The most frustrating part of being a Type A in a decidedly Type B career is all of it. But as I continue down this creative path, I've found that navigating things is far easier if you add a bit of structure to things. I'm known as someone who says yes to opportunities pretty frequently, and though I've been open in the past about how that's occasionally a mistake, I like to think I have a good system for determining what's worth it when I pick up a new project. This article, my 100th post for Stareable, is a recounting of that system. it'simperfect, but it'ssomething, and in many ways that's all anyone can ask for.
This is a pretty basic question to ask yourself at the beginning of any project, but you'd be amazed how often people skip it before saying, enthusiastically, "yes." But it'simportant to note that there's a difference between a project literally adding to your resume and a project adding to your resume.
Example: working on a student film will undeniably be another thing you can put on a resume, from a word-count standpoint. But if I don't think I'll ever feel comfortable sharing the finished product with a potential employer, then having it on my resume is pretty counterintuitive, regardless of it making my list of past work look longer and therefore impressive.
When you're just starting out, this can be even harder to parse, because one crappy project is better than no projects at all, right? Fear not- that's where the rest of this system comes in.
Something that took me far too far to recognize is that just because signing on to a project meant I'd get a new IMDb credit didn't mean I'd necessarily further my career from it.
Example: the position I have the most credits in on IMDb (and therefore the position that appears first on my page that I can't change) is producer. I don't want to be a producer. In fact, with very few exceptions, I hate producing. I don't like being solely responsible for the small boring details. I don't like being the constant email thorn in everyone's side or the one in charge of paperwork or the one who has to talk to strangers about giving us things and locations for free. As such, I'm unlikely to say "yes" to producing jobs in the future because that's not the career I want.
This isn't to say that there aren't things I could learn as a producer for the career I'm going for (screenwriting and directing), or that I can't meet people by producing that will open doors down the road. Again, see: the rest of this article. But taking a position primarily to develop a skill set I'm not interested in developing seems like a waste of time.
Particularly when I was starting out, saying yes to as much as possible was absolutely invaluable. I had no idea what I was doing, having not gone to film school or been a part of any kind of production, indie or otherwise, and watching the sausage get made paved the way for the sausages I'm making to this day.
These days, though, just being on a set is no longer a learning experience for me, so there'd need to be something extra to be truly worth working on solely for the experience. A set with an involved VFX or action sequence, for example, or a set where I'd be working amongst people much further along in their careers that I could network with.
Sometimes, people will ask me to be the sole producer on a completely unpaid production that requires over 14 total shooting dates with a huge ensemble cast to coordinate with. Given that I am not independently wealthy and at least every 18 hours I like to catch a few minutes of sleep, that is not a reasonable request.
"Reasonable" is obviously different for everyone, but I've found it'simportant for me to constantly evaluate my own boundaries and weigh what I'm already doing and needing against new opportunities. Is it a particularly busy period at work? Am I already working on other projects? Have I made a pact with myself to take a dang break for a month? Just because I physically can take on another project doesn't mean it'sreasonable for me to do.
It also gets complicated when you owe someone a favor. Your negotiation there is up to you, but try to make sure the exchange is equitable. If they acted in your project for free and then turn around and ask you to produce a feature film for them for free, that isn't returning a favor. That's whatever-the-modern-day-equivalent of highway robbery is. Bitcoin robbery? Apple Pay fraud? You get the idea.
This might seem like an awkward way to phrase that, because of course everyone is worthwhile and valid and I don't want anyone reading this to think that if I've turned them down on a collaboration it'sbecause I think I'm better than them. However, when agreeing to work with or for someone, that someone is an important consideration.
I can define "worthwhile" in a few ways:
Even if I've been asked to work on something with people I respect, on a project that will bulk up my resume in all the right ways, at the end of the month, I have to send a check to my landlord to continue having a home. More accurately, I have to Venmo my partner my half of the rent which he then combines with his own portion to then send via an electronic payment system to our landlord. The point remains- living costs money, and after a while, working for free just isn't an option. At the very least, it'snot an option for every opportunity. Every so often I think it'svaluable to work for free, to do something because you care and you're excited, but I know I've certainly passed the point in my life and career where working for free on every creative endeavor is no longer a viable option, or a reasonable request. That doesn't mean I don't want to do all these things, it just means I have many many other things I have to consider on my path to fame and financial security, and if I'm not being compensated for my work, I'm probably going to have to decline.