Even if you aren't a bona fide "professional," as-in - You get *paid* to do a specific thing and that's all you do for a living, you still can (and should) adopt a professional approach for maximum success.
Whether you're a weekend hobbyist or serious amateur or whether you just hope to make a film someday, keeping a professional demeanor and operating in a professional manner will only make things easier and will give people you deal with confidence that you're serious and not going to waste their time (or worse).
Be clear in your communication.
Whether it's face to face, phone, email, texting - whatever - don't be a putz. Communicate your thoughts effectively and efficiently. Try to edit too much extraneous blather and tangents. Watch the tangents. Be direct and get across what it is you need to get across.
I have worked with people who are poor communicators and I myself have had to struggle with saying the right things in the right way, so I know it can be a hurdle more for some than others. That said, if you truly want to be viewed as being professional - learn how to communicate. Take some time and learn how to organize your thoughts, words, and speech.
Some people like to preface everything they say with a "build-up." It's tedious and time consuming and generally unnecessary. If you start off by beating around the bush, people may become impatient or they may think you're trying to put something over on them, or they may develop a perception that you are unsure of yourself and your mission.
Another thing I see often are people who expect others to understand 100% of what they're saying when they only provide 10% of the information. People don't read minds.
Take your time, figure it out, write it down and rehearse if you have to - but present yourself when you can be reasonably clear and concise while also being personable and polite.
When taking part in any ongoing communication pertaining to work projects you MUST be responsive. Generally, this means email communications because that's the predominate method of "talk" these days.
People know you're on a computer (or smartphone) on a daily basis, so you can look like a real douchebag if someone is waiting for you to respond to an email (or text), and not getting a response while it's obvious that you're screwing around on Facebook all day and night.
Avoiding questions or people just because you don't feel like dealing with them is a bad idea because it can offend people and can limit resources and options in the future when they decide to reciprocate and not return your calls.
During any ongoing communications related to an ongoing project or job, you MUST be responsive because people wait for answers before answering other people or before making moves. Not giving a timely response these days, is essentially inexcusable in my opinion what with phones in everyone's pocket that are email capable.
When it takes someone 3 full days to respond to a simple query about their availability for work, I'd say that's inexcusable. Sorry - it just is. If you sit on the toilet for 2 minutes anytime in those 3 days, you have the ability to respond. These things are a given by now.
When a simple query about anything doesn't warrant at the very least a simple and direct response especially from someone you had a prior successful working relationship with, I'd say that's inexcusable.
Always, always, always, respond to emails that have attachments. Generally these are in relation to a "job" or a project and it's customary to, at the very least respond, letting the other party know you received the attachment.
Don't leave people hanging. Online communications are not infallible. A simple "got it" response to an email at the very least is a necessity.
Don't be annoying.
This is a grey area, but seriously, try and be observant in order to determine whether you continually lose people's attention, or make people withdraw, or cause people to cut short their interaction with you (or worse - avoid you completely).
Some people talk too much. Some people go off on tangents consistently, some people have ticks or mannerisms that put people off.
Pay attention and make adjustments.
Integrity is doing what you say you'll do and owning up to the results of your actions. Nobody wants to deal with someone who is always screwing up, but what's worse is blaming others for your shortcomings or failures.
Being wrong is ok. Everyone makes mistakes on occasion. We're not machines. Anyone who can't relate to humanness is not someone you want to deal with and it's not someone you want to be.
Following through on promises and at the very least making best efforts to complete tasks to the best of your ability is essentially the bedrock of what you are in a work environment. Some things can be excused, but laziness and deception are generally not tolerated, and too much talk and not enough action even if you're a good ass-kisser, will piss off co-workers.
Be a mensch. Get it done. Don't be a bigmouth.
Don't waste people's time.
Being organized is the best way to not waste people's time. When you don't think enough of your craft and others you deal with while making things happen, it will show as wasted time.
Unless you're doing a project on Jupiter and a sudden acid tornado blows in, you have NO excuse for not being prepared.
It's a pretty simple exercise to sit alone, maybe with a pen and and some paper, and map out, plan, and consider all aspects of whatever it is you want to do. If you need help with this exercise - get help.
Maybe you want to present yourself to a community as a potential facet of film projects. Maybe you want to solicit the help of potential unpaid crew. Maybe you want to ask a property owner for permission to film on their property.
KNOW what you need. KNOW what you have. KNOW how it (whatever it is) needs to happen. BE organized.
Do everything in your power to know your craft and don't go into a project blind with regard to particulars. If you're hired or asked to be involved with a project, ask the questions you need to in order to do your job effectively without having to figure it out while on the job.
If you're going to be working under certain conditions, you need to know what those conditions will be. If you're going to be working with equipment that's different from what you're used to - research the gear before you work with it. If you have to drive to a remote location for the work, make sure you know where exactly you're going and how you're getting there well BEFORE you start driving.
Being prepared shows you actually care about what you're doing, who you're doing it for, and the others you're working with.
Pay people and get paid.
The foundation of all personal and professional relationships is trust and "the exchange." You exchange something for something else.
Obviously this is a grey area when it comes to hobbyists and amateurs. Regardless, consider what you get when paying someone as opposed to not paying someone:
When you pay someone, you get an employee, not someone who's only doing you a favor. Someone doing you a favor can come and go as per their schedule. They can show up late and they can leave early.
When you pay someone, there's a definite expectation that they'll show up and that the work will get done.
When you're a professional, you get paid. The relationship of "work for pay" is as old as the hills and is essentially what makes the world go around. Expecting to get paid for work is normal and the grey areas generally involve workers on the bottom rungs of the career ladder.
With low budget stuff, there are no rules as it all depends on what deals can be made, but again - the concept of "employee" Vs. "friend doing a favor" should always be considered because in my experience, delays and conflict can arise from unpaid crew working on films.
In the no-budget realm, people trade time for time and more than likely keep a mental accounting of what's received and what's owed. When you're not spending money, anything goes, but when you have a quality project, I'd recommend raising money and spending it on the film.
Spending money means you have more of an investment in the project and that says something to those of whom you ask to be involved. The old adage "money talks and bullshit walks" should always be considered, lest you be viewed as a rank amateur.
Starting out as an amateur is fine obviously, but still not paying or being paid after a number of years marks you as a hobbyist, so consider the stigma associated with being one.
©2012 Chris Santucci