Category Archives: Notable

It’s Not Business, It’s Personal

If you want to get anywhere in any aspect of the entertainment business you need friends in high places.

But this business is a business. Friends can easily become enemies even if you make business decisions that in any other context might be appropriate.

This is true for most business cultures but it’s all the more acute where, as here, there’s a high concentration of emotionally driven, exceptionally creative (but oftentimes, profoundly insecure) people all fighting for far too few opportunities. With that kind of competition, you may feel that you need all the edge you can get; sometimes, unfortunately, even at the expense of your friends.

Sheer tenacity will get your foot in the door. Talent will keep you in the room. But the only way to succeed in this business – and be able to maintain the momentum to remain successful over the long term – is to have friends that you can count on professionally; that make you feel safe creatively; and that make it possible for you to do your best work consistently.

It takes a village.

That’s the rub.

It’s always personal.

4 Movies That Every Rep Should (And My Intern Must) See

Good repping is the art of persuading people to agree to your terms. Not all salesmen are lawyers but all good lawyers (and agents) are salesmen. You can sell hard or you can sell soft. Over time, many Reps develop a belligerent or schmoozy negotiating style because it works for them (or it doesn’t and they’re just built that way).

However, situational awareness is key to achieving consistently good outcomes in negotiations, regardless of leverage. The savvy Rep modulates her negotiation approach to conform to a given situation rather than the other way around. See my post on the importance of regularly watching Animal Planet here to learn how animals (including humans) instinctively do this.

What follows are a number of movies that portray agents and salesmen in roles a Rep typically confronts (or becomes) during negotiations. The movies are all critically acclaimed and enjoyable to watch. For our purposes though, the story lines are secondary to the archetypes of the characters.

1. Glengarry Glen Ross

Here’s Alec Baldwin’s motivation by dominance. “Always Be Closing”:

Contrasted with Al Pacino’s softer, I feel your pain and you feel my empathy approach:

2. What Makes Sammy Run?

Sammy must win even if he loses:

3. Broadway Danny Rose

Our instincts naturally pick up on Danny’s desperation vibe which only serves to work against him:

4. Swimming with Sharks

The Alpha in the room. Win by domination and dominate to win:

These archetypes shouldn’t be viewed as role models though I have to admit a fondness for Pacino’s portrayal. However, Reps (as well as principals) like those above abound in different permutations in the negotiation culture.

You need to be prepared to deal with them as the situation requires.

Performance Anxiety

Most if not all negotiations are a combination choreographed dance, manipulation and fear of loss. The latter stems from our own inbred animal instincts which exert a strong influence over negotiations; even those where one side objectively has more leverage than the other.

From knowledge comes strength and while you can’t entirely eliminate fear from negotiations, the zen of knowing that it’s there minimizes its influence.

We spend an inordinate amount of time in service of our fear to our detriment. One of Seth Godin’s recent posts sizes it up nicely:

. . . . Chipmunks, wolves and other wild animals rarely get jealous. The number one emotion among wild animals isn’t vanity or happiness: it’s fear.

Fear is everywhere in the animal kingdom, because fear is a great way to stay alive. Fear is hard-wired into successful species… it doesn’t need to be taught. . . . An entire portion of our brain (the same brain the lizard has) is dedicated to fear. And it can’t wait to spring into action.

If your fear keeps you alive, embrace it. The rest of the time, the best strategy for success is figuring out how to ignore it, befriend it or use it as a compass to find what matters.

Seth’s use of fear as a compass really resonated with me. If you’re acting in the service of your anxiety then you’re probably not going to get the best result.

* Are you filling in awkward silences?

* Are you (pre?)-negotiating against yourself by offering an alternative fallback position before the other side has considered (and possibly accepted or rejected) your proposal?

* Are you being aggressive enough and asking for the Cinderella Deal or are you being too aggressive at the risk of killing the deal?

Here’s the litmus test:

If you’re ignoring your fears and taking a position that can be taken with reason, then chances are you’re being authentic and forthright. Your negotiations will, if not accepted, be perceived from the other side as strong if not tenacious and of earnest good will.

If not, then you’re not.

Black Box Dealmaking

"RFID closed" by AMagill

Over the past 18 months, I’ve watched countless film projects rise, flounder and fall with the promise of financing. The prevailing wisdom is that things have gotten so bad with oil, gas and real estate investment that film finance actually looks like a safe bet for equity investors. Oh, if it were only so. Film investment for equity players continues to be a very risky play.

Although debt financing continues to be a dim prospect, Comerica Bank, Union Bank and National Bank of California continue to back certain films from reliable players. From my perspective however, the end of debt financing of motion pictures came almost three months after the collapse of AIG and Lehman Brothers when the US rescued the bank in mid-finance of a movie I was working on. The bank ultimately financed the picture though I like to think that the collective efforts of the lawyers, the bank executives and the producers involved had a hand in getting the deal done.

Depending on the day, sheer will to make things happen is either over-rated or under-rated. And so it goes with film financing.

I’ve reviewed countless Stand By Letters of Credit (SBLC’s), real estate investments restructured for film finance, Sole Trader deals out of the UK, nine figure film funds from – depending on the day – Vancouver, Taipei, Shanghai and New Jersey and sources of black box financing where, for reasons not entirely clear to me, the identities of the investors and the financing methods used are veiled in secrecy. Not one of these sources of financing has come through. For its part, black box financing may be illegal or even dangerous. In a post-Bernie Madoff world, you just can’t leave the risk of financial games to chance. Get transparency or don’t do the deal.

Some of these prospective investors may prove to be the real deal but at best, they are all long shots. Do your due diligence so you know who you’re dealing with, the sources of financing and whether the investor is prepared to provide you with references (i.e., prior projects they’ve financed) and proof that their funds actually exist through escrow or bank confirmation. Some financiers may be more forthcoming than others and at some point, given the limited resources of time, money, knowledge and passion, you may have to go with your gut in deciding whether to proceed.

I have to believe that a number of would-be film investors are earnest and either don’t know that they don’t have money to invest or get cold feet at the prospect of closing; while others may be lookey-loos who simply want to do lunch at The Ivy and play the producer game but really don’t have any money to invest.

But still they come with promises that entice producers and other creatives. Just make sure you don’t get stuck picking up the check.