LESSON IN ETIQUETTE (Part 2 of 2)

Last week we learned how important it is to re-introduce yourself when you see someone you know in public.  This week, it’s all about the reverse.  What the hell do you do when someone comes up to you and doesn’t introduce himself or herself, and you have no idea who the hell they are?

I’d suggest asking them who they are, or how you know each other, but, I did this once and it had a dreadful outcome.  Right after I asked, they replied, “We slept together.”  I replied, “O.  I… Sorry, I… about that, see…” and went on to explain how people who work in show business meet more people in one year than most people meet in their entire lives.  This sounds like such a silly excuse to use in real life, but it’s true.

To avoid any kind of sticky situation, my advice is to simply say, “It’s good to see you.”  And smile.  This sentence works if you know the person AND if you’re just meeting them for the first time.  If you’re at an event showcasing your work, like a premiere, or whatever, it’s good to follow that up with, “Thank you for coming” or “Thank you for being here.”  Those replies will always work in your favor.

Now, if the other person persists and continues to have a detailed conversation, and you still have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about, you could always change the subject into a topic universally fresh – such as the purpose for the event you’re both attending.  Or, if you truly want to avoid the person, pretend to get a phone call and excuse yourself.  No cell phone handy?  A trip to the loo might take care of that.

Likewise, if you’re in a situation with a person whom you totally remember but can’t stomach talking to—like a stalker or something—the best reaction is to still say, “Good to see you, thank you for coming,” before walking away from them.  If they follow you, you can always alert security.

Another great plan of action is to have a pal present who can save the day.  A secret sign or gesture, a code word perhaps, could alert your friend to spring into action and drag you away for an important matter that needs addressing immediately.

The bad part about the reverse situation is being taken advantage of.  See, I know many people who have very famous friends.  I’ve met some of these very famous people, but there are others I haven’t.  If I wanted to meet these other very famous people, I could just walk up to them, introducing myself as “We met at so-and-so’s movie, party, or fill-int-the-blank.”  And I guarantee you that very famous person won’t actually know whether we did or didn’t.

I don’t think this is a very bright idea, but it could actually work if you know all the right people and are familiar enough to carry on a short conversation long enough to be photographed standing next to them for some stupid Wire Image shot.

Working in show business might have a lot of perks, but sometimes by being in public it opens up a huge can of beets that no one really wants to eat.

LESSON IN ETIQUETTE (Part 1 of 2)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 16 years in this industry that has helped me more than others, it’s this: when you see someone you know at a film festival or premiere, reach out to shake their hand and before saying anything, tell them your name.  Even if you know they know you.  Even if you just saw them last week.  Especially do it if you haven’t seen them in a while.  Why?

People who work in the entertainment world meet more people in one year than most the general public meet in their entire lives.  And unless you’re a political wizard (Bill Clinton is rumored to remember every single name/face he’s ever met), there is no way to remember everybody.  Trust me.

I was naïve once, many moons ago, when vacationing at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, I met the director Joel Schumacher, who was also staying there.  We had dinner, hours of great conversation (him giving me advice mainly), and then kept in touch after we left.  The next time I visited Canyon Ranch, he was there again.  What a coincidence!  We had dinner again, more advice, more great conversation, and it was awesome.  Then, the next time I went to Canyon Ranch, would you believe it, Joel was there again!  This was beyond bizarre and such a weird coincidence that when I walked past him the first time I said something funny, like, “God, Joel, are you moving in?”  Of course, he didn’t think it was funny and attacked me for saying it.  When I reminded him of our history together, he apologized but then explained to me that although I remembered our last meeting as if it were yesterday, he had no idea who I was at first.  It was only after I reminded him that he remembered.  Then, he explained to me the advice I’m writing about today.

Now, over a decade later, I know exactly what he meant.  In any given year, I travel to film festivals, premiere films in various cities, give workshops, meet old friends, new friends, I’ve worked with hundreds of actors and crew people in my own films, and I can tell you that it is impossible to remember everyone at any given moment.

Have you ever had that feeling, walking through the grocery store, and running into someone you knew years before and you can’t quite place them?  Maybe you went to school with them, elementary or college, or, maybe they worked tables at your favorite restaurant, or maybe they were friends with one of your siblings and you saw them around from time to time.  But, because it’s been long enough, you have absolutely no idea how to place them, and how you know them?  Do you know that feeling?  Well, in the entertainment world this is ten-fold.

When I’m at an event for one of my films and a thousand people are there, I am overjoyed when someone tells me their name upon first seeing them.  I really love it when they follow up their name with how we know each other.

I was speaking for a university class recently and stuck my hand out to meet the professor and said, “It’s nice to meet you,” at the exact same time he said, “Good to see you again.”  Then I asked how we met, and he replied, “I was in one of your films.”  I was shocked and embarrassingly asked, “Oh?  Which one?”  I mean, you’d think I would know if I was talking to an actor I’d previously worked with.  He explained that he was an Extra in FIRECRACKER, which was shot 10 years prior, and I was relieved that he was just an Extra and my embarrassment vanished.  It’s hard to keep track of Extras.

LET IT BREATHE

Great screenplays write themselves.  Great films shoot themselves.  Your job as a creator should be to never question a signal, or inspiration – just go with it.  And use your eyes, ears, and then, if you’ve appreciated and respected your creation, it’ll all be there.  The skill is to not interfere with it.  Give it some room to breathe.

A sentence like, “Listen to signs from the universe” might sound hokey but I’d still advise it.  If you’ve written a scene to take place inside a garage and no matter what you try, no one will let you film in their garage, simply change it.  If you fight it, the fight will wear down the natural flow and keep you from seeing what is truly supposed to be there.

When you’re writing a script and you hit a stumbling block, move on – go to another scene.  If you’ve outlined your story and developed a clear structure, you can simply skip around.  If you’ve foolishly started writing without a clear structure in place, stop whatever you’re doing and develop the structure before going any further.

If you’re a songwriter, and the lyrics just aren’t coming to you, put in some working sounds that may or may not even be actual words.  Maybe they’re just noises and sounds, vowels, that you can place words upon later.

Realists have a more difficult time than the rest of us, because they get bogged down with the laws they were raised with.  Or laws that have been pounded into them by society at large.  Water is wet.  The sky is blue.  Neither may be actually true, but we are taught they are.

Letting go of the trappings in the world around you and allowing yourself to FEEL what you feel is a really hard thing to do for most people.  But, I assure you, that once you get the hang of it, it’ll be easier and easier.

In my own work, I can see the differences between projects where I’ve opened myself up to the universe and let all the pieces fall into place, or on the projects where I’ve forced it to much.  It’s taken me a decade to finally tap into something I can’t understand, and which is hard to communicate.  But it’s there.

They say, “Write what you know.”  And likewise: film what you know, sing what you know, dance what you know and paint what you know.  Of course that’s wonderful and always enjoyable but it’s also fun to push yourself a bit into an area you don’t know.

People ask me what inspires me to make a film.  The answer truly lands in what I’m interested in learning next.  I’ve never made a proper horror film.  Or a western.  Learning how to do that is exciting to me.  I’ve never made an erotic film.  Having to learn about what makes eroticism work is a challenge.  Especially if it’s a kind of sexuality I know nothing about.

I consider myself as a mad scientist in a way.  Wanting to combine different genres, or starting a movie off in one tone and then ending in another.  Like CASSEROLE CLUB, where we began with tongues planted in cheeks, then half-way through twisted the tone and moved into something serious, heavy and utterly devastating.  I also love movies that stick in the same tone throughout, like FIRECRACKER, or OCCUPYING ED.

But regardless what story you’re telling, my advice is to be open to letting the creation have its own life force.  Give it some room to morph, grow, and breathe.  You might just find that it grows into its own amazing being.

Works of art are like children.  And as a parent, it’s most responsible to let your children develop into who THEY are.  It’s irresponsible for you to make them who you want them to be.  Take a step back, and open yourself up to the possibility that they just might have their own voices and their own energies.  And if you can learn to respect them, you might be surprised at what they become.