Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Keep Your Trap Shut!

This has been a problem kicking around for some time, and I'm finally pissed about it. What is it? It's assistants shooting their mouths off about photographer's proprietary information, things they see and should just keep their mouths zipped about. The latest example is someone who needs a swift kick in the pants, and has (supposedly) given enough information that it would be very easy to narrow down exactly who he is. This is the example of someone who supposedly worked for Annie Liebovitz as a 5th assistant (and that person's job is to get coffee and hold the door open that low on the totem pole) and spied the (again, supposedly) new Canon camera. First, I know a little about how camera companies show off as-yet-unreleased camera bodies, and it more centers around the old body with a new chip and computer inside than it does blaring the new naming nomenclature on the front. Second, who is really this dumb when doing this as to reveal WHO they worked for and on what shoots? Are they dropping her name so as to provide some validity as we all say "oh yeah, she probably would be someone they'd show it to and get her input on, so it must be true!" all the while lying about actually seeing it in the first place?

So, let's assume that this idiot is just the latest in rumor mongering that happens on sets. What do we do about it? I can tell you that I have had to sign more than one multi-page non-disclosure agreement (a.k.a. NDA). From law firms to manufacturers with new products being photographed, to software companies I was talking to, NDA's are a way of life. My assistants too have had to sign these same documents. I am certain that Annie signed one as well (and has many many times), and this purportedly 5th Assistant was a one-off pickup for the day, and probably was not asked to sign one. But does that matter? Probably legally yes, but morally and ethically, it doesn't matter.

Press releases are routinely embargoed from release but sent out to give reporters time to research and file stories once the embargo is lifted. When Steve Jobs announced the iPod, Time Magazine signed NDA's to do the photography for the cover and the reporters did too to report and test it beforehand. Agreeing to withhold revelations about a product or person or organization are commonplace, and assistants, stylists, and so on see little problem with running their mouth off to their spouses and friends, boasting about how cool whatever they were doing was. It's simple - just keep it to yourself.

How then, can you impress upon those who are supporting you with this need and obligation? Make them sign a legal document saying they will keep their mouth shut. I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on television, but more than one friend has suggested I should be one. To that end, I have drafted something that should be a pretty good starting point for you to review and edit to best suit your needs.

Your e-mail to the assistant the following e-mail:

Dear Chris Assistant,
I am very glad to have you join me to assist in the production of photography on {date, location}. Before the commencement of the assignment, I must have a non-disclosure agreement on file for you. This agreement basically states that by signing you have agreed to keep confidential the information, products, or persons that you observe, is/are discussed, or otherwise revealed to you while on the assignment. I have attached a PDF of this document. Please print and fill out the “Recipient” portion on page 1 and the “Recipient” portion on page 3 and fax them back to the following fax #: (202) 555-1212.
And you then send along a modified version of this Assistant's NDA that I wrote. This NDA is a variation on past NDA's I have signed, taking parts from them, and making them applicable to an assistant who is working for a photographer either once, or on an ongoing basis. It need only be signed once for assistants who regularily work for you, as it remains in effect until cancelled. You can also use this with minor modifications to apply to stylists, makeup persons, location managers, producers, and so on.

In addition, you may also consider using a variation on this Assistant's Contract which outlines what you expect, and what the assistant can expect, when payment is to be made, and so on. One thing that often happens with assistants is when a shoot wraps early, or there is a definition of a 10 hour workday, after a six hour shoot, some photographers expect the additional four hours be used filing or working in the studio, and this is often a frustration for assistants. This contract spells out all of this so there are no misunderstandings on either party's part. Feel free to use yourself, adapt to suit your needs, either document. Don't go around selling it, or putting it in your books without talking to me first though!

Maybe this guy just made this up, this time. But he serves as a shining example of the blow-hards before him (and, sadly, after him). How will this affect Annie legally? She could be in some hot water if this is true. She (because someone with whom she contracted did so) breached the NDA. The 5th assistant is judgement proof and so will skate. Someone needs to go give him a good shake and a class in morals and ethics.
Update: A comment came my way via e-mail that suggests that without detailing my source, I become it in some way. I felt that putting the link to the sites that are repeating it, would just perpetrate the issue. I'd not detailed model #'s/features because it's a rumor, but the rumor, and the fact that it surfaced - true or not - highlights a problem with some assistants/stylists that has been going on, and with which I have had personal, first-hand experience regarding the revelation of proprietary information, and the steps we take to ensure client privacy. The URL was provided by another reader in the comments section, for those interested, and that site has a much much broader readership than my forum does, so I draw the conclusion that my readership is aware of the information either from that site, or the others that have repeated it. -- John.
Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


Anonymous said...


For those interested - here is the link to the original post on the Luminous-Landscape Medium format forum.

The guy is pretty boastful and close to the end of the forum he rants again about being in New York, working as an assistant and shooter plus he gets in a few digs at non New York city shooters.

The old play on the Vegas Expression: "What happens on the shoot, stays on the shoot." It is no one else's business.

I fired an assistant who spoke about confidential information that he was asked to not reveal. The guy had worked with me for over ten years. Information that damaged working relationships and friendships.

I will never hire him again or - or more important - give his name or suggest him to out of town shooters.

Loudmouth assistants along with chatty stylists are bringing this on themselves. I've had stylists complain about a minor detail on a shoot to others - even though they were hired for major shoots for long periods of time.

Glad you brought the subject up.

Anonymous said...


Trusting your assistants to be professional is expected. If they are unprofessional, they don't come back.

Expected conduct and behavior up front - so they know what is expected of them.

Explain that their ability to be professional means everything to you and to their reputation.

Reagarding the assistant who was the fifth on an Annie shoot, he sounds insecure and is trying to justify himself by dropping names.

It is a good lesson for assistants to learn. I go out of my way to help my assistants - I suggest them to other photographers when they need help and try to help them in their transition to shooting on their own.

If an assistant is unprofessional, then I can not risk my reputation by giving out their name and number.

Treat others as you would expect to be treated seems to apply here.

Unknown said...

Yup. Have the NDA's signed. Then purport to tell everyone that this is like jury duty.

Nobody can discuss the "case" with anyone else.

neumero4te said...

I agree with and everything written here. But I'd just like to say that given the source, what he claims and how it was presented, it sounds like his claim is completely bogus anyway.

budcub said...

Note to self, if you want to really hurt someone (who's a photographer's assistant), claim to be that person on an internet forum and make a statement that's an obvious NDA breaker.

I have to agree breaking an NDA is a serious matter. When I took exams to get certified in Microsoft/Cisco I would never break the NDA and post exam questions on the internet, even though other people sometimes did it. Why would I go through the time and expense to take those exams and have my certifications yanked away for breaking the rules?

That being said, I want to give the "5th Assistant" the benefit of due process before trial and execution.

John Harrington said...

Agreed, yet my point on this was that this assistant's actions are similar to those of other assistants that photographers have horror stories about when they opened their mouth, and this is a good place to make the point in general, with this person (in anonymity) as an illustration of what could happen.


iPodule said...

Good grief, it's a Camera, who the hell cares?

And since you obviously think so little of assistants my friend then why on earth should they show you any respect?

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