Thanks for Ruining my Day, JohnD

Last weekend, in response to my post regarding a story producer who asked me to do his job, reader JohnD said:

They have jobs because they are smart enough to go to the pool of assistants and solicit them for 50 ideas for free. They’ll stay a story producer.

And of course, assistants who just say, “I’m a production assistant and anyone asking me for anything outside of that I’m not going to help because it’s not my job” well… will probably stay a production assistant!

So, everyone gets to keep their job.

I read this comment on Monday, right before I was sent on a run.  The thought of remaining a production assistant depressed me so, I nearly ran off the road.

I gave it a lot of thought, and I realized John does have a point.  If you do only what your job requires, and nothing more, you will probably remain in that job.

The thing is, doing extra only helps if you get credit for it.

The story producer in question would simply take my ideas and present them to the executive producer as his own.  In some cases, this might engender a certain amount of gratitude, even indebtedness, from the producer to me.  But in this case, he’s not that kind of guy.  “Thank you, Anonymous,” would literally be all the thanks I get.

If I was interested in moving up to being a story producer (which I’m not; I like my soul, thank you very much), I would take my shiningly brilliant ideas to the showrunner himself.  (This was a small show, with only three producers and a small office staff.)  I would get a little credit, and the EP might start thinking of me as an idea man.

Another problem, in this case, is that offering up ideas isn’t just helping the story producer out; it’s actually doing his job.

Take a real show, one with a script.  Suppose I’m friendly with one of the writers, and further suppose she’s having trouble with a story.  After she’s already gotten as much out of the writer’s room as she can, she might turn to me and ask, “What do you think of this script, Anonymous?”

I might say, “It’s good, but what if the villain got away at the end of the second act break?”  Then I’d be making friends, helping them out, bladdy bladdy blah.

If, on the other hand, she’d said, “Why don’t you rewrite this script from page one, and I’ll turn it in with my name on it?”  Then I’d have to say no.

And that’s basically what the story producer wanted from me.

JohnD made another comment, a few minutes later:

Sorry to be snarky 🙂 But someone not doing their job and asking to be bailed out. Sounds like a good thing.

The only difference is that I think in most industries you stay around long enough for folks to notice you are doing the work and for the person not doing the work to lose their job.

Maybe the entertainment industry is so transient that doesn’t happen.

Don’t worry, I shan’t be throwing rocks when I live in my own snarky glass house.

The transience is a good point I hadn’t thought of.  The show only lasted a couple months, and just about any amount of incompetence is tolerable over that short a time frame.  Maybe that’s what makes the “failing up” Final Girl referred to possible.

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5 Responses

  1. This is the thing. Moving beyond your position is all about strategy. If you don’t have the money to buy success and aren’t willing to literally prostitute yourself, then you have to choose your routes wisely. Don’t give story ideas to someone who’ll steal them. Don’t help people you don’t want to work with in the future. Do go out drinking with co-workers and become their friends. Do suggest to help (in every way, even for, and this is where it plays out, jobs beyond your position) everyone who matters and matters to you. If they don’t appreciate you, your golden idea is going to fall into the abyss of anonymity. You have to be the favorite because everyone is gunning for one another. So sure, be a PA, but also help scripty with her reports if she needs it because she’s a cool chick and clearly will pay you back. It’s opportunist but… everyone is. Feel better, you can do it!

  2. I’m flattered you read my comment.

    I too have had a chance to reflect. Politics is complicated, and entertainment is tough. No easy answer here.

    A softer play would be to sit around and brainstorm ideas with the rest of the below the line folks. Run your own writers room. In return for coming up with ideas get the pleasure of sitting on your butts to think of them. Enough reward? Who knows 🙂

    And when the showrunner wonder’s where the coffee is, well, the assistants are working on ideas for the story producer! Just kidding, but made me smile to think about it.

    I think final-girl is probably right though…

    Good luck!

    I too have found myself thinking I’ll be doing the same relatively unexciting work for the foreseeable future.

    Not the most inspiring line of thinking!

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