Keeping a Work Journal

Notebook Recap

My primary requirement for the support staff is that they carry a notebook and pen at all times in the office. Too much gets thrown at us too quickly to rely on electronics. On my way to the water cooler; I’ll be confronted by an editor who experienced a payroll problem, a producer who needs a multi-group looked into, and the E.P. telling me that a cut delivery is going to push. All of these items get written down in the notebook immediately, or otherwise they’d be forgotten by the time I made it back to my desk.

Your Notebook == Institutional Knowledge == Job Security

Over time your notebook becomes a valuable repository of institutional knowledge that can be referred back to, which helps keep your job secure. An Assistant Editor I used to work with took this advice to heart and has a small book shelf dedicated to her old notebooks. A few years back, after she had moved on to editing, I needed help locating some old XDCAM discs from a past season. I reached out knowing that she’d be able to find the information we needed in one of her old notebooks. Shortly after I received an email with pictures from her notebooks with the exact information my team needed. Her notes saved my team hours of work. Talk about building good will!

What is a work journal?

A Few Work Journals: Old & New

A Work Journal is a place that you keep your thoughts and feeling about your work. Keeping a work journal is like a ‘next-level’ notebook. But instead of capturing things you need to do (or have done), your work journal is a place to create records about your work for your future self. Here’s an entry I wrote near the start of my Post Supervisor career in NYC:

From Tuesday, May 10, 2011: I need a better handle of what I’m doing, what the coordinator is doing, what the Lead A.E. is doing, and what tasks the Post Department is doing at any given moment. Story Producers are always crying wolf and creating a false sense of urgency. It is my job to determine what problems actually need the department’s resources.

Rereading my early Post Supervisor entries I can see myself struggling to understand what the position is about and how the responsibilities differed from the Post Supervisors I had worked with in Washington, DC.

Why keep a work journal?

The positive effects of journaling have been documented in numerous studies. My process is to spend about ten or fifteen minutes writing down a few key thoughts about the major events of the day before I leave the office. I’ve previously used Moleskine cahier journals, but now I recommend Pitch Black Notebooks by Field Notes or the Evernote App if you want to go digital.

Keeping a work journal has allowed me to look back and spot patterns or inconsistencies of logic in thinking about my career. Here is an entry I wrote in 2009:

August, 2009 – Today was proof that my current career is at the end of the line.

This morning I came into my client’s office to restart their Xsan. It had to be shut down over the weekend while the building’s electrical panels were replaced. When I came in Monday morning, I turned on the power supplies, the switches, the drive arrays, and mdc servers as I was supposed to. However, I was unable to get the SAN volumes mounted.

I knew the problem was most likely network related, something from when the old router was replaced and new firewall installed, however my networking knowledge is limited. Instead of digging into the forums and figuring out the solution myself, I called our integration engineer. He ‘remoted in’ and solved the problem, not me.

At the time I beat myself up for not being able to solve the problem, but when I revisited that entry three years later I realized that it was the first instance of me recognizing myself as a producer and delegating responsibility.

Rewritten – August, 2012 – Today I delegated responsibility for the first time, and in the process reinvented myself.

This morning I came into the office to restart the Xsan. However, I was unable to get the SAN volumes mounted. I knew the problem was most likely network related, however my networking knowledge is limited. Instead of spending my time figuring out the solution, I called our integration engineer. He solved the problem in a couple of minutes.

The lesson I learned was that my time is valuable, and I need to pay careful attention to how I’m using it. Spending hours trying to solve a problem that an expert can solve in minutes is wasteful. The balance between what I’m supposed to do and what I’m supposed to delegate is a fine line. But that line is why I’m trusted as a Post Production Supervisor in the first place.

“The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.”

Lee Iacocca

I’d like to say that the Iacocca quote has been true for me, and it has been true in a way. Not in an overt “write something down and it will happen tomorrow” way. But as a place to state your goals, analyze your intentions, and track your progress.

You carry a notebook if you care about your job. You keep a journal if you care about your career.


Patterns of Promotion

(or how to prepare for a job interview)

Feeling nervous before a job interview is normal. But while most professionals only go through the process every few years, those of us in the entertainment industry often have to interview several times each year. Therefore, good interviewing skills are an important part of being successful in the business.

