Shh – The importance of production gossip and how to use it

Secrets. Gossip. Water-cooler mumblings. Print-room chatting. High flying dinner talk.

It doesn’t matter where your sources can be found, but make no mistake that a big part of your duties includes staying ontop of everything(!). That includes any information, however big or small, that might be of interest. So take that extra five minutes by the reception desk and have a catch up (read when you find 5 where there’s a small chance the world won’t crumble without your nose pressed to your email/call sheet/planning notes).

Whether it’s knowing months in advance that there’ve been rumblings of re-structuring the bottom floor for a new tenant (noise, lay offs, etc), that the new secretary’s brother in law works at that fabulous lunch place your boss adores and can get reservations when there are none, that Ella from the mail room has a fling with Louie at the Studios (she has a fast track contact when all other lines are busy), or perhaps even some juicy tidbits from that accounts meeting… It doesn’t matter the size of the gossip as long as you know it. It could prove vital at the next staff meeting and will undoubtedly speed up your day-to-day job.

Colin Clarke (Marylin and Me – read the real diary people) didn’t sit outside that office for weeks on end waiting for a job without picking up anything useful. He paid attention to the phone calls, the contacts, the events going on around him privately (fortunately he had parents with movie star connections) and at the office. And he ended up as 3rd AD on a Marilyn Monroe production… Which back then with no experience… Well done!

Let’s talk a little about the legend of the ‘water cooler’. Much like the ‘golf-deals’ this version is where a lot of your moves towards the next career-ladder-step will find their bearing. Now first off, don’t get me wrong… Backed up with nothing but more gossip you’ll run dry faster than you can say ‘Universal Studios’. But matched with hard work that hits the right notes, a ridiculous focus on details and organisation, and some pinches of extreme dedication and heart, and you’ve got a good recipe.

The water cooler is a little bit cliquey, but once you find your niche you’re in. Don’t over share (you want to use this for YOUR advantage, giving a reasonable amount in return, this is not your therapy session!) but make sure to ask the right subtle questions and listen much and often. The tid-bits are the most important (not necessarily if Holly and Mr Mallroy are still humping in the disabled toilet, focus more on how often that one executive pops by for lunch meetings on the second floor where you spend limited time but need much more knowledge, not to mention Mr Executive is scheduled in with YOUR boss in a week and two days! Was he upset about the draft? Really…). More services include finding out the exact spelling of whoever signed in with that ridiculous Russian name from reception, whether those lawyers documents were returned by the courier but not yet picked up, or how to get tickets to that sold-out members only club screening… Done discreetly, politely, and with a sense of mutual loyalty and respect for this give and take and you’ll never NOT benefit.

Just beware of the trasher. She’ll shoot her mouth off whether intentionally or not, mentioning secrets and names (including yours), whispering loudly and even starting accidental rumours. Somehow people will listen, and somehow if you get on the wrong side of a story it won’t benefit you. More importantly people will notice they can’t trust her discretion,get annoyed and after a while and clam up on their own stash of facts. Respect the water cooler code of conduct and everyone walks away a little wiser and looking a little sharper the next time you’re put on the spot for not knowing all the going ons in the universe (because you were meant to, you know that right!! Sleep? No excuses!)

Moving along a bit, and onto the high flying dinner parties…  Don’t expect your boss needs you there. Ever. Not because you got lucky and came along once. No. He/She’s busy. You’re meant to be too. And no, your invite does not get secured by blabbing your mouth off, but showing you’re aware of your surroundings, loyal, and not to mention eager to learn and impressive with your workload and you’re well on your way. As a source of information (the relevant kind, leave Holly and the humping out of it) and a link between the higher ups and the mere mortals you can prove valuable. Prove yourself an asset to and maybe (maybe) you might be entrusted with sitting next to the table while some secrets far above your head are being discussed too (this time, really shut your mouth. No, seriously, the bit on loyalty!).  Don’t become a tatter tattertale. They know you don’t magically know all these tidbits but respect your sources, and hold your cards?

This brings us to a slight side-track, but something worth an important mention. Sources and networks. Your contacts are a golden attachment to your shining CV, and when used right yours to share and nurture. Value your rolodex, build it and maintain the existing contacts.

So what have we learned so far? Keep your ears perked, be loyal and respectful, learn to talk and listen (even the shyest of the shy can get their foot in, it’s just about finding your speciality. The listener, the accidentally present, the advice column, the exchanger, etc). Learn when to use the information, and always (!) protect your sources. And never make enemies here, there is no point, just be respectful and listen loud.

Now, off you go… Did you happen to hear about that amazing new position opening up with a bonus pack and a spot on the next production? Well done ;). Now make us proud!



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