Recently, when a big network fired an important executive, they gave him something called a golden parachute, which means, roughly, that he has been paid handsomely to get out and get out quick. He got some cash and a production deal at the network, the standard industry good-bye for a worn-out executive. (If you grasp the logic underlying the decision to reward an executive who can't come up with any more hits with a high-priced production deal so he can try to come up with some more hits, then by all means come to Hollywood and seek your fortune. If not, stay put.)
But even with his savings and his parachute, we all knew that the guy's got a big house to pay for and expensive tastes. Worse, he has ambition. So instead of retiring quietly (and cheaply) out-of-state, he decided to try to make a go of it on his own, you know, to put things together. To brainstorm creatively with the writers. To serve as a catalyst for disparate elements. He-s always thought of himself as creative and not just one of those uptight executives. So, he decided, I-m going to be a producer.
Before that could happen, though, he needed to mend some fences. You don-t spend as many years in the big boy chair as he did and not offend a lot of people. So he had to spend a couple of weeks driving around town visiting the various people who despise him, tearfully attempting to make amends
But mending fences isn-t easy. It takes a certain talent. A couple of years ago, a young, aggressive talent agent - there are no other kinds, of course, but I like to use the formal honorific - devised a brilliant trick to solve a thorny problem.
The ordinary back-and-forth efficiency of commerce in Hollywood is often blocked by pride. It's hard to believe, I know, but it's nevertheless true. We've all got a little place in this sticky spider's web, and it's important to keep up appearances. Small issues like 'who called whom first' and 'let's meet in my office; no, let's meet in my office' often sink entire deals. And because film and television projects always include three distinct and prideful elements (the star, the director, the studio, the network, the writer - pick any three) most of the time the business resembles a huge costume ball where everyone wants to dance, but no one wants to have to ask.
Which is where agents come in. This particular young, aggressive talent agent had figured out that if you place a call to one party, announce yourself as someone else - someone, say, that the person you're calling has a stalled, bogged down deal with - then, while you're waiting to be put through, call the other guy, announce yourself as the first guy, then link the two calls using the conference button on the phone, you can easily get two people who weren't going to call each other (unless the other guy made the first move) to talk, to discuss, and to eventually make a deal, preferably on a project that one of your clients has an interest in.
This trick only works because no one in Hollywood places his own phone calls.
What usually happens in this: Important Person tells Important Person's Assistant to call Down To Earth Me. I pick up my phone and say a cheery "Hello", Important Person's Assistant says, in a smooth, modulated voice, "I have Important Person for you." And Down to Earth me always says, "Great, put him on," at which point, I am put on hold, allowing me to listen to the theme music for whichever movie or television show has most recently turned profitable for the studio or network where Important Person works.
This is okay if it-s music from a kids- movie or sitcom, but if it-s from a movie about a transvestite cannibal serial killer, it-s creepy. More appropriate, maybe, but creepy.
A few minutes later, Important Person-s Assistant - who, by the way, oozes the attitude that because he or she works for Important Person, he or she is An Important Person Too - comes on the line to say that Important Person is on another call, and will have to return. As if you called him in the first place.
You can see, then, how easy it is to call someone on the phone and still make it seem as if they've called you. Because in Hollywood - and I'm not sure Hollywood is all that different from the rest of the world in this respect - it is far better to be called than to be calling. And nothing is worse than being on hold.
That-s it for this week. Next week, we-ll spread gossip.
For KCRW this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.