Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rules for Favors

Last week I met someone who is making a documentary. Let's call her...Pina. Pina is smart, talented, and as soon as she heard about my Old Life in Film, she said "Oh, I have to get you onto my project." And I smiled a noncommittal smile...
because no one is getting paid on her project, including her. So she would be asking for a favor.

Now I have no problem doing favors, especially when they involve me doing something new, like editing. I haven't edited film since the 20th Century, and I have never edited documentaries, so that would be exciting. Yay, new!

However, I've also done a lot of favors for people who never reciprocated. One time, the favor was three hours of story consultation - for free - for an actor/producer/director who was having trouble with the screenplay for her comedy. (If you're curious, take a look at the fees SCs charge.) She used my suggestions and made her film much better. She didn't give me a story credit; heck, she didn't even thank me in her "thank you" speech.

My problem then - now, not so much - was how much I wanted to be liked. Wanted, frankly, to be wanted. And what I didn't realize at the time was that there are a lot of people out there who see friendliness and helpfulness as the marks of the sucker. So to protect myself, I developed rules for favors. And since I believe that a lot of folks out there have the same issues I do, here are some of them.

Rule #1: Not an Employee.
If I'm doing you a favor, you're entitled to expect me to keep my word. If I say I'll show up at nine and work for eight hours, you're entitled to be pissed if I don't. However, for those hours, you are not my boss, and I am not your employee. You're not entitled to schedule my work breaks, bark orders at me, or ask me to take a drug test.

Pina wanted me to sign a non-disclosure agreement before I did her a favor. Of course, the easier way to keep the secret is I don't help at all.

Rule #2: Favors Are Reciprocal.
If I haven't known you long enough to be sure that you will help me just as I have helped you, then I ain't gonna help you.

It's a character judgment. As you get older, it gets easier to make. (One hopes.) And if you are bringing up serious free work with someone you've just met, then my little voice tells me that you don't yet understand reciprocity.

Rule #3: Life Is Too Short To Spend With the Miserable.
No matter how interesting the project or how talented the crew, if the asker seems unhappy, tired, angry, or just plain depressed, the best thing to do is walk away. I have enough problems of my own; if I have to deal with yours as well...then pay me.

So, there we go - simple rules. There are more, but those are enough to start, surely.

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