Art Linson’s producing credits include The Untouchables, Heat, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Scrooged, Fight Club and Into the Wild. He has written two books, A Pound of Flesh: Perilous Tales of How to Produce Movies in Hollywood and What Just Happened?: Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front Line. Most recently, he wrote the screenplay for and produced What Just Happened?, starring Robert De Niro and directed by Barry Levinson. Here, Linson shares his golden rules for surviving Hollywood.
1. Learn to cup your hands and bow like a Croatian maitre d’.
This is a good plan when you are first trying to get started because moviemaking is a team sport. You’re going to need help from lots of talented people, untalented people and particularly people who have checkbooks. Of course, once you have a big hit, you can always resort to being an outrageous prick, if that’s what pleases you. The only caution here is that a hit, at most, buys you 36 months. So if you cannot back it up with another hit right away, you better not lose the art of bowing and genuflecting.
2. “Help! we are bleeding from our ears. this has got to stop!”
No one remembers what a movie cost when it is well-received. The fact that the moviemakers went way over budget and the shrieking from the investors is still echoing in the halls will all be happily forgotten if the damn thing succeeds and makes a lot of money. But let me caution you: Everyone remembers what a movie cost when it does not perform. The revenge of losing often lasts longer than the camaraderie of winning. So if you’re going to be a pig and let the budget run amok, fasten your seatbelt.
3. “Are you sure you don’t have room for dessert?”
Take as many good screenwriters to lunch as you can and make sure you pick up the check. (They are notoriously cheap.) Whether you are an actor, producer, director, studio exec or even an agent, you soon discover the screenplay is the most significant ingredient in the moviemaking process. It’s the currency of Hollywood. It’s not that directors do not make the ultimate contribution that often defines a movie, but without the screenplay you are a lost puppy in the wilderness. Inevitably it dictates the direction of the work, the cast and the financing. “C’mon try the crème brûlée. It’s on moi.” “Can I buy you a new pen?”
4. “F*#k me, but this time I really mean it.”
There is a language in the movie business filled with nuance and deception. Learning to read between the lines is an essential part of the survival kit, because rarely does anyone, friend or adversary, say what he or she really means—especially as it relates to the work. A director friend of mine, walking out of his shaky film preview, was told by the studio executive, “It’s good.” “Good is good!” the director gleefully replied. The exec smiled, “Good is always good.” The following week, the studio promptly shelved the movie. Months later, when given an accidental second-chance screening in Cannes, the same movie garnered rave reviews. Immediately, the same executive called the director and shrieked, “It’s good, but this time I really mean it!” Follow the numbers; follow the money. The noise cannot be trusted. And if you ever hear, “You know I’m rooting for you,” cross that person off your guest list.
5. “It takes a man, a woman and a mistreated pit bull to all come together on a romantic night to give birth to a movie producer.” —Anonymous.
Everyone does well with a pat on the shoulder, a word of encouragement and a loving smile, but that’s not what’s going to happen in this business. In fact, the only way you (and this includes actors, directors and writers as well as producers) can keep going forward is to be able to handle rejection with aplomb. If you do not have the tolerance to bounce back like a beach ball on a sunny day after someone says, “No, in fact, it sucks! No wait, let me clarify this… you suck!”—and let’s add that you’ve been hearing this for the last two years—if all this seems to be a bit too much for you, get out now or just go back to anonymous blogging. MM