Lessons from a life in showbiz

Guest column

What I’ve Learned and Unlearned in 50 years in the Business

An exec who is unwilling to put his job on the line for a project he believes in should lose his job.

One person’s vision, right or wrong, is worth more than a consensus of 12. Trust passion.

Relying on other’s opinions is a lazy and disastrous practice. Darryl F. Zanuck ordered readers’ opinions to be removed from synopses. Barry Diller, while at Paramount, read full material — books, plays or scripts — before deciding to proceed with production.

When preserving your lifestyle is the main concern of your career, it’s time to quit the business.

Satisfying work is never a substitute for living or loving, and yet without it life is barren.

Applause at the dailies is no guarantee of the success of a film but a better indication than no applause.

Where is it written that an over-50 director with many films to his credit is not preferable to an under-30 director with only a festival award in his resume? Same for writers.

Casting in payment for sex is a bad idea. It’s been tried by some of the greats of the business and found to lead to poor performance on the screen and in bed.

Never be mean, chintzy and ugly to your secretary or she’ll write a book.

Verbal pitches rarely make it to the screen and are frequently forgotten in the passage.

Nobody but the filmmakers can be trusted to form a valid opinion of a film by seeing a rough cut or reading a script. Especially marketing people. Show them the finished movie only and even then, their opinion is suspect.

Enthusiasm is the fuel of show business, especially unwarranted enthusiasm. Without it you can’t go to work in the morning.

The larger number of executives in a production department, the poorer their movie. Bureaucracy dilutes the creative process — and slows decision making to a pathetic trickle.

This is from Darryl F. Zanuck. Interesting subject matter of a movie is more important than brilliant execution. I’d rather have a fair script on a provocative subject than a brilliant one about the sex life of an earthworm. I’ve had both.

Being a waiter, book salesman or a dealer in a casino is better preparation for a producing career than four years in film school. The best producers often are rogues and super salesmen.

Women are better judges of scripts than men, and 12-year-olds know more about casting.

The worst preview audiences are your friends and relatives. Don’t invite them.

Fame and fortune are temporary and in time will go. Stars and tycoons eventually will be forgotten. The only legacy is your care and love for your fellow man (and woman). Remember Winchell’s line, “Be nice to those you meet on the way up — they’re the same ones you meet on the way down.” He wasn’t, sadly — and discovered the truth of his utterance.

Scripts with camera angles and verbose stage directions are the sign of an amateur.

Booze isn’t bad — in moderation. Smoking — even in moderation — is. Water is boring. When health clubs took the place of bars, the quality of movies suffered. So sue me.

Meetings are the bane of the business, along with voice mail. Between meetings and dailies, it’s almost impossible to communicate on a personal level with studios. Nothing is decided except in person. Finding or hearing a live human being is all but impossible.

Never entrust a business manager with your discretionary power. Anyone who makes creative decisions can decide about his investments. It’s easier. How you handle your money can be fun.

Not returning phone calls is the sign of a loser. It’s always easier to get the CEO or boss of a studio than an underling. That’s why they’re underlings.

You’re only as good as your last picture — depending on how long ago your last picture was.

Those entrusted with greenlighting pictures should become involved with the process at the beginning instead of at the end. This would save scads of money spent by development executives with only the power to say no. In films as well as in television, it is ludicrous for the decisionmakers to sanction this waste.

When at first you don’t succeed try, try again but if then you don’t succeed give up.

No matter how successful you are as a producer you’re always Willy Loman begging for your next gig.

Irving Berlin said, “The trouble with success is that you have to keep being successful.” How tragically true.

Actresses (and actors) are smarter than most executives. I don’t know why that is, but it is.

The best advice I’ve heard for those of us in this narcissistic business (of entertainment) was from movie star Barbara Stanwyck, as quoted in William Safire and Leonard Safir’s book, “Good Advice.” “Know when your time is up,” counseled Barbara. It’s the only advice I have. Hell, I knew 25 years ago it wasn’t going to last. Sooner or later, the demand won’t be there, and you’d better get ready for it. Get ready for the dream to fade. So I’m no longer in demand, but so what? I’ve had my time, and it was lovely. And I’m very grateful for it. But now I move over and make room for somebody else. What the hell. Whatever I had, it worked, didn’t it?

David Brown has produced Broadway plays, films and television. His film credits include “Chocolat,” “Deep Impact,” “A Few Good Men,” “the Player,” “The Verdict,” “The Sting” and “Jaws.”

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