I recently spoke about Resume Writing & Job Hunting for the Assistant Editors Bootcamp. And I’ve included a YouTube link to the interview section below. But in this post I am going to talk about something I didn’t cover during my presentation: how I like to prepare for a job interview.

There are two reasons to prepare for a job interview. Firstly, the entertainment industry is a business of relationships, and finding a professional connection can be the difference between getting the job or not. The research process I describe below is meant to increase the number of potential connections between you and the job you are looking to get. Secondly, proper preparation enables you to anticipate questions your interviewer may ask, and to fill your mind with answers.

During the research process you will create what I call: the interview brief. The interview brief is a one page document of notes that I create before I go to a job interview. Here is an example brief I created for a colleague who was interviewing at Goodbye Pictures for a position on The Real Housewives of Dallas. The point of this document is to preemptively fill your mind with thoughts and questions about the company, the show, and the people you are going to meet. Creating a brief requires you to gather three critical pieces of information, in decreasing order of importance, from the person who reached out to you about setting up a job interview:

  1. Who will you be interviewing with?
  2. What is the production company you will be working for?
  3. What is the show you will be working on?

The first place I turn to is IMDB. I know that a lot of people have problems with IMDB, but it’s currently the best source of finding connections between you and the person interviewing you. I like to look at person’s credits to see if I know anyone who’s worked on a common show or production company. IMDB will also give you sense of someone’s experience, have they only worked in one genre for their career, have they bounced around between formats? A person’s career trajectory can also help you anticipate their needs. Someone from a production heavy background might be looking for someone with a lot of post experience to help cover their blindside. Someone with extensive post experience might be interested in someone who’s recently worked in the field and can speak the language of production. At a minimum, during your interview you can always ask your interviewer about their experiences on a past show. But looking for common associates isn’t your only goal.

You can infer a lot about a show or production company with IMDB sleuthing. What you’re looking for are patterns of promotion. For example: has the same person been Lead A.E. for three seasons? Is this season’s Co-Executive Producer last season’s Supervising Producer? Has there been a new Post Supervisor every season? All of these things can give you a sense of the work environment you’re about to walk into. Lead Assistant Editor continuity usually means that the work is probably consistent and the scene nice enough that people want to stick around. In the other example, a new Post Super every season could be an indicator of a chaotic post production process. These are also things you can ask about, or be on the look for, during your interview.

After IMDB I hit the trades. I like to search Variety and the Hollywood Reporter for the production company to see if it’s been mentioned recently. Any awards worth congratulating your interview about? The industry trade magazines are also a good place to learn things about your shows as well. Any cast/crew/location shake ups? If you’re called in to interview on an unannounced show, sometimes you’ll find clues here.

The final stop in my research is Reddit. I read reviews of the show or any other shows produced by the production company. I like to get a sense of the cast and the fans’ favorite episodes. Then I watch as many of them as I can. You never know when you’ll be able to impress someone with a tiny detail you noticed while watching. Recently I was in an interview with a Senior Producer who made an astute observation about our show’s cast that really impressed the two Executive Producers and sparked a long conversation about the upcoming season’s story goals.

As you can see I really believe in doing your research, because the interview is your first opportunity to prove what type of teammate you are going to be. Doing the research demonstrates that you’re an engaged candidate who will go the extra mile.

If you find yourself thumbing your nose at too many of the things you’re learning, perhaps this isn’t the right job for you. Most people don’t realize; job interviews go two ways. As much as someone is deciding whether or not they want to hire you, you are also deciding whether this company is a place that you want to work. Life is too short to spend ten or twelve hours a day working with people whose values aren’t aligned with your own.

Either direction your research takes you, the most important part of every job is understanding why you are taking it in the first place. Perhaps you need the money and the job pays well. Or perhaps you want to learn how to Sync & Group. Then, when things get difficult, as they inevitably will, you’ll be able to retain your composure because you’ll know why you’re enduring in the first place. The number two reason I see people freak out and quit is because they didn’t have a good understanding of why they took the job in the first place.

People in the entertainment industry often have to interview much more frequently than the average professional. Through proper preparation you can set yourself up for success by anticipating the needs of team you’re going to join. But the ultimate goal of the research is figuring out what you want from this job, from this industry, and from your career.