Blogs » The Difference Between Smart and Genius - Hiring Friends

The Difference Between Smart and Genius - Hiring Friends

  • On old proberb advises, "A smart man learns from his mistakes.  A genius learns from the mistakes of other men."  On that note, I think that it is important to share some mistakes that I have made in the past, in the hopes that other people learn how NOT to do things in this industry.

    With that, my first moral is very simple: always be wary when hiring your friends.

    This was about two and a half years ago, I set out to produce my directorial debut -- a short film entitled "Elijah Returns," and which is available on my page.

    It was June 2006 and I went to the office of a friend who is also an experienced Prop Master and Production Designer.  We were just talking, and he asked me if I had thought about going back to do "Elijah."

    The summer before, my friend and mentor Tim asked me to come work with him again to help produce and work as his First AD again.  We had done a short film together the previous summer, (Ashes to Ashes) and I had worked for him in the same capacity, so I told him of course I would come work with him again.

    Well, halfway through pre-production, Tim literally drops dead walking down the sidewalk!  Well, when the producer-director kicks the bucket, the project goes on the backburner for more than a year.  So when Tom - the production designer - asks me about this, I start thinking about it.

    Well, I meet with our other friend, Mark, who is a camera man and cinematographer, Sergio our sound guy, and get through all the pre-production on it.  Mark, who has just gotten off a pressure-cooker show about the inner workings of St. Louis gangs, is not in the right place to be focusing on camera and lighting.  So, I tell him that I'll find a camera operator for him.

    The first guy I thought of was Ralph, who I had introduced to Mark when we all worked on Ashes to Ashes.  Mark enjoyed working with Ralph, and vice versa.  Ralph was a friend of mine from film school at the University of Kansas and he's really laid back, knows what he's doing, and knows what he doesn't know.  So, he and Mark got along great.

    Unfortunately, Ralph was unavailable for the weekend.  But I thought about a friend of mine and Ralph's who was also Ralph's roommate at the time, Jeff.  Jeff, another good friend of mine, was the one who brought me up when I started film school.  He and Ralph were both seniors, and Jeff was the one who said, "This guy's coming with me!"

    On the other hand, Jeff is...kinda weird and can be a little arrogant about his work.  I ask Ralph if he thinks it would be a good idea.  We both agree, as long as I have a conversation with Jeff before Mark gets there, it should be okay.

    So, call time comes up.  I decided call would be 1:00 PM, because we only had five locations around the house to shoot.  We should be done by 1:00 AM at the absolute latest.  Everybody's cool with that.  Well, Mark shows up and he is doing this as a friend, out of the goodness of his heart.  Understand, Mark's work has won several Emmys and a BAFTA.

    Despite my best efforts telling Jeff how to work with Mark, they fall on deaf ears.  Throughout the course of production, my AD comes up to me, tells me that the relationship is non-existent.  Mark is ready to kill Jeff.  And, with good reason.  Mark, a ten-plus year veteran, does not need some first-year-out-of-film-school kid who refers to himself as "The Jeff" telling him how to light a scene.  So, and I still tell Mark this to this day, Mark decides to be the adult and pull himself off set.  I tell him if he needs to take an hour, that's cool.  I can do the lighting on the stuff I need next just me.  So, I end up lighting and shooting the next three scenes by myself, because I don't need Jeff around to aggravate me, and I don't need Mark around to be aggravated.  It gave everybody some time to cool off.

    Finally, we came back for the last scene.  My friend, Art, showed up who Mark knows and my lawyer who is a good friend of Mark's, as well, seemed to calm everybody's tempers.  We got the last scene which, in my opinion, is the best looking scene in the whole movie -- Mark did a fantastic job on it.

    Afterward, I was talking to Mark and he told me that he would never hire Jeff, would never give him a recommendation, would never shoot wedding video his way because Jeff refused to help set up lights, talked back, as was generally arrogant, and did not get along with the rest of the crew -- a crew, which I mention, which happens to be my crew and the guys I work with most.  It was stressful and, while the movie worked, it could have been more laid back if I had trusted my gut to hire somebody that wasn't Jeff.

    Now, I'll work with Jeff if he has something.  And if we're working with "our gang" from film school, I'd hire him.  But, as far as trying to bring him in with a group of guys with whom he has no work history, I would never hire him again.  I still feel bad about doing that to Mark.

    I thought they would work well together because Ralph and Mark worked well together.  Mark would hire Ralph in a heartbeat.  Mark never wants to see Jeff again.

    This same thing happened the previous year.  On "Ashes to Ashes," I hired as my 2nd AD my friend, Arri.  The reason I hired Arri was because I knew he was detail-oriented, could help me, was available, and was a friend of mine.  Now, Arri has no ambition to work in film.  He is a composer for film.  He was just doing this because I asked him to, and because the Director wanted me to have a 2nd who I trusted.

    Well, the third day of the shoot, the Director decides that Arri is just standing around not doing anything and wants me to fire Arri.  Eventually, I calm the director down enough to explain to him that he couldn't fire Arri, that Arri was doing this for free.  I also told the director it would not be a good idea to fire a volunteer, because the whole CREW were volunteers: we were teaching a film class at the time.  But, again, I had to talk to my 2nd.

    So, my advice: never hire friends coming into the mix unless you are positive they will play well with others, and they know their place on set.  If you have reservations, go with your gut instinct, and try to find somebody else.