The Awkward Australian
I recently met a woman who markets herself as an "over 25" actor. After learning about her extensive travels, I did the math; she’s more like a "near-40s" actor. She has multiple degrees in communications-based areas like 'conflict resolution' and 'peace-keeping,' and she wants to be a famous actor – and a filmmaker.
After a week or two of fun emails back-and-forth, I sent her a few short script ideas I had. I specified that these aren’t scripts I’m giving her ‘to run with,’ but I’m asking for collaborators. She suddenly bombarded me with four, totally disorganized emails that took me two hours to decipher. I spent another 1.5 hours responding to the questions she asked about my work, and I also further explained my intent. I added in both an email and follow-up text that I’d look at her work and send a separate email about it later in the week.
We spoke on the phone a few days later. She opened with, "Yeah, sorry I’m not really good with confrontation and like, awkward situations."
So I’m like ‘What? This wasn’t an awkward situation until you just made it one.’ But, she continued, “So I don’t know, we may need to have another conversation just to clarify our misunderstanding," and I was left totally clueless as to what the ‘misunderstandings’ were, in the first place.
Apparently, she thought I misinterpreted her interest in my scripts – which I did, because her emails made no sense. Regardless, and to clarify my position, I said, "this is why I sent you a long, organized response," so she could better understand my intent with these scripts. Rather than accept my brief clarification and reference to the emails, our planned 15-minute conversation turned into a 35-minute conversation (despite the three times I tried to end it), because she was insistent that I didn’t understand the misunderstandings.
Now, here’s where the irony about having degrees and certificates in ‘communications’ kicks in. She starts calling the tone of my email ‘confrontational’ and ‘condescending,’ while stating that the text I’d sent after emailing her, 'Just sent you an email, took me 1.5 hours haha, I'll send you another email by the end of the week' was "combative."
She then proceeded to tell me that I was getting defensive – but she was the only one speaking.
She may be a poor communicator and had misunderstood the ‘tone’ of my email, but damn – I sure as shit didn’t misunderstand her tone on the phone. I pointed out, "You’ve said 'you don’t think I understand' five times, but you’ve been the only one talking, so how do you expect me to show you I understand?" And finally, she didn’t know what to say. I added, "Wow, the language you’re using is very accusatory," which I knew would tug at her ‘conflict resolution’ crap, because she was throwing phrases around like, "We clearly have a conflict we should resolve, you see that, right?"
So, she tried to cover her low self-confidence and embarrassment by turning things around. She started to change the subject with a comment, "maybe it’s the way Boston filmmakers are, I have to adapt. I dunno, I’ve only worked in Texas, Australia, and L.A. In fact, I worked on ‘Memoirs Of A Geisha’ (2005)…"
And then she added, “So I looked at your website and…so, it’s mostly student films?”
“Yeah, the first half,” I said. I could see what she was doing, but I was waiting for more.
“So, have you like…worked with any commercial…company, or any…thing?”
“No, independent, freelance work,” I said.
I could have taken her tone to be condescending, speaking down to me as an inexperienced, 23-year-old, fresh film school graduate - but I didn't. I seemed so casual and carefree about this, which moved her demeanor from nervous, to condescending – to pissed.
“And the thing you put in there, about how you want to see the rough cut of the film…that’s not what an executive producer does, that’s just. That’s not what you’d be doing. At all. So I don’t know why you’d see that,” she said.
I don’t even know why she thought I would be an ‘executive producer’ and nothing more. So again – who completely misunderstood whom?
Despite the fact that I specifically said these are projects I want help on – not projects I’m handing her – she still didn’t get it, “I mean, if these were projects you wanted help on…” she said, to which I immediately replied “yes, they are just projects I want help on” - but she promptly changed the subject. I was slowly realizing that she hadn’t actually read my email in its entirety, even though I had respectfully given her emails several hours of my time and a thoughtful response.
Clearly, the misunderstanding was not resolved – but it probably could’ve been, had she actually read my emails for content, as opposed to tone.
“I feel like you were talking to me [in the email] like I’m a line producer, like I’m a line producer,” she said. “Like, it was pretty condescending, you didn’t even know what I can do.”
“I didn’t mean to be condescending," I said, "I asked you in the email what your skills are because I have no idea, and you never told me. I saw your acting videos, but nothing else.”
This woman was grasping at straws. She's clearly insecure, struggling to find a place, naively thinking that a job title will give her that security. Maybe she’d fit in with the crew of Pirates Of The Caribbean?
She said “there’s no reason we couldn’t, probably, work well together in the future.” Okay. “I mean, if you wanted help on a project I’d totally be interested.”
“I wrote you in two previous emails, and twice in this one, that I'm looking for help for these projects, I’m not just handing them off…” I said. To ‘make herself look better’ she responded, “Well I’ve worked with a team in Australia and they shot out films really quickly – and they were really good! And it doesn’t seem…like you…do that…?”
I told her that I work very quickly, and I'm not sure how she could judge the pace of my work by viewing several completed projects online. If she looked at the dates of my work, she'd see that I create many projects simultaneously.
This is just a taste of the conversation – and you can’t “hear” tone in a written document – so I don’t fault you for thinking ‘hey, were her comments so bad?’ (Lady, take a note.)
I asked if she wanted me to watch her work – the work I had told her I’d watch later in the week. She said “don’t bother” and that she’d send me a whole new email with 'other stuff.'
And, I never heard from her again…
I think she was embarrassed, though she still sends me Twitter and LinkedIn invites through her “film festival” account.
Either way, you can’t go far with that insecurity, and I would advise against working with someone so disorganized and with such poor communication skills. If you have come to a similar point with a potential collaborator, it would be wise to move on and save yourself from future troubles.
I also ended up registering and copyrighting all of the scripts I’d sent her, because you can’t trust someone when they’re backed into a corner.