Can you give me a recommendation? If I haven't worked with you, the short answer is no.
I'm occasionally asked by others some variation of the following:
"My son is trying to get a job working in film. Do you know of any opportunities?"
"I'd really like to work in movies. Do you know of anyone who's hiring?"
I understand the reasons for asking these questions. It's hard to get a job working on movies. Arguably more difficult than most other career fields because job offerings are not usually posted online and getting a job usually requires knowing someone. So I understand why others ask me if I know of any opportunities.
But the heart of this question really is "Can you recommend me?" Because if I tell you that I do know of an opportunity, your next question will be for me to put you in touch with the right people to take advantage. After all, as they say, it's not what you know, it's who you know.
But let me make something clear - if there was an opportunity I thought you were good for, I would've already recommended you for it.
That might sound confusing so let me explain because I think most people have the wrong idea about how recommendations work in this business.
Here's the way recommendations DON'T work --
Let's say your mom meets someone involved in the film business. Your mom, knowing that you are interested in working film, is going to advocate for you immediately without solicitation. "Oh you work in film? My Johnny loves film! He wants a job in film. Do you know of any opportunities for him? He's such a hard worker. I know you won't regret giving him a shot."
Your mom shouldn't be faulted for this. She's your mom and it's basically her job to be your advocate in all circumstances. But let's be clear - I'm not your mom. I'm not going to speak on your behalf just because you asked me to.
If I meet someone else who works in the film business, my first thought is not going to be trying to get someone else a job. I'm probably more focused on my relationship with this person, whether it's personal or professional.
And I imagine I'm asking the same questions most people in business are asking themselves when they meet someone new. How can I help this person? Are there opportunities for us to work together?
Because I'm focused on my relationship with them, I'm not going to start talking about someone else I barely know.
Here's how recommendations DO work --
Let's say I meet a fellow filmmaker over coffee and they tell me they're looking for a good editor/cinematographer/gaffer/grip etc. Now I'm presented with an opportunity to help this filmmaker out. I want to present them with someone who's actually going to be helpful because I want them to feel like I helped them out with this recommendation.
So when they ask me for help finding a good person, I'm going to go through the rolodex in my head of people I've worked with that I know to be good. Who could I refer to this person that I know they'd enjoy working with?
I don't want to take a risk recommending someone I barely know because what if that person turns out to be bad? Now I look bad for recommending them and that filmmaker is less likely to work with me in the future.
And even if I do know someone that could fill that job role, if I didn't enjoy working with that person or didn't feel they were as skilled as they made themselves out to be, I'm not going to recommend them.
Making good recommendations in the film business is a means of social capital that most filmmakers don't give up easily. As a result, we're only going to recommend people we've actually worked with and that we've enjoyed working with.
So if you want a recommendation, do good work with lots of people. And I know some of you are saying "Well, that's a catch 22. How do I get work without a recommendation?" Sometimes you have to be willing to do work for free to establish a relationship. This could mean getting an internship or taking on a short job on an indie film and working for free. If you make a positive impression, those folks will recommend you. I've mentioned the P.A. Academy under the Atlanta Film Festival to some of you before as a means of getting started.
But don't ask me for work or for a recommendation if I haven't seen what it's like to work with you. Trust that if you do good work, most people will talk about how great it was to work with you and work will come from that.