Two years ago, I announced on the blog that I was hiring someone for a new job called Director of Digital Things.
Greg Tung was one of the final contenders for the position, and recently wrote about the experience:
It sounded like a job that was hand tailored for me. It sounded like a way out of the job I hated. But most of all, it sounded like the perfect way for me to get my foot in the screenwriting world door. I would be working shoulder to shoulder with one of the big names in screenwriting. Eventually he’d have to agree to at least read my script or help get me started, right?
I made a silly little animation to send along with my application. It gave a bunch of funny reasons why John should hire me. Sprinkled in were some legitimate ones. I thought I nailed it and pretty soon after I sent it, John emailed me and said he wanted to interview me through iChat.
Greg’s application was terrific, and his animation/design skills were spot-on. I got 67 applications for the job. I interviewed five candidates. Greg did great.
I can’t tell you how nervous I was for that interview. I’m terrible at interviews for jobs I don’t give a shit about. Now imagine what I was like when I felt this was my dream job (well, second dream job next to writing). I took a tough yoga class in the morning to tire me out but it didn’t really do anything, I was still bouncing off the walls.
The interview went ok. Not great by any means but probably not terrible. I waited for days in agony for a response from John. I finally got one. He informed me I was one of three finalists. Joy! The next step? We would all be given a test project and the one he liked the best would be hired.
For the test project, I challenged the candidates to build a site somewhat like Snopes, but centered around logical fallacies rather than hoaxes. You can read the original instructions to see what I was looking for.
I was curious to see both artistic skills and problem-solving. I encouraged candidates to contact me as much as they needed to while they were working. After all the candidates submitted their sites, I looked at what they did.
Later that week I got a call. I didn’t recognize the number but it was a fancy 310 area code. My heart raced. I picked up my cell phone and ran out of the office while I answered it.
“Hey Greg, this is August,” the voice on the phone said. It was John. And he didn’t even call himself John. Is that what all big screenwriters do? Call themselves by their last name?
I’m pretty sure this was misheard or misremembered, because I’ve never called myself August in my life. (But if I somehow actually did, I apologize. Perhaps I’ve blocked it out my memory for douchiness.)
I went into my car for some privacy. I could hardly contain myself. He was calling me. That had to be a good sign right? I was finally going to get out of this shitty job and start headed towards being a screenwriter. All would be right with the world!
“I wanted to call and let you know that I decided to go with someone else,” he said.
“Oh. Ok. Thanks for letting me know,” I said, in shock.
“Sure. Thanks for applying. I wish you the best in the future,” he said and hung up. That was it. There was no explanation. No consolation. Just a short little rejection.
I sat in my car for a long time after that. I was crushed. Beyond crushed. I was like the T-800 in the hydraulic press at the end of The Terminator.
I can honestly say the worst part about hiring people is not-hiring people.
I don’t remember calling Greg specifically, other than a fuzzy representation that’s probably a fabrication. But I remember making those calls. They killed me.
There’s no clear protocol for how the conversation is supposed to go after the news is broken. Should I explain what was not-especially-awesome about their work, or how they seemingly misunderstood the assignment? Should I tell them that, honestly, some of the contenders were just head-and-shoulders better?
Maybe I should have asked each applicant during the interview: “Hey, so, if you don’t get the job, would you rather I call you or email you?” But I hadn’t done that. So I called. And it sucked.
As a screenwriter, I’m used to being on the other end of these calls. I don’t get most of the jobs I want. I meet on projects that don’t go anywhere, and write scripts that never become movies. I get fired and rewritten. While my economic well-being doesn’t depend on a single job anymore, it never gets less painful.
Sometimes it’s my agent who calls to break the bad news. Other times, it’s the producer. (It’s never the director, FYI.)
I can’t say whether it’s better to rip the Band-Aid off quickly or slowly. But I’ve definitely found that it hurts less if you have something else to focus on. One of the luxuries of screenwriting is that you can always just write something new. You’re not waiting for permission. The studio may own one project, but they don’t own you. Fuck’em.
Greg Tung said fuck John August, and good for him. He went on after this to create a very cool site called Scare Yourself Every Day, which has gotten him a lot of notice:
And SYED has been the best thing that’s happened to me. Better than that job because this is something I did on my own. Something that actually affected other people. Something that inspired. If you said I could go back in time and get that job but SYED would not have happened, I’d never take that deal. Not in a million years.
You can read Greg’s full post here.