HOLLYWOOD APPLE TURNOVER

I’m not speaking of the traditional apple turnovers, which are tender and flaky, with apple pie-like filling and a thin, white glaze.  Nor am I speaking about Gwenyth’s daughter.  I’m speaking of the kinds that are just a bit flaky and work as executives at movie studios in Hollywood.

When I began my film career in the 90s, I met a slew of awesome people who had great jobs with MGM, Miramax, and so forth.  After Harvey Weinstein called me personally to express his interest in my film PEP SQUAD, I became friends with his assistant.  Or, rather, his assistant du jour.  That person was quickly replaced by another assistant, who, shortly after being hired, developed a crush on me.  It was kind of bizarre.  Of course I never met the guy in real life, but to be funny, I sent him an 8×10 glossy of my face as a joke.  He hung it up on the wall by his desk.  And each time I called to visit with Harvey, the assistant thought I was calling to visit with him, not Harvey.  It all became very confusing.  But, just as soon as he was developing some long-distance feelings for me, he was axed as well.  So in came another assistant.  By that point I’d sold my movie to another distributor and I didn’t think Harvey would appreciate me continuing to bother him, so I stopped calling.  I’m not sure who his next assistant was.

My mentor Eric Sherman always suggested it was a really good idea to network and make friends with executives at certain companies because at some point they might be able to help me get a movie made, or whatever.

Besides Harvey Weinstein’s assistant, I met some great people who were VP’s of production, directors of acquisitions, and other higher-ups that, one would think, would be relatively great connections.

One incredible woman, Sara Rose, was an inspiration to me.  After seeing my film at the Cannes Film Market, she came up to me afterwards to introduce herself.  Any time I was in LA I would stop by and see her at MGM.  She always took my meetings and was always a delight to visit with.  She then became VP of Production at MGM and we spoke many times about making my film FIRECRACKER together.  That didn’t happen, but we kept in touch and I always looked forward to working with her in the future.

While I was on track to develop these relationships (some of the people were awesome, like Sara Rose, but some of the other ones were the flaky kind and not so cool), a strange thing kept happening.  They kept losing their jobs.

Some executives moved to other companies on their own free will, some were moved into different jobs within the same company (but not a job that had anything to do with why I was talking to them), and then there were some were fired and were never seen or heard from again.

After several years it became clear to me that most movie executives can’t keep a job for more than about two years.  This Turnover Syndrome is a bizarre fact about the movie business.  Even Penny Marshall mentioned this phenomenon in her memoirs.  If there is someone working with you on your movie when you start the process, they won’t be working at the studio when you finish the movie.  Just as simple as that.

My question is: WHY?  Why can’t most movie executives keep a job for more than a couple years?

WAITING TO WORK

If you are serious about wanting to get your film actually made, you should avoid Hollywood altogether.  Trust me.  No one but The Majors make movies in Hollywood.  The players you would think would be the most involved are precisely the individuals least interested in the activity.  What?  How can you say that?  Well, because it’s true!  People go to Hollywood to be in a continuous state of development.  Why?  BECAUSE THEY ARE LAZY.  They do not want to work.  They do not want to be productive.  They want to stay in bed or lounge about the fucking pool sipping martinis.

No one in Hollywood will return your calls because there’s just no time!  They will tell you they’re SO swamped.  People in the movie business are SO busy.  Try so busy scheduling their August holiday!  Think you can call back in September?  Guess again!  From September to November people in the movie business can’t manage a conversation because all capable speaking skills are being sucked up by Toronto and the other fall film festivals.  No one works in December, regardless of religion, and when they return after the New Year, all available time is spent obsessing over Sundance.  And, of course, February is out of the question because everyone is obsessed with what happened or didn’t happen at Sundance.

April through May is lost to Cannes.  This leaves only March and a slim chance to reach anyone by telephone during hiatus (June and July).  Please note: no one in the industry seems to understand how to use e-mail.  Unless you’ve got Spiderman 7 in the works, or the latest “special effect’s show,” the only real chance you’ve got is to make your film on your own.  Think you want to involve the movie business?  Heed this warning!

