#1 Don’t Shit Where You Eat
Translates to this: Be mindful of everything you think, say and do at the workplace. It seems that newcomers often mistake the camaraderie and casual atmosphere on the set or the production office for something other than what it is, the office. It may not look like an office, or sound like one, but ultimately, it still is an office and functions very much like one. Just because everyone’s wearing clothing that probably is a few notches down from “Friday Casual”, don’t be fooled. The same rules apply here as in corporate America, they may on the surface be more lax, but it’s called Show Business for a reason.
#2 It’s Mr. Producer to You
When you meet someone don’t assume that it’s fine to call them by their first name. It’s safer to err on the side of caution and come across as formal than to make the faux pas of greeting someone by their surname only to wish you hadn’t. Often this isn’t immediately obvious, because there is a culture of not wanting to come across as stuffy in the entertainment industry, but that doesn’t mean that all of the players like it. On the other hand, I’ve never once had someone react negatively to being called “Mister” or “Ms.” Here’s a rule that has served me well, if the person you are speaking with or writing to is higher up on the food chain than you, then address them using the prefix, until they correct you. Don’t worry about looking old-fashioned. First of all, there’s nothing wrong with that and secondly, it won’t get you in any trouble.
#3 Keep Your Personal Life Personal
As a result of a few factors including ridiculously long hours, shared meals, often shared transportation, a strong sense of friendship often develops either on the set or in the office. This is all fine until you let the lines between your professional and personal selves become fuzzy. The wisest and most successful people in the business maintain a level of reserve. This doesn’t mean you can’t hang around craft service and shoot the bull, go ahead, but…be careful what you say. Keep your opinions to yourself and whatever you do, do not trash anyone on the production. Wait until you get home to let off steam, this is not the appropriate environment for that. It’s also not the place to bitch and moan about your girlfriend or your roommates. I hate to break it to you, but honestly, no one gives a rat’s ass. These people are not your friends, they are your coworkers and honestly, they may one day be your future employers. Do you really want them to be privy to details about your binge drinking vacations in Cabo? I think not.
#4 Respect the Clock
Again, just because you’re not punching a time clock or filling out time sheets, doesn’t mean that timeliness is not expected. As a matter of fact, if you’re on time, you’re already late. If you don’t believe me, take a walk around any of the executive offices of the studios or the networks. The “suits” are always the first to arrive and the last to leave. Maybe you’ve got your eye on one of the corner offices? Well, before you set your sights on being the VP of Production, you would be well advised to start keeping their hours. Not enough work to do to show up early or stay late? Really?? Look around, take the initiative, and make yourself useful and worthy of promotion.
#5 Don’t Leave Them Hanging
Whatever it takes, figure out a way to return calls and all mail, including EMs, by the end of the day. If you don’t have the information required, simply call or write that you’re going to be getting back to them by such and such a time and then, no matter what, do NOT FORGET TO FOLLOW UP. If for some reason the time/date that you promised to contact them agin arrives and you still need more time, communicate this and make sure that this is not causing a problem for the other party. If you have 200 calls a day and 150 EMs and day and you think you can’t do this, then, GET HELP! One of the fastest ways to piss people off is to not return calls, nor answer mail in a timely fashion.
#6 Shower Them With Thanks
When someone does you a good turn, show your appreciation in a meaningful way. Invest in quality stationery and use it to write “bread and butter” notes for small kindnesses. If someone takes you out to lunch, write them a thank you note, and post it the same day. Maybe an associate sends you a gift basket or flowers, for God’s sake, write them a note right away. It only takes you a couple of minutes to jot something down, but the impression will last forever. If someone does something spectacular for you like getting you a job, introducing you to an agent or manager, then you need to step it up with something more. My best advice on gift giving is make nice-nice with their assistant(s) and query them about their boss’ preferences on gifts received. While I’m on the subject, don’t overlook expressing thanks and showing respect to assistants, most of them either get promoted or at the very least, they move around from company to company. Again, showing appreciation should be something that becomes standard practice. If you think you cannot afford gifts, I would say to you that you can’t afford not to. Should money truly be an issue, get creative, but do something to express appreciation.
#7 It’s Stefan, Not Stephen
This may seem ridiculously obvious, but if I told you how many times I received query letters from actors who spelled my first name “Sydney, Cyndi, Cindy…” you would be shocked. I’m not alone in saying that this is a deal breaker. It speaks of a few character flaws that do not reflect well, namely: laziness, disrespect, and stupidity. Yes, sometimes it’s a bit tricky to ascertain the correct spelling of someone whom you’ve met and for whatever reason, you weren’t given a business card. To this I would say, if it was easy to be successful in show business, everyone would be…we all know that isn’t true.
#8 Did You Sign That?
This is related to Number Seven. If it leaves your desk, iPad, whatever, it better be perfect. Letter perfect. This is especially true for folks I call “aspirers”. Do you want to be a Development Executive or a Producer, or maybe you’ve got your sights set on being a Director? Then do yourself a favor, learn how to use a dictionary and a pay attention to spell check. There is nothing more annoying than reading an inquiry letter or a script from someone who has a weak command of the English language and grammar. I’m a huge fan of the Concise Oxford American Dictionary, AP‘s Stylebook and Roget’s Thesaurus, with most reference materials now available online, there really is no excuse for sloppy editorial mistakes.
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