When I’m not writing novels and blogging as Irv Podolsky, I work in the film business as my other self. This article is about the Hollywood I know.
It’s been a week and I still can’t erase the memory of his fragile feigned smile and pleading eyes. He tried to keep our encounter light but we both knew why he had trekked to my office. Dan wanted a job, and he hoped he was in the right place at the right time. But there are very few right times for Dan, and he admitted he hasn’t work very much these past three years. In 2010 he left our industry to walk the walk as a government census collector.
I admire that about Dan. He did what it took to feed his family and save his house. But the census bureau can’t pay him anywhere close to what he can make in the film business. So he keeps knocking on doors (the Hollywood type) from one studio to the next, letting people know he’s available.
Finding a job is like looking for food in a forest. It’s that basic. And to some degree we all do it, especially me.
Although I have an office at Warner Brother Studios, I get paid from movie to movie. Warner Brothers does not guarantee me a weekly paycheck. At times they offer me projects but generally I make calls to the outside, get hired onto independent films and bring those productions onto the lot. As long as I supply income to the corporation, I get a studio office, a phone line, designated parking, a small helper staff and tech support. If I stop bringing in movies, all those perks go away. The tension never lets up. I’m pushed to hustle new projects all the time, even when I’m working.
So I understand what Dan faces when he looks for a job. In the film business, everyone is looking for that job…or money to create one. And those souls who can’t figure out how to get a job or create one fall through the cracks.
When Dan comes to visit me I feel very uncomfortable. He knows I could hire him but he doesn’t know why I won’t, and I don’t have the heart to tell him. If I did, he still wouldn’t be able to change. (Well, maybe he would but right now I can’t take a chance if he doesn’t.) There’s just too much pressure on me to deliver, and that means my crew has to deliver.
With Dan, it’s not an attitude or behavior issue, it’s a skill level issue. Can he work better, faster and cheaper? The first time he worked for me, he couldn’t. And if he still can’t, I’ll get cooked.
With all this justification, you’d think it would be easy to turn Dan away. It isn’t. This kills me.
It kills me because I’ve been where Dan has been, and it was scary. My prior employer was bought out and the management changed with the mandate: do more with less. It’s the old story: jobs leave the region and the remaining workers fight over what’s left.
When my old company downsized I dropped from supervising three long projects a year to just one, with a few short fill-ins a few weeks each. Foraging for food had reduced to picking the bones of what others had left behind.
No. I could not survive on just five months of work.
Unfortunately, other companies weren’t hiring either. So that meant going out on my own as an independent contractor to compete with the places I hoped would give me a job. I would be bidding on the same movies they were. But they had a sales staff!
I freaked out, waking up every morning with panic attacks, gagging and gasping on my way to the bathroom. Even brushing my teeth was an ordeal. I’d gag for just about any reason. And later in the day, just picking up the phone to find work got my hands shaking with more tightening in my throat.
I was a mess, I was negative, and I came up with a million reasons why I was not desirable.
How could I convince someone to hire little-ole Me when they could get a one-stop-shopping company of thirty worker-bees? Would they trust me with an entire film? I had yet to work as a top manager in my field, and even though I was fully qualified, the industry’s perception of my abilities was less than it was.
I was known for being second in command and only a handful of people knew I was doing most of the work. My bosses got the credit for my backstage victories and the mistakes I corrected. They got the money for that too.
Why were they in charge and not me?
It was confidence. They had it. I didn’t. That had to change.
Without the street cred to go after the big movies, or even the little independents, I had to resort to bottom fishing for “credit card” projects with sub-starvation budgets. In our dwindling economy, even those B- movies were hunted and courted.
The upside? The low budget hunters were less experienced than me. They were younger, I-can-work-for-nothing, non-union guys just out of school and I had an advantage over this neophyte labor pool.
I could deliver work even cheaper, AND better, because I wasn’t learning on the job!
So I got some low-paying gigs, I worked at home, and I started getting my confidence back.
I then “retooled” with the latest hardware and software and learned better techniques in selling myself. Most importantly, I got past the sweats when making cold calls and I stopped thinking about failing.
Failure? I took that word out of my vocabulary, along with “rejection”. I reinterpreted the process of job hunting and broke my goals into achievable small steps, like having a pleasant solicitation call end with laughter and an invitation to call back. If that particular conversation didn’t result in an immediate job, it might later. And it did. A number of those first calls did.
What turned my life around was an attitude shift. I now considered the PROCESS of finding work as interesting as the jobs I would eventually get.
This readjusted mindset made me more proactive as I built future connections. And from that positive view point came more HOPE, which led to a start-up company that didn’t start up, which led to a job opportunity at Warner Brothers, which led to a renewed career. I haven’t gagged since.
I’ve been to a few pre-Oscar parties this year and when I meet my colleagues the same three questions get shuffled back and forth. It’s all code.
- Question 1: What are you work on?
- Subtext: Are you working at all?
- Question 2: How’s your wife?
- Subtext: Still married? Or divorced?
- Question 3: Still living in Glendale?
- Subtext: Did she get the house?
I’m happy to report I’m still working, married and living in the same house. But I know people who aren’t. It’s the New Normal and it’s based on global competition. Half of the movies I pursue are now being made outside LA and outside the US. But even with the huge job shortage, film schools are hemorrhaging young filmmakers. Lots of them. I don’t know where we’re gonna put them all.
Still, I wish them all well, but they better be fully prepped.
They will need diversified skills to break in and stay in. They will need to be the best, and not just good enough. They will need patience and stamina and good friends. They will need maturity and good people skills.
But most of all, they will need to exude confidence and pass it up to the people they work for. They will have to understand, working with people is HELPING PEOPLE. Getting a job is about SERVICE, and staying humble about it.
The people who get hired and stay hired are the people who make their bosses feel safe. In my work I protect my clients. I’m their “backup.”
BOTTOM LINE: Trust is the most important commodity you’re selling. The skills are expected and taken for granted.
I wish I trusted Dan. I wish I knew if he could handle the pressure. If he could, I would hire him. But I can’t take the chance. Not now. It’s zero tolerance in the film business.
- With one mistake, the trust is broken.
- Two mistakes, you’re on probation.
- Three mistakes, your job disappears with ten people ready to replace you.
Dan, I do wish you well. I hope you get a job soon, impress the right people and get your reputation turned around. With my next project, with some wiggle room, I’ll hire you again.
Everyone deserves to work, and so do YOU.
(I dedicate this topic to Penelope Trunk, who always inspires me with excellent and entertaining advice.)
This post was originally published on Curiosity Quills.