Okay, here’s a hypothetical situation.
Through some fluke of luck, fate, kismet, or having a rich uncle die, you have become the CEO of a major Hollywood movie studio. As you sit behind your expensive imported antique desk in your luxuriously appointed office it sinks in that you don’t know squat about what you’re going to do next.
Don’t freak out, it’s happened to every studio boss since the dawn of cinema. Now your troubles are over because you’ve got me, the proverbial imp on your shoulder, to tell you what needs to be done.
Why should I be giving this advice? Do I have any experience in running a Hollywood studio?
No, I don’t. Not one little bit.
However, I have watched a lot of Hollywood hotshots crash and burn leaving only the wreckage of big budget flops that pollute the airwaves on weekend afternoons.
What I’ve come up with are twelve simple rules that if followed religiously, will have people thinking you’re a genius. Moses only needed Ten Commandments, but he was just trying to save souls. I’m trying to save Hollywood, and that needs twelve.
Pay attention kiddies, there will be a test!
1. Don’t believe your every brain-fart is a sign of genius.
Yes, you are the studio’s boss, but remember that you probably got the job because you were in the same college fraternity as the Chairman of the Board’s nephew, not because you’re the second coming of Irving Thalberg. Nobody’s perfect and that’s why you must follow these rules.
2. Don’t hire toadies.
The classic corporate ‘Yes Man’ may make your ego feel good, but you’re setting yourself up for a fall. Always hire people that are as smart or smarter than you are. I know most execs would advise against it, but their own careers are usually hanging by a thread because their staff couldn’t find their own a***s with a bloodhound and a map. Surrounding yourself with smart people can only make you look smarter.
3. Have someone willing to tell you when you’re wrong.
During the mythical days of the Roman Empire, there was always an adviser next to Caesar reminding him that “All fame is fleeting.” The old fellow was saying not to believe your own hype. Every Boss needs a Devil’s Advocate. Someone you trust and respect who you can discuss ideas with in private. Then he or she can rationally find any faults in your case. Trust me, it’s better to have one trusted person pick your ideas apart than the press, ticket-buyers and shareholders. Then with all your dumb ideas weeded out in privacy, the stuff you do come out with will seem like pure gold.
4. Never let the marketing people dictate how your studio’s movies should be made or what they should be about.
The biggest problem with filmmaking is that everybody who doesn’t make films thinks they can do it better. There’s nobody worse than marketing departments and ad agencies for meddling with films. It is your job to remind them that their job is to sell a finished product, not make the product themselves. Let them take over your studio and you’ll pump out nothing but super-bland turkeys like Mariah Carey’s Glitter and Jackie Chan’s “Around the World in 80 Days”.
5. Always be on good terms with the talent you’re dealing with.
I know that sounds impossible since the words “egocentric”, “neurotic”, and “spoiled” are often used to describe the talented. However, you will soon realize that a little diplomacy goes a long way. Never try to threaten or bully them because the old days of ruining someone’s career by branding them ‘difficult’ have disappeared in this celebrity-worshipping age. That means you don’t meddle in things you know nothing about for the sole reason of flexing your own ego. There are reasons why some people work in a soundstage while others work in an office. Hire people who can do the job and then let them do their job. If you can’t trust them to do it right, then don’t hire them in the first place.
6. Don’t go solely on hype when you’re casting.
The whole marketing theory of ‘Name Recognition’ is a myth. Just because the public will ogle a star’s photo-spread in PEOPLE doesn’t mean that same star will put bums in theatre seats where it counts. Look at how right they are for the part as well as their real box-office performance and cast them accordingly.
7. Respect the geek.
When adapting a novel, comic book, or TV franchise for the big screen, a little fiddling can be forgiven. However, if you fiddle to where it no longer resembles the original source material just to score more product placements then you will lose the geeks. The geeks are the super-fans who line up on opening weekend to see their favorite fictional heroes. However, if they’re turned off by your ‘re-imagining’ then you can forget the positive word of mouth, you can forget the repeated viewings, you can forget the DVD sales & rentals, and you can forget your profit margin. Thanks to the Internet the geek can make or break a blockbuster at the speed of light.
8. Don’t be afraid to follow your gut and take a chance.
However, that doesn’t mean you should forget rule #1.
9. Never allow filming to begin before the script is completed. That’s a recipe for disaster. At least have a completed first draft ready before you start rolling out the cameras. Rewrites are inevitable, and often necessary, but the production phase is not the right time to grind out a first draft.
10. You can’t save a bad script by throwing money at it.
You’re in the business of making money by telling stories. Make sure that the story you’re starting with is the best one you can get.
11. Treat your expense account as a convenient business tool, not a teat to be sucked dry. If you start acting like your expense account is a goodie bag it will become your obsession and your mind will not be on your job, which is making movies, not charging your daughter’s sweet sixteen party to the company.
12. Don’t be in it just for the money and the power.
If you have a love for your job and the medium, it will show in your work and in the performance of your company. If you’re just in it for the cash and the casting couch, then you’re going to crash and burn.
Okay, now I want all you high-powered Hollywood types to take these lessons to your flinty little hearts, and be sure to credit your success to me. I’m not greedy, just 10% of the gross, not the net, is all I need.
Fire up some Back Talk>>>