha. That's one of the best stories I've heard all week! If I was the one making that phone call, I'd tell him to relax and enjoy his coffee, because he sure as hell isn't coming to work that day.

The Grip Works said...

Its almost always better to leave someone to their own devices. This is a tough business and it follows Darwinian principles to the extreme. If you allow this kid to hang onto your coat tails you are prolonging the inevitable.
He will be culled from the herd eventually.
Making it sooner, rather than later, maybe a favor to him.

A.J. said...

The Grip Works - I think the hard part is distinguishing the fine line between "riding my coat tails" and offering a little help. Especially when this industry is so intimidating to anyone just starting out, it's hard to stop "helping" someone you're really hoping will succeed.

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