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying time off from time to time but must we remain “off” so much of the time?  And what are people doing in their off time?  Playing videogames, chatting with online strangers, playing golf, attempting yoga, gorging on wine and cheese.  Whatever happened to productivity?  Come to think of it, maybe Hollywood isn’t the only place contaminated with laziness.

There are 365 days in a calendar year.  104 of them are wasted by people not working on the weekends.  That only leaves 261 days to get any work done.

Think it stops there?  Guess again!  We can’t forget the holidays!  (FYI: The movie industry observes every holiday known to man, and not just the major ones.  I used to think they did this to avoid offending any major cultural or religious group.  But, it seems to me that most everyone in the U.S. does it as well—even people who are deliberately offensive on a daily basis and clearly cannot be attempting to avoid offending someone!)

We have Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday, Good Friday, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day (by all means a special day to deliberately not work!), Columbus Day, Election Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas…and those are just the Bank Holidays!

We can’t forget Chinese New Year, Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, Purim, St. Patrick’s Day, April Fools, Passover, Easter, Tax Day, Cinco de Mayo, Nurses Day, Mother’s Day, Armed Forces Day, Father’s Day, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Halloween, All Saint’s Day, Eid al-Fitr, Hanukkah, Ramadan, and, of course, Kwanzaa!

I found the following on the website for the Pennsylvania Department of Banking: “When a fixed holiday falls on Sunday, it shall be observed on the following Monday; when it falls on a Saturday, it may be observed on the following Monday.  Independence Day, July 4, 2004, will fall on a Sunday and, therefore, must be observed on Monday, July 5, 2004.  Christmas Day, December 25, 2004, will fall on a Saturday and, therefore, may be observed on Monday, December 27, 2004.”

Are they kidding?  No!  We wouldn’t want to overlap a weekend with a holiday for a chance at yet another day off!

By the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, people take yet another two days off!  Yes, two whole days.  (No one should have to work with a hangover!)  I’ve never understood why people celebrate the coming of a new year.  Are they excited that yet another year has passed?  Are they thrilled at the notion that in the coming year they only have 24 days to work?  Or, are they thrilled at the idea that 341 days will be spent not doing ANY?

On my street, there isn’t a reason to take a vacation.  We don’t need a break from our lives.  We need no escape.  We happen to enjoy what we’re doing.  That’s a rare thing these days—actually having enjoyment at your place of work.

I used to get really frustrated.  It seemed that every time I turned around people were finding any excuse possible to avoid doing any work.  Now, I see it as a gift.  While millions are sitting around by the pool, playing golf, taking a holiday, the rest of us can get the upper hand.  My advice is to encourage other people to take even more time off from work.  This way, you’ll be able to accomplish more while they’re gone.  And if you’re as efficient as some, you might even get the desired results before they get back.

If, on the notion you dislike your life and don’t really want to do any work, I suggest moving to Los Angeles and getting a job in the movie industry.  If the move seems daunting, taking any job seems to do the trick regardless of the location.  Don’t worry. You’re sure to find a place where you don’t have to do anything!

(Originally published in Aftertaste Magazine, 2004)

PRIORITIZE YOUR TIME

I’m aware that our modern world isn’t easy to negotiate through.  I know people have jobs, bills to pay, the need to put food on the table, shuttle kids to and from school or band practice or play practice or that sports game.  I get it.  But, if you’re really good at time management, you can do all this and write scripts, make movies, and so forth.

I know it’s possible to write a screenplay in less than a week and get paid $15,000 for it.  I know because that happened to me.  But, I also know that I’m incredibly diligent in time management when it comes to something like that.  If my goal is to write a script in a week or so, and I’m getting paid 15 grand for it, I know that there is no time to waste at the gym, or on the phone chatting with friends, or texting and tweeting the lastest news.

I don’t think twice about just shutting the phone off, or telling friends and family that I’m going back in the “writing cave” or the “editing cave” or whatever.  Most people appreciate it and respect that, and understand the situation.

