Keeping Agreements: Money & Time

Puy du Fou 3 July 15 courtesy of David Willrich

Puy du Fou 3 July 15 courtesy of David Willrich

Money changes everything

Money, money changes everything

We think we know what we’re doin’

That don’t mean a thing

It’s all in the past now

Money changes everything

They shake your hand and they smile

And they buy you a drink

They say we’ll be your friends

We’ll stick with you till the end

Ah but everybody’s only

Looking out for themselves

And you say well who can you trust

I’ll tell you it’s just

Nobody else’s money

Thomas Gray for Cyndi Lauper – 1983

When all is said and done, this is about Respect.

You want to build a team, a network of people willing if not downright looking forward to working with you; to join your team and create amazing things, to return to your teams – time and again – and continue to build great things?

Well then:

Respect them, and show them they are Respected.

Respect the deals that are made and never make anyone have to ask for their money.

Of key importance is that we remember that:

  • Putting people in a position to have to ask for their money, especially more than once, is demeaning to and disrespectful of them.
  • These people are working for you, they are not working for your client. When your client pays you is irrelevant to when you pay your people. This is a tough part of owning one’s own business, though it remains a line it is imperative not be crossed.
  • Unless otherwise decided and contracted or agreed, all Talent and Show Crew should walk away from the theatre on the night of the show or on the day of the end of a project with a check in hand, fully paid.

Building a Team and a Network of Loyalty

Paying people on time; keeping money agreements (all agreements, really; but today’s topic is Money); these are a foundation for building and maintaining trusting, productive, fruitful ongoing relationships with vendors, freelance production professionals and talent…all with whom one works and with whom one hopes to work, again.

Frankly, it’s a great opportunity for reinforcing the bond that has been established through working together, after the curtain has dropped and during load-out, to be able to circulate among one’s crew and team, handing these men and women their envelopes, looking them in the eye while personally thanking them for the gift of their efforts, skills and talents in support of the vision…your vision that has likely become a collective vision as y’all’ve worked side-by-side on making it happen.

(In my case this process more often involves hugs and a few happy tears…but that’s just me.)

As a freelancer, back in my early days in San Francisco, I discovered that when I offered a 5% discount for being paid on the day of the event, the City of San Francisco would jump on that and I would be paid on the day of the event…saving me weeks of wondering when I’d see the money AND keeping relationships comfy and clean for years of successive projects at and around City Hall.

[Personal Note: I did try that “discount thing” here in Dubai, with the result that the client paid me a week late AND took the discount! So, that isn’t necessarily a foolproof technique.]

The point is that the actual payment of agreed-upon fees directly affects the working relationship. Keep it clean and free of doubt; it will come back to you a thousandfold in respect, loyalty, performance.

Now: About Time

Looking back across the table to deliverables and deadlines; again…

  • Keep the Agreement
  • Be on Time
  • Deliver on time
  • Make the call on time
  • Do whatever you said you’d do on time…
  • Avoid keeping people waiting, whether they be teammates, colleagues or audience members

We’ve talked before about Time, specifically about the Power of Time with “Time and Timing” and the full grasp and mapping of Time in “Time & Timing – Rudiment to Complement” .

So, today, a brief rant-ette on the ramifications of inattention to Time.

Time Agreements – making and keeping them.

As freelance, staff, vendor or colleague; one’s Time Agreements are of vital imortance to the perceived integrity and very real dependability of oneself and the value of one’s word.

Just as the above conversation of payment on time supports Trust in Professional Relationships; so, too, do all Time Agreements serve to strengthen and support one’s integrity and the tenor of the Team one builds and with which one works.

As has been cited in this space, before: one person arriving ten minutes late to a meeting of six colleagues has effectively wasted 60 expensive minutes; a full hour of staff time. Lateness has a price in the micro and the macro; irrespective of the reason for it, there is rarely rationale.

  • be on time
  • pay on time
  • deliver on time – or early

…and the moment one knows one is not going to arrive / pay / deliver on time is the time to alert the concerned parties. Announcing one is late at the moment one is late is pointless; by then, that secret is already out. This applies, by the way, to ANY moment after people have begun to travel to gather for said meeting or function.

…And to perception. Meetings and professional commitments are not free-standing. People plan their days and work flow around meetings such that a cancellation even a few hours beforehand does not alleviate serious negative fallout. Companies staff up based on delivery schedules; failure to meet that schedule can cost significant amounts of money in lost or idle staff time (and overtime when running to compensate for your lateness). Be sensitive to the ramifications of failure to keep agreements, to keep one’s word.

