No pillow as soft as a clear conscience

I sometimes use the phrase ‘My name is Pat Higgins and my conscience is clear’ as a sign-off when I do live events (like the one coming up on Wednesday 27th April at Southend Film Festival) and have done for years. In fact, I gave the expression to a comedian in Hellbride as a catchphrase (although using the character’s name, not ‘Pat Higgins’. Otherwise that would be ridiculous. And confusing). The phrase started out entirely as a joke; a call-back to something that I tended to mention earlier in the evening. Over the years, though, I guess I’ve become fond of it.

Received an email yesterday, informing me that a distribution company that I have dealt with in the past are to cease activities. I won’t name them, since their website hasn’t broken the news yet and the last thing I want to do is leak the story if it’s not public yet, but I feel that the demise of the company is particularly heartbreaking (above and beyond the usual sadness of a business closing its doors) because of one simple fact.

They were nice.

Actually, I’ll expand upon that. They were honourable. They had excellent communication with people they dealt with, they were polite and friendly and they always delivered whatever they’d promised. I’ve been paddling around in the shallows of the movie industry for close to ten years now, and those sorts of qualities have seemed depressingly few and far between.

Is being nice really so tough? Because, if you want to be all hard-nosed and business-like about it, in terms of gaining loyalty and repeat business and all those other things that companies claim to seek, being nice is a pretty goddamn cost-effective way of getting those things. As either customer or co-worker, I’ll put up with a much worse situation for much longer if I feel I’m being treated with empathy.

So why don’t more people in the industry embrace being pleasant and honourable as the default way of doing business? I don’t mean the fake smile, have-a-nice-day bullshit so favoured by soft-skills training courses; I mean genuinely treating people well for no other reason than it makes the whole experience much more rewarding for all parties?

There was a particular film set I visited a few years ago that sticks in my mind. The shoot was several budgetary notches above the films that I was making at the time, and in several respects it should have been the sort of shoot I was aspiring to. Didn’t take long on set to work out that it wasn’t. In fact, the atmosphere was borderline poisonous. Not only would cast and crew not talk to each another, but half of the crew wouldn’t even talk to the other half of the crew. Conversation on set seemed to consist almost entirely of bitching. It felt like a state of arrested development; adolescent egos rubbing each other up the wrong way and constantly trying to get one over on each other. I thought about how it compared to the upbeat atmosphere that I try to foster on my shoots and I found it rather sad.

The film industry seems to attract assholes like moths to a flame. I understand the reasons for that, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it and that doesn’t mean that it’s the only way things can be done. Yes, of course there’s pressure.. But teachers dealing with classes of 5 year-olds are under pressure too, and they somehow manage to avoid using it as an excuse to treat people badly.

So, on a day when a rather lovely little company has closed its doors for the last time, I’m reminded of why I liked them so much and reminded that, no matter how long I stay in this business, I will never let it turn me into something I’m not. I will never run a set where the cast and crew won’t speak to one another. I’ll never put someone in a position where they’ll regret signing a deal with my company. I’ll never accept that behaving like (for want of a better word) a dick is somehow a norm, or something to be aspired to.

My name is Pat Higgins and my conscience is clear.

PS. Since writing this blog entry, I have ranted an awful lot about treating people nicely. I even do it a bit in the following video, which is an hour-long show about micro-budget filmmaking that was shot at this year’s Horror-on-Sea festival. It’s got some nudity, gore and bad language, plus an awful lot of advice about the industry. Including not acting like a dick.

2 Replies to “No pillow as soft as a clear conscience”

  1. Having worked as an extra on a lot of films, you quickly realise that big-budget sets aren't generally a fun place to be. I've not seen a lot of middle-budget films, but it certainly seems a lot of people get where they are by happily stepping on others. What it seems to come down to is money, and it often feels like there's no room for being a decent human being when that's your biggest concern.Working on Pat Higgins movies, I've met some of the nicest people, and had some of the best times I've ever had. Everyone cared about the movie, everyone worked as a team, and as much as a bigger budget would be have fantastic, I would rather work for free on a PH film than be paid to work on a film with no heart.A lot of movies these days seem to lack something, and I think maybe that reflects the shift to film-making being purely about money. I read an interview with Joe Dante in which he said something similar, how much the industry has changed, and I think you can feel that when you watch the end product. There is none of the inventiveness and care that older films would have; you can almost sense the cold sterile environment in which these films were brought to life.

  2. Exactly.. And cheers for the nice comments about the shoots! Working with people like yourself and other Jinx Media regulars is the kind of positive, upbeat experience which makes it all worthwhile.And I agree about the sterile vibe on a lot of big-budget movies. People have always approached this as an industry, and understandably so, but I don't think there's ever been a point in history where the films feel quite as much like product rather than creative expression..

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