Trust is hard. Here’s how not to do it.
Some words to describe me: witty, weird, bossy, curious, energetic, anxious, loyal and last but not least, trusting. While some of those words are what I consider positives, not all are, and many of them have come back to bite me in the butt on more than one occasion. For the last two years, that word has been trust.
In the past, trust is something that I have given freely. I am a firm believer in the idealistic principle that most people are good. I believe everyone is just waiting to do the right thing and that given enough time, everyone comes around. Well, maybe this is true. Maybe it isn’t. Sometimes I don’t know anymore. It’s something I’m working on.
Two Years of Hard Lessons
Almost two years ago I began splitting my time between Portland and Los Angeles, and I’ve been to hell and back as far as friendships, working relationships and collaborators. Looking back, it didn’t have to be that way. But for me, blind trust got in the way.
I used to talk about my apprehensions with living and working in LA because of the people; their generic reputations as scummy, cheating and selfishly willing to do anything to get what they want (yes, I know not everyone is that way, but you know, what TV tells you). Then, for the first eight months I was in LA, I thought I had had that all wrong…I was amazed! My entire experience was markedly the opposite. I was landing contracts and working with people I considered friends, perhaps even best friends. I had multiple video contracts, lines on a couple features, things were building and seemingly I had more work and promise of work than ever before. This was the life for me. I couldn’t believe it. What had I been afraid of all those years?
Ignoring Red Flags Will Never Lead to Something Good
But, I was doing something CRITICALLY WRONG. I was ignoring my gut – blatantly ignoring all the little things that were setting off tiny alert bells. Mainly, because I wanted this figment of success to be true so badly, that I was willing to ignore anything that wasn’t in line with the vision of success.
2018 was both the most challenging and most rewarding year of my career. I am proud of the work I’ve done. I produced multiple feature films and led some amazing teams of filmmakers on shoestring budgets. The work is solid. It looks good, and it all has promising futures ahead. But it came with more than a fair share of tears, frustration, and explosive realizations that those I trusted and thought were on my team just weren’t. By the end of it, I was emotionally crippled, physically exhausted and forced to press pause on pretty much everything in my life. It felt like I might curl up into a ball and never unfurl again. I had to get myself square, and pronto. It’s only now, that I am regaining my confidence, and finding ownership in what I could have done differently and allowing the choices of others to be solely theirs and not mine.
What I’ve come away with is that I could’ve saved myself a lot of heartache. I share the following list as both a reminder to myself (I will probably need to come back to this article often) and as a tool for others in hopes you’ll find a better way forward than I did for the last two years.
Never Ignore These Five Red Flags
1. It all begins and ends with a contract. I would never make an arrangement on behalf of a client without a written agreement. I sure didn’t keep that in mind when I needed to make a deal for myself. I kept telling myself things were happening so fast, we just needed to keep moving forward in order to keep bringing money in (gotta pay bills yo!) and I thought that my partner would never do anything to jeopardize us, our work, or me. My partner had agreed to write up the terms we had discussed, so no big deal right? I blamed myself for not being patient enough to let it happen. Wrong. I’ve told SO MANY people about how it is even more important to have a contract with friends. Often times, a contract is what saves your friendship in the end. Why did I ignore that? Answer: blind trust. Trust or not, a contract keeps everyone safe, including the other party. It should always be step #1. Don’t even start the work without it. Repeat. Don’t even start the work without it.
2. Always give yourself an escape route. This goes back to the contract. Imagine the worst case scenario, because you never think you’ll be there until you are. When you are in that situation, you need a solid foundation to get you out. Make sure everyone’s responsibilities are clearly outlined in detail, then, if they aren’t doing their part, take action on the grounds of the contract to remove them, or choose to remove yourself. There is no shame is standing up for the quality of your own work and not putting up with those who aren’t pulling their weight. Make sure the whole team understands what their responsibilities are, so it is clear and there is no gray area. This allows the entire time the opportunity to oust a bad apple when necessary.
3. Lies beget lies. It always begins small. A tiny lie about where you were or what a client did or didn’t say. But it will cascade. If someone lies to you, even in a small way, you have to consider what they’ll do when confronted about something bigger. If someone lies about the small stuff, they are most likely also lying about the big stuff. Lying is a clear sign of much bigger issues at play. Do not ignore it.
4. Making an indie movie doesn’t have to kill you. It is hard work and it should be. But if you aren’t sleeping, eating and thinking clearly, there is a problem. Filmmaking happens in teams. If the weight of the entire project seems to be resting on your shoulders, don’t just bear it and keep chugging. Stop, ask for help and expect others to do their fair share. If they are sharing the credit and the profits, they should be putting in just as much work. If they still fail to step up, (and this is the hardest part for me) then, find a way to let it go. Let their mistakes be theirs and do what you can to keep the ship sailing. (NOTE: Alyssa, please re-read in 3 months)
5. Do not cover for them. Being your friend doesn’t make a person good at their job. If they are failing the team, the worst thing you can do is continually absorb their mistakes and take on their shortcomings, just to save face. Doing so, multiplies your workload ten-fold and becomes a shuffle of just trying to keep reputations in tact. [I once brought a boyfriend home that was, to be honest, not great. In fact, if my family knew to what extent his “not greatness” was, they would have treated him poorly. You’ve been there too, haven’t you? Yah, we all have. So, I made sure to present an ideal, perhaps unfactual, and absolutely incomplete image of him, to save the grief of facing that he wasn’t really that great. What happened you ask? It worked. They told me they LOVED him at exactly the same time I finally understood he was a ginormous piece of crap. Yah, not ideal.] Doing this with collaborators is essentially the same thing. Covering for someone doesn’t help them get better at their job, it doesn’t strengthen the team, and only creates a figment of success. It’s not your job to save their reputation.
Trust and respect are earned. Don’t blindly trust someone to always have the best interests of the project, team, or you, in mind. When you see a red flag, even a small one, pay attention! Always start with a contract, including an escape route. Do not ignore lies. Protect and defend your physical and emotional self. Don’t think someone is going to take responsibility just because they should. Most importantly, surround yourself with people who share your values. Trust and respect are only solid if they are earned, building a foundation that’s much harder to tear down.
Now, Time for a Toast!
Here’s to 2019, a fresh look on life, doing what you love, and how to do it wisely. And here’s to funnier, less serious, more down-to-work posts from me soon. I’ll do my best to banish blind trust in my business this year, and I hope you will too.
Smile more, cry less. Onward!