Monday, February 27, 2012

Warning Signs

(photo snapped at the Ottawa International Animation Festival by Fran Kraus)

When it comes to relationships in this biz I try to rely on my “spidey” sense, which is that little gut feeling that something is wrong. You can tell a lot about people based on how they follow through on a plan or how they handle themselves in a situation.

The first time I realized this I was working as a shift manager at a Pizza Hut when I was 17 years old. I had just come off three years working for McDonalds where I had worked up to the same position, so when I was hired at Pizza Hut they quickly bumped me up to the management position after a couple of weeks. They gave me a manager’s uniform, nametag, and made me the only manager on duty for most of my shifts. The woman who hired me, the head manager of the store, seemed very nice at first. Then, I noticed that the raise I was promised (that went along with my increased responsibilities) never materialized. Time dragged on but the head manager explained that the payroll situation was being resolved and promised there would be a retroactive check to account for the owed monies.

As much as I held out faith that I would be paid, the point of no return was three months later when my patience ran out. I was determined to have it out with her one day, but she was working up a step ladder, cleaning out an air filter with a rag. I asked her if we could discuss the money issue when she was done and she said, “No, we can talk about it now.” And, she proceeded to keep cleaning, never once looking back down at me while we talked about my missing raise. Plus, the discussion was in public. Any employee walking by could have heard us talking. The message in her attitude was so clear at this moment that it convinced me I was never getting the money that was owed me. I quit that day with no regrets.

Years later, when I began directing at Blue’s Clues, became president of ASIFA-East, and first started to build a reputation for myself in the larger industry beyond NYC, I attended the Ottawa International Animation Festival where a Hollywood bigwig took an interest in me and asked me to breakfast the next morning.

“I want to discuss your career and an opportunity for you,” he said.

The next morning we met at the agreed restaurant and as soon as we walked in, the Hollywood guy spotted a more important industry person than me and invited him to eat with us. Needless to say, the discussion about my career never took place and the supposed opportunity wasn’t brought up either. While that was disappointing, I was grateful that the Hollywood guy showed his colors so quickly. Here was someone I didn’t need to waste my time with.

I make a lot of mistakes, but I’m grateful for any moments of clarity where I had the sense to listen to my gut and avoid trouble or larger disappointments. I think everyone can better learn to listen to that inner voice that warns us to steer clear of some one or some thing. We're gonna get older either way, so we might as well also get wiser.


Mike Rauch said...

"We're gonna get older either way, so we might as well also get wiser." ... I'm always working at that one!

David McBride said...

Great post!!! Very insightful.
It is so disrespectful as a human being that the manager didn't even come down from the ladder to talk to you.
I really feel my past retail experience has sharpened my skills more than anything when it comes to reading body language. I brought in more charge accounts in my department in 10 months than anyone else in the 10 years that the store had been there. Yet, I was told on numerous occasions it didn't matter.

I found it particularly difficult working in an environment where I was told from day one that there was no chance of advancement. Especially being an animator, a field with such creativity and endless possibilities.

Michael Sporn said...

At my age, I wonder how much "wiser" I can get. It's a funny world we live in, and we have to take all the little pluses we can muster.

David B. Levy said...

Thanks for the comments all!

David, that does sound like a very difficult working environment. In a way, it's nice that they were that honest with you in terms of there being no opportunities for advancement. I'd prefer that to being promised something that won't happen.

Wkay said...

all the information you shared gave me an impression that it is a very tough industry. My daughter is a junior majoring in animation, she has not have any working experience with any animated comp. Upon her graduation next year, any direction for her how to start to get a job in this field...what should she do to prepare herself for this field. She also takes screen writing class and English too.