John FK Parenteau has been a filmmaker, cinematographer and visual effects professional for the past 30 years, and has executive produced and supervised visual effects on a wide range of network and studio level film and television projects, including Hunger Games, Oblivion, The Deuce and Star Trek: Voyager, for which he won an Emmy for computer animation. John is also an instructor for Trade/Craft, and shares his insight into being successful.
by John FK Parenteau
I grew up in a small town and worked at a local grocery store when I was in high school. The owner was somewhat notorious for liking things done his way, and that sensibility was instilled in every employee, from top to bottom. I was a lowly bagger (called Courtesy Clerks) but that didn’t matter; he knew that this type of “attitude” about the company needed to start even at my level. He was very specific, and we always joked about how crazy he was. For example, you ALWAYS took a customer’s groceries out for them, and when done you RAN the cart back into the store. You never chatted with fellow employees, and always asked the customer how their day was going. If you were asked to do a price check, or had to go back of store, you ran there, always saying hello to every customer on the way, and NEVER stopping to talk to fellow employees unless it was part of your business. Those were just a few examples, but they were enforced on a day to day basis. This isn’t to say that the store didn’t always look clean, or the prices were good, or they carried enough stock; all those regular business things were important, too, but he didn’t forget that often it’s the little things that make up success as well.
Years later, I found that this type of attention to detail would resonate with me in everything I did. Being in any sort of service business, which is pretty much any business to be honest, it’s important to set standards. You probably do it every day with your own business. You insist on a certain level of customer service that represents who you are and the work that you do. Anybody who owns their own business understands that their choices day to day could make or break the business. Think of someone like Steve Jobs. He made many, many choices every day for every product he helped create at Apple, and many of those choices were questioned. Yet most of his choices are what defined his tenure there, and every product that the company offered. He set a tone, an attitude, just like my first boss, and never wavered in his attention to this high level of detail. You can easily see this was a major part of what made them both successful.
So many professionals get understandably buried in simply running their day to day business, and they forget the keys to building the business in the first place. Most likely, you got into the entertainment business because you found something you loved, or at least liked, and you felt you could “make a go of it”, and make some money along the way. What typically happens is that those same people quickly find just keeping ahead of the work load is enough to fill their days. It’s in these moments you can tend to say, “That’s good enough.”
That’s a terrible term. If you went to a restaurant and ordered a hamburger, would you want the chef to throw together your food and say, “I guess that’s good enough”? We as consumers are never happy with “Good Enough,” and there’s no reason why, as entertainment professionals, we should be either. In our world of high pressured business and deadlines, we are faced daily with people who don’t see the value of planning ahead, presenting the image of their company as a cohesive unit, or thinking of themselves capable of being presented as a truly professional, high end company or person. It doesn’t matter whether you are 150 people in a large office, or one person working out of your garage. In today’s world, we ALL have access to the same tools of marketing and presentation. Sure, some of us may be able to spend more money on those tools, but we all can use the same tools none-the-less. When it comes to our work, we know you can go to GoDaddy and build your own basic site. We know you can handle making some posts on your social media. But is that “good enough?” A basic site is going to look… well, basic. Does that represent your brand? Posting now and then on Facebook is going to let you talk about your business, but is it the message your customers want to hear?
In the film business, no matter whether you are a production assistant or successful producer, a large part of your job is presenting yourself to the industry. If the former, you are building your value so that employers see you as someone they want to hire, work with or partner with. If the latter, and already experienced, you still need to maintain that success to ensure you continue working, but are more and more trustworthy to that elite talent you feel is oh, so close to booking. It’s so easy in this industry to get lost in deadlines, to let anger boil up when something isn’t done right, or to cower and run away when you are at the other end of that anger. But none of that is going to help your future brand. Remember how you react is equally important to how you act, and doing half the job is never going to let you achieve your goals.
The ultimate goal is to be critical of yourself, and never accept “Good enough”, because it isn’t. It’s up to you to reach beyond the role of the day to day professional and grow into a powerhouse in your community or in the world. It’s not for lack of tools, nor a lack of money. So it’s up to nobody but you to say, “Good enough, isn’t” and to embrace not what you are, but what you could be.
The world is out there waiting to be “wowed”, so what are you waiting for?