Other people don’t understand it, and that’s when it can become problematic.  Everybody has a needy friend who has a personality that if you don’t return his or her call or text immediately, they take it personally and think you’re mad at them.  Then, by the time you’ve re-emerged from the cave, your friend hates you and you don’t understand why.

Well, I’m here to say, screw ‘em.  Needy people are trouble.  Ask yourself which is more important?  Do you want to finish your script, your edit, your work or your art—or do you want to make sure you’re holding on to social obligations that have nothing to do with supporting your goals?  True friends, and people who support you and your goals, will always be there for you, regardless.  So I say “screw ‘em” to the rest because they’ll eventually just start sucking out your life force like leeches.

Now, I understand it’s easy for me to go into a creative cave of any sort because I don’t have pets, I don’t’ have children, and I’m not keen on frivolous social obligations with people I barely know.  But, I’ve made the decision that right now it’s the part of my life where I need to focus on myself.  So I don’t have pets on purpose.

Scheduling is also an important part of managing one’s time.  I can totally juggle the responsibilities of earning a living, putting food on the table, and also creating my art.  But I might not be able to do them all at the same time.  Sometimes it’s possible to block out two hours a day for writing, or six hours a day for earning a paycheck, or one hour a week to write a blog article.  But, unless I write it down in my planner, and keep to the schedule, it becomes impossible to manage everything.

I know some of you might be gifted when it comes to time management and scheduling yourself.  And I know that some of you might really struggle with it.  My only advice is to make it a habit.  I think it only takes something like two weeks to make something a habit.  Start small, by getting a daily planner or learning how to operate the calendar on your smart phone.  Set alerts for yourself.

Most importantly, ask yourself if there are any things in your current lifestyle that impede your ability to work on your art, or reach your goals.  Are some of those things necessary?  Can you do without them?  Or, if you must have them (say you aren’t ready to send Fido to your neighbor’s house to live), can you think of ways to keep those things and also achieve your goals?

There’s no excuse to avoid achieving your goals.  There is simply time management and figuring out HOW you can achieve them no matter what.

TAKE THAT HAT OFF

To exist in The Industry where specialists reign, one must be the best they can be at one thing.  This is how it is in Hollywood, or at least major cities across the globe.  If you want to be a DP, or script supervisor, or line producer, or gaffer, and live in a major city, chances are the only way you’ll be able to do it for a living is by being a specialist.  This means that as you work and learn, you become very good at the one thing you know everything about.  And because of this, you’ll have no idea about anything else.

To exist in the rest of the world, to be an independent filmmaker, one must wear multiple hats and be many different things.  One day the line producer is also the gaffer, and maybe the next day the script supervisor is a camera assistant.  By having your crew wear multiple hats, it can save a lot of time and money.  Unless you’re making a studio movie, no one needs 30 people on their crew.  I don’t see any reason to have more than 10.  I prefer to keep that number under five, but on occasion I can see where eight or nine might be nice.

The trouble happens when you bring a specialist into a project designed for people to wear multiple hats.  The specialist will struggle with this, and the majority of the time will either be horrible to work with, or cause friction on the set.

Of course some specialists out there can do different things, but my advice is to make sure these things are talked about before you start filming.  Once I had a guy from Los Angeles on my crew who refused to do anything except the activities in his job title.  There could be a sudden downpour, people rushing to get the equipment covered or inside, and he’d just stand around and watch everybody.  Why didn’t he help out?  Well, he’d say, I’m a focus puller.  That’s not my job.

Yes, sometimes specialists can come off being total jerks.  Which is why I prefer to hire aspiring filmmakers who have little to no experience.

Aspiring filmmakers or interns tend to work harder and have more passion.  They are also moldable, agreeable, and excited about all the aspects of movie making.  When someone is excited about learning, and thrilled to experience different things, the environment is always enjoyable.

