We at The Escape Pod recently had the great pleasure to work with MJZ director Phil Joanou. Phil directed one of my all time favorite movies, State of Grace starring Sean Penn and Gary Oldman and Ed Harris. It was set in New York City’s Irish gangland. Coincidentally I was working in exactly that neighborhood – Hells Kitchen – when Phil was shooting that movie. I was a newly-immigrated Irish guy driving a horse and carriage, Phil was a major Hollywood director. Funny we never met!

I remember they “tented” the local Irish bar for days shooting the awesome bar scenes. I didn’t know what tenting was back then.

This was the actual bar where the Irish-American gangsters drank. I drank there too. These guys were psychos. Addled by coke and booze and with very Irish tempers and hair-trigger fingers. The back of the bar area was riddled with bullet holes because Mickey Featherstone, leader of the Westies gang, once wanted the bartender to “turn off that Irish crap and put on some Bruuuce!!!”. He made his point by shooting up the boombox behind the bar. It was another planet.

Anyway, while we were casting for the spot, Phil Joanou said something that stayed with me. He said “I just wanna be a pro. I want people to be happy. I want to be a pro.” By this he meant he wanted to be known a reliably good professional. And he is. he cares a A LOT.

Being RELIABLY GOOD is a vastly underrated talent. Being reliably good is being a pro. Being a pro is caring EVERY time. Being a pro is understanding that YOU are responsible. You might not have ownership of the company you work for but you DO have ownership of you own thoughts and ideas. Pros understand this. Pros never compromise their effort. Other things are subject to compromise but NOT the commitment of a true pro. That’s what makes a pro a pro.

If you haven’t read Steve Martin’s amazing autobiography do so now. BORN STANDING UP recounts his rise to the top. In it, he recounts how he struggled to be reliably funny every night. To everyone. Any idiot can kill a crowd every once in a while, Steve thought. He didn’t want to be brilliant EVERY night. He just wanted to be good every time. Not brilliant. Good. He was smart enough to realize that brilliant was too much to ask. And it worked.

Just be good every time. Be a pro. Big shortage of pros in this world. Phil is a pro.


  1. great, great post, vinny. i grew up a steve martin fan and truly enjoyed his book. i remember being shocked by exactly what you pointed out — his incredible drive day in, day out. another good reference is the movie COMEDIAN about Seinfeld’s life post-sitcom. great to see him sweat about his craft so much after making millions. you guys are definitely pros over there.

  2. Good post Vinny. And a brave one. We are all constantly told to strive for brilliant, all the time. If it’s not brilliant, rip it up and start again. Then when it’s better, keep pushing until it’s better still. This is very admirable, and we would all like to be brilliant every day, with every job. But being realistic, with the time pressures and budgets we have, and a seemingly ever growing army of mid level marketing managers who are only interested in hitting targets and not upsetting ‘John, upstairs’, it would send us all mad.
    The problem is ‘good’ is easy for agencies to sell. ‘Good’ is easy for clients to buy, but account management and clients can become so used to the good, that they become scared of the great. And whilst I fully agree we should all aim to be pros, and produce good work all the time, it would be nice to have support when the great comes along. It doesn’t happen every day, so should be pushed to the hilt when it does.

    P.S. The first draft of this comment was absolutely, mind-bendingly brilliant. It came at comments from a whole new angle and was effectively a paradigm shift in the world of blog commenting. But, when I read it again I wondered if it was a bit too much, and so posted this rather average comment instead.

  3. ha! very funny rant. thanks for not blowing my mind.

    the problem with people who constantly talk about the need for brilliance in my experience is that’s quite often all they do: talk about it. the pros get on with it. keeping an eye open for it and quietly getting on with it. see the recent old spice work. Wieden have been hacking away at that territory for a few years now. it wasn’t brilliant from the get-go. but they kept at it. they are pros.

  4. Great post Vinnie. You certainly do work with some fine people.

    Be brilliant all the time is like telling a soldier “Be a hero every day.” Be a pro every day and there will be moments of brilliance. And probably a great many more opportunities for the brilliance to happen.

  5. thanks simon. i’ve been very lucky to work with some quality folks over the years.

    and you’re exactly right with the soldier analogy. you just have to be ready when the opportunity comes. and sometimes that opportunity isn’t immediately obvious.

    I loved steve martin’s approach. great book.

  6. Rant: your a crack up.

    Vinny there is a lot that goes into shooting up a jukebox properly. It takes a steady hand. It takes reliable bullets. A lot of guts. Only a Pro would not hit a patron or god forbid a bottle of Jameson’s by accident.

    I had a friend in the 90’s in LA who was an electricians helper. This guy he helped was a lighting Pro. Rich people paid him big money to fix the work other lighting installers did that sucked because they wanted ‘cheaper’ or were ‘oversold’.

    I think you under estimate reliably good’s position in the world. But yes we have an fame and fortune disease that rewards Brilliance briefly. Its not substance. The best bands grind it out slowly increasing record sales. Brilliant 1 hit wonders might be over the top for 6 months then poof. Never heard from again except for Celebrity Rehab.

  7. dan, your comment got snagged in the spam filter. sorry. i saw the seinfeld doc. yup he’s a pro. he can’t help himself.

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