“How do you do it?”
I look up at my friend with an inquisitive look on my face. “What do you mean?”
“The stuff you’ve been working on lately has been pretty stellar gigs. And not only that, you seem to be working all the time. Meanwhile, I’ve been doing this just as long as you have and I’m still stuck getting paid less than minimum wage on shit shows. How do you do it?”
I put down my cup of coffee and look at my friend. Unlike me, he’s got a wife, a kid and a house to support. I don’t know how he does it working the kind of shows he does, but despite his usual upbeat, “anything goes” attitude, today, he’s looking worn down and dejected. Something tells me he’s getting desperate. I feel for the guy.
“A.J., you used to work on the same kind of no budget productions that I do. How did you move up?”
“You really want to know how I started getting better gigs?”
“You’re not going to like it.”
“Tell me anyway.”
“Okay. I stopped being nice.”
“I stopped being nice to productions.”
He looks at me, one eyebrow raised, as I continue.
“I got tired of Productions fucking up all the time and me having to cover their ass. So I started saying ‘No’ to them. If they were expecting me to be an extra, I’d refuse. Even if I wasn’t really doing anything at the time, I’d say no to doing an emergency expendable run. If they expected me to drive the g/e truck as well or hold the boom mic for a shot, I’d tell them to find someone else. If they wanted us to work over twelve hours with no OT pay or stiff us on our turnaround hours, I’d refuse to do it and either leave early or show up late. Basically, if it wasn’t in my job description, I wouldn’t do it.”
“And that worked?”
“Yeah… Interestingly enough, I started getting work from the people I met on those jobs.”
And it was true. Sometimes it was the Producer who’d call me for the next gig and sometimes it was the Best Boy or Gaffer who’d hook me up with my next paycheck. Either way, it wasn’t the jobs that I’d bust my ass and bend over backwards for that would call me back. No matter how much I tried to show them I was a “team player” and did whatever they asked of me, those were the ones who never called me again, adding to my frustration and leading me to my “enough is enough” moment where I started putting my foot down.
I could tell my friend was contemplating what I had just said, as he is definitely the “Sure, I’ll do whatever you ask me to and I‘ll do it with a smile” type of guy . So I continued on.
“It seems counter intuitive, doesn’t it? I mean, you’d think the people who you’d do anything for to please them and save their show would be the ones who call you for their next big job instead of the ones who you tell to fuck off and find someone else while you sit on your ass. But I guess, in a way, it kinda makes sense. I mean, if I was looking to hire a crew, I’m more likely to call someone who seemed the most professional. You know, the ones who stick to their job description; someone who’ll be there when I call for something instead of being a man down because Production needed more extras. By saying no to stuff that isn’t your job, I guess you’ll come off as someone who knows what their place is on set. You may come off to some people as a self centered jack ass, but if you think about it, on bigger shows, Productions don’t even think about asking their crew to help with a lock up or to fill in as background. I guess, in short, the key to landing the better gigs is to act like you belong on one.*”
We eventually finish our coffees and go our separate ways. I’m pretty sure he didn’t know quite what to do with the advice I had just given him. He’s one of the nicest guys I know and saying no to anyone, especially those who are connected to his paycheck, would be difficult for him to do. But at the same time, he also knows he can’t keep working the same low budget POS jobs that he has been for the past several years. He’s definitely aching to move up and something has to change in order for him to do so.
I guess kind of biting the hand that feeds you is somewhat of a risky thing to do. Saying “no” to Production may rub them the wrong way and result in burning whatever small bridges you have now. But saying “yes” all the time may prevent you from discovering another path that may get you to where you’re trying to go.
It’s a tricky thing, but it incidentally worked out for me. I just hope that if he does start putting his foot down, he’ll start moving up to where he deserves to be.
*Of course, this is based on my experience only. It’s also worth noting that if you have a shit attitude, you’ll most likely not be called back by anyone. YMMV.