Friday, November 2, 2007

On Being a Professional: Part #2

photo of Sand laden scrape manure, Fair Oaks Dairy, by Accent Stainless Steel Manufacturing Ltd.

Taking Care of The People You Work With

The Moral of this Story is:

Real Farmers are good with people giving them shit. They know it means:

  • The animals are healthy.
  • They can grow great products while other folks complain, don't try, or quit.
  • While you slept in yesterday, or had a cold one with the gang, a Farmer worked twice as many hours as you did on your best day last week, covered in cow shit, turning out the basic foods you need to live. She knows for all your whining, she eats wonderful tasting healthy fresh foods three meals a day which she grows herself, while you slave away working for the man.
If you want to live on the farm, you have to work like a farmer.

Now that you know the moral, here's the story...

Someone has to be in charge.

Someone else always thinks they could do it better.

They may be right. It doesn't matter. 'Cause the thing is, they're not.

Regardless of how it happened, so and so is in charge (that asshole.) Regardless of if it's fair or what the rules were, they made her the group leader (that bitch.)
Orcinus (Sara Robinson)

Five- and six-year-olds are tremendous rules lawyers. A lot of their social interaction is about what's fair, what's mine, and what's going to get you into trouble. And anyone who's spent time around fundamentalists will recognize fear of external authority (in the form of the pastor or God), rules lawyering (this time involving a well-thumbed Bible) and a constant battle with id as big preoccupations as well. You'll even find tattling: "I'll take it to the Lord in prayer" is just a slightly kinder form of "I'm gonna tell Daddy on you."

Which brings me around to my point, which is that the over-the-top behavior around masculine gender roles Digby and Dave are noticing is pretty classic early primary behavior, too. The games boys play at this age often involve extreme masculine archetypes -- cowboys, cops, soldiers, sports heroes, spacemen, and so on. (It's interesting that Little Boots has, at one time or another, tried to cast himself in all of these roles -- and that the male Kewl Kids just swooned over it, every time. Remember the fuss over Jet Pilot Action Figure Bush's "package"? Damn fool didn't loosen his straps before getting out of the jet. Nobody else on the deck had his crotch trussed up like a Christmas goose; and to them, he looked like a rookie idiot. But Chris Matthews practically had an orgasm on-air while watching him prance and strut.) The fact that so many mainstream and conservative media guys are suckered by this posturing shows that they don't really have a clue about what a Real Man looks like -- though, somewhere deep down inside, they're pretty sure they don't qualify. That's why they're so easily wowed by men who can put on the costume and make it look good.

But they're even more easily cowed by men who can actually fill the boots. John Kerry. John McCain. Colin Powell. Bill Clinton. (You don't have to agree with their politics; but nobody can say these men haven't comfortably worn the full measure of male power and responsibility for some critical stretch of their lives.) Like little boys, the media guys are so awed by the outward forms of masculinity that they eagerly make a fetish out of them; but they also actively fear and resent men who display the authentic internal goods that make an honest-to-God man. These guys' very presence incites such a strong sense of personal inadequacy that the Boys On The Bus can only resort to attacking them in ways that are openly calculated to feminize them -- that is, to bring them down to their own level. He look French. He's whipped by his powerful wife. He's preoccupied with his hair. Translation: This guy has more balls and more maturity than we do -- and we need to take him down before everybody figures out how inadequate that makes us feel.

There's more...
Point is, in any organization more sophisticated than dodge ball, some one's the leader. Even if it's only, "Hey folks, taking this one, okay?" And they they run with it and you're like, "huh?"

What I love about Ken Levine's wonderful story below (Ken Levine -- Emmy winning writer/director/producer/major league baseball announcer) -- is how clearly the story demonstrates the difference between the actual leader, and someone having an enormous success both on their own merits, BUT ALSO thanks to the work of the leader. And then he goes off the reservation and consequently think he's all that and can do it better, smarter, cooler.

Maybe he can. As Ken says, a good leader listens to the invaluable input of the people they work with and can tell the shit from the good stuff.

Sometimes though, a leader needs to say, politely or not:

Trust me you fool. We've got this far. I won't make a fool out of you. It could sound this blunt: "What you're saying is shit. Do what I'm telling you."

Or it could be more subtle:
By Ken Levine

Another good reader question: “you once talked about some of the stupid things writers have to deal with, one being actors saying "but my character would never say that". If an actor has played the same character for years don't they have a feel for this?”

Absolutely – most of the time. And their input is invaluable. But some actors confuse themselves with the character or use that excuse to get out of saying something they think makes them look bad. Also, sometimes characters are based on the writers so it’s possible in those cases that the writer knows best. My favorite story on this topic: On HILL STREET BLUES, producer Steven Boccho was summoned to the set. Daniel J. Travanti said, “My character wouldn’t say that.” Steven looked at the script, pointed to the speech and said, “Yes he would. See? It’s right here.
Old school.

I loved the six actors from Friends for this.

Unlike that idiot David Caruso who just vanished after he bolted from NYPD Blue like he was George Fucking Clooney, years before even Clooney was Clooney. In fact back then Clooney was a very sweet guy whom everyone loved but his participation in a new show was the goddamn kiss of death.

Unlike Caruso who simply vanished for close on eleven years before getting another hit with CSI, the Friends stars never ever made the two big mistakes many actors and members of popular music groups make:

1. Thinking they're all that. The Friends actors very publicly were all for one, one for all. They never let each other down.

Famously, all six negotiated as one. One got a raise, all six got a raise. The producers of Friends were simply unable to split the six actors apart, to divide and conquer them in any way. Their dressings rooms, perks, bonuses, car & driver, every damn thing, the same. Not that each room looked the same, but they had the same budget for decorating, same expense account, and so on.

There was a point when something mattered to just one of them in a negotiation -- I can't remember which of the six actors it was, and it is precisely the point that it doesn't matter -- and all six walked off the set for forty-five minutes to make the point that even in year seven of what turned out to be ten years, none of them were kidding around about being a team. All six took a hike right in the middle of shooting, because one of them said she or he was being messed with, even if it meant throwing 500+ people into a work stoppage.

2. Thinking they can do it better. And maybe they can. Just not today and not this group. Today and with this group, keep doing what you're doing.

No one wants to see Julia Roberts as a super-hero in Mission Impossible 8. Do a romantic comedy, Julia. Or die bravely, with just one tiny tear in your eye. Whatever you're doing that works, do it till the cows come home, and then do it some more. Some people spend their entire lives waiting to find something that works.

If you've got something even close to working, be appreciative. Don't whine, don't complain. Send postcards and thank you notes to the people helping you achieve your dreams. Stop bitching about how they're not perfect or they should do it differently. If they ask for your help, give it unstintingly precisely how they ask for it. Don't feel compelled to tell them all your good ideas about how they should be doing it better or differently. They're doing their goddamnedests to feed you your gig on a fucking silver platter.

If you simply are unable or not constituted to cut the boss a break or not complain and stir up shit, leave. You should be somewhere else doing something else, some where you can run your own shop. No harm, no foul. Sure, people will miss you for about ten minutes. And then they'll get on with making their TV show, running their baseball team, building their software, or winning a Congressional Seat.

How many great music groups split up because of personal conflicts between the founders? Not Friends. Not The Rolling Stones either.

You work it the fuck out, because that's what professionals do (Part #1). Period. And there may NEVER be anything this good come along again, and you just don't fuck with other pros.

The voice in your head isn't your friend. It wants you to betray the people busting their hump to help you win big, even if you don't believe you will. You've worked your whole damn life and with whatever baggage there is, this gig, this fucking miracle with these amazing people happens.

And then that old familiar voice starts poisoning the well, "We could do better without so and so." "I could lead the group better than that asshole." "He's not pulling his fair share." "Jesus Christ, if she'd only slow down and let us all catch our breath. Where's the fucking fire?" "I could do better on my own." "We're never going to make any money." "Why are we working so hard?" "I fucking quit."

If you listen to that voice, you're screwed. You'll end up betraying everyone, including yourself.

But you don't have to betray anyone when that voice tries to poison everything.
My character wouldn’t say that.” Steven looked at the script, pointed to the speech and said, “Yes he would. See? It’s right here.
Just read the goddamn lines in the script.

When you get crazy, don't think.