Why Hiring From the Bottom is A Real Bonehead Move

6 05 2012

At the risk of seeming like a real obnoxious pinhead, I’m going to start off this posting with a line that I’d hate in someone else’s post (hey, life ain’t fair). But it will be in the service of making a larger point about how people hire film craftsmen.

So, here it goes.

I was trapped in a security line at Heathrow Airport while on the way back from a conference in Cape Town, South Africa when I heard a middle aged man unwittingly put it all in perspective. (There. I’ve said it. I don’t feel better about it, but at least now I can move past it.)

So, we’re stuck on one of those long security lines made even worse by the fact that British Airways has decided to open only one line for hundreds of people.

Now, last time I checked, it had been more than a decade since these security procedures have been instituted at worldwide airports. Yet, still, there are those fliers who seem to have ignored ten years of experience. They forget about the liquids, they don’t take off belts or shoes or any number of other alarm triggering devices. I’ve got this down to a science by now — cel phone, money, and wallets in my jacket pockets, my belt and other loose items inside my shoes, with it all in a box with my laptop.

But I travel a lot. I don’t expect everyone to have gotten this down like I do. But, damn, how many times do you have to listen to those TSA folks drone on about small liquids and laptops before you figure it out.

Anyway, the line is slow moving until it stops moving because one puzzled couple can’t seem to get anything right. Anything. The crowd grows restless and finally one businessman in front of me mutters (and this is the point of the whole story so pay attention now) at them “Noob.”. Pronounced “newb”

And the guy was right. These two newbies were slowing everyone else down.

I thought about this when I got a request the other day from someone looking to hire an editor. No pay involved, but a “chance to work with great talent, and get something for their reel.”

I must get four or five requests like this a month, and I have never seen any of them with any real value. For the intern. There are newbies directing, newbies producinF, newbies acting in it. And this makes the likelihood of this being good for a reel pretty damned slim.

Now, I firmly believe that there are real values in working on volunteer projects. Anyone who has read my THE FILM EDITING ROOM HANDBOOK (and stayed awake) might remember that I talked about this. There are more ways to get paid than money.

But jumping onto a project with noobs all around (I am aware that the definition of this will change as you move forward in your career) doesn’t help you learn and will rarely help you build a larger group of people who know they can trust you (which is really the point of every job and job search you should be doing). More frequently, it will hold up the line as you and others try to figure out if toothpaste should be considered a liquid and put into that plastic Baggie.

By extension, producers should think twice before going to the all-volunteer route. I’ve heard stories of actors bailing in mid shoot because they got involved in something else they were more interested in (or compensated for). I’ve seen plenty of films that lost composers because they delayed locking their picture past the point where the composer could do it for free for them.

Noobs don’t mean to make these errors. They just do, because that’s how we creatives learn. At USC we know that our students will rarely learn from lectures. They have to do and fail at projects. And that’s what a lot of noob projects are. No harm in that, but I resent when that no-pay-necessary attitude extends to bigger projects. Some people would rather spend the money on a great looking VFX package than an editor with enough experience to give them a great working story.

I’ve edited for noobs and I’m sure I will do it again when the people are right. But I’d rather work on a project with a producer who isn’t hiring people who don’t know where their shampoo goes on the TSA line. Makes me feel better about how he/she feels about me.

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