don’t be a dick!

the past couple weeks have brought lessons with one particular moral: don’t be a dick. this is what happened – and sorry, but i will not be naming names.

a short while ago, a producer friend and a DP friend were upset with a director i know. they found him to be a bit condescending on set and were both demoralized by it. a crew member who was working for free refused to return based on this behavior and when i heard about it, i asked if anybody had spoken with the director to let him know how they felt.

the answer was ‘no’ and that nobody had any intention of having that conversation, so being me – and knowing that this director is a good guy and that if he had any idea how they were feeling, he’d do what he could to not be such a dick – i called him right up!

don't be a dicknow let’s be clear here. yes, this is show business and yes, this can be a tough business, but we’re talking about people working for next to nothing here! we’re talking about people basically donating huge chunks of time to bring to life the dreams of one particular person. yes, of course this is a collaborative effort and of course the producer’s and DP’s names will also be in the credits, but let’s be real: the director and writer – particularly if they’re one and same – will be the one with all the glory. it’s his or her name that will be tied to the success or failure of this piece. and very, very few of us are getting paid what we’re really worth at this level.

when people are bringing their A-game to bring to life YOUR dream, you better make sure they feel appreciated. if you were paying them a solid appropriate day rate, that’d be one story. they’d shut the hell up and would not complain, but if they’re working for a mere fraction of what they’re actually worth, you need to recognize that and treat them with the appropriate respect and appreciation. you need to make sure they’re recognized for their work, particularly at screenings or wrap parties. you need to make sure you don’t burn that bridge, because you’ll probably need to use it again.

so when i called up this director, he was completely shocked to hear what i was telling him. he didn’t get defensive or anything. he acted like a complete adult – immediately wanting to know more. he then called up the producer and the DP, was apparently very apologetic, asked for examples of what rubbed them the wrong way and came up with ways to make sure he doesn’t inadvertently do those things again. the project is on hiatus for a couple of weeks anyway, but when they get back on that bike i guarantee you it will be a smoother, happier ride.

now based on that alone, i wasn’t actually going to write anything, but then something else happened yesterday. for the past week or so, we’ve been negotiating with another director friend of ours about taking over a particular project she couldn’t finish. this friend is mature and professional – the kind of person to whom you can send your contacts for work or whatever and know they’ll be treated right – which always reflects back onto you, the person who made the introduction.

this director friend happens to be working on a separate project with an actress friend of mine (and btw, people outside the indie filmmaking industry, this is extremely common. the indie film world is … tiny), but when i called the director friend yesterday afternoon to wrap up our talks on the job we were negotiating, i found her sobbing uncontrollably. i couldn’t even understand what she was saying at first, she was so distraught.

but eventually i calmed her down and asked her what happened. i couldn’t believe what she told me. apparently that mutual actress friend of ours has a partner. the actress and partner both write and star in the piece that my director friend was directing for them – a piece she’d recently shot with them. the director had planned to finish the edit of this piece and of course stay on as director all throughout post-production, but then yesterday the actress friend’s partner came over to the director’s house unannounced, fired her from the project and then basically bullied her into signing some contract right then and there (which apparently wasn’t a bad contract – notwithstanding the coercive manner in which it was served). the whole thing just seemed so unnecessarily vindictive and mean-spirited – and to somebody, mind you, who’d given weeks and weeks of her life to a project for which there was zero guarantee she’d get any compensation!

at one point in the conversation, the director told me something i remember saying myself after somebody treated me like shit: “Maybe I’m too thin-skinned for this industry,” and i just snapped. this industry is not some monolithic, homogenous thing. it has pockets and mini-ecosystems and communities and the circle of filmmakers we hang out within – the We Make Movies world and the extended superfreako family – is mature, professional and decent. we’re not into drama. we’re into making movies and doing so with as much fun as professionalism as we can. i work for free and give shit for free and the day before this whole thing went down i’d even given this actress’s partner two huge movie posters that i printed for them for absolutely nothing!

seriously, don't be a dicki told my director friend that her skin is perfectly fine, and reminded her about all the legitimately cool people we know and work with all the time and she felt better. i felt like my job was done, so we hung up, and that was that … for a while. but then i stewed like i do sometimes and just couldn’t get it out of my head, and again being me i stuck my nosey nose into things (in Hawaii i’d be called ‘niele’) and emailed that mutual actress friend. i don’t know the partner at all, so didn’t feel like i could be so nosey as talk to her at all, but the actress friend and i had a couple of emails back and forth, and at one point she basically told me (regarding the whole going over to the director’s house and forcing her to sign a contract thing) that her partner had done “… the best she could with the situation.” after calming myself down for a moment, i emailed her this (the names have all been replaced by identifying titles – AND i must admit to fixing a couple of grammatical boo-boos i caught after sending, but it’s 99% the same):

i’m sure there are tons of specifics i don’t know about in this matter and that they’re all pretty much none of my business, but you should be cognizant and protective of your reputation and absolutely certain that your partner isn’t soiling it. oh and btw, it’s only by complete accident that i even know any of this at this point. we’ve been talking to DIRECTOR about taking over this paying gig for her while she’s out of town and i just happened to call her as your partner was leaving yesterday and i helped calm her down. she was destroyed and i couldn’t believe it.

you should know that DIRECTOR is part of the We Make Movies community and connected to a variety of concentric independent filmmaker circles in town. it’d be a shame to see your names being circulated as people to never, ever work for. you can get a LOT for free in this town if you maintain a solid, professional rep – and again, i don’t know the specifics of the situation which are none of my business anyway – but i also know that a professional doesn’t leave somebody as kind and generous as DIRECTOR in tears and confused – particularly over the miniscule amounts of money that we generally deal with at our level.

DIRECTOR is not even the kind of person to talk shit about other people, but it would have gotten out in time. none of us are getting paid what we’re worth at this level – actors included – so we’re constantly asking one another about this person or that person. is this DP good to work with or not, etc. etc. … and when the word gets out about what went down yesterday – particularly now that i know about it too … i’m telling you, you just don’t want an awful reputation. it can literally cost you tens of thousands of dollars. if you’re a good & talented person, people will break their backs for you for very little money, but if you’re known as a diva or as difficult or catty or whatever … you’ll have to pay people what we’re really worth.

… of course you could just get really lucky and your show could get picked up tomorrow and you could afford to treat people like trash until the end of time, but if not … it could get very expensive.

so take that or leave it, but those are the facts of our little indie filmmaker world and i know i’m a nosey fucker, but i’m a big fan of DIRECTOR and really don’t see why anybody would leave her like that.

mahalo,
=ck

… in other words: don’t be a dick. in the meantime, i eagerly await her response.

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