Professionalism. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I am an independent filmmaker, which means like many other indie filmmakers, I have an actual day job and the filmmaking is probably more adequately described as a hobby. Which, by the way, I hate. I don’t like referring to the thing I love to do the most as a hobby. It feels like walking into a crowded room and introducing my wife of twenty years as my casual girlfriend, or someone I’m just fooling around with. It doesn’t feel right to me.
So, in the past few years I’ve really started to think of it as a part time job, or a small business. And to be honest, just changing the mindset just that little bit has helped me to be much more productive. I have gotten a lot more work done. More writing, more meetings, more connecting with people than I ever did when I just aspired to be a filmmaker. Even a few years ago, before I started thinking of it this new way, I got films made and not so much in the past few years. I still feel like I’ve gotten more work done on becoming a filmmaker than I had before. It’s hard to convince myself that I am doing well when what I really want to do is make movies, but when I step back and take a look, I have actually accomplished a lot.
My unknown, indie status has afforded me the opportunity to meet and potentially work with many other undiscovered indie talents. Actors, DPs, editors, composers, crew. The list is pretty long. Back in the old days, when I was a novice, I always felt happy just to have someone say yes and come work on the project with me. When you’re just starting out, you don’t really get to be picky about who you choose to work with. It is a lot more like being stuck with what you have. I’m not complaining because a few of those people I knew from those days are people I still want to work with. They are my friends and I like working with them. I feel very fortunate to still have them around and that they want to work with me too.
But lately, as I have found myself able to be much more selective, I spend a lot of time scratching my head. Why are people so unprofessional? It seems like since independent filmmakers are often part time filmmakers that they are really doing this for fun and maybe they’re not taking it as seriously as I am. I am that filmmaker who takes this stuff personally. I am that guy who gets cranky when people blow him off. I am that guy who gets just a little pissed when people are acting like it’s no big deal. When it’s your film you can be blaze about everything and act like nothing matters. On my film, we treat things as if they are precious and the most important thing and when you do not approach my film like that, you’re likely to get voted off the island.
So, like Winston Wolf handling Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction, I sometimes find myself rolling my eyes at the lack of professionalism found in the part time filmmakers I come across along the way. Because of that, I have a hard time finding people that I actually trust my project with. Unreliable, unprofessional, flaky, late, say you’ll do something and never do it, don’t return emails, don’t call back, don’t answer the phone when you ask me to call at a specific time, didn’t read the script I sent you, etc. These are the things that make my head explode. These are the things I wish I didn’t have to deal with. I have limited time in the day to work on this stuff. Do you know how much time is wasted on people who are full of shit? A lot.
I don’t really think creative people are intentionally irresponsible. I think they are excited at the idea of working on something. We are day dreamers and we can close our eyes and experience the thing, even if for a very brief moment, in our mind’s eye without ever having to lift a finger to do the work. But often times, we set out to do something and find it much more difficult than when we were dreaming about it. Even an easy day is hard work. There are also a lot of boring, less creative things you have to do just to get to the fun stuff. These obstacles are put in your way to test your resolve. They are your right of passage. You have to do that stuff just so you have earned the right to do the fun, filmmaky stuff like hang out with actors and DPs and editors and composers.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that people don’t like to say no. Even if they don’t want to do the thing, they will say yes just to avoid conflict. This is one that I know I am guilty of too. We say yes, thinking if I say yes no, maybe it will never happen and I can get out of this without having to actually hurt someone’s feelings. The thing is, if you tell me yes, I move on thinking I’ve added one more valuable person to my team only to think much less of you in a couple of months when you have failed to follow through with what you said you would do. Practice saying no. It’s very liberating. Think about it. When someone tells me no, I find that I respect them that much more and I appreciate the fact that they were honest and up front with me and I know that it just means no for now. Not no forever.
I am a director. I have an ego. I do a pretty good job subverting it most of the time, but trust me, you don’t wake up in the morning and think that you are the best one to tell a story and think that everyone should listen to you and do what you say without having some kind of ego. Everyone likes to hear people say they liked their work. It is inherent and very natural. But over the years I have come to hate one thing more than being rejected. Being lied to. I hate it. It infuriates me.
Everyone has their own list, but here are some of my personal pet peeves.
Blowing smoke up my ass.
Telling me you’ll read my script and never get back to me.
Telling me you’ll be there and then you are not.
Setting up multiple meetings with me and then canceling on me when I follow up with you to see if you are still available.
Not remembering you set up a meeting with me a month ago when you just said “Yeah, sure. Let’s do it” and what you really meant was “We’re never going to meet, but I’m just telling you this now and I hope it never comes up again”.
Like I said before, I know that sometimes I am guilty of these things too. While writing this, I have remembered at least two scripts and a film or two from friends that I know I said I would take a look at and haven’t yet. And honestly, no matter how busy you are, telling someone you’re busy only sounds like complete bullshit to someone who is waiting to hear back from you about the thing that is as important to them as my projects are to me. It’s made me think. Don’t be a hypocrite. Do what you say you will do. Be reliable or just say no in stead.
What I really want is for people to trust me and to be able to trust them in return. I think we need to remember that our word and our actions are all people have to go on and if we cannot be trusted then we become increasingly worthless to those gatekeepers who are further up on the ladder. I know for myself, the older I get I am much less likely, to a fault even, to give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to stuff like this. I’ve encountered it so many times that I find I am much more likely to work with someone who acts like they actually want to be there over the person who may be the most skilled or talented. There’s an old saying I heard a few years back and it has stuck with me because I think it is very true. Hard work works when talent doesn’t work hard. Think about that. Be that person. The hard worker. That’s who I want to be.
I think the main question we have to ask is, are we really doing this, or is this just some daydream hobby that we do on weekends to pass the time? If it’s the daydream hobby thing, that’s fine. Do that and have a lot of fun. But if it’s the real deal then treat it like a job and act the part. Show up on time and be respectful. Be trustworthy and reliable. Be a professional, no matter how much money is involved. I really think it will go a long way in showing people you intend on being taken seriously, because you take them seriously as well.
Now, go make something. And until next time, be well and have fun.