Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Quid Pro Quo

My filmmaking career is heavily indebted to the deposits I have made into the favor bank and the interest those favors have accrued. It's a pretty easy concept, you do something to help someone and they will help you in return. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but sometime, somehow. If they don't return the favor, shame on them. It is sort of like karma and the mafia rolled into one.

The favor bank was a lesson I learned in college and I try to teach it to my students beginning day one. When I was a junior in college I was loaned Chicago Studio City (now Oprah's Harpo Studios) for a weekend to shoot a music video. I had three stages (one of which held The Wild Kingdom set- I never saw Marlon Perkins or Jim Fowler) and all the toys that went along with those stages for the price of me stripping and waxing the Studio City lounge floor.

I have written here before about my work with Denny Dent. Denny worked for me for essentially a ride to the airport and copies of the finished work. He knew how the favor bank worked and was willing to spend an afternoon painting Mick Jagger for me on the hopes that it would turn out well and he could use it to further his career. It did- for both of us.

I am always amazed when students don't buy into this concept. Recently I hooked up a former student of mine on a three day documentary shoot. There was no pay, but he would have his travel and meals comped, and more importantly, be able to take a camera credit on a feature length documentary. He was shooting concert footage of rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef jamming with Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen and that's not a bad thing to have on your reel at age 25. If I had the time I probably could have found someone to pay ME for the opportunity to shoot this.

In any event when he returned from the the trip he called to complain, explaining he felt he deserved at least something for the effort, plus (and I think this is what really got him upset) he had to be a boom operator for part of the trip and he didn't feel comfortable doing that. I told him I was sorry and to look at all the positives from the experience. I reminded him that he now had a deposit in his favor bank and at some point he can call it in.

I think he would have preferred a deposit into his regular bank, but for his sake I hope he learned a lesson about the ways of the business world.



Rose said...

That's crazy. This kid doesn't sound like he's going to be much of a success. He has no right to complain until he's got a great reel or he hits 35, whatever comes first. Mmmm. I changed my mind. He has permission to complain after his 40th birthday.

Jessie said...

It is sad. One day he *may* have a different perspective. I sure hope he does. Not everything is done for pay. Building solid relationships is so much more valuable than any amount of money.

Internet Safety Queen said...


I see this sort of attitude far too often. Sad, isn't it?? What has happened from our grandparents generation, to the generation of today? Is it all about the almighty dollar??

This is kind of like the pay-it-forward, or sow-a-seed kind of thing.

Maybe when the "kids" of today, get to be our age, they will have a change of heart??

Have a great evening!! And hey, if you need any free help, just hollar!!!! I'm not too far!

Ross Pruden said...

Remember that old 80s TV show Stingray? Exactly the same concept.

And much agreed—favors are the engine of the film business, indie or non.

Mark Leslie Woods said...

Well, having been a student on my last dime, I think I can relate to your student, and if I had said those things, you could assume I was temporarily out of my mind.

Of course, I have also felt arrogant and entitled in my time, too.

It took a lot of years and many hardships to develop the character trait of a grateful heart.

Nevertheless, I'm sending all my film students to your sight to read this post. Well done.

Jason R. Davis said...

Hey Peter,

It comes from, what I believe, is that people don't believe in favors anymore. It's sad, but true. While I have done many favors for others, I never trust that they are going to be returned. I try to help more so out of kindness. It would be nice, however, if they were returned, as I have many that could be cashed in.

Another thought on the subject is...

The student in question, if he was so upset about the shoot, probably also had an attitude on set, and so the people involved in the documentary also will probably not want to ever work him on anything.