Not very many people can say that they've worked with Robin Williams on a professional level.
Unfortunately -- as ironic as this might sound at first -- I had the privilege of working with Robin Williams in his first and only season of "The Crazy Ones."
In December 2013, I received an email from a great guy named Cody Gallo who had been working as a Directors Guild of America trainee in the DGA's Assistant Directors program. The production team needed an additional Production Assistant (PA) to help out with the episode "Simon Roberts Was Here." (Sidenote: If you're ever looking for work in the film industry and if you ever get lucky enough to be a production assistant for a show for one of the major networks, I recommend going for it. It can be a lot of fun and a great learning experience.)
But back to my story...
I showed up that day in December to assist with production where I helped with set control. If you've ever been on a production team, sound teams are very careful about any unnecessary noise that takes place during filming - so the PA will tell people standing around to "hold" any work or noise so that the directors can successfully film takes. It can make you nervous sometimes, especially when you're new on a set: there's always that fear of sneezing excessively and then getting booted off the set. Although highly unlikely, that would be disgraceful.
Cody told me to go stand by the craft food services area in order to help control what was going on over there, and I did. Low and behold, a man appears from behind one of the set pieces - it's none other than Robin Williams.
"Hey boss," he said.
He walked away.
... you're probably thinking this is not much of a story, but there's a lot that took place in that one exchange. Two big things, actually: respect and acknowledgement.
- Although I had very little responsibility on set, I still had an important role and many people still depended on me to do the right thing. One of the bigger lessons learned from this experience is to remember that everyone on set is important. A production crew is a team of individuals that have a common goal of completing a single project and the moment you start disrespecting people on set is the moment you lose sight of this objective.
- Acknowledgement goes hand in hand with respect, but it goes a step further. Going out of your way to simply say, "Hello" or "Great job" can go a long way. Robin Williams did just that when he called me "boss." Really - I wasn't his boss; but he still acknowledged my responsibility and his gratitude for coming to set that day to help out. And it left a huge mark on me. Even though it was such a small gesture, it became very meaningful. "You were just doing your job." I was, but sometimes -- especially when you're new to something -- you need that additional recognition to keep you pointed in the right direction. Anyone can work hard. An energetic kid can pound a square peg into a round hole: unless he's given a round peg he's going to keep hitting away. Motivation is great, but knowledge along with motivation is even better.
The larger lesson from this experience is that being very friendly and professional can go a long ways no matter what you do in life. You're going to work harder when you know people around you make you feel valuable and that's what Robin Williams did. Some of the best leaders I ever worked with always reminded me of the significant contributions I made for whatever organization I served and it made me more motivated to show up for work.
Although I am sad that this was the only interaction I ever had with Robin Williams, I am more than satisfied that it took place as it did - and I will always remember for how he treated me in person.