Executive handshake
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Hollywood skin care secrets

by Gregory Small

Years ago, I was producing an independent TV series funded by European money when the mega-powerful founder of a huge U.S. television company – I’m talking his-name-at-the- top-of-a-20-story-building powerful – approached us about buying into it. It seemed like a godsend. His involvement would not just open doors, it would rip them off the hinges. So I was pumped when I was led into his office, where one of his three secretaries told me he would be right in. I sat across from his aircraft carrier of a desk, trying out different ways to cross my legs to look the coolest, when finally I heard a muted “flushhh.” A beat later, a door at the far end of his tennis-court sized office swung open, and out of it emerged the godsend himself… still buckling up his pants.

I learned a few things that day, besides the quickly evident fact that, were he to deign to buy into our show, we would be left with rags for shoes. I learned that sometimes you get stuck shaking a hand you’d really, really rather not. And, most important, I learned that, when a rich and powerful guy tries to demonstrate how insignificant you are by pointedly making you wait while he takes a shit, you just gotta not give one yourself – a shit, that is.

Because, after all, it’s just Hollywood… in its natural, primordial, laid-bare state. If there’s anything one needs to succeed in the land of egos and make-believe, it’s really thick skin (especially on that shaking hand).

I’ve had that lesson reinforced a zillion times over. As a student at USC, I managed to talk my way into a meeting with one of the town’s most powerful movie producers. Ushered into his office, he gestured for me to sit, a phone to his ear. He was suddenly yanked back into the conversation, responding with words that I can pretty much quote: “Fuuuuck you! Who the fuck do you fucking think I am, you fuck!!” Five minutes later, as I sat petrified on his couch, his four-letter tirade unabated, I put enough pieces together to suddenly realize, to my brain-freezing astonishment, that he was “talking” to a renowned president of a major studio! – a guy I’d seen getting his ass kissed on Charlie Rose not 2 weeks before.

But that’s the thing: No one in Hollywood is immune. And believe you me, legend has it, that studio boss gave just as good as he got.

As the old Catskill comics used to say, I got a million of ‘em. And if you work in Hollywood, you do too.

There’s the writer buddy of a good friend who walked into a TV producer’s office to get notes on his script. As he sat frozen, the producer ripped every page he didn’t like out of the script — which was almost all of it — and threw the tattered remains at his feet. “Now fill that with good writing,” he spat.

There was that time my writing partner and I had a busy director option one of our scripts. At 11:30 one morning a few weeks later, the director called us excitedly to tell us he’d just set it up at an independent company. At 1:30 that afternoon, we got a call from the company’s Senior V.P. of Production. We were primed to hear congratulations and enthusiasm. Instead, the V.P. emitted a long, enervating sigh, explaining he’d just gotten out of an executive staff meeting. “I’m sorry to tell you this,” he said, “but I just was told the company is going under.” Yeah, that’s correct. We got a deal two hours before the owners informed their minions they were going belly-up. Easy come, easy go.

Then there was when Business Affairs had sent over documents ready for us to sign. They were sitting on the kitchen table, in quadruplicate. And these weren’t documents from some dinky independent. These were from a major studio. On top of that, we had a certifiable movie star and a household-name producer attached. It was the bonafide bigs. Then our lawyer called. The star had had a huge falling out with his cousin who ran his company – the very same guy who had loved our script and orchestrated the deal. The disagreement apparently involved tossing out the cousin’s belongings on the office lawn. Our lawyer regretfully explained that we needn’t sign the documents. When the star tossed out his cousin, he tossed out our project right along with him.

I don’t know about you, but I’m cracking myself up over here. Okay, sure, some of these episodes stung for a moment, but the cathartic part of recounting them is to know that they won’t bring you down if you don’t let them. It’s just Hollywood shit. Next!…

And that’s just the segue I needed to one last recollection, about the first meeting after my partner and I sold a spec script to a studio. “We have very few notes,” we were told. “Basically do just what you did, but do more of it.” Then came the first specific: “How about he has an affair with the girl’s mother?” I know, that sounds like a cool, sexy idea, right? Except that the mother wasn’t even in the script. The next note was to add, like, “five more twists.” Anyway, you get the idea. We had some serious work cut out for us. But that’s not the Hollywood shit part of the story. That’s just development. Deal with it. And we did. And, working with an extraordinary creative team, often at one another’s houses all weekend, and just as often into the wee hours, we painstakingly remolded our baby. At long last, it was ready to go to the big guns, including – holy cripes — Steven Spielberg, for what we all hoped would be that elusive green light. None of us were cocky about it, for sure. But we knew we had something special, not to mention the combined diligence, brain-power, and – if you’ll permit me – talent that had gone into it. We chewed our fingernails all Saturday, all Sunday. Finally, Monday came.

They passed.

I will admit that thick skin was in short supply that day. But after the swelling went down a few days later, my partner was talking to his childhood buddy, Steve. He of course was disappointed for us. “But, Jesus, Blaney,” he said, “Spielberg read your script!!”

And that, my friends, is how you deal with Hollywood shit.

Gregory Small

About Gregory Small

Greg Small and his writing partner Richard Blaney have several spec features in development, including Someone in the Dark at Dreamworks, and Playing Dirty at Millennium Entertainment, which is currently in casting. They wrote the 2013 hit cable movie, Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret, and now are busting their butts working on a hush-hush mini series for a hush-hush network. They fuel their questionable productivity with broccoli au gratin and olive oil shots.

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