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To Err Is to Be Experienced

Have you ever flashed film?

Very early in my career, I worked as a PA, or runner, on a couple of films. Our job was to run things back and forth between production offices and the set, like getting coffee; picking up and dropping off talent or props; and the myriad detailed logistics that have to happen for a shoot.

Once in my career, I was interviewing with a producer for a new project, and the producer asked me, "Have you ever flashed film before?"  

Flashing film refers to accidentally exposing undeveloped film to light while it is still sensitive. This is why it’s called, “flashing film.” Like all roads to hell, flashing film usually occurs with good intentions. And a tight schedule.  

A lot of effort is put into developing the film quickly so the director and producers can review the previous day’s footage. These “rushes,” or “dailies,” are meant to spot anything that might warrant a re-shoot. Even today, re-shoots need to be addressed as soon as possible to lock in the location, actors, wardrobe, etc., a second time.  

Under pressure, a well-meaning crew member in the photo lab could have opened the wrong can of film. It would have been costly enough to flash blank film, but utterly devastating — to so many people — to have an entire day’s work literally be gone in a flash.

I immediately answered the producer’s question. "No, of course, I haven’t flashed film. Flashing film would be the worst thing in the world.”

And the producer said, "I’m sorry, but I can’t hire you — once you've flashed film, you never, ever flash film again. And this is not going to be the production that teaches you that lesson.”  

I remember agreeing with him. He must have had some bad experiences in the past, or maybe he had heard some stories.

Film is much less common these days, but there are similar disasters that could devastate productions. Mistakes such as deleting digital files directly from the camera, or corrupting a hard drive during post-production, can erase hundreds of hours of work — potentially before any back-up has occurred.  

Sometimes admitting past mistakes — and your commitment to never repeat them — can build more trust than trying to convince an employer that you have a spotless history. I’m grateful to this producer because he taught me an important lesson: Never having made a mistake is nothing to brag about.

Originally published: 02/22/2023

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