Monday, April 13, 2009

Like Beating A Dead Kerfuffle.

Last week I gave you my Introduction to a Kerfuffle. At first, I was holding off from giving a full response because I wanted to be fair. I was having difficulty achieving that because, frankly, the first few emails from those people just got me Uber-Pissy. Now, I'm more bored with it than anything else, but I promised you guys a kerfuffle and a kerfuffle you shall have.

You may recall that all of this started when The Anonymous Production Assistant was answering a question about his opinion of P.A. Bootcamp. I made a comment that I thought was entirely fair:

My first reaction was that they were showing an awful lot of paperwork to learn in two days. You might learn the rudiments and how to recognize the stuff, but not much behind the paperwork.

Then, I noticed that not only do they not tell you the name of any instructor (past or present), but the “testimonials” only include one person who gives a full name. That person doesn’t seem to have an IMDB listing.

Not saying they’re a crock, but they certainly aren’t going out of their way to instill confidence.

(I've fixed my orignal typo here...that omitted "not". Hope nobody minds.)

Last Monday, I got an email signed, -P.a. Bootcamp Staff (sic) with no other signature. It included an attachment naming 60 or so graduates of the PA Bootcamp with contact information. There were two more emails going back and forth after that one, presumably with the same person.

Allow me to respond to my first correspondent thusly:

Dear PA Bootcamp Douchebag (you don't mind if I call you that since you didn't bother to identify yourself, do you?),

Writing passive-aggressive emails in response to perceived slights isn't going to do your company any favors in the long run. It makes you look childish, ignorant and unprofessional. When you're responding to something someone has said about you, it might be a good idea to respond to what they've actually said.

When you pointed out that you looked me up on IMDB and noted that "most of (my) shows are "low budget" under 8 mill", I'm assuming you meant to call my credentials into question. Consider me properly chastised. I would like to mention, however, that the major difference between a Location Manager's job on an 8 million dollar picture and on a 50 million dollar picture is the luxury of solving problems by throwing money at them. Both shows need somewhere to shoot every day. Both need to control the streets they're working in. Both shows need permits of every variety for filming, stunts, name it. Both shows need holding areas for the extras and accommodations for the cast that meet SAG requirements.

You went on in the same email to (finally) name some of your past "Drill Instructors" and to say,

...this list is just a few of our supporters and Drill Instructors. Again, freelance. We rotate on and off. This includes BOTH of Name Redacted's kids, and his wife. Not the ex wife. The current wife. Do you know Name Redacted personally or just through work? (Name Redacted is a director I've worked with recently and I cut his name since he didn't ask to be involved in this tiff or to be blogged about.)

Here are my questions: 1. I don't know Name Redacted's wife (current or ex), nor do I know his kids. They may very well be highly qualified to teach PA Bootcamp, but their relationship to Name Redacted is not a credential. 2. One of those 8 million dollar pics you seem to think are somehow unworthy...yup...directed by Name Redacted. 3. What fucking difference in the world could it make if my relationship with Name Redacted is merely professional?

And to finish up with you, Mr. PA Bootcamp Douchebag, may I be so bold as to suggest that you look up a definition of slander? My comment wasn't in the same continent as slander. Had I said, "If PA Bootcamp Douchebag's command of written English is any indication of the quality of the instruction at PA Bootcamp, that would give me cause for concern", that might have been considered slanderous by some. But I didn't say that.

Now, on to the other responder. His email, titled "P.A. BOOTCAMP INVITES YOU TO AUDIT OUR SESSION" came on Tuesday night. He identifies himself (I'm going to delete that part) and he's making an honest effort to diffuse a trainwreck, so I'll do him the courtesy of responding accordingly. Below is the complete text of his email and I'm inserting my responses.
(begin email)
Wasn't sure if you received it at my account from work, so I'm using the main Bootcamp computer.

I'm assuming this is Nathan.

My name is Name Redacted. I'm not the owner of P.A. Bootcamp and I don't run it, but I do work for them. At this point I decided to read the email while assuming that I was finally hearing from an adult.

Things have quickly turned unfortunate and rereading the posts, I see it is not entirely your fault. (Uh? Thanks?) Your initial post did contain a flip comment about the "course guide", but it's the reader/commenter Name Redacted that really fanned the flames with his remarks. You questioned the need for such a camp, while he called us an outright "scam." Actually, I didn't question the need for such a camp. I questioned whether or not a program who's owners, managers, staff and endorsers are all anonymous was worthy of consumer confidence. But since you mention it...OK, I will question the need. I don't, for a minute begrudge anyone operating a for-profit instructional program. Assuming it's reputable, I'm sure there's value in it for those who have the money to invest. But I've hired people who's only training was "on the job". I've hired people I had to train from scratch. I've also hired people who went through the Made in NY P.A. Training Program. Guess what? The way they got their training hasn't been a reliable predictor of how well they worked out. A training program is "right" for some people, but it certainly isn't a deciding factor for me when I'm hiring.

From there, a couple of members we have on staff that do internet research, email replies, site updates and network traffic watching took it upon themselves to protect the company's interests. They even got a couple of former campers to respond.

For some, this business has become a primary source of income during the production slowdown brought on by the current economy and lack of a SAG agreement. (I've been lucky, working full time on "Show Name Redacted but it's a real one") This is why the replies from our side have been harshly defensive. We apologize. I'm glad you've had this source of income during this slow time. Can I ask if you're telling your students that their prospects pretty much suck right now?

You state that you are traveling, but will probably blog about all this. Before posting judgement, I would like to invite you to meet with members of our staff, perhaps even during a camp session. We are a legitimate business whose members work within the Film and Television industry in a variety of positions (mostly P.A.'s and A.D.'s).

Of course, you can post what you wish, and I know you have no control over your readers and their comments. But I would like you to see the camp for yourself, and ask your questions to us directly about the camp's content and price. Maybe we can help you to see "the point", as you put it. Once again, I never made any reference to "the point", so that wasn't my issue. I live in NY and rarely get out to L.A. so I doubt I'll be visiting. However, maybe one of my readers in your area would be interested in checking out the course. If so, I'll forward you their contact information and hopefully, you'll extend the same invitation.

When I first heard of P.A. Bootcamp, I was also completely unconvinced. I thought you could train somebody everything they need to know in an hour or two. I was invited to see the camp and was amazed by how much there is to learn, stuff that I just take for granted. (Over 270 terms...we really do speak a different language.) And yes, some of it can be learned in a "trial by fire" basis over time. But with the camp, P.A.'s arrive completely ready to handle the rough sets and the harsh A.D.'s. They don't burn their bridges on the first sets they day-play on. They can move into staff positions immediately.

The camp also weeds out people who have the wrong idea about what's required and how a set operates. While everybody learns and retains that knowledge at their individual skill level, there's a definite improvement to a Bootcamp trained P.A. over a completely green one. Think about a screenwriter. They don't need to read "Adventures in The Screen Trade" or "Story" or take Robert McKee's seminar to write Pulp Fiction. But there's a reason why these resources are so popular. They put your head in the right place so you can deliver what's expected.

After seeing the camp, I was so convinced that I asked if I could help out. That was 3 years ago, when they only had around 150 terms and the cost was $175. P.A. Bootcamp is constantly evolving, and the camp of 3 years ago is a pale shadow to the current incarnation.

Name Redacted
P.A. Bootcamp Staff
(end of email)
Look, PA Bootcamp may, in fact, be the best thing since sliced bread. I made a comment and I stand by it completely. The website is your website and it's under your control. You can choose to make it an effective marketing tool or not. Name some of your past instructors on the site. The names I was emailed are perfectly respectable people. Are they not comfortable being publicly associated with PA Bootcamp? The website has changed since my first visit so that your endorsers are now named. (I'll waive my consulting fee for that one.) My point was, and still is that you should be answering questions on the website, not making your potential students chase you down for the information. They're paying should do the work. And you should find out who sent those first emails to me. Further contact between him and the public is not recommended.

If anyone decides they'd like to audit the course and review it, I'll lend you my blog to post about it if you don't have your own. I freely admit that I still have my doubts about the program (doubts that were inspired by PA Bootcamp's own website), but if any industry professional wants to take a first hand look and then tell me I'm being needlessly cynical, I'll gladly post the results.


vince said...

Since this is part of what I do for a living, let me state something that should be obvious to any business owner: websites for any business should inspire confidence in said business. Further, it should provide the visitor as much useful information as possible in as an accessible manner as possible. The business that doesn't do this is likely to chase visitors away, regardless of how good the business itself is.

The site as first visited by you and others failed to do this. Which is essentially what you said.

Worse, their response to you in the person of the first person who emailed you is what can seriously hurt a business. As I tell clients, you must react to criticism, even foamy-mouthed, criticism, reasonably and rationally. People will judge you by how you respond, and private emails will not necessarily remain private.

If someone is out of line, say so, but say so on point and politely. If they've made a mistake, point it out in the same manner. If you've made a mistake, or you agree that something needs to b corrected, then do so, and thank the person for painting it out, again on point and politely.

Oh, and make damn sure you don't incorrectly interpret what someone said. It makes you look foolish.

Some dude stuck in the Midwest said...

You call that kerfuffle?

Nathan said...

I think it's a fine kerfuffle. It's not like I said it was WWIII or anything!

Jim Wright said...

Since I don't know diddly about the internal machinery of movie making (for example: despite reading everything you've written, I still have no idea what a "grip" is, though I do have speculations, mostly involving self stimulation...) most of this kerfluffle goes right over my head.

Having said that, I find it interesting that PA Bootcamp has such an intense and abiding interest in your opinion.

Nathan said...


The simplest, (but incomplete) answer is that electricians make light and grips make shadows.

Grips are responsible for:
-camera support and movement.
-silks, solids and nets to diffuse or block light.
-rigging to hang lights from.
-carpentry (when there aren't carpenters on set).

-and a whole lot more.

If anyone else wants to chime in, feel free.

Jim Wright said...

Cool. Now that you've schooled me, does that mean I'm qualified to be a PA?

Also, can you send me my certificate?

Also, can you read my screen play?

Also, can you give my screen play to James Cameron the next time you see him?

Thanks Man, you're the best.