Don’t Be A Smart Ass

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If you find yourself soliciting senior people to attach themselves to your project be prepared for questions – lots of them. And when this happens the most important thing is not to get your back up. I have encountered several individuals who suddenly became smart asses, trying to cover for the fact they didn’t know why I was asking the questions I was… and obviously did not have appropriate answers prepared.

About a month ago I was approached on LinkedIn by a person with a non-existent resume. They were asking me to attach myself to a docu-drama as an Executive Producer. Due to the nature of the material I had a variety of questions I needed answered. I was met with a message layered with sarcasm and “Don’t you know”. It stopped me dead in my tracks. This message told me two things. I would not want to go down any path with this human being due to their tone and obvious bitchiness. Their tone also told me they were as green as the hills, and were trying to cover for what they did not know and could not answer. I could not live with either the first or the second part.

If you are new to the game there’s no shame in admitting that. People can see it by the list of production credits you either have or don’t have. It’s not news to them. If they’ve responded to you that means they are interested in the material and want to know more. And really in the getting to know more, it’s as much as about who you are as your project. A lot can be gleaned from an email or brief telephone conversation.

People are sussing you out from the beginning. Working with people who are new can be a big headache. It’s a lot of extra work and a lot of handholding. Despite this fact people do it anyway because they want to give back to the community. A lot of professionals are into mentoring. The key here is: are you someone they want to mentor and go down a road with? You need to learn how to be an attractive commodity. That’s as simple as being a real and authentic person, and not pretending to know things you don’t. Don’t put on airs or get sassy.

I’ve seen a lot of women going into a meeting, or talking to someone at a conference, and you can tell just from the look on their faces they are trying to be more than they are. They are playing a game they can’t win. All somebody has to do is ask you what you’ve done before, and they can read between the lines. It’s easy to fill in the gaps. Pretending to be something you’re not is not a good thing… and that includes lying. A lot of professionals will ask for copies of what you’ve done before, so they can see the quality of your work. Pulling a George Costanza and telling them you did an off Broadway play called La Cocina… but you don’t have a copy of the script available, generally doesn’t work. And looking haughty while you’re telling them this will only shoot you in the foot!

Who you are, and how easy you will be to work with, is what people are looking for. They want to love you, and love your work. Both things have to be there, or no one is going to be willing to entertain the idea of working with you. It’s not hard to sense who will be a difficult personality to deal with. And never forget if you are attempting to hide things, pretending to know more than you do, this will bleed into your work.

An Executive does not want to deal with someone who will potentially cover up and hide things during a production, because they don’t want to ask for help when they need it. Having a lot of pride and ego is not a good plan when things are rolling and the game is in play. I want to know, and others want to know, that you will put your hand up and ask for the answer when you don’t have it. A crew member who hides their ineptness is a cause for big problems later when things come to light. Trust me, they will come to light one way or another.

I worked with an individual like this who was not familiar with union rules and legalities. A lot of things slid by the wayside. They finished their job and moved on and left the other Producer holding the ball. It turned into a flaming ball that they were not prepared to handle. Because this person was inexperienced, they left the senior partner with a whole load of trouble on their hands. There can be a lot of trouble to be had, and the person you are soliciting to help you get your project made is well aware of this fact. If they sense you are not someone who can be taken at face value, and may be a source of problems, you can forget about it.

Yes it’s important to look and sound like a professional. Be aware you can do this without blowing smoke up people’s behinds. A warm greeting, a firm handshake, direct eye contact, and being able to talk about your project backwards and forwards goes a long way. A lot can also be taken from the way you communicate in writing. Think and re-think before hitting the send button. Passion and enthusiasm coupled with a real and likeable personality rule the day. Authenticity wins every time!

Katherine Di Marino

About Katherine Di Marino

Beginning her career in 1994 as the Producer’s Assistant on the TV series Highlander, Katherine was eventually awarded an Associate Producer mentorship by the CMPA on the Showtime series Dead Man’s Gun. She went on to gain a broad knowledge base throughout her work at Peace Arch Entertainment and Omnifilm Entertainment in the areas of development, production and business affairs. During her career she has been involved on many projects including Francis Ford Coppola’s sci-fi series First Wave, David Steinberg’s comedy series Big Sound, the ½ hour dramedy Robson Arms, five Lifetime Network movies, the animated series Pirate TV, along with nine documentaries. She also did two stints at Creative BC as an Analyst. She has done work for over 20 broadcasters and won numerous international awards. Katherine just produced the movie “Rio Heat” – a Canadian/Brazilian co-production featuring Harvey Keitel.