The Money Is Important

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

I was talking to a writer yesterday about the need for writers like us to be more risk-taking, more entrepreneurial. He was pretty enthusiastic: "You're totally right! We should just all say 'to hell with the studios' and go to Google or Yahoo or wherever and do stuff for them!"

"Well, yeah," I said. "Except they won't pay us anything up front."

"Sure they will!" he replied.

"No, no they won't. That's the thing about those guys. They're happy to work out a deal to share the good times, but they don't pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to anyone upfront."

"Not even us?"

"Especially not even us."

Listen to me! It's the day after Christmas – Christmas! That most giving of all holidays! – and I'm already talking about money.

But money is an important subject. And in Hollywood, money is really the only subject. It's the electricity that powers the town – it's the grease that oils the machine that produces a thousand unsold pilots, releases a dozen money-losing actor vanity projects, soothes the box-office death of ten anti-Iraq war films. Because while certain already rich people will work on a passion project for free, among those who won't are the guys who load the film, light the set, cater the meals, drive the trucks, build the walls, lug the cables, review the contracts, because anyone, really, who owes anyone else money – Bank of America Home Finance, Mrs. Johnson at American Express, Crossroads – needs money.

A film school professor of mine used to caution his students on the first day of class that the only time they knew – really knew – that they had made a sale, that someone was actually going to pay them for their work, was when somebody from the studio called to ask for their Social Security number. Because you need to know someone's Social to print out a W-2. And not a moment before.

What often happens, of course, in dealing with producers and studios and people claiming to be in the entertainment business, is that payment gets delayed, for some reason. Or held up, for some reason. Or the payment authorization is "on someone's desk" or "you didn't get it? I'll get into it." Or something. You have to keep asking.

"Well, if the money's important to you..." They always say when you ask, with that tone in their voice that implies a certain disapproval of your obsession with treasure and riches. But the truth is, money is important. When they give it to you, that's how you know they're serious.

Although this backfires, too. I know a very talented art director who got involved with a very fast-talking, very convincing producer. He convinced my friend to design sets, build models, do a lot of free work on a film – no, a series of films – he had in pre-production in London. A series of Shakespeare films. In pre-production. About to go into production. So my friend did a lot of work – a lot of free work – and each time the subject of money came up, got an airy, "we'll settle up when we've got our production accounts open." This charade lasted a long time – all the way to Heathrow airport, when my friend arrived after a long Virgin Economy Plus flight – it's basically business class! Was the explanation. Really! It's what they call Business Class! – lugging models and sketches and an address that led to a small one-bedroom apartment – not the production offices, there were no production offices -- where the producer, in his underwear, worked the phones trying to get a pitch meeting at the BBC, or anywhere, for this really cool idea he had about doing a series of Shakespeare films, and he's got models and sketches and stuff to show, too. Hello? Hello?

The next day my friend was back on a Virgin Economy Plus flight to LAX, having spent the night on the floor of the apartment, listening to a delusional producer thinking out loud about whether Anthony Hopkins or Ian McKellan should play Prospero.

When somebody spends money – for business class or better – you know they're serious. If they don't spend any money at all, you know they're not. But if they spend just enough for an Economy Plus ticket, you know they're crazy. Bear that in mind.

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll get lazy. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long