Around the WPA offices, I am sometimes called Obi-Wan. I try not to take this as the old, decrepit and hooded Alec Guinness of Star Wars, but rather, the sage, father figure and hooded Alec Guinness that is all at once serene and powerful. I suppose we all tell
ourselves the stories we need to hear.
When I was a young agent in New York. Well, a younger agent, I was prone to getting angry about the weirdest things, little things, big things, anything really. One day, I actually got a call from the head of the agency in Los Angeles, informing me that if I kept throwing my phone headset against the wall and breaking it, I would have to supply my own. Fair enough I thought at the time.
I’m not sure when I realized what a waste of time my emotions were becoming or when I realized the amount of mistakes I was making sans calmness, but at some point I turned over a new leaf. As I think back, I wonder if it was inexperience that made me angry or my fear of failure when I found myself in unfamiliar territory, or an addiction to the drama of it all.
I think I calmed down for good when one day, on a negotiation I said something out of anger to a producer, who instantly used it as leverage and not only beat the hell out of me in the deal, but then he (of course) used the comment to deride me to my client. I ended up losing that client, even though what sparked my outburst in the first place was my feeling the client was being insulted and taken advantage of. Hard lesson.
Once I turned the corner, I was left with a few undeniable philosophies:
- We’re making movies, not saving the world. We’re white collar executives, not Seal Team 6. No one dies in what we do if we are close to competent. In the movie industry, it’s only the extreme hubris of a Ryan Miller that will kill a Sarah Jones. 99.999 percent of the time we are perfectly safe.
- If your client will walk away from a negotiation, you can go hard because you have all the leverage. If your client is desperate, you’ll have to accept what they give you and there’s no use in being upset about it. Supply and demand.
- At this point I’ve seen so many people get into trouble through their emotions that it’s hard to miss the lesson. I have passed on so many clients after hearing their reputation as a screamer on set or unreasonable in negotiations. It means at the least that they don’t understand principles 1 or 2. At the most, they are just assholes. In a business based on repeat business, they will have a short shelf life. Sometimes, they are in the “so talented, they’ll be around forever category.” But, that just puts them in my “life’s too short category.”
I’m left with the image of Abe Vigoda’s Tessio in the Godfather as they put him in the car to drive him to his execution. They told him it wasn’t personal. It was just business and he understood with a resigned calmness. For him, it was life and death, well pretend life and death anyway, but again, in the end it was just business.
Now, when things start to get heated at work, I take an imaginary step to the left and let the other person’s emotion pass by me instead of through me. If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that the person who is more emotionally invested ALWAYS loses a negotiation. It’s a simple success model, be the calm one.