A few years ago, someone I enjoyed working with stopped hiring me, and I felt kind of crappy about it. It wasn’t the first time this had happened, mind you. Contrary to what you might think from reading this blog, I am not the best or most popular boom operator in the world. I can be cranky and I fuck up from time to time. Even if I were perfect, it’s in the nature of freelance work that people who work together for many hours on end for long periods of time do tend to get sick of each other and break up eventually. But even less so than when it’s a personal relationship, people generally don’t feel like they need to let you know this is what’s happening – probably because the film world is a world of guys. So, as guys do, they just stop calling, and it’s just as shitty as when a guy you’re dating stops calling, except on top of feeling rejected and worthless, you also now have no income.
Sometimes, as with personal relationships, the reasons are extremely obvious: you weren’t their first choice in the first place, and the “old girlfriend” came back when they finished the Wes Anderson movie they went off to do or whatever; you didn’t really mesh in terms of personalities or work styles and your working relationship was always a bit awkward and not really much of a “relationship” to begin with but just something that happened because he or she needed someone and you were available, basically the occupational equivalent of “fuck buddies”; or your professional relationship was a love-hate drama from the beginning, and you finally had that big fight where you, oh, maybe lost your shit and told the person that they were a jerk and impossible to work with (not that I have ever done this…). My problem, though, is that even when the reasons should be clear, I still want closure, just like I do in my personal relationships. For instance, I had someone who I worked with who always wanted me to look like I was working, and so didn’t like me to read on set (this was before the smartphone, but I’m sure that would also have been off-limits). I get that part of certain jobs is to always pretend you’re busy, but I’ve always avoided those types of jobs because they happen in offices and they suck, and working on set isn’t one of them. The way film production works is that everyone has a job to do, but a lot of those jobs can’t happen until other people do their jobs, so it’s just a reality that people tend to work in stages rather than all at the same time. Plus, this person apparently thought that when the standard was applied to him, discussing baseball with other crew members or smoking outside, which occasionally meant he wasn’t there when they called “Roll sound!”, was “working.” So my response was, “Look, as far as I can tell, my reading on set isn’t affecting the way I do my job. But if you think that it is, you can just not hire me.” And this conversation went on for years until he called less and less, and then one day, I realized he’d actually stopped calling. So, naturally, I just had to go and call him up and ask what the deal was.
“Well, I told you I didn’t like it when you read on set, and you kept doing it. And the last job we did together, you were sitting right next to me reading your mail. So now, you’re at the bottom of my list.”
“But look, I —“
“You’re at the bottom of my list.”
I learned from this experience not to call up the boss who stops calling you, because really, nothing good can come of it. At least in the personal world, you and the guy you were sleeping with who stops calling probably actually can avoid each other forever from now on, so calling him up and having a painful conversation where he confirms that indeed he is not calling you for a reason, that reason being that he doesn’t want to date you, can provide some closure without too much future awkwardness. There is, on the other hand, a very good chance you will run into the person you broke up with professionally at some point in time, and in fact, there’s a decent chance they may actually have a change of heart/get desperate, and decide to hire you again. But this can only happen as long as you haven’t called them up to rehash what happened between you, thereby making what you don’t like about each other concrete enough that neither of you can have convenient amnesia about it down the line. So the upside is, it may all eventually actually go away, but the downside is, you may have to go for a very long time, perhaps forever, without any closure.
“Closure smosure!” you might say. “Just let it go.” Well, for one thing, because I’m obsessive, I like to deal with problems right away, before they have time to fester. Also, maybe because 1) I’m a woman and 2) I’m Jewish and 3) I’ve been through lots of therapy, I tend to think that talking about one’s feelings is a good thing, or if not good, then at least necessary. This adds up to me being lousy at just letting it all go.
So with the boss who’d stopped hiring me a few years ago, I struggled. I swore I wasn’t going to call and try to find out what had happened (although I still did think through, like an idiot, all of the possible conversations we might have, just to completely be sure that it would be a terrible idea), but I still couldn’t stop wondering, mainly because he’d been so extravagant in his praise of my work. After every shot, it was, “Nice one,” or “Excellent job!” The last day we’d worked together had been no different — and I knew this because I’d obsessed over it, analyzing it and reanalyzing it, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. Yes, I’d made a few mistakes, as usual, but he’d been just as extravagant in excusing them: “Don’t worry about that, it was fine,” or, when I’d butted heads with someone else on set, “He’s an asshole, don’t listen to him.”
But then, once I’d finally stopped thinking about it, he hired me again out of the blue – and I finally figured it out. What I’d made the mistake in thinking wasn’t that I’d done anything wrong, but that I’d done anything particularly right. This time, I noticed that he praised everyone’s work extravagantly. Moreover, I realized from the way he complained about other people he’d worked for that this was because it was the way he wanted to be treated. So he liked working with me okay, but not more than he liked working with other people, and so he’d hired those other people instead for a while – it was as simple as that. I finally had closure, although it wasn’t particularly satisfying: while I thought I’d been at the center of some drama, basically nothing had actually happened, and whatever had happened didn’t have much of anything to do with me.
I hope I remember this the next time someone stops calling, or some new person I meet doesn’t seem to want to be my friend (I have enough friends, yet I can somehow still be hurt when someone acts like they don’t give a crap if they are mine), or I get yet another rejection letter, or don’t even get a rejection letter because whoever it was couldn’t be bothered (which is just shitty, by the way), but of course I probably won’t. Creative control freaks like myself tend to take everything personally, as if we actually can do something about every little thing that happens to us. Even at my age, when I should know better, it’s hard to let go of the idea that you can can CAN make life turn out the way you want if you just try hard enough. Problem is, there are always going to be other people involved who gum up the works with their own silly ideas about who they are, what they want, and what’s actually going on. The only thing you really can control is the closure, by giving it to yourself.
Which is not to say you’re off the hook if you work-dump me, but don’t worry, I won’t be calling you up looking for answers. I’ll be letting it go. Really. No, really.