This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
I have an actor friend who, early in his career, attended a very popular, respected acting class. On the first day, the teacher arrived, told the class to stand up and said, "Now, each of you wrap your arms around yourself and give yourself a big, hurting hug. And repeat 'wonderful, wonderful me!'"
Because, you know, that's a problem we have out here in Hollywood: we just don't love ourselves enough.
But when you're just starting out, and there's no one in your life to tell you how wonderful you are, you just have to do it yourself. If your career isn't yet at the "wonderful, wonderful you" stage, then it's got to be "wonderful, wonderful me."
At some point, though, if you're lucky, people appear in your life to deliver all the flattery you need. And this is where the trouble begins. Because the problem with flattery is how flattering it is. It works, as French literary critics might say, as both text and subtext. When they say "wonderful, wonderful you" they may in fact mean that you're wonderful. And if they do, great. But they could also mean – and this is where the text becomes subtext – that whether you're wonderful or not, you're powerful or important, and they want you to know that they know that. It's kabuki, yes, but it's flattering that they acknowledge the need to flatter you.
Like, when you call to give a writer notes on a script. Traditionally, this call begins with some lubricating kabuki. Something like, "We really loved the script and the characters and the whole world is so rich, and we really think this is a great, great stuff."
And then there's a pause, while the writer acknowledges the highly formalized transaction with an "Uh huh," followed by, "And we really don't have that many notes – Josh, do you have any notes?" someone asks on the conference call.
"No, I have a couple of questions, really, not notes" and then someone on the call says, "Do you want to just go through them page by page?" and then you're suddenly out of the "wonderful, wonderful you" part of the conference call and into the "Page three. Can we get a stronger sense of the character as a hero?"
I knew a newly-minted executive who, early in his career, tried to get all real and authentic with the writers. He'd start a notes call with something brassy and tough, something like, "Look, you're great, of course, I'm not going to blow smoke around, you know you're awesome, let's just dive in."
He got the message super quick. Do NOT give me notes until you've told me how wonderful I am.
And you have to do it in a believable tone of voice, too. I know an executive who – passive-aggressively, let's be honest – does the "wonderful, wonderful you" part of the notes session in a robotic monotone.
Which totally ruins it. It's like halfheartedly hugging yourself and saying "wonderfulwonderfulme."
Once, when I was doing a lot of yoga and trying in general to be a better, more open person, I called a fellow writer – someone I knew a little and had worked with, but briefly – to tell her how much I enjoyed her pilot. No agenda. No motive. Seriously. I saw her pilot, thought it was funny, and called to tell her that.
"Hey, I loved your pilot," I said.
"Well, I just wanted to say that, you know, I hope they order it. Great pilot."
"I was just you know, watching a lot of them and... yours was very... great and... just wanted to... call and..."
See, I think she was waiting for me to start in with my notes, when all I really wanted to say was, briefly, "wonderful, wonderful you." So it gets complicated. Flattery should be left to the professionals. The rest of us should simply stick with what we know, with what works: hug yourself and say, "wonderful wonderful me." And then, when you've got yourself all flattered and disarmed, you can say, "although, maybe, easy on the bread."
That's it for this week. Next week, changes. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.