I’ve met a lot of people in this industry and to be honest, not many of them suffered from excessive sloth, gluttony, lust, etc. An occasional over indulgence perhaps, a smidgen of pride, a soupçon of envy, but on the whole we’re a pleasantly benign bunch. I once blundered into an advertising trade fair – now those are the people Dante had in mind.
That said, we’re no angels. If we have a vice it’s that we tend to favor hope over experience – especially when money gets involved. Nothing is more certain to provoke an outbreak of sweat and heart thumping light-headedness than the dream of a fat budget and an endless commission. It usually ends in tears, so snap out of it. Herewith is a list of the six other sins doc-makers should avoid to prevent such a fall from grace:
1. Misjudging the industry
This is a business right? No, it’s not. Business is usually something logical where the objective is to make a profit. What we do does not conform to these rules. If in doubt, refer to that business plan you assiduously wrote some time back. Amusing, isn’t it?
2. Losing sight of reality
The next one will be on budget and on time. The approvals process will be fair and broadcaster demands will be reasonable and coherent. If you believe that, you’ll believe anything.
3. Counting on contacts
The commissioner you made that last wonderful project for will be grateful and loyal. Yet when you next ring, she’s working in special projects. A week later, the switchboard operator can’t even find her listing.
4. Believing the cheque/contract/commitment is in the mail
Yes, we know they’re a multi-billion dollar organization that truly values its small suppliers. It says so in the mission statement. But hey, how do you think they got so rich?
5. Thinking your story will sell itself
A good idea is all it takes. Well duh, you all know that one.
What we do will change the world. I wish. Harry de Winter, one of the few individuals to make serious money out of TV – from game shows in case you wondered – once tried to recruit me to the fold. I foolishly turned him down. Harry really understood TV, in fact his pneumatic assistants once strolled the dim corridors of MIP dressed in a memorable t-shirt that read: ‘Remember, it’s tv, not brain surgery’. A deep thinker was Harry. After 20 years in the business, all I’ve got is his damned t-shirt. If you’re reading this on your luxury yacht Harry, I’ve seen the light. Call me. Please.
I could add a few more minor transgressions, like believing when the tidal wave of reality recedes it will leave a global audience hungry for something more serious and life enhancing. But I think you get the message. I wish (ironically) that I could be more optimistic, but we work in the non-fiction business, so it’s probably helpful if we are at least occasionally real about what we do.
Still, I know all this will be ignored the next time someone walks into the room and tells you this amazing true story that is absolutely unbelievable. You won’t be able to resist will you? The pictures will start running in your head, the palms will go sweaty, the heart rate will rise. And maybe that’s how it should be. Storytelling is the oldest communal activity humans indulge in (apart from that lust thing). It makes us who we are, and who says that should make business sense?
Anyway, I’ve learnt my lesson. I’m off to make movies. Now there’s a business that’s really sensible.
Simon Nasht is a director and producer of too many hours of factual TV. After 15 years in Europe and the US, he returned to his native Australia hoping he wouldn’t find any stories that would excite him. He was wrong.