Joel is an author, screenwriter, and producer. He has developed projects for TNT, CBS, Warner Brothers, FOX, Ovation Network, and more.
Why this article? Why now?
A friend of mine, not an actor, was recently offered a role in a high-profile dramatic film. She asked me if she should take it.
“Why wouldn’t you?” I asked.
My friend, of long brunette tresses and having done some modeling, responded, “I’d have to shave my head and be fully nude.”
I posted the question on Facebook to help my friend by having her read some of the opinions of my social network.
We’ll see what happens.
I’ll talk primarily about the film and television world here—as these are the businesses in which I work, as well as publishing—but no industry is removed from this equation. Tough decisions are one thing; we’ll always encounter those. We’re human, after all. But, as I said in the headline above, if you feel as though you are selling your soul, don’t do it. It’s the equivalent of never second-guessing your first answer in school. You’re gut is (almost) always right.
I’ll be blunt. In my world, I meet many questionable people. I also meet many wonderful people, but let’s put them aside for the moment. I use the word “questionable” deliberately. Their motives are suspect. Their agendas are, somehow, “off.” These are not statements arising from any diagnosed paranoia disorder; these are statements from self-talk. From the gut.
When you feel uncomfortable around certain people, you may want to explore the reasons why.
As for me, personally, I’ve been ripped off in my world. I’ve been backstabbed. But my examples are not unique. The businesses in which I make my bread and butter are highly competitive, and it is no exaggeration to say that every morning I prepare for war.
I’m hardly the only one. As I stated, there are many wonderful people in this collective creative world as well.
If you’re in the film or television business, you will hear non-flattering stories about partners with whom you are doing business. Use your best judgement. Keep your eyes open, as discretion is indeed the better part of valor.
Here’s a personal example of being ruled by passion and not listening to your inner voice. Many years ago, I partnered with a friend on a project for a television celebrity. The celebrity was in his prime; he was the breakout star of one of TV’s most popular shows. "I made it!" I thought at the time. "I broke in!’" And then, my grandfather passed away. I was going to be gone for two days to attend his funeral. There was nothing pending; there was no work that needed to be imminently completed as the celebrity was out of town for a week. I attended the funeral, and in my absence, my partner immediately contacted the celebrity and told him I had to permanently leave the project due to some “personal issues” (I found out all this later, when I reached the celebrity myself and he explained this to me). When I returned, I asked my partner if he heard from said subject.
“No,” he replied. “He’s been out of town.”
Turns out, my partner at the time made $50,000—which included my share—for completing the project on his own.
I couldn’t afford to sue him.
Throughout this process, my partner (since passed, at an early age) was at first over-the-top in his enthusiasm as he was a personal fan of both the actor and his top-rated show. I understand being excited, but when I reminded him we needed to maintain a professional face, he became very secretive. Sure, maybe it was not my place to express those thoughts at the moment. Maybe my words veered on nagging and I made him angry. But this was unfamiliar territory to us both. He became secretive, and as we continued to work prior to my grandfather’s death, his responses to me were curt.
“I know what I’m doing,” he would say. “I’m handling it.”
When he made his money, he boasted to everyone about his accomplishment. I was taken out of the picture entirely. The friend who introduced us told me, months later, “You snooze, you lose. You’ll learn that about this business.”
Food for thought. But I never would have done what he did. I could never sell my soul. Not for money, not for anything.
That was my first learning experience in my new world. Always keep your eyes and ears open.
My second learning experience was many years later—after being in the business for over a decade—when not only myself but nearly a dozen others were leapfrogged in a television deal by a manipulative producer who operated solely in his own interests. I do believe in karma in this sense: Treat people well in business, they’ll return to do more business with you. Cheat someone, and eventually your reputation will catch up to you.
It’s happening now over sexual harassment issues; it will happen to the other bastards in this world as well.
The moral is: Always listen to your gut. Make your determinations from there. Whether it’s an issue related to personal decisions, such as that of my friend, or something regarding being cheated, your inner voice is your friend.
If you feel as though you’re selling your soul under any circumstance, you probably are. Temptations are numerous. Don’t fall for it. If you feel as though you’re being backstabbed... ditto.
It’s your life. Set your rules early, abide by them, and the control you will have over your world will be that much stronger.
© 2018 Joel Eisenberg