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Defending Yourself

Tuesday’s post about the idiot producer’s assistant on my show generated a lot of feedback. Some of it was violent (I hope they were kidding), but quite a few people suggested I should stand up for myself. It sounds fun in theory, but here’s where I put my practical hat on.

I model my life after Calvin and Hobbes.
So practical.

While proclaiming your innocence and simultaneously throwing the idiot assistant under the bus might be cathartic, there are a lot of potential negative ramifications.

If your boss is in a sour mood, almost anything you say could be interpreted negatively. If I were to “grow some balls1 and stand up for [myself],” as Superduper suggested, my reasonable explanation of events might be viewed as simple excuse-making. The line between an explanation and an excuse can be a thin one, and some people have difficulty telling the difference.

Also, blaming someone else is usually regarded as a negative trait, even when you’re assigning blame accurately. You don’t want to be The Guy Who Never Takes Responsibility.

Of course, you don’t want to be The Fuck Up, either. If you took the blame for everything, eventually they’d have to fire you. But A) things don’t get fucked up all that often, and B) you should be such a rock star PA that your good qualities far outweigh your screw ups, even when the screw ups are not really yours.

Sometimes You Have to Tell It Like It Is makes a valid point:

I’ve actually had my UPM ask me questions to verify *I* did my job correctly so they can give shit to whoever/whichever dept DID screw up – kind of like a “Don’t blame my guys if it’s yours that are f-ing it up.”

Here’s where you have to use your discretion. Is your boss really asking what went wrong, or is he just shouting words at you? Just like he might misread your explanation as an excuse, you might confuse his venting for a legitimate question. The producer’s assistant screwed up, the producer and the UPM are mad, you’re upset because he’s upset; jumping into defense mode is natural. But, for all the reasons stated above, it might be wrong.

So, err on the side of sucking it up and taking your licks, unless you know your UPM really well, and can read his moods even when you’re aggravated yourself.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Ew.
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9 Responses

  1. I’m a production assistant what is a good route to go if you want to eventually be a producer or writer.

  2. You would be suprised. The loyal suck ups who are low performers are put into position where their screw ups limit product impact. One reward for a low performer is also oppurtunities to work in other departments that in the end lead to better jobs down the road. While the high performer who wants to move is held back due to the fact their work is so good.

  3. Perhaps ‘boss’ is the wrong word, but the 2nd AC does have to work very closely with this person and it’s much better to keep them happy. I’ve just finished a drama with a script supervisor who was really struggling with the way that production was shooting, but rather than antagonise the person by telling them they were wrong all the time, it was much easier and more productive to conform to how they wanted the board to be set until I got them trained. It made my life far more stressful than it should have been for the first two weeks (as you say I should be checking with the script supervisor if I’m not sure about a board rather than the other way round, which is what was happening), but it meant that shooting wasn’t affected while the person got up to speed. It can be argued that the situation should never have arisen in the first place (especially as they weren’t exactly inexperienced), but I much prefer to get the job done and try to sort out any problems quietly rather than make the situation worse by getting someone’s back up by pointing out their failings (and, when someone’s floundering the last thing they need is for their confidence to be further destroyed as that’s never going to help sort out anything) or arguing on set.By the time we wrapped we were running pretty smoothly together, however I’d rather not be in that situation again. Perhaps I should have said the 2nd AC has certain responsibilities to the script supervisor.

  4. This is great advice not only for the film industry but other industries as well. Blaming another person, even when they deserve it only makes you seem like an excuse maker. Believe me, I’ve been there! The only thing my complaining did was make me look like a whiner! Eventually the truth will come out-and he who laughs last laughs best!

    1. I know this is a late reply, but actually, this is an incorrect assumption.
      I see so many people who are incompetent in my line of work who have gotten where they are because other people refuse to flag their appalling workmanship/behavior/organisation. And because of this other people suffer.
      Sure there are situations where you have to suck it up, but you have to make sure that the poor work/behavior has been duly noted, even if it is just your UPM who knows it.
      This of course has to be done delicately, but it must be done. It may save you the pain of dealing with the same moron on a production at a later stage.

  5. You make great points. I try to write down everything unless I’ve got Rain Man as a sidekick. The UPM who tried to punk you would’ve gotten something extra in the next coffee that I’d get him.

  6. Another PA was responsible for a coffee run and managed to take me with him to help him carry the order (we couldn’t get fancy with paper box lids). I didn’t bother to see if he was writing people’s names down on their drinks; I assumed he had names on his piece of paper with the order.

    He didn’t.

    Someone didn’t get the drink they ordered and we ended up with an extra one no one claimed.

    I felt two inches tall when my UPM said to us, “Guys. It’s a coffee order. Seriously? You can’t screw something up this simple.”

    Never more did I want to tattle on the other PA, but after my fury subsided from being embarrassed by something that’s so simple, did I realize it was my fault too, for not checking.

    So to you other PAs, if you see another one fucking up, tell them or fix it yourself.

    1. “So to you other PAs, if you see another one fucking up, tell them or fix it yourself.”

      This is great advice. If you’re a PA and you see another PA doing something stupid, bring it up (with tact of course). I’ve pulled aside fellow PAs to tell them they were messing up, making sure to let them know that if they do it wrong they make the PA team look bad. It’s better than bringing it up in front of superiors.

  7. As a UPM, I know my people. I don’t assume they screw up. However, another issue here is timing.

    IF there is a time to make clear what happened, it is absolutely NOT while he is on his cell standing on the wrong corner. All he wants to hear at that point is what will solve the problem immediately, not CYA.

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