I’ve had an interesting couple of weeks as I work through one of the busier times of the year. I had been looking for an assistant editor to help me through a couple of very big, overlapping jobs. I reached out to a local filmmaking group looking for some help. After some back and forth I was able to lock onto one gentleman to help out on one of the jobs. He seemed like a good pick even though it was a bit difficult to communicate as we setup the job. The morning he was to pick up a hard drive to begin the work he called and couldn’t drop by as he wasn’t feeling well. This didn’t leave a good first impression so I asked Twitter’s opinion (which I often do as it makes for great conversation) on whether I should hang loose until he felt better or find someone else.
So I had an AE, new guy never met, who was to come pickup a drive for assistant work. Called and is sick. Maybe pickup later. Still use him?
As always 140 characters wasn’t enough to get across the nuances of this potential hire (the conversation we had and some email exchanges) but it was an interesting back and forth with a number of followers and it was enlightening to read some of their opinions. I offer some of those below.
First off we have those unsympathetic to his situation.
@heybove well I DID have to call him a couple of times last week to get a follow up to makes sure he wanted to job
I was also accused of being being why “this industry sucks” for even asking the question. And remember, this is an industry where we are working with amazing technology, telling stories and making movies, television, instructional and educational content that is often seen by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. I still wake up amazed every morning I’ve been as fortunate as I have been to do what I do. I think many in this industry feel the same way.
If your immediate reaction to someone calling off sick is to fire them, you’re the reason this industry sucks. https://t.co/kGP1lBOt9D
A couple of weeks have passed and the job has moved along in the post-production process. While it looks like he got his part of the job done it wasn’t without some pulling on my part. Another AE I hired on a different part of the same job was a breeze to work with. He was quick to take the job after hearing the description, worked fast (it was easy stuff), asked questions, met all the milestones and communicated effectively. It was an interesting contrast to work with them both during the same period of time.
Looking back I got to thinking about the whole process. There were a number of things that I thought were pretty obvious when taking a new job from a new employer but one of my AEs on this job had trouble with one of them: communication. Beyond just communication there are few bits of universal advice that can help with working with someone for the first time. I thought I would outline a few of those seemingly obvious things below. If you’re an assistant or an editor or a graphics person or any other part of the production or post-production process who are being hired for a job maybe some of this advice will be helpful. I think this kind of thing is fairly obvious but maybe not. These are all things that I still have to make sure that I do as well.
If you commit to an in-person meeting (be it coffee, lunch or just a drop-in) be on time. Unless you’re a personal recommendation from another human being there’s little more for a new contact or employer to go on other than those phone or email or text exchanges that set up the first meeting. If the employer is there looking at his/her watch then that is going to stick in their mind as a large part of that first meeting. If the employer has to look at his/her watch multiple times then that is going to be a difficult impression to shake. This will be the first time you meet in person when establishing this new relationship and you don’t want that first impression to be that you can’t make it on time (or you didn’t make it at all). You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Which brings me to this second point:
One would think this goes without saying but if you’re meeting an employer for the first time take some pride in the way that you look and … I can’t believe I’m writing this … the way you smell. Years ago I had a new contact drop by my office for a pickup right after he had been at the gym for a workout. The gym is great and a good workout even better but if you look like you just came from the gym and smell like you just came from the gym the first time you meet a new and/or potential employer it says that you can’t be bothered to take the time to clean up to make that first impression. At the very least throw on some deodorant and change your clothes. No one at the edit suite needs to see your guns in that old Panavision shirt that you have meticulously cut the sleeves from. Most every gym has a shower. Use it. If it doesn’t you might have to sacrifice an exercise session in order to get some work. If that’s a problem then you might have to make the call about what is more important; work or working out.
Use the technology but set expectations with it
Sadly we live in a world where 24/7 communication is often expected. It shouldn’t be that way but it is. I have a lot of respect for new work partners who let me know up front that they are out of contact overnight because they are sleeping or that they are taking family time over the weekend and won’t be quick to respond. If you live and breathe video 24/7 then you’ll burn-out faster and you might burn out on my job. Neither of us wants that. And I don’t want to burn out on a job I am doing for someone else. For years I’ve told my clients that they are welcome to call or text me 24/7 but I turn my phone off at night or send it to voice mail when I’m unavailable. Set those expectations early and they can pay dividends in the long run. But you have to set those expectations the right way without coming across like you don’t want to work and that is a tricky thing that comes with experience. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with an assistant asking what is expected of him/her and what kind of hours they need to keep if it’s unclear when setting up the job. But with technology it also must be noted that …
Technology is not an excuse
If something goes wrong or a deadline is not met it’s easy to blame technology. And often technology is the reason why something didn’t work or a milestone was missed but placing all that blame on technology shows that you didn’t have a plan to deal with an inevitable technology failure. Maybe that’s a broken phone or maybe that’s a crashed hard drive. If your phone gets dropped in the toilet and you don’t respond to a text (true story) then you need to follow up with everyone on a current text thread via email or a phone call when your phone goes belly-up. And if ALL of your contacts are only stored on your phone (does that still happen these days?) then that shows a serious lack of forethought that should be a red flag for any potential employer. If your hard drive goes down you need to have a backup that you aren’t more than a day away from restoring.
Reply when communicated to
This is another one that one would think goes without saying but if you’re communicated to, reply back. I don’t mean a simple one-word follow up is always necessary to every email and text because sometimes it’s easy to see that a communication thread has ended. If you’re sent an email or text that goes into great workflow detail or asks a question then reply back to that communication. You don’t have to drop everything that you’re doing in that instance to reply but don’t go 48 or 72 hours without a follow-up email. If you’re asked a specific question then reply sooner rather than later as that question might need to be answered to move forward for someone in the post-production pipeline.
Treat others as you want to be treated
That’s a universal truth to most all things in life. The Golden Rule is the golden rule for a reason. To bring this post full circle, how does the Golden Rule jive with my original question of hiring an assistant editor who missed his first task of picking up the hard drive? I asked myself that version question. If I had to miss out / calling in sick on the first meeting or task for a new job I wouldn’t be completely surprised if they chose not to use me. They have a task that is on a deadline and their first order of business is to get it done.
In the end I did hire the assist in question. It was fun to have this conversation with friends on Twitter who might be in a similar situation, both hiring an AE and being an AE.
Scott Simmons was born in rural West Tennessee and didn't really realize that movies and tv had to be made by actual people until he went to college. After getting degrees in both Television Production…