People and companies make plans based on agreements made. Failure to adhere to agreements can have ramifications far beyond anything one might see or assume.

Don’t commit unless you can do it; and don’t fail to do it if you commit. Less than that is less than honorable. Respect your own word.

We are part of a team. Successive teams. Part of a relationship or network of relationships that depend on trust and integrity to function fully well. From Individuals to Agencies to Corporations; we are all bound to Keep Our Word; and no context is too small to merit full commitment to integrity.

No context is too small to merit full commitment to Integrity.


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Reality Cannot be Taught…

…thus critically, it must be learned through Experience.

If you graduated from Design or Production School anytime within the past three years; you are not yet ready to go out on your own.

Rarely, ever so rarely, does one graduate from school ready to open one’s own shop. Virtually everyone from Accountants to Engineers to Therapists and Physicians goes through something akin to an Apprenticeship before putting their own name on a door.

Does a doctor graduate Medical School, grab a scalpel and start transplanting hearts? Years of Residency await; closely supervised, mentored, to be guided through test after test, practice and more practice before s/he begins to Practice solo.

[I do not for a moment, btw, suggest that Experience Design and Production takes nearly the study that Medicine requires – I’m simply making the point that practice is a crucial component in the preparation for virtually any profession or craft.]

Just as any Professional must experience the practical application of the theories, disciplines and methodologies s/he’s learned in school in order to best use said learning with awareness of the random nuance that accompanies the Human Factor; so, too, must Designers and Creatives and Stage Managers and Producers see their work in three-dimensional (and now four-dimensional) presence in the field to truly know how what is created will play.

One must have actually Built It to Know It.

We have spoken of this, before, in “A Word to the Wise”. The subject arises, again now, due to a couple of recent experiences we’ve had, professionally.

These instances? A lecture given last year at EMDI Dubai and this year’s EMDI graduation ceremony.

I love teaching at EMDI and can’t get enough of those students (though may never again be invited, after this post is published); they are intelligent, earnest, committed, aspirational and they listen. But in class that night, during Q&A, after several questions about finding or “getting” clients, something dawned on me; so, I asked.

“How many of you are planning on opening your own Event companies after graduation?” Easily a third of the room raised hands.

I came back with, “Nooooo, nononono. That is not how you get clients. If anything, it is how you will get unhappy clients…” I explained that one must first work for others…a lot; working on an event from concept development all the way through production and load out; sweeping out dressing rooms, bringing water to testy talent, scheduling the loading dock, doing every little job there is that adds up to the Whole of the production.

That is where reputations are made, that is where the beginnings of a career actually take root. Years of working for other companies and Individuals is where one’s own reputation is forged. Being noticed for the work done, the creativity applied, the equanimity under pressure (look it up); that’s where Clients will come from.

Having “interned” by staffing events is good experience, but it is barely scratching the surface. Allow me to put a finer point on that: Staffing an Event is not an “internship” and, while it offers valuable experience, it does in no way render one “Experienced.”

Being a part of the team from the very beginning; discovering idiosyncrasies of clients, venues and vendors and ironing out obstacles and misunderstandings on the fly while keeping one’s production on schedule for curtain up on schedule and being fully responsible for anything that’s forgotten or overlooked is critical to one’s ultimate success as stage manager, production manager, producer, director, anything.

Having to solve one’s own mistakes.

Working three days on an event is not Production Experience; it is only a taste.

Only. A. Taste.

I believe it is the responsibility of Professional schools to emphasize the fact that these schools actually and realistically prepare the students to learn; a learning that will happen after graduation. No student should graduate with the expectation that s/he now knows everything needed to launch a businesses.

This is unfair to the students, vastly unfair to upcoming clients and ultimately deleterious to professionals in the Show and Experience industry, overall.

So. Are they being taught this? That is not my sense, here in Dubai.

Which brings me to last week’s Graduation Ceremony.

As a Production, it was pretty bad; as an event, it was average; as an Experience, it was disappointing; as a showcase for a Graduating Class of Event Professionals, it was downright embarrassing.

A part of me feels awful for saying this; as these students truly are great and most of them carry the potential for becoming good and excellent producers. A few came up to me during the event, asking if the night was going to merit “…better than a C-plus?” (That’s the grade I gave last year’s ceremony; which I had shared in class, this year…)

Plus; the students even gave me an award! Most cool…


Newly graduated men and women of EMDI; I feel a bit bad about this, but I can’t give that ceremony more than a C+. The lighting was better (thanks to ECLIPSE) and the room was prettier on entry; but beyond that, the event was so poorly designed and sloppily run that it elicited running commentary among the guest faculty and event professionals in the room throughout the night.

Specifically and not all-inclusively (diagrams at bottom of column):

  • the program started nearly 45 minutes late.
  • If any of the speakers had rehearsed, this was not in evidence. Neither most of the professionals nor the students.
  • Not all facts had been checked.
  • A vast dance floor split the space between the audience and the stage
  • on which was a big, ugly, unmasked monitor and
  • across which every speaker had to walk to get to the lectern, every student had to walk to collect the Diploma or Class Award.
  • Taking perhaps 10 seconds per trip across the boards.
  • Ten seconds x even just 100 people = 1000 seconds = 16 minutes while people waited. Sixteen minutes.
  • Mounting the stage meant climbing a step unit with no handrails and no ASM (assistant stage manager) at the stairs to extend a hand for security on the way up (and some of these women wore some impressive heels)
  • Descending the stage meant descending another stage unit; again with no railing, no ASM, and several hearts in throats as young women carefully found their way down them.
  • The stage was just plain poorly placed; requiring travel by anyone called to it.
  • The talent entertainment was of and by the students. In theory, this is a nice thought; but what was brought to mind by the seriously off-key soloist and poorly-rehearsed dance troupe was Noel Coward’s “Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington.”

“Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington.

Don’t put your daughter on the stage.

The profession is overcrowded,

And the struggle’s pretty tough,

And admitting the fact

She’s burning to act,

That isn’t quite enough…”

These young people are adults; they are old enough to be told the truth. If an act isn’t ready to present; that information should be shared with the Talent…lest they be subject to more public critique. Such as this…but more brutal.

Correcting for any of these above-cited production errors would cost precisely nothing.

But what rumbles beneath the surface here, what is cause for professional concern, the elephant in THIS room is the answer to the question;

“Is this what these kids are being taught is good production?”

Is this what they are off to emulate with their degrees?

EMDI is arguably the premiere Production Management school in the Middle East. That being the case, one would expect the graduation ceremony to be a sparkling showcase of their best work. Flawlessly designed and run with precision, style, professionalism and sophistication, the graduation event is a fantastic opportunity to impress Those Who Hire.

None of this costs money; all it takes is thought and planning.

I believe, strongly, that it is the responsibility of the school to espouse reaching for the best in Production Value; eschewing anything that falls short of the best possible work and sending new producers out into the world with a strong sense of quality of production…including attention to detail, mastery of Time and commitment to smooth and compelling experience.

Otherwise, why do this?

Do these graduates leave that evening thinking they’ve been a part of an excellent production?

If so, they are misled and mistaken and I, as a potential employer, am let down… these graduates, if that Graduation Ceremony is their Standard, are not prepared to deliver the best possible show, event or experience to any clients. While these students pay dearly for the education they get; do they leave there knowing that they need to do far better than their own graduation ceremony in order to be successful in this industry?

If, on the other hand, this is just a party for family and friends; maybe stop inviting professionals and do a separate showcase.

A Final Note:

In my experience, I have worked with scores of EMDI undergrads on other events; finding some who rise to the occasion, some who are a tad challenged by the pressure, many of whom were solid and dependable potential stage managers and production staff; with very few exceptions. They took direction well and I stay in touch with a few of them with intent to continue to hire them.

On the other hand; some I visited on site on projects they worked after graduation. More often than not, I would see what I would classify as obvious gaps in production, sub-optimal staging or craft, and ask the newly-minted Producer / Stage Manager about it…only to learn that the failings of the production under their new purview were not evident to them until pointed-out.

Inductive thinking was not being applied, a critical eye had not been developed and these earnest individuals were not aware. Either unsupervised or not mentored, but evidently not practiced in making a production the best it can be. After a little mini-tutorial in applied stagecraft, they could see…but were often afraid to raise the issue with their employers.

That would be a different problem…


About that Ceremony Set-up:

Rough (VERY rough; I am no artist) comparison of options…)

What was:

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 10.32.57 AM

An Option:

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 10.33.11 AM


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Billions of readers throughout the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies have discovered “IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience.” A free, downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience, it can be found in the iBooks app on any Apple device, in iTunes or at this link.