Is it better to be feared or respected?
What I’ve observed in this business is that everyone respects who they fear and few people fear who they respect. For a few places, they would have you believe that the only person you can pay respect to is a deceased grandparent. However, what I advise is that you should earn respect from your fellow artists and impose fear in those who try to take it away.
It’s an important distinction, one that I didn’t learn until I went through a few cranks of the turn in this industry. I used to pay respect to everyone regardless of what they did, even if they were trying to impose fear in me.
I realize now that I was mistakenly confusing respect for professionalism.
One of my first jobs in the industry was at a small visual effects boutique. The manager wanted to discuss the terms of the deal after my interview and I was eager to earn a high hourly rate. The manager only agreed if I was willing to work under something called 1099 tax status. I didn’t know what it was at the time but I agreed.
I foolishly learned later that 1099 is where they don’t have to pay taxes and it’s up to you to pay when you file.
Another twist to the deal was to find out that upon invoice the company had 30 days to pay me. I missed that sentence in the contract and shame on me again but it was pretty tough to work for almost 5 weeks and not get one paycheck. To add insult to injury, the manager was notorious in going through my timecard with a fine toothed comb. He would ask if I deducted time to take breaks or answer phone calls or go to the bathroom.
That’s right, he actually expected me to clock out when I went to the bathroom.
I continued to play nice and I look back angrily for how naive I was for it. It felt like I was chained to my desk in some concentration camp. If I wanted to just step out to talk with my supe we would both run back to our computers to clock out. But then something happened.
A little thing called karma.
By the fifth week of work, a blessing from the heavens descended upon me. A much better facility I interviewed with a month ago contacted me with an offer. Once the deal was done I realized I had a chance to deliver retribution to the manager. Images started running through my head of the manager kneeling in his final throes as dark clouds gathered in the background giving rise to my glorious self as I finally delivered the death blow. I quickly snapped back to reality and realized that wouldn’t go so well. It had to end quick. It had to end clean. But best of all it had to end quietly. His world had to end not with a bang, but a whimper.
On the Friday of the fifth week I simply sent him an email that it would be my last day and then the fun began. I saw him scattering to each supervisor’s office. A flurry of doors opening and closing. He refused to look at me or even address my email. At lunch the coordinator on the show who never acknowledged me was in ass-kissing mode telling everyone how awesome I was at finishing so many shots. I was resolute in continuing to tell people that it was my last day.
At the end of the day the manager finally brought me into his office to kiss more ass. When he asked if I could stay for 3 more weeks to finish the film I immediately wanted to scream “HELL NO!” However I restrained myself and tried to bring myself to saying no by essentially saying yes:
I would be willing to stay another three weeks to finish the film if you pay me all four checks that you owe me right now.
There it was. It hit him like a sledgehammer. All he could do was turn his head away in anguish and look down towards his side. As I glanced down to look at what he was staring at, a tightly wound fist revealed itself.
“Do it. Just do it.” I thought.
He knew that was a bad idea and ended up essentially begging. He talked about how the company wanted to develop my career and how they had a ton of cool work. He talked about how nice their facility was compared to my new job location. Mind you the new place was much nicer and their sweatshop was a piece of shit. He then had the audacity to ask:
Why would you do this to us? We’re just a cool bunch of guys.
I immediately responded:
I could start at my new job next week and get a paycheck from them before getting anything from you guys.
He knew I wasn’t going to budge. We left the meeting and I packed my stuff. The executive producer who ran the facility wanted to talk to me. I thought I was going to be told that I would never work for them again. He talked about how stupid the manager was and how he could never get him to do anything right. He thanked me so much for my hard work and explained they have to invoke 30 day invoices because the studios pay when they want to. I understood but that wasn’t my problem. He gave me his card and told me:
I want you to know something. I think you are incredibly talented. If you are ever unhappy at your new job and ever decide to leave, call me. I’ll hire you back immediately.
We shook hands and I went on my way. I wondered why such a nice person would keep such a crappy manager. I had an epiphany where I realized that companies probably intentionally hire bad managers as punching bags and the truth is it worked. I was bitter at the manager, not the company. Years later I still get contacted by them to come work for them. In the end I’m convinced to say that most facilities will respect you only if you impose fear in them. Sometimes that means walking away. Other times that means grinding their work to a stop.
That should tell you how much leverage we artists have.