Players of Character

People write in regularly, daily, asking how to “make it” as a photographer.

For one–respectfully–I’ve never had the vision to be able to jot down my life’s work in recipe format in an email. If I could summarize it in a few sentences, I certainly would have done that blog post a long time ago.

For two, I read a great piece today written by a Court Crandall of the Los Angeles agency, Ground Zero, that comes as close to answering the question as I’ve ever read. And it’s also about how to “make it” at damn near anything – photographer, filmmaker, agency guy, whatever. Here’s an excerpt:

…[Noah]Clark interviewed to be my assistant a couple weeks before he was scheduled to graduate from the University of Southern California. Unlike the other finalist for the job, an attractive woman the rest of the creative department was imploring me to hire, Noah was more “boy band”: spiked hair, fresh face, jeans that were more fancy than a guy needs to own. But there was something about him that reminded me of myself. And it wasn’t the hair. He was just so damn eager to be in the business. There was no pretense, no attitude or entitlement. All he wanted to do was work hard, learn and help.

So I hired him, spelling out very clearly that the chances of his growing into an art director position with us were similar to the word at the end of our agency name: “Zero.” He nodded along and said he understood. Then he set about completing every task asked of him to the highest standard possible. Between doing all the so-called “grunt” work, Noah grabbed every creative brief he found lying around the office and looked for ways to help out with layouts, taglines, new business presentations, etcetera. He never asked to be promoted. He never bitched about his day-to-day responsibilities or acted like anything was beneath him. Which is why when a junior art director position opened, I decided it was time to do what a guy named Peter Seronick did for me years before: Give him a chance. So I gave the kid who was Ground Zero the opportunity to join our creative department over all the guys and girls who simply wanted to work for Ground Zero. [Click the ‘continue reading’ link below…]

In the four years that followed, Noah turned into an award-winning art director who did the kind of work students at VCU and Art Center now point to and say, “Someday.” But that wasn’t what made him special. The longer you do this job, the more you find that doing good work is the price of entry and it’s all the other stuff that separates the folks you really like from the ones you can’t live without (my emphasis, cj).

In 15 years of owning Ground Zero, there haven’t been many folks who regularly beat me to the office in the morning. Noah was one of them. It should also be noted that he was often the last to leave at night, if he left. I don’t say this to glamorize long hours or a sweatshop mentality, but to point out that he typically wasn’t burning the midnight oil or the pre-dawn oil to better his portfolio, but to make a presentation look a little better, work on the agency new business materials or polish an ad that was still a little too rough around the edges for his liking. This kind of dedication earned him the moniker “The Cleaner” from Laura Eastman, our head of account services. Like Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction, Noah was the guy who fixed things, no matter how screwed up they might have been when someone dumped them in his lap. When another art director left on vacation, Noah picked up the slack. When another team dropped the meat in the dirt, he picked up the pieces…

If you’ve gotten this far, then you either have character, want character, or you are one. As such, I strongly recommend you read the full piece here, and get some insight into becoming–or surrounding yourself–with “Players of Character”. I honestly can’t say enough about how valuable such a trait truly is…

Thanks Lou, via Adweek.

29 Responses to Players of Character

  1. Anonymous October 14, 2008 at 12:15 am #

    Thank you! Excellent read.

  2. Greg October 14, 2008 at 12:32 am #

    “every man will speak of his own goodness but a faithful man who can find”

  3. Peter Karlsson, Svarteld form & foto October 14, 2008 at 3:38 am #

    Interresting read, full of heart. To put it a little blunt, I don’t think ambition to do good, and to actually be doing good work, is all that different. It’s the same – the only thing that differ is time.

    Cheers /Peter

  4. Peter Karlsson, Svarteld form & foto October 14, 2008 at 3:38 am #

    Interresting read, full of heart. To put it a little blunt, I don’t think ambition to do good, and to actually be doing good work, is all that different. It’s the same – the only thing that differ is time.

    Cheers /Peter

  5. Labelle Photo October 14, 2008 at 4:50 am #

    What an awesome article Chase… thanks for posting this!

  6. Anonymous October 14, 2008 at 6:44 am #

    Love the excerpt, the full piece is a must.

  7. Ed Taylor October 14, 2008 at 7:14 am #

    Great post Chase! When I started in photography 28 years ago, after having received a Masters in another field, I got myself in the door of a number of prominent photographers in NY by making it clear that I would do whatever was needed and with a smile. I can’t tell you all the trivial tasks I was asked to do, but it payed off in the great education and experiences I gleaned.

  8. Ron Carney October 14, 2008 at 7:54 am #

    This is more than a “good read,” or even an excellent one. What this article talks about should be part of the core values of anyone who…no wait, it should be part of the core values of anyone, period. But, as someone who wants to be a professional photographer, I find that while many of us have at least some talent, enough to be a professional at least, the reason more don’t make it is the lack of this character. As I scour the internet, the library,, the blogosphere, for information to teach me more about photography, I sometimes wonder, with ALL of this wonderful information available to everyone, how can I separate myself from everyone else who has that same information. Then I realize the answer is simple – USE it. Just USE the information I have learned, and keep doing it. I wager the VAST VAST majority of people who peruse the blogs, or photo-tip sites, etc, may play with a technique once or twice but few commit it to memory, learn the ins and outs, and make it a part of them. That is what I try to do – and this Character ethic spoken of in this article is what I try to emulate to help me do it.

  9. GeoWulf October 14, 2008 at 8:12 am #

    Yeah.. sometimes I know I am one!

  10. admin October 14, 2008 at 8:20 am #

    Great post/topic Chase, one cannot stress enough the simple things and how far they actually go – such as being on-time, delivering on-time, good communication, honest hard work and dedication. I have to think back to when I first started in a commercial studio. I wasn’t even getting paid. I was working for trade/exchange for equipment to use. I didn’t waste a second. I was always asking questions, probing for that one extra bit of knowledge that I didn’t know. I have many of my friends alway tell me “Man, I’m so sick of coiling cords and lugging equipment around.” One, The coiling cords isn’t going to get any better, it’s part of the business, as is lugging stuff around. After all we are artists right, and an artist needs a medium. Cameras, lenses, lights, 6400 powerpacks and heads…….they are all tools of the trade. Think of it this way, for every cord that you coil up, try and ask one question while doing so.

    The amount of things that you will pick up on is amazing. Keep in mind that there is not a substitute for HARD WORK. You know where you want to end up, put your head down and plug away at it full force all the time. Word of mouth will spread faster than you think it will.


  11. Scott Van Dyke October 14, 2008 at 9:16 am #

    Chase thanks for the article.

    Like many other photographers, I started out 15 years ago as in intern. I was getting the coffee, painting the cove, getting lunch…doing things that I thought that had nothing to do with photography. How wrong I was. Even from the simplest things, like taking coffee or lunch orders….it was all part of the big picture. I was learning how to manage time and produce the simplest tasks on shoots. I know it sounds nuts, but it was true. I felt a part of the shoot. Even though I was producing from the lowest end of it, it needed to be done. Doing all of this while not get paid finically, but getting paid in experience that no school could had ever given me.

    Like others have said, there is no short cut for hard work. Most young photographers do not get in this game to a professional assistant. I know there are some out there. Most want to be person behind the camera creating the work. Being consistent for me has been hugh for me. Showing up on time, delivering the files on time sending out thank you cards after the shoot is all a part of it from me. You have mention this before Chase…but under promise and over deliver works very well.

    So I always have this idea in my head that, if you feel like your getting paid to play, chances are you are doing what you love.


  12. Darien Chin October 14, 2008 at 12:32 pm #

    mmm….taco tuesday….

  13. Colby McLemore October 14, 2008 at 1:26 pm #

    Great post as usual. I love how I feel that I almost know the people.
    -Colby McLemore

  14. Stuicide October 14, 2008 at 1:41 pm #

    Great stuff. Reading about the work ethic really is inspiring and can help motivate.

    Thanks for sharing.

  15. Richard Cave October 14, 2008 at 2:54 pm #

    I worked for a year with other photographers, they ostracised me, did not make me feel welcome, if i screwed up they would be loud and point jeer and laugh, if I did well they would not congratulate me or support my efforts.

    I turned up early and worked hard, I never gave up, Bottling up my emotions for so long to be accepted nearly broke me.

    I spoke to a friend and mentor about it, I explained the harder I tried at my job the further away from the team I became.

    he explained that after watching my work ethic it was not me that was at fault. It was because I was too damned good, I was making them look bad and weak, they rebelled against me.

    It was the worst year of my life, looking back I was a team player I was working hard not for myself but for the team. However the team took exception to that and rebelled.

    My standards are high my technical ability is coming on, I have since left there.

    The problem was not them or myself but the team leader letting it go out of hand. Sometimes you need a good boss to develop. Unfortunately I had a weak boss.

    After working hard and pushing myself further for that year, I have found it hard at my new job. If I had this article then it would have been emailed to everyone at my previous firm.

    This is my work ethic, but sometimes being too good backfires on you. Now I am the quiet one who just cracks on without a fuss. Trying to keep my head below the parapet.

    I will one day recover, and make my company a success.

    This story is great inspiration and I enjoyed the similarities with me, however things turned out good for him. It went the other way for me…

  16. Daniel Regueir October 14, 2008 at 4:39 pm #

    Thank you, this is really inspiring for me

  17. danieljenkins October 14, 2008 at 8:21 pm #

    Thank you for sharing…
    Very inspiring. It’s these things that remind us to be the best us we can be.

  18. Anonymous October 14, 2008 at 8:37 pm #

    Reminds me of your post from a while ago, something like “it’s what you can’t see that matters”. very cool that you’re so committed to the whole picture. we should be taking notes.

  19. Jason Kuffer October 14, 2008 at 9:43 pm #

    Passion is undeniable. It is t he desire that is the fuel to success. It is no accident. And it is great when others recognize it, as it inspires us all to do better… and share alike. Great commentary!

  20. admin October 15, 2008 at 3:12 pm #

    So, I have been thinking about this subject for over 24 hours now and it suddenly hit me like a SMART CAR smashing into a cement wall at 75mph, literally. (if you haven’t watched the YouTube of this, please do it’s pretty….smashing baby……)

    But I began to think on my ride home about the personal affects of working the hardest that you can all the time. Hard work returns a tired body, and even more in this field a tired mind. There are some days that are better than others, and different people’s minds recover faster than others, but my theory remains the same. When working hard all the time, your own view of your hard work in constantly increasing. Lets say that you have never done an eight-hour shoot and today was that magical day that will live in your memory as “the day from hell” because of the long hours and hard work put in. Tomorrow you can chalk it up to experience and not be so afraid of that “eight-hour-shoot”

    What I’m trying to say is that by pushing yourself to do your best all the time, you are increasing your tolerance, and actually making yourself a better photographer. Every experience, every click of the shutter, every “hey can you grab that and put it there” or “oh shit” or “wow, all this and we don’t even get a lunch?” The same thing isn’t so bad the second time round.

    Always push yourself, because you CAN be better.

  21. Anonymous October 15, 2008 at 9:45 pm #

    Honesty, integrity, and hard work have made a lot of things possible.

  22. Anonymous October 15, 2008 at 11:54 pm #

    @ richard cave: fellin ya man I watched this other assistant which was his first or second day grippin get hired for the next job cuz he fitted the young cool assistant profile while I put forth a good hustle & good intelligent conversation about equipment workflow, work ethic to stimulate conversation about doing what we do better but I guess they perferd his conversations about best looking girl on set & what they do to them & what beer & liquor they where going to drink that night which is the usual workmen talk I run into on most sets so as a result there's no intelligent conversations about how are technology can be made better to make shooting a more economical thing to do which an artist needs, funny most photographers call themselves artist but don't even compose the colors in front of the lens (in set-up shooting) but they act intelligent but we been working the same uneconomical equipment for 50-80 some odd years the only improvement to the c-stand is that the legs can fold for better storage after that many years great but I still need to hire like five guys to do real creative set-up shoot, whack!! The painter is more advanced cuz he has more experiance in executing ideas and manipulating shapes & colors…. An engineer should get more glory than a photographer (as the current mainstream photog character is) in society but the media controls what you like and what's better to pay attention to.

  23. Brian Palmer Photography October 16, 2008 at 6:41 am #

    Great read, thanks for posting it.

  24. Matthew October 19, 2008 at 8:39 pm #

    This is indeed a good article, but I have to gruff with the “long hours” bit.

    I think it might be how you Americans define success, but I certainly don’t feel it should be that way. While I value being a hard worker and I have a great amount of passion for my job, I also have passion for my hobbies and my life outside of work.

    I strive hard to correctly bid projects so I don’t have to work all night long and I can comlete them during the worktime I’ve allotted myself. Just because you get up early and stay late doesn’t always mean that you’re getting the job done – as my pop-pop says, work smarter, not harder.

    Matthew from Denmark (stuck in Minneapolis on business)

  25. October 23, 2008 at 9:30 pm #

    Thanks for posting Chase. It’s a good read and helps me look at the big picture, career wise. The method for building an appropriate team is simple, but entirely effective. I hope to humbly be a part of a team like that.
    I’m with Scott Van Dyke on “under promise and over deliver” – it’s a philosophy similar to Paul Arden’s “Astonish Me!”
    I am disappointed in Mathew’s response as Court Crandall clearly does not consider “long hours” to equate success: “It should also be noted that he was often the last to leave at night, if he left. I don’t say this to glamorize long hours or a sweatshop mentality, but to point out that he typically wasn’t burning the midnight oil or the pre-dawn oil to better his portfolio, but to make a presentation look a little better…” etcetera. It does however, condone a “whatever it takes” attitude, which is likely to include very hard work and occasional long hours to meet deadlines.

  26. Tom Scott November 2, 2008 at 9:04 am #

    Great Chase, when do I start!?

  27. Dan Depew November 9, 2008 at 4:48 am #

    Thanks Chase.

    I’d like to add that I got a big shot of inspiration from Chase’s interview on the Lightsource podcast ( Something clicked with the point about not just shooting what you know sells. More important to shoot things that you enjoy and photograph things no one else is. Any good art director will recognize you as someone who’s thinking.

    This is something I’m gonna have to work on. Thanks Chase.

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