I have just arrived back in London after a fun but grueling trip to Toronto and New York where I met dozens of fascinating people and very talented filmmakers and screenwriters. A common situation to those I met was how to leave the day job, but keep a foot in the door. Or, how to leave the comfort zone in one job and move on to another one without burning bridges.
Arriving back in London I realised that the challenge of departing a day job elegantly is not something that is confined to North America. British and other European filmmakers have exactly the same problem.
If you are ever confronted with the situation of having to move onto another job or career, here’s some things I would strongly advise that you heed if you value the relationships of the people you are currently working with and with whom you will soon be an ex-colleague.
Read and fulfill any legal obligations
This might sound painfully obvious but I have many mates who have been caught out because they failed to adhere to one or more of the conditions of their employment. Quitting first, and then discovering that you missed out on a couple of details can make a small oversight a piece of poison in the eyes of everyone you had worked with.At this point, forget about asking for any favours on your way out the door ‘cos it’s already slamming shut hard.
The opposite extreme can also be the case. I know of a case where a young and very talented filmmaker quit because they had misunderstood the legal position of their company and boldly challenged their employers position. Everyone knew this was a ludicrously wrong error of judgement on his part. His co-workers looked on in astonishment. He should have been sacked on the spot. Instead, this particular short sighted person then abruptly quit and took his ex-employers to court where he was told by the judge that he was wrong. Long after this court case he still maintains he was right and his ex-employers wrong.
In this sad case, it turns out that this particular individual was known for creating imaginary vendettas from high school days. The difference being that in high school his classmates would beat the crap out of him every few weeks. The result of his self-created fiasco was that his street credibility has been destroyed to near nothingness. Now he’s finding it really difficult to get work in the film industry.
Hire a lawyer
When in doubt, hire a lawyer. If you aren’t sure about your position, hiring a lawyer for a few hundred will be the best investment you can ever make.
I had a situation once where I was unsure of my legal position. Hiring a lawyer not only the cheapest investment I have ever made, but gave me clarity on the subject, a sense of direction and peace of mind.
Never represent yourself, should you need to go to court. The old adage holds very true: He (or she) that represents themselves has a fool for a client.
Anger is toxic
Tell anyone you are leaving and you will get a flash of anger. It’s always the first reaction of any employer when a favoured or trusted employee announces they are leaving. I can tell you from my own personal experience that the anger fades in an hour or two. In a recent case anger was replaced by a vast sigh of relief around the entire Raindance world within a few minutes.
Office furniture is relocated, the goldfish bowl gets a new, and more diligent keeper, and before you know it, your presence won’t be missed at all. Everyone then moves on with their new life.
Never badmouth anyone
Another basic truth, especially in the tiny film industry, Yet for some reason, some people can’t stop bad mouthing or backstabbing their ex collegues or employers.
I know of a London based wannabee who prides himself as a real go-getter. He loves swanning around receptions holding a flute of champagne. Toast him at a cocktail reception and he is your best friend. Share a ciggie on the balcony of a 5 star hotel at Cannes Film Festival and he professes undying admiration and loyalty. But turn your back and he flips you off to anyone who cares to listen.
The simple rule in the film industry is this: It is a very small industry. If you’re annoyed or upset with someone, tell them directly. And never breathe a word of it to anyone else, unless you want to be labelled as a poisonous snake.
Play a good chess game
If you are thinking of moving on, keep your cards close to your chess. Don’t tell anyone what your next move is. Don’t use company equipment (cell phones, emails etc) to speak to prospective new employers or partners. Get a private email address and get a personal cell phone to message future contacts. Keep your next move to yourself, and when you are ready, make your move. Only then will you have a chance of keeping your previous employers respectful of you and your decision.
Once you burn a bridge, remember you can never repair it. Destroy a relationship in the film industry and the fall out, like nuclear radiation, can take years and years to fade. Who has time for that?
Hope this helps.