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Saturday, August 01, 2009
"Oh, the one with the $50 I never got paid?"
The other night, I went to a fancy blogger happy hour meetup, the kind of thing I don't ever get to go to anymore because as soon as I'm done at work, the question is always how fast I can get home in I-35 long-commute traffic and what there will be to eat for me, my wife and my daughter when I arrive (often my responsibility).
But this was an exception and I was only planning to stay for a half hour (which became 45 minutes). It was at a very fancy hotel that was so fancy that the outdoor patio was somehow cooler than the 105 degree temperatures that were taking place everywhere in Austin except on very fancy hotel patios.
While I was drinking what would end up being only 1/4th of a $5 drink I purchased, a guy came up to me and reminded me that we'd worked together a long time ago on a little comedy film project that was never completed.
I remember it well.
The reason I remember it well is because I never got paid for it. I got roped into it by a friend of the comedy troupe and I remember being stressed out about trying to remember my lines and having the right clothes and being an absolute professional.
I also remember it because it involved two separate shoots on weekends. On one of them, my poor wife (then my girlfriend) waited in a nearby room for me to finish so we could go home. She waited several hours.
I remember it most, though, because of a phone conversation I had with the guy who had gotten me involved in the first place. He asked me for my address so he could send a check for the work I'd done on the project. It was $50. Not much, right? But at the time I was pretty broke-ass most of the time. It would have at least been worth a nice dinner to take my girlfriend out and make the inconvenience up to her.
That check never came.
Years later, I still remember that goddamned $50 and the work I did that was never paid. It gives me a little, a very little, amount of satisfaction to know the film never went anywhere. Maybe it was an accounting problem! Even though all the wellness experts advise that you let that kind of negativity go, I guess I haven't. It's not the money part that bothers me. It's having someone tell me they're going to do something, repaying a favor, and then not doing it.
Truth be told, I'd have probably done the film for free. But that wasn't the deal.
And maybe the check got lost in the mail or something. Fine. That's possible. But to me, it's a promise that, years ago, just wasn't kept. It was something that soured me on the whole idea of doing low-budget stuff with people who needed low-budget talent.
$50. It's been years and that sum seems even smaller now than it did then, but I haven't forgotten.
So when the guy came up to me (not the guy who owed me money, but one of his associates), it played out just like this in my head:
GUY AT PARTY: Hey, we were in that comedy bit together. The one with the courtroom?
OMAR: (The one where I worked for two days and didn't get paid?) Oh yeah! I remember that.
GUY AT PARTY: You know, there was a hard drive crash and --
OMAR: (Did Quicken get erased? Because I never got paid.) Oh yeah?
GUY AT PARTY: -- yeah, but we still have that footage somewhere and --
OMAR: (Is there footage of a check being sent to my address? Because that's a deleted scene I would be interested in seeing!) Huh. No kidding?
GUY AT PARTY: And we're still trying to put it together into a movie.
OMAR: (A movie about a guy who works and never gets paid? I think I starred in that movie! It was called Fucked: The Great Adventure!) Well, that sounds awesome. It was a lot of fun. (Unpaid fun.)
GUY AT PARTY: Well, nice seeing you!
OMAR: (Go fuck yourself.) Let me know how that all turns out!
Then I went home and made pasta.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Mom bloggers redux (on NPR) and band booking
Even though I don't really work as closely with either group anymore as I used to, I can't tell you how grateful I am for the years I put into Latino Comedy Project and Television Without Pity.
Both gigs (which I loved) taught me how to juggle my day job with outside-of-work projects and, over time, how to tie them together with the work and opportunities that really do pay the bills. And in each case, I was working with people who were in similar situations -- staying up late at night or rehearsing through the weekends to get it all done.
Not everything I do is always great, but I can tell you that I developed a work ethic that I hope never goes away. It's certainly helps now that I'm also juggling parenthood to have ways of ensuring everything gets done in the small pockets of time I have left.
One trick (although it's not really a trick, more just a habit) is finding ways to use work I do for one place somewhere else, in some way. When I do holiday gadget guides for my job at the Statesman, sometimes some of the leftover items that don't fit end up in a similar piece for TWOP. And lately, a lot of the reporting I do for the Statesman ends up on NPR as part of segments they're either already working on or decide to do because of my stories.
That was the case this week when the segment topic was mom bloggers. The story I did a few weeks ago for the Statesman lined up well with the recent BlogHer conference in Chicago. NPR was able to send a reporter and I was able to use the material I gathered for that story.
(It also helps to have very patient, understanding bosses: they've been really supportive of the NPR stuff and haven't made me feel weird about double-dipping into tech coverage. It's good exposure for the paper and our Web site, I hope.)
By the same token, I'm being asked to speak at conferences and to consult on projects using some of the same expertise. It's weird and a little scary; I turn down more stuff than I take on, and we have a policy at work where I have to run all these things by editors. Sometimes it's not worth the hassle to even go through the process, but if it's something I really want to do, it's really good to get an editor's take on whether it's a good opportunity or something that might conflict with my day job or that seems a little hinky.
I haven't gotten too overwhelmed or burned out yet (knock on wood). I work a lot, all the time it feels like, and sometimes I could use a break, but I'm also so used to this pace that it doesn't really faze me.
A lot of stuff I blog about on Digital Savant now finds its way into the print edition, which is nice. For the first time, maybe in my whole career, it's begun to feel like all the things I'm doing have value. It's hard to feel that way at a newspaper sometimes; the very nature of your work every day is that it's printed on disposable, thin paper. But it's been nice to get to this point. It took a long time to get here and I'm trying not to waste these opportunities by doing better and more interesting work.
Sorta related: a Masters of Their Domains story ran in the American-Statesman on Saturday about the site BookABand.com.
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