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Hollywood lesson: How NOT to chase a pop star

by Abby Ex

There was that one time, on a mission to New Zealand for 36 hours, that I learned the importance of “I don’t know.” It was a Saturday morning in sunny L.A. several years ago and I was new-ish junior executive at a movie studio where it was a normal occurrence to get summoned on a weekend. This time my colleague in NYC, who was overseeing a movie musical, sent an email asking if someone could take the locked cut of the film to New Zealand to meet one of the stars of the film, a huge pop star who was on tour.

Wanting to be the good soldier, and never having been to that part of the world, I gladly volunteered to go without any question or hesitation.

And herein was my first mistake. I never clarified why I was going to meet said pop star in Auckland, NZ to show her the locked cut of the film. I assumed it was because she needed to see the final film in order to agree to some press obligations that were looming, and me having a background in PR, that’s why I was asked to go. Well, we all know what happens to people who assume…

That Saturday night, loaded up with every possible format of the film, I hopped a 13 hour flight to Auckland to start my mission. I arrived on what I think was a Monday morning, but the pop star was not ready to receive me. I wandered around the city (i.e. went to the local casino), and a few hours and several hundred dollars later, the pop star was ready to receive me and I headed to her hotel.

At the hotel, I chatted with her assistants who apologized for the delay and explained the band had been touring non-stop and she was going into the studio later that afternoon, but was ready to watch the movie now. I gave them the film, and headed down to the lobby to wait. Here is where my mission changed course.

My big boss, the head of the studio, called me on my cell to check in and ask the status of the mission. It went something like this:

Boss: “Hi, Abby, why haven’t I heard from you or Pop Star yet about the movie?”

Me: “Well, she needed some time to rest but is watching the film now and promised me she’d call you as soon as she finishes watching to let you know what she thinks.”

Boss: (pause) “I don’t care about what you’re saying to me right now. When is the pop star RECORDING???”

At this point I could tell something was amiss and perhaps I didn’t have all the information I should have. I really should’ve admitted I didn’t really know much about this pop star recording anything and fessed up as much. But not wanting to look weak, I tried to make it seem like I knew something.

Me: “Well, I heard her assistants talking about going into the studio later this afternoon; I think they said around 5pm?”

Boss: (LONG PAUSE) Then, explosion.

“HOW DO YOU NOT FUCKING KNOW WHEN THEY ARE GOING INTO THE STUDIO?! DO YOU NOT KNOW WHY YOU ARE HALF-WAY AROUND THE WORLD RIGHT NOW?! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU THINK YOU ARE, A GODDAMN EXPENSIVE COURIER SERVICE!? YOU’RE THERE TO GET THE POP STAR AND HER BAND TO RECORD NEW MUSIC FOR THE MOVIE! THEY’RE RECORDING THE BIGGEST SONG OF THE FILM!”

And my favorite line:
“ABBY, YOU’RE NOT JUST A FUCKING D-GIRL ANYMORE. GO SPLASH SOME WATER ON YOUR FACE AND GET THIS SHIT DONE.”

Well, with that, I had now learned the real mission of my trip to New Zealand.

At this point you would think I would’ve learned my lesson about saying “I don’t know,” but apparently there was still more for me to learn on this trip.

Knowing I wasn’t going to be welcomed back into the States without the song, I frantically called and emailed the exec on the film and the head of music to get the information about where the recording studio was and the time frame I had to record. I got the DVD back and rushed over to the recording studio to meet the pop star’s music producer and bandmate to start the recording session. He was super friendly, and asked me where the song was going in the film.

Again, this was something I had failed to clarify, but didn’t want to look stupid in front of this artist, who is a genius in his own right, so bs’d my way through a response.

Me: “Um, the song is right here in this scene in the film, so it will go right here.”

I pulled up the scene on the DVD as he watched, but he was confused how his pop song was going to fit into the scene. Not wanting to look like I didn’t know what was going on [again], I used some fancy film school terms about non-diegetic sound, and left it at that while he looked perplexed.

Regardless, he started mixing a new song, and even kindly explained how and why he was using these specific beats. He explained that even though the song was an Italian standard, it was actually influenced by the Bossa Nova movement hence the tone of this new song. I was in awe.

Cut to 3am and the song was awesome. The pop star had come in to lay down her vocals and we called my big boss to play him the music. He was thrilled, but since the song was going on the end credits of the film, he also wanted the producer to lay his vocals on the track.

Mic drop. In a bad way.

Herein was my second lesson in the day in “I don’t know.” I refused to make eye contact with the music producer and looked at the floor. Being the consummate professional, the music producer obliged my boss’ request and by 5am we had the finished track and sent it off. I felt like an idiot, but the mission was complete.

I came back from New Zealand, and you best believe that when I didn’t know what the hell was going on with a task at hand, I definitely asked more questions.

My experience on the trip taught me that it’s actually smarter to say “I don’t know” or ask for clarification when I don’t understand something. No one knows everything off the bat, and I now have both the experience and humility to not care how I look when I ask questions, I just want the information. Because lord knows, I’m not just a “fucking D-girl” anymore.

Abby Ex

About Abby Ex

Abby Ex is currently a film exec at a studio, but got her start at age 15 with an internship at The Jerry Springer Show. Aside from her love of film and (mostly reality) television, Abby’s other passions lie in poker, spinning, nail art and service. Not usually in that order.

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