Navigating Life in the Fast Lane: Working in showbiz, attention writers, producers, agents, or executives-- some tips from an insider
by Ken Atchity
Reprinted from Fade In