If you do end up hiring an intern or aspiring filmmaker with little experience, be sure to show them how to do different things.  Teach them.  One day they can work in the art department, another day they can work with the camera, and the next day in production sound.  This way, they will leave your shoot a bit more knowledgeable about filmmaking.  It’s also possible they’ll learn more on your shoot than they would have spending thousands of dollars on tuition at a film school.  They may not understand the value of their experience right then, but later on they’ll be very thankful.

Creating a movie’s opening or closing credit sequence is the only bad part about having a small crew that wears multiple hats.  It’s nearly impossible to do traditional rolling credits unless you list each of the jobs and assign names to them.  Problem is, with just a few people on your crew, you’ll end up seeing the same person’s name a dozen times.  And that’s a bit exhausting.  Be proud of your work, but do people really need to see that you directed it and edited it, art directed it, organized costumes, wrote it, produced it, choreographed it, DP-ed it, sketched the storyboards, etc.?  No, they just need to know you directed it.  So keep that in mind.

WRITE A MANIFESTO

When I’m casting and crewing a movie, before I take a look at anyone’s skill level or talent, or resume, I insist they read and sign a manifesto.  Only after I receive the signed manifesto will I consider working with them.

This manifesto is a brief history of who I am, what I’m about, and what it’s like to work with me.  About 75-80% of people who read the manifesto are moved by it, and are more excited than ever to climb aboard.  But, the others walk away offended and irate.  Some have even written threatening letters to me in response to reading the manifesto.

It doesn’t matter who likes it and who doesn’t.  But what matters is I’m weeding out the types of people who I don’t want to work with, and the personality traits that simply won’t get along with people on the set.

This is why I believe it’s a good idea for everyone to make a manifesto.  Tell everyone from the get-go what it’s going to be like.  Be honest and direct.  This will promote clarity and focus and you’ll avoid all the problems later on.  There will be no surprises, and everyone is on the same page.

In my case, unless it’s absolutely necessary visually to the film or character, I insist that all the actors do their own hair and make-up.  It omits the need for a make-up artist, saving money, and will save hours of time each day on your shoot.  I explain this in my manifesto and anyone who is incapable of doing their make-up, but agree with everything else, will sometimes write and ask if there’s someone else in the cast or crew who might help them.  Those cases have happened, and I just tell the actor it’s their responsibility.  If they want a friend to do it, or if they want to hire a make-up artist to come and work on them personally, that’s fine with me.  I’ll even give them a credit in the movie.  But they won’t be on the payroll, and they’ll likely need to feed themselves.

Let’s say you’re doing a movie like CASSEROLE CLUB where you’re going to rent a house that everyone will stay in together.  You’ll want to explain that in your manifesto so that everyone knows they’re going to have to share a bathroom (or will they have a private one), or whether or not they’ll be sharing a room with someone else, etcetera.  I’ve known filmmakers who fail to explain this until their actors show up on location, and each time they tell me, “I’m afraid they’ll quit if I tell them.”  Which always confuses me, so I reply with, “Yes, but if they’re going to quit, do you want them to quit now when you have time to recast, or would you rather wait for them to quit when they show up at the set and you have no time to recast?”

Always be honest, and let people know what they’re getting into.  If they don’t like you, and don’t like what you’re doing, that’s okay.  It’s better to find out before you’ve invested any time working with them or getting to know them.  There are millions of people out there who would be great on your crew or in your movie.  Find them instead.

I also like to incorporate a questionnaire with my manifesto.  Some of the questions are, “Would you share a room with someone” or “are you on any kind of medication which affects your ability to drive a vehicle” or “do you have any food allergies?”  This will help pair people up who are okay to share rooms, and select single rooms for people who don’t want to.  It also helps to know if someone has a food allergy so when you’re planning meals, you can make sure to have something for them.  On that note, I think that food allergies are meant to be taken seriously, but if someone says they just don’t like to eat meat, even though they do eat it from time to time, there’s no reason to mark them down as vegetarian.

My manifesto changes for each movie, so I’m not going to post it publicly.  But if you’re interested in reading it, shoot me an email and I’m happy to share it.