In Hollywood, bad behavior is tolerated and often rewarded. In TV, movies and in advertising, everyone wants to capture lightening in a bottle, that strange electrical brew that is the confluence of creativity and timing that grabs eyeballs, captures imaginations, and gets people to open their wallets.
To “capture lightening,” you must be creative, hard-working, lucky, and maybe a little crazy. But how much of each do you need? No one likes to admit how much luck is involved when millions are being spent, so networks, studios and production companies tolerate craziness in their producers and directors because they believe their madness adds a special but intangible ingredient to the mix — when in fact, it doesn’t.
A feed back loop often happens — abusive crazy behavior is tolerated, which leads people to believe it’s necessary, which leads the crazy people to act more crazy, since they themselves now believe it’s crucial to their creative process.
Here are some true stories of crazy people who get coddled, and average folk who get abused. Friends or I have worked with each of these people.
Jim produces some of the top awards shows in Hollywood. He also goes through personal assistants like tissue paper. He hires an attractive woman to be his personal assistant, and then insists she work the same 90 hour week that he does, keeping her in close proximity for weeks on end. Jim invariably turns their work relationship into a friendship, and then after several months, he crosses the line and asks his assistant for a date…or more. She dodges the question for as long as she can, but over the next few weeks Jim now begins to sexually harass her. Eventually the waiting becomes too much for him and Jim blows up at her. For instance, one of Jim’s assistants did not remove all the grapes from his fruit salad, so Jim jammed the entire bowl into her face and screamed at her during a meeting. After a blow out like this, the assistant quits, files a law suit, and the network settles with her out of court. Jim then gets hired for the next big awards show and hires a new assistant. This cycle has repeated enough that there is now a support group of women who have worked for Jim, who help prepare new unsuspecting hires on how to handle Jim.
Joanie is the show runner on one of TV’s top reality competition shows. She also likes to steal other people’s lunches. People on her post production staff noticed that their expensive store-bought frozen entrees were disappearing from the kitchen freezer, and people were going hungry, which is tough when you must eat two meals a day at work. Someone finally put up a hidden camera in the kitchen and caught Joanie sneaking into the freezer and eating everyone’s lunches whenever she was hungry.
Editors complained to HR, and Joanie argued that she didn’t have time to buy her own food like other people. To handle the problem, the company bought Joanie her own small refrigerator and stocked it with frozen entrees, but it turned out that Joanie still liked the feeling of stealing from the people who work on her show, so the thefts continued. Finally HR started to reimburse people for their stolen lunches, rather than to reprimand Joanie or help her treat her kleptomania.
Mark is a famous director who does a lot of big action movies. Whenever he is on set, he likes to carry an unloaded pistol tucked into the back of his jeans and spy on crew conversations, and if he hears something he doesn’t like he swoops around the corner and aims his gun at people’s faces, threatening to kill them. People could be talking about him, or about what’s for lunch that day. No one knows what will set him off.
He also has no patience for equipment glitches. If there is a technical delay on a take because of a piece of gear, he will smash it to pieces with a baseball bat. His strategy has logic — he knows a new piece of gear will arrive shortly, and he’d rather force the studio pay the insurance to replace the “faulty” gear than suffer any more delays. He also knows people will have their gear in tip top shape whenever they work for him.
Betty, a well-known TV commercial producer, wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch on shoot days. However, Bety’s sandwich must be made with organic peanut butter with palm oil — not the fake sugary corn oil smooth stuff from the supermarket. A new P.A. on a shoot will not know this because Betty never tells them. Instead of going to Whole Foods and getting the correct peanut butter, the P.A. will mistakenly make Betty’s sandwich with the same peanut butter that the rest of the crew eats at the craft service table. If Betty bites into such a sandwich, she will find the offensive jar of peanut butter and slam it into the P.A.s skull. This happens about three times a year.
This kind of behavior happens in all lines of work, but in Hollywood it seems that it is not only tolerated, but it’s expected, and as people rise they start to adopt the bad behavior as a perk, proof to themselves of their own success. Be warned!