Friends with You

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I'm Matt Holzman with The Business Brief, a guide to what's happening in and around the business.

Relationships are a core part of the way a lot of businesses do business. But no business tosses around the word "friend" to describe those relationships like they do in Hollywood.

A talented film executive I know lost his job recently and he's been having trouble finding meaningful employment. "In times like these," he told me, "you can really tell your friends from your Hollywood friends."

Of course, in Hollywood, you don't even have to use the word "friend" to imply it. For instance, if I say "Marty" Scorcese in a sentence instead of "Martin" Scorcese – and especially if I pronounce it score-SEZ-ee like an insider instead of score-SAY-zee– the implication is that we are friends, even though the closest I may have been to ol' Marty is when his name rolled by during the credits of The Departed at the Arclight. The best thing is that if someone calls you on it, you can say, "I never said he was a friend!"

So, who is a friend in Hollywood?

You can be certain that the less one has to gain from a friendship, the more that friendship can be depended upon. Which is why no friendship with an agent can ever be depended upon. If an agent is acting like a friend, you can bet there is an angle, and that's logical. Agents operate in a transactional world; they are intensely busy people, and they need to spend the most time with the people who will make them the most money. And that is true with "friendships" throughout the business.

An inverse of sorts is also true. The more a friendship can be relied up on in the real world, the less it's likely to help you in the business. I have a couple of good friends from back in the day who've gone on to very successful careers in show business. But I'd ask them to donate a kidney before I'd ask them to pitch a script to their agents for me. Es pasht nisht, as they say in Yiddish. It's just not done.

Nowhere does the concept of friendship become more muddled than on a movie set. They say that making a movie is a little like waging a war, and wars make strange bedfellows. Forced together during insanely long hours, often under intensely stressful conditions with little connection to the outside world, the normal Hollywood social order can break down very fast and all sorts of people can become very close. Directors and drivers may go off on a weekend break together somewhere; stars become drinking buddies with gaffers. But at the end of the shoot, all bets are off. So are the star and the gaffer friends? You tell me.

Perhaps the most curious Hollywood friendship is that of the celebrity and the celebrity stylist. Now this is way past an everyday woman's gabby relationship with their hairdresser. Fostered by the tremendous amount of time they spend together, stylees and stylers create a symbiotic relationship, not unlike the shark and the remora. And it makes sense. The star has to trust the styler implicitly – after all, they depend on them to look good. By default, they share a sense of style. But most importantly, while a friend from home may be trustworthy, a celebrity styler understands first hand the kinds of pressures their stars are under. They know when to listen and when to talk. When to be honest and when to blow smoke. When to be there, and went to get the hell out. When to give the celebrity drugs and when to take them away.

Hollywood marriages are perhaps the least stable form of friendship. Love, after all, is fickle, and that's especially true when the people are beautiful and the cameras are rolling. Stars are always told "yes," but when two of them get together, someone's going to get a "no" sooner or later. On the other hand, creative liaisons are the most stable. They're all hard work and compromise, and that's understood going in. Think about the partnerships that have lasted for so long and produced so much – partnerships that, unlike marriages in the business, have lasted until death do us part. Now that's friendship – in Hollywood or anywhere.

I'd love to know what you think. You can comment on today's commentary or subscribe to the podcast at For KCRW, I'm Matt Holzman.



Matt Holzman