Thursday, 24 July 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #134: Eyes On The Prize, Not On The Blade!

There's an old saying that in Hollywood, if you want loyalty, you get a dog.

It's sad, but it's true.

You see, the movie/entertainment business is different from making widgets, or selling electrified cod-swatters, it's a very glamorous business, where people who are in positions of power are surrounded by beautiful, famous, people who are essentially their employees. It's also a very isolated world, where everyone they meet is either in the business, or wants to be in the business, and they'll be at your feet like supplicants before some exotic potentate.

That can create a greatly inflated sense of power and importance that can warp the average mind into strange and dangerous shapes. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and the illusion of absolute power in a world made of illusion is even worse.

Now while half the people are at your feet when you're at the top of the corporate food chain, the other half will be at your throat.

Business as bloodsport as those on top battle those beneath them for supremacy, their weapons: treachery, deceit, and betrayal.

And when that happens, it's a sure sign of a corporate culture that's very, very dysfunctional, and it's going to hurt the business itself.


Because when there's backstabbing afoot, it means that everyone's eyes aren't on the prize, which is making movies that make money, but on the blades they're plotting to stick in each other's backs.

But how can one avoid that sort of often painful dysfunction?

Well, a fish rots at the head. Which means that if you're the boss of a studio, you need to keep your head level, or it will start to stink. So follow these simple steps, some of them I've discussed before, but I think they bear repeating:

1. BE HUMBLE: Remember, you probably got the job because your uncle won a bunch of company shares in a poker game and left them to you. Very few people at the top of the movie business get their jobs solely on merit. Don't you ever forget it, and by that, don't assume that your every little brain fart is going to be a stroke of genius. Know that you don't know everything, I know everything, you don't, and live accordingly. Don't be afraid to listen.

EOPLE SMARTER THAN YOU: I know that's counter-intuitive, but you must do it. Putting stupid people in positions of power is actually dangerous, because the ego-inflating nature of the biz will get them furrowing their brows as their puny brains shift all their power from their work, which they will do poorly, to blading you, which will probably require more luck than strategy. Just make sure that the smart people know that it's you who will ultimately decide their fate in this biz, they'll be smart enough to remember it, and will tie their fortunes to your star, especially if they think you're smart enough to respect their intelligence and treat them accordingly.

3. DON'T HIRE TOADIES: Don't be afraid to have people who disagree with you. The toady who agrees with everything you say is not a bargain. Because while they're stroking your ego with one hand, they're sharpening a knife with another. Disagreements are natural, and their existence is not a threat to your manhood, the snivelling, scheming toady is, because they're only kissing your ass because it gives them a clear shot at your back.

4. HAVE A DEVIL'S ADVOCATE: Among your brighter employees have one that can be discreet, whose duties will be to disagree with you over everything whether they really do disagree with you or not. Stick with me, I have a point. Before every meeting, or presentation, run your ideas past this person first, in private, and their task is to poke as many holes into your idea as possible. This way you can plug those holes before they can sink your career. This can only be done though, if you have already accepted personal humility, or you will end up firing this person. Best scenario: Have two who do not know of the existence of the other.

5. STAY CLEAN: I'm not saying that you should be a monk, but I am saying that you should abstain from anything that can put you in front a judge, be it criminal, or civil. Live within your means, don't fudge your expenses, and live a life that would put any private investigator assigned to watch you to sleep. Because your bad habits are ammunition for your enemies.

6. BE A LEADER: A screaming, bullying, autocratic studio boss is the sort of boss who nowadays ends up with a development deal that doesn't really develop anything, and no studio. Don't be just a commander issuing orders, you have to be a leader, that means setting a positive example for others to follow. Working hard, being respectful, and most of all keeping your eye on the prize, which is running the best and most profitable studio around, and while that may mean taking a few lumps at first, it will result in a better company.

You'll be surprised how few people will be trying to nail you.

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