Thursday, December 8, 2011

Adding value

Next June, I will have been in IT for ten years.

It wasn't a career I planned. In the spring of 2002, when I decided I couldn't make a living as merely a freelance film critic, I reluctantly signed on with a temp agency. About my third job for the agency ended up being in an IT department. The rest, as they say, is history.

And though I've thrived at times, there have also been times when I've skated by, and never have I felt I was giving my all to IT. In the back of my mind I have always wanted to make inroads at having a full career as a film critic. Unfortunately, I've also known that this kind of career, even if possible, would result in a pay cut for me. And as my family responsibilities have increased, that kind of dream work has seemed less and less likely to ever transpire. I can't afford to make significantly less money than I'm making, especially on a permanent basis. Which basically puts me in the same boat as everyone else who's had to permanently defer their dreams.

Little did I know that my love of films would actually help keep me in my current job, even when I'm not giving it my all.

You see, my boss -- the same boss from my first IT job, who recruited me to my current job -- loves movies. He might not have the sophisticated, well-rounded love of movies you and I have, but he's gaga for new movies from his wheelhouse genres (mafia movies, crime dramas, thrillers, suspense). Yet he also doesn't really have a way for discovering movies other than what the Hollywood mainstream feeds him.

That's where I come in.

Particularly over the past six months, I've been recommending movies that my boss would never otherwise have known about. (At his request, of course.) My recommendations aren't always a success, but they hit with him more than they miss. And just recently he's begun to characterize this as a "value" I bring.

"I just wanted to let you know how much value you have to me," he told me on Monday. "Last night, I was flipping through the channels and I saw that Animal Kingdom was on. If it hadn't been for you, I would have thought it was some kind of Animal Planet show."

As luck would have it, he'd just rented Animal Kingdom from Netflix a few days before, on my recommendation. The channel surfing example was merely given as an indication of how he feels more in the know, now, thanks to me. (The example would have been slightly cooler if he'd been planning to see Animal Kingdom, but hadn't yet, and was able to get in a random viewing as a result of me making him a better-informed channel surfer.)

It turns out he really liked Animal Kingdom. I've had luck with him with the recent Australian crime dramas, as he also liked the Edgerton brothers' The Square. In Bruges was another recent favorite. These three hits really make up for a recent miss. Just before Thanksgiving he texted me, "Winter's Bone was winter's boring."

And so I've started to think of my ability to keep my job as a function of my ability to recommend good movies.

Before you worry about my actual employment status, I should tell you that I'm exaggerating here. My boss feels very endeared to me, having known me significantly longer than anyone else we work with, and having actually recruited me away from my old job.

But I'd be lying if I said I didn't take advantage of that. Not only do I not worry so much about occasional bouts of semi-indifferent work performance, or occasionally being a bit "mean" to one of the users (I've been accused of this, much to my chagrin), but I also take advantage in terms of goofing off more than I probably should. (Like, I am currently writing this blog post on company time.)

So sometimes I get paranoid that I've been abusing his good will, and that one day he'll learn I'm not half as valuable an employee as I am a cineaste. And whenever that paranoia sets in, I want to come through with an especially great recommendation -- to keep him confused about my actual value for as long as possible.

For awhile there, I could do no wrong. First I turned him on to Lebanon, Samuel Maoz' 2009 film that takes place entirely inside a tank, after we had been talking about Das Boot. (Which I haven't actually seen, so the conversation must have been pretty generic.) He really liked it. Then it was the Wachowski brothers' directorial debut, the masterful film Bound. He was in love with that one, as am I. "Five stars," he told me. I also loaned him my copy of the New Zealand post-apocalyptic film The Quiet Earth, which seemed to give him a charge.

But my footing started to slip after that. He liked Timecrimes, but I could tell he had some concerns about it, that it might have thrown him a bit. He thought Donnie Brasco was okay, but it caused him to comment that I might have mis-identified him as "the mafia movie guy." The Wages of Fear, a classic, left him non-plussed. And in a text he described the Coen brothers' great Miller's Crossing as "so-so."

As luck would have it, this coincided with a period in which my boss seemed distant and unreachable. It was a general thing and it was likely the result of job turmoil that wasn't related to me, but when you're already concerned you might not be performing up to your capabilities, you tend to take these things personally. Besides, we'd had a bit of a difference of opinion on a work-related issue, and I felt like we'd never satisfactorily buried the hatchet on that particular disagreement.

So suddenly I was panicking: "My boss is pissed at me, and I'm not winning him over with my recommendations? What if he decides I no longer have any value?"

Fortunately, this "dark period" was over in a matter of weeks, and the recommendations seemed to get back on track as well. He quite liked Unknown (the one from 2006, not the one from this year), and the successful triumvirate of In Bruges, The Square and Animal Kingdom soon followed (with the one inconsequential Winter's Bone blemish thrown in for good measure).

Now that he's twice referred to my services as a "value" (the first time with In Bruges), and doesn't seem to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, I feel like I'm probably pretty secure. Not that I ever really wasn't.

Unfortunately, now I've got a new challenge ahead of me: How to keep them coming? I already scoured my highest ranked films on Flickchart to find movies that a) I thought he would like, and b) I thought he probably hadn't seen or heard of. I still have a few titles I'm saving for a rainy day, but pretty soon I'll have to start going out on more limbs. And keep in mind that I've already strayed from his wheelhouse with such recommendations as The Wages of Fear and Winter's Bone.

So when you see me start watching movies specifically so I can curate a list of recommendations for my boss, that's when you know I must be really in trouble.

Until then, please assume that I'm maintaining at least a minimum level of actual job performance.


Nick Prigge said...

Dude, I think you just pitched a movie. An IT employee whose company is facing cuts and his chances of keeping his job hinge almost entirely on film recommendations. I mean, you'd have to find some subplots, but I think it could work.

Vancetastic said...

Writing it now. Nick, I will give you a "story by" credit. Mark it down. This is legally binding.