Thursday, April 4, 2013

Plaster - Part 3 - When They Just Have to Go

"All I know is, I pass people on the street these days, and they don't know whether to say hello or to say good-bye."*
-Billy Martin on his multiple firings as baseball manager

With the exception of people for whom power is a drug, there is nothing good about firing someone.  There are varying reasons for firing someone, but there are times it has to be done.

Over the years, I have had to fire people for all sorts of reasons, some of them odder than others.

One of the most interesting was a guy who was best boy electric on a short. It was Day One, and at call, I went around and introduced myself to crew members I had not met. As is standard, I had hired the keys, but let them bring on their regular people. You want a crew that has worked together.

As they were off-loading the Grip/Electric truck, one guy waved to me. "Hey, I'm Sam. Best Boy Electric."  He was on the truck, and I went to shake his hands just as someone handed him some heavy bit of equipment. He smiled, and we did a short salute, instead.

A few hours later, Eric, the gaffer, came to me and said, "I need a favor from you. I need you to fire Sam." It was a typical Day One, and I was putting out fires. but I hadn't noticed any particular problem with G&E.

"Which one is Sam?" I asked. Hey. you have a big crew, you don't remember everyone's name the first time, and we only had that brief moment.

"He's my best boy."

"Didn't you bring him on?" I asked.

"Yeah. yeah, he's a good guy but he's wrong for this gig. I don't know what I was thinking, " Eric continued.

"Why don't you let him go? I certainly will back you up," I suggested.

I couldn't do that," he said. "He's my friend, and besides, I work with him all the time." Eric tapped me on the shoulder, and, as he walked away, said "Thanks a bumch, JB.  Appreciate you not mentioning that I asked you to do it. Better if you do it soon, too. I have his replacement for tomorrow meeting me later."

What was I supposed to say to him? That brief salute in the morning was the extent of our interaction. What could I possibly suggest was the reason.

I went up to Sam, prepared for a tirade about the injustice of it all. I told him that we had someone I wanted to bring on, and we didn't need him, but we would pay him out for the day. His response :"Hey, whatever, man." This time we shook hands.


Two years later, I am doing a feature with a large crew, a lot of day players and a swing crew. Eric  has replaced the Best Boy Electric, and he is helping me fill the swing crew. I'm doing introductions when I notice one of the guys looks familiar, but I can't tell from where. I ask the usual question : "Have we worked together somewhere?"

"Yeah, man. this short, a few years ago. My name is Sam. You may not remember me because you replaced me after a few hours."

I must have momentarily displayed my unease in this moment of recognition. Sam smiled and assured me, "It's cool, man. It's all good." We shook hands again.

They should all go that well.

I saw recently where that a major league manager had to demote his son to the minor leagues, and decided to tell him over dinner. I understand it didn't go well. Had the manager spoken to me first, he might have reconsidered.

My original First AD on Plaster, John, was someone who I had a good time working with on a previous project. We had also become friendly outside of work; I was at his wedding.

John had a newborn baby a week or two before prep, and while it may have been a blessing in the big picture, it was negatively affecting his work during prep. He was late getting me a schedule, his breakdown had mistakes, and other parts of his paperwork and decision-making were questionable.

When I took him aside, he admitted that he was getting no sleep at home, but promised he would get up to speed.

He didn't.

The final straw was a tech scout that went horribly. The AD leads the tech scout, explaining what will be done where. John was all over the place, and at one point, he misidentified which scenes were in which apartment.

To make matters worse, the director and I already had a tense relationship with Jean-Baptise because of his work ethic, and he was now able to throw in my face that "my guy" was off-the-mark.

John had to go.

While firing someone I knew off-set was difficult, it did not delay my decision, and I would have done it in either case. Because I felt for his specific situation, I thought it would try to break it to him as a friend. It was a horrible decision: had I just kept it business, it would have been difficult, but quicker.

I told him to come in late and, instead of meeting me at the office, meet me at a nice restaurant for lunch. I wanted to let him avoid the "dead man walking" trip after leaving my office.

As soon as we got there. he started apologizing for the scout. He knew he was screwing up, and he brought a new schedule and paperwork to show that things would change. One thing about firing people: I take a long time before firing a key, but once I've made the decision, nothing you say or do will change it.

His desperate presentation was interrupted by the waitress, who took our order. I ordered a drink and said, hey, don't worry, you can have one as well. He said it was a work day, and he would pass. He wanted to be on his game. I changed mine to water as well. Mistake number 2.

After he finished, I just went to it. I told him I was letting him go, and then explained why. I made sure I got the term "letting you go" in there before he could say anything.

"Are you saying I'm fired?"

Now, I realize why the protocol for a health professional telling a family member about a loved one passing is to use the word "died."

I thanked him for all his hard work, but assured him he was fired. By then, it was too late. It seemed like it was up to negotiation. It was not.

He went from re-explaining how things would change. to pleading, to leaning on our friendship.

"JB, you know I have a young child. I turned down other work to take this gig. What am I supposed to do?"

There is a right way to let people go. Be professional. Remain unemotional. Be clear. End the conversation quickly - it is not negotiable. If we are not paying through a payroll company, I hand them a check. If they will shake my hand, great. If not, show them to the door. It's not personal. It's business.

If the pleading and unfair use of a newborn child was bad, what ensued was worse. Working his way through the stages of grief at the speed of light, John moved quickly to anger. He stood up and started screaming at me, telling me what an awful human being I was before storming out, drawing the attention of everyone in the restaurant.

Whatever Ring of Hell Dante had for folks who fire new dads, I was apparently heading there.

I forced a smile, and changed my drink order back to the original choice before asking that both orders be bagged and taking them to the office staff. Whatever appetite I had was gone.

When you fire someone. the replacement has to be a no-brainer. I went for someone who was not only a good choice, but one I knew Jean-Baptiste would like.

Susan was an athletic, attractive blonde. In addition to being an AD, she was a producer and production manager, and I had actually worked for her. She was what I affectionately refer to as a real "broad," smart, sharp, and someone with whom you do not mess. She lived with her soap-opera, handsome actor boyfriend, so Jean-Baptiste's advances would go nowhere. but I knew he would try, and he would never object to her being hired.

Win. Win.

I got through this lesson in how not to fire someone, but I came out the other side wit h a really good First AD.

We were ready for Day 1. Well, maybe.

* I am well aware that the low-hanging fruit here would have been the idiot with the hair telling someone they were fired. I had no interest in promoting him, and besides, this was more fun and let me post the video. It also lets me inform a generation that may not remember the fun of the side-show that was the Steinbrenner-Martin feud of a different era.

No comments: