This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
The trick to being successful in the entertainment business – maybe it's the trick in every business, I don't know – is to get people to do stuff for you without realizing that they're doing it. Get people to write your script, be in your movie, produce your pilot, for as little cash outlay as possible.
Sure, it's easy to pay people. Rap stars have their "chill" guys, people they pay to hang around them and keep them company. Executives usually have a couple of terrified assistants hovering there, usually named Josh, with a yellow legal pad and an "I'm on top of it" expression.
But there are a lot of people you do business with in Hollywood who you can't really pay, and there are a lot of situations in which money – and I can't believe I'm saying these words, but they're true – is, well, inappropriate. And those are the people you flatter.
The very best thing about flattery is how incredibly flattering it is. If you're on the receiving end of a nice blast of "you're so wonderful" it barely matters – what am I saying, it doesn't matter in the least! – if it's true. If you really are wonderful. If the personal telling you how wonderful you are even thinks you are wonderful.
What's important is that the person delivering the flattering cascade thinks you're worth the butter. It's like a kubuki moment: I'm probably lying, you know I'm probably lying, but you're the kind of person it's worth lying to.
And if you're on the other side, if you're delivering the flattery, it's amazing how instantly it works, how immediately the recipient begins to glow and swan around. It's like a sugar rush. It's cheap, it rots your teeth and makes you fat, but for a few moments, you feel invincible. Flattery, done correctly, is the Cinnabon of human interaction.
A certain network chief has cancelled my shows five times. Five times. But each time, with a gracious phone call and some (probably empty, but who's keeping track?) flattery, and each time I hung up the phone thinking, okay, well, okay, bad news, sure. But he likes me! He thinks I'm talented! I've just eaten a Cinnabon!
Once, I was told by a producer of online content that he could never ever ever begin to afford to work with a writer of my stature and talent, which was so flattering that I instantly agreed to work for him at what can only be described as Asian sneaker factory wages.
And I can't tell you the number of times – well, I could tell you, but I won't; the number is too high and humiliating – I've had a script or pilot or pitch rejected, only to be told later how much I'm loved, and cherished, and respected.
No, we're not ordering your series. Here. Have a Cinnabon.
We're most of us pretty cheap dates, which is a good thing, I think, because these days, in Hollywood, flattery is about all most people can afford to pay. I have a friend who just signed a deal to work on a new television show. His contract includes, he told me over lunch, a development component.
"So it's a development deal?" I asked.
"No, not really. They don't have any money in the budget for development deals, but it's got a development component."
"What does that mean?"
"It means if I have an idea for a series, they'd love to hear it. They can't pay me for it, but, you know, they really love me. They said they're lucky to be in business with a writer of my stature."
Just then, the lunch check arrived. So I said: "They're right. They are lucky. You're one of the best in the business."
He glowed, slightly. Swanned a bit. And picked up the check. The Cinnabon has that effect.
That's all for this week. Next week, my entrepreneurial attitude. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.