Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And All It Took Was A Phone Call...

This has been the best day of work I’ve had so far this year. I’ve never worked with these guys before, but they’re fantastic. Super friendly and professional, they’re a joy to work with.  And the gig itself is a pretty easy one. Production has everything under control and the DP’s shooting and lighting style is simple, but awesome. Everyone involved seems to be efficient in the way they work. In other words this was exactly how a shoot should be, and to top it all off, we were in and out of the location in under twelve hours with no muss and no fuss.

And since we were guaranteed to be paid for twelve hours of work anyway, we essentially “beat the clock” and got to enjoy the rest of our Saturday on the company’s dime. It rarely gets any better than this…

And to think that I almost missed out on it all because I was too chicken to make a simple phone call.

I don’t know what it is with me and phones, but I hate dealing with anything over a call. Especially since the only line I have is a cellular one, I’m often held captive to bad reception and sound quality leading to a lot of, “Wait, what did you say?” and “I’m sorry, but can you repeat that for me again?” And when the person on the other line is a source for future potential work, I can’t help but cringe and feel like I’m being annoying and difficult to deal with when I ask them to repeat something for the third time in a row. I can usually feel the exasperation in their voice.

And when they don’t pick up, I have the dreaded voice message to deal with. I don’t know about you, but I usually end up sounding like an awkward dork in voice mail, often leaving messages in non-sensical sentences with oddly placed info. Beeeep. “Hey, uh, Carl. This is A.J…. We, uh, met on that web shoot thing job and um… yeah. So anyway, I saw that I missed your call and so I’m just calling you back and yeah… I guess… um… Just give me a call back when you can. It’s about, uh, one…. thirty-ish on Tuesday. So… yeah. I guess I’ll talk to you later. Bye. [awkward rustling as I try to hang up].”

Ugh. I can be a mess on the phone.

Which I think can be why I just “happen” to pass up a number of jobs that require me to return a phone call. Sounding like an inarticulate dolt is not the first impression I like to make to a potential employer. And while not returning a call is probably a bad offense in itself, I’ve convinced myself that it's "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Logical? Maybe not. But my nerves seem to trump logic most of the time.

Which brings me back to this gig.

Long story short, through colleagues and friends, I’ve heard of this particular Gaffer for a while now. And he’s heard of me. It’s always been one of those “oh you two should totally work with each other” and “I can’t believe you haven’t met him/her already” type of situations.* But in one way or another, we just never had, whether it be that he’d already be crewed up or I’m already working.

Then one day, I got a message on my phone from him. He was looking for a crew. And low and behold, I wasn’t working at the time.

I stared at my phone in disbelief and conflicted about what I should do next. Despite many of my friends working right now, I haven‘t been on a set for quite a while and the job itself seemed pretty straight forward with no strings attached and the pay was actually rather decent. But on the other hand, I’d have to call the guy back in order to get the job and risk sounding all frazzled and incompetent. Damn. Hasn’t this guy ever heard of e-mail or text messages?

In the end, I realized that I’d be crazy to not take this gig, sucked it up, called him back, and after a few minutes of semi-awkward me on the phone, I had booked a job.

A couple days later, I’m on this set with an amazing crew and having a kick-ass (short) day and I can’t help but think how close I was to not being there all because I freak out about having to make a phone call. And on the flip side of that, I was also amazed that my next decent paycheck is a result of a simply just picking up the phone.

I know this may seem like a silly blog post (“A.J. puts in a phone call and books a job” isn’t exactly a thrilling tagline) but I guess it also goes to show that the simplest actions can have great rewards. And when that action is somewhat of a personal phobia, getting over that hurdle can make the benefits even that much sweeter.

*In a purely professional sense. No Mom wanting grandkids matchmaking here.


Michael Taylor said...

That’s one reason I still have a land-line – much better voice quality (receiving and sending), and vastly more reliable reception. A cell phone can be vital outside your house or apartment, but utter dependence on such a fragile, easy-to-lose device is asking for trouble.

I was brought up under the assumption that the worst thing you can do in the free-lance world (short of showing up on set late, drunk, high, or not showing up at all) is to not return a work call. The only exception is if the person calling is someone you really don’t want to work for under any circumstances – and in that case, not returning their call sends the message loud and clear.

Even back in the good old/bad old pre-cellular days of answering services (which required us to call in and talk to a human who would then read the message...) and notoriously unreliable telephone answering machines, returning a work call was considered the foundation of free-lance etiquette. In today's era of 24/7 telephonic access, not returning a call can be the kiss of death. It tells the caller that you don’t want to talk to them, simply can’t be bothered to call back, or are some kind of flake who doesn’t understand how the business works. None of those are helpful in expanding your work base and getting your name around to the right people. Calling back – even if it’s too late to get that particular job – tells them you understand how the free-lance world works, and that you observe its professional protocols. It says you’re a serious player who knows the score, and means your name will remain on their list.

Don’t worry about being thought a fool for telephonic rambling – your on-set reputation precedes you, and is the reason you got the call in the first place – and when you do call back, keep it short, sweet, and to the point. Practice before dialing, if you have to, but make that call. The opportunity you lose by succumbing to fear might just be the one you really can’t afford to miss.

Nathan said...

When I first started reading this, I thought you were talking about making cold in initiating the communication. That's understandable. But I was really surprised to see you were talking about returning calls.

I don't want to sound pedantic, but you really need to work through that phobia. They called you. You have no reason to feel inadequate about the content of your return call.

Yes, I'll agree that you get a pass on returning calls from people you never want to hear from, but back. Even if it's to say, "Sorry, I'm on a job." (You'll score extra points, though if you ask if they need any more names and numbers.)

A.J. said...

Michael - I agree that not returning a call can be a kiss of death. However, on the flip side of that, back when things were screamingly busy, I recall a Best Boy I was working for getting annoyed because everyone was returning his call just to say that they were unavailable. Apparently, repeatedly checking his phone and getting non-news put him in a pissy mood. YMMV, of course.

Nathan - Hey, I never said my fears were rational ones.

A.J. said...

edit - After some thinking on the subject, I've come to realize that despite growing up with a land line in the house, my generation is one where the phone isn't used all that often. E-mail, text messages, etc, have kind of taken over as primary means of communication, and therefore, it's not all that ridiculous that I fear phone calls.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. :)

Michael Taylor said...

Under normal circumstances, texting or e-mail makes sense when dealing with people you know and have worked with before, but if I'm a best boy looking to hire somebody for the first time -- somebody I haven't yet met or worked with -- I want to talk to them.

But that's just me. Maybe the younger generation of Hollywood work-bots is comfortable running with a different set of rules.

When it's crazy-busy, though, ALL the rules go out the window. I can understand how getting buzzed twenty times a day with "Thanks, but I'm already booked" messages would get irritating...

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