Tag Archives: United States

What Would Oliver Do?

In the summer of 1970 I met a man named Oliver Butterworth.  As school was off, I was just sort of hanging around the stores at the center of town.  Butterworth, a quasi famous children’s author was campaigning on the street for Joe Duffey, a very liberal anti-war Democrat who was running against Lowell Weicker for one of Connecticut’s Senate seats. It was during Vietnam and Oliver was handing out Duffey buttons and peace movement leaflets out of a VW Minivan. He had rigged a makeshift awning and had a card table with lemonade.  He was like a character out of  “Alice’s Restaurant.”  Kind of an old Hippie.

As I was just hanging around with nothing to do, (I realized later, he worked as a local teacher and was just hanging out during the summer too) he invited me to hand out buttons and leaflets.  He explained the anti war movement and how much was at stake in the coming election, and how it’s up to the people to change things.  I have a picture somewhere of me standing in front of that van with Duffey for Senate buttons all over my shirt trying to look informed and ready to fight for the people.  I wasn’t informed or ready to fight.  I was eleven, but I had a cause.

Butterworth had written a children’s book named ‘The Enormous Egg.’ It was about a New Hampshire farm kid (Nate) whose chicken predictably lays an enormous egg.  When the egg hatches, not a chicken emerges, but a Triceratops whom Timmy names Uncle Beazley.  As soon as this is discovered, all who had been laughing at the kid with the enormous egg develop their own agendas.  As the dinosaur grows amid media hoopla and opportunists trying to profit on the find, they need to ship Uncle Beazley off to the National Zoo in Washington DC, because he’s basically eating the farm.  Eventually, Congress, appalled at how much the Dinosaur is eating at the Zoo decides to declare it Un-American (Oliver wrote it in 1956 and was trying to turn 8 year olds everywhere against McCarthy.)  Timmy goes on TV and rallies the masses to petition Congress to “do the will of the people” and accept Uncle Beazley as a permanent resident at the Zoo.  They all live happily ever after.

During that summer and fall, Oliver would tell me where he was going to park the van and I would show up there, hand out stuff and get a civics lesson.  Did my Mom know I was out meeting an old guy with a van? Yes, and she didn’t think anything of it.  It was a different time and we didn’t assume everyone was out to molest us.  I’m sure she thought “well, it’s not like he’s a Catholic Priest or anything, so what the hell.”  Oliver only molested me with anti-war rhetoric and a far left liberalism (in retrospect socialism) that I think I still retain today. Actually, he was pretty cool.

Lowell Weicker sticking it to Nixon

At the end of it all, Joe Duffey lost the election by 90,000 votes.  Lowell Weicker went on to become the moderate Republican that swayed everyone against Nixon and forced his resignation.  In the end,  it pretty much worked out the way Oliver wanted it to. Oliver wasn’t a big Nixon fan.

After the election was lost, Oliver called me and told me we had stood for what we believed in and in taking a stand there are no regrets.  Not long after, he mailed me an autographed copy of the Enormous Egg which I still have.

Hollywood offers up many fights, competing agendas and deception so thick, Nixon would be proud.  Honor sometimes can be scarce.  The higher the stakes, the more ruthless people become.  Perhaps it’s just human nature.  I’m not complaining mind you.  By and large I find it fascinating, and those around me find my righteous indignation in the face of it a constant form of entertainment.

What I find myself fighting sometimes is the regret.  If I had only done this, or if only I had done that I would have gotten the result I wanted.  I always try to do the right thing and believe it or not, doing the right thing around here sometimes gets you screwed. I have a nasty habit of obsessing about that stuff long after the fight has ended.  I’m learning to let go.

For 2012 my main resolution is: WWOD (what would Oliver do.)  He had fought the good fight, done what he could, mentored where he could, spoke his truth in public, moved on from each fight with no regrets at the outcome.  He trusted that goodness would prevail, which it eventually does in one way or the other, and that setbacks are temporary.

It’s a funny thought. What WOULD Oliver do in Hollywood?  I guess I’m going to find out.  Stay tuned.

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Snapshots From Bydgoszsz

Downtown Bydgoszsz

I Just returned from Poland. Bydgoszsz, Poland to be exact.  It’s pronounced (bid-goe-sh.) Yeah pronouncing it took a while.  For the longest time before my business partner Richard and I took the trip, we were just calling it Badonkadonk. We were there for Cameraimage, the international cinematographers film festival.

It took four planes to get there. Halfway through the journey I was trying to figure out exactly why we were going in the first place, especially on the last plane, a small prop plane that was pitched around in the winds and seemed like it was going to land upside down. Oh yeah and the plane before that which Richard proclaimed looked suspiciously like the one from the movie ‘Alive.’

Looking forward to the post flight meal.

With any trip to a culture that is completely foreign, the answer doesn’t come until you’re there. I checked out some travel sites before we went, one of which proclaimed it was unclear why anyone would want to go to Bydgoszsz, but if you did, after a few day you would find it charming.

You see it’s a rather strange place where the sun rises at 8:30am and sets by 3:30pm and they are not even in the shortest days of the year yet.  It’s cold, (see Richard’s over compensating coat) and the architecture is a mix of new post Berlin Wall, Soviet era cheap housing and pre WW II buildings, some stucco’d over in places to hide the cracks of age and  bullet holes.

That being the case, I found that Polish people seem to rely heavily on three things: 1) Vodka, 2) Various dumplings and 3) Cold cuts. Those of you who know me know I am not a drinker.  However I can attest that the dumplings and cold cuts rock. Richard assures me that the Vodka rocks as well.

The people are not what you would expect.  After decades of Soviet propaganda, you would think they would be either be wary of Americans or downright hostile. Not the case at all.  It seemed to me that only about a third knew how to speak English.  When I found myself trying to communicate with a non english speaker, they would hurridly look around to find someone to translate, dragging them over, genuinely and happily wanting to speak with me.  No one was put out that I dared to come to their country not knowing the language.

The short day messes with your internal clock and produces an active nightlife.  Not a big city at all, the Bydgoszsz Holiday Inn (yes, there was a Holiday Inn) came alive and blossomed into a huge party at midnight.  So, when the sun went down, there was a tendency to retreat to nap for a few hours, grab a late dinner, then hit the Holiday Inn.  People proceded to stay up until 5 or 6 am, then grabbed a few hours sleep until the sun came up at 8:30a and started their day. I’m pretty sure they didn’t do that every night, but you never know.

Richard and our French colleagues Vanessa and Magali about to get on the prop plane from Hell.

The festival itself was pretty cool.  Films from everywhere in the world and more importantly, the people from everywhere who made them.  The whole experience reinforced in me the importance of people.  We talk about great films, great performances, great technical innovation, great distribution platforms. But, it’s groups of committed people, coming together and finding ways to communicate a vision.  First to each other and to the world.  Any endeavor depends on this. In the information age when you would think communication advances would bring us closer together in meaningful dialogue, we seem instead to be dumbing down the quality of our collaboration.

I used to talk on the phone to people all day everyday.  Now it’s all email and iChat and a few calls a day.  It’s faster, more efficient and creates a communication economy of scale.  But, direct conversation creates a deeper bond and a more visceral truth.

Renown Cinematographers from all over the world came to teach master classes. Young Cinematographers came to take them.  There was a spirit among the teachers and students alike of:  “I may know a certain amount, but there’s always more.” In that lies a creative delight.

Ah yes, then there’s truth.  In Bydgoszsz there was a lot of talk of truth.  Films that were “true to character, true to story, true to vision.” That comes back to people gathered around a camera face to face, deciding to achieve that truth.

So, if I learned lessons in Bydgoszsz they were these:

1) Cold Cuts can be a dietary staple and are delicious.

2) If your day is more like night, learn to live in it.

3) Just because a plane looks like one that crashed into a snowy mountainside in the Andes, doesn’t mean you’re going to end up dining on a stack of pancreas and someone’s foot.

4) Popularity does not define successful art, truth does.

5) True masters realize that there will always be more to learn and they take joy in teaching others the art of trying to understand this.

6) Nothing beats face to face communication.  Even if you don’t speak the same language, the effort of pursuing mutual understanding  in any form is worth going halfway around the world for.

It’s Not About You…

Here I am at 30,000 feet…… again. Headed to Kentucky for my first vacation in a year. Kentucky? Vacation? The two don’t quite mix, but if you go back and read my last post, you’ll know why. Horses. Lots of horses for sale. Yes, I could buy a horse in California. Yes, I could even find a Rocky Mountain Gaited horse (Lexs’ breed and the breed we seek,) but we just needed to get away. So here I am on Frontier Airlines, (the choices to Louisville are limited.) Not my first choice of travel. Their slogan is “Frontier, a whole different animal,” which is curious at best. So far, my experience is so frills free and makes you quickly feel that someone with a chicken in a cage may sit next to you, that I came up with a new slogan for them: “Frontier, covered wagons, now this.” I firmly believe that an onboard cholera epidemic is starting in one of the exit rows.

Why so sarcastic this week? Obviously, it’s all about me! You see, budget travel just screams in your face: ” it’s NOT about you, we’ll get you there dammit, but it’s not about you!” Thus, my blog topic for this week, ‘It’s Not About You.’

Now, I’m not talking about your big breakup when your partner said “it’s not you, it’s me. You’re great.” In fact, that was about you, because well, you weren’t so great. I’m talking about business primarily, but there is a definite takeaway for life.

When Ari Emmanuel dumped Mel Gibson soon after the Endeavor/William Morris merger, it wasn’t about Mel’s douchey anti-semetic rants. It was about the negative publicity effect that his antics would have on the new WME brand and the comfort of other big stars repped there. Those who were just more important than Mel. It wasn’t a moral or ethical decision, it was hard business and in the end, it wasn’t about Mel, it was good for Ari.

While we’re on Emmanuels, let’s look at Rahm for a second. When he was getting knocked off the Chicago mayoral ballot as a non resident because of working in Washington for Obama, he didn’t take it personally. He knew it wasn’t about him. It was about the other candidates doing their best to secure a job for themselves.

Thus my thesis. Don’t take it personally. When I started my first agency years ago, I had left an old school Beverly Hills agency followed by many of the agency’s clients. Long story short, they sued me. I thought I had things pretty well covered but they kept looking until they found a minor issue that was actionable. At first I was incensed and depressed that they would come after ME so hard. Then I remembered the words of a good friend who had been in business for many years. He gave me the best advice of my career. When you get sued “and you will” (he called it) don’t take it personally, it’s just business.

I took his advice to heart and made it through the ordeal. Turns out that once I was able to step back from it, I found they were a lot more emotionally attached to the situation than I was. That allowed me to make well thought out decisions about how to proceed at each step, while they made emotional mistake after emotional mistake. I realized early on that it wasn’t about me, it was about that I hurt their feelings. Eventually, it wore them down and I did very well in the settlement.

The lesson here is: how do you feel about rejection? When you don’t get a job you were hoping for that your friend was directing or people are getting upset at you because your department is over budget, remember that those things are never about you. It’s about the other person’s fear about how any situation affects or reflects on them. It’s about their personal criteria and prejudices that lead to decisions that will propel THEM forward. It can be about personal history for sure, but on a primal level we are wired for self preservation. Conversely, When they do bring you along on a job, that’s about them also and what you can do for them. That’s why when people do heroic things that aren’t about themselves it’s such big news.

We all do it. No one is above it. We all make the majority of our decisions based on the outcome for US. For instance, I’ll never fly Frontier Airlines again. Why? It’s not that they’re a bad airline, they just didn’t meet my criteria for comfort, and when I look out the window I don’t want to see wings that are made of wood and canvas.

When I take on a client or not, the main consideration is if I feel I can sell them. If I misjudge this it could turn uncomfortable later if I am not having success, or should I say I get uncomfortable as the situation becomes more tense. See, me, me, me!

If you really look at it closely, you’ll begin to see these patterns everywhere. I’m often asked, what the key to negotiating is. My answer is this: whomever speaks more loses. For the simple fact that the more people speak, the more they reveal their personal agenda. What it is about the deal that is about them. Left to speak long enough, people will tell you all about their Mom, their dog, their strategy, or lack thereof. As an agent, I wait in silence for the cues they will give me. More often than not I will get everything I want by them offering it without any prodding at all. I’m not silent in a creepy way, I do a lot of “uh hus” and “I sees.”. People just love to talk about themselves and I let them do it. In the course of things I get a deal done.

See? That whole last paragraph was about me and my philosophy. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the way we are wired, although the world would be a happier place if we were wired to think of others first. I’m just saying you can save yourself a lot of wear and tear if you notice that in almost every situation, people are most driven by the outcome for themselves and underneath it all it’s rarely about money, and almost never about you. Capiche?

But, enough about me, how do you like my shoes?