Our latest series of viewpoints from members of the non-fiction and unscripted production community comes from Jim Casey, founder of Los Angeles-based Painless Productions. Look for more instalments of Jim’s “My Reality” column in the weeks ahead via Realscreen.com.
I was strolling toward my LAX departure gate struggling to resist the seductive aura of the Best Buy vending machines when a voice called my name — not my first name as a friend would, but my full name like a federal agent. I turned to face a young man in his late twenties striding toward me, fortunately smiling too warmly to be FBI, IRS or DEA.
“You probably don’t remember me…” He was right, I didn’t. And with zero context I couldn’t even fake it, so I apologized instead. “I was a PA at your company about seven years ago,” he continued. “You told me I could hang out in the bay after work and watch you edit.” As a writer/producer who’s always loved editing, I still make that offer to any employee who shows interest in post production: you’re welcome to join, just please sit quietly, write down your questions and we’ll chat during breaks. I remembered him now – he was one of the rare exceptions who’d accepted.
“Oh yeah,” I began, “I remem…”
“I’m an editor now,” he blurted through a smile that couldn’t possibly get any bigger or more proud.
I’m well aware that I merely cracked open a single door for this kid years earlier. I didn’t tutor or mentor him, and I take no credit for his path or his success. But that 45 seconds in the Delta terminal remains one of the shining moments of my 30-year career.
I don’t have kids. Countless couples have asked why I don’t, and I usually respond by asking why they do, which always elicits blank stares, awkward silences and, I imagine, challenging bedtime conversations for them later that evening. The truth is I simply sleep better knowing that the consequences of all my impulsive decisions will die with me rather than contaminate another generation. That, and at any given time, I already maintain between 50 and 175 dependents depending on how many series we have in production.
Please don’t pity me: childlessness has granted me complete blamelessness for the cluelessness of today’s youth. Thirty-three percent of teens say their lifelong goal is to be an online influencer, and I’m 0% responsible. I’ve guiltlessly retained the right to condemn entire generations for their perpetual tardiness, their apathy — even disdain — for proper punctuation and spelling, and their inability to execute all tasks perfectly the very first time as I seem to recall all members of my generation did.
Then March 2020 happened, and for the first time in my career, I found myself feeling more compassion than frustration for the next wave of aspiring content creators. That young editor at LAX recognized a well-timed opportunity years ago and jumped at it. But how can the next wannabe editor, producer, writer or director be in the right place at the right time when no one’s working in the same place?
We all benefit from what I can only label as “accidental learning” — those unexpected workplace moments that enlighten us with new information. For me, it’s when I just happen to overhear two producers chatting about a shoot they’re planning that’ll almost certainly result in my name on a lawsuit. For young production assistants, taking notes in a single pre-pro meeting can double or even triple their professional knowledge. But under current conditions, those growth moments aren’t happening, placing our future employees at a further disadvantage.
This, like the endangerment of proper grammar, may not be my fault, but it is my problem. So, while a third of our youth wants to grow up to be influencers, I plan to stay focused on the two thirds who don’t. And I hope other entertainment professionals– at all levels and in all departments — will join me by instituting our own informal Generation Z (and sometimes Y) on-the-job training programs, taking time each week to provide these newbies with the insights and experiences they’ll need to someday replace us.
Personally, I consider it one of the best investments I can make in my future, because, unlike many of you, I won’t have kids to change my diapers when my time comes, but I do plan to have good shows to watch while I’m waiting uncomfortably for the next available nurse.
Founded by Jim Casey, Painless Productions, launched 25 years ago, has produced a long list of genre-busting and award winning series across a wide variety of genres including the long running franchise The Dead Files (Travel), My Crazy Ex (LMN) as well as spinoffs My Crazy Sex (LMN) and My Haunted House (LMN), Hot Properties: San Diego (HGTV), Out There with Jack Randall (NatGeo Wild, Disney+), Reasonable Doubt (ID), Evil Things (TLC) and Cat People (Animal Planet) among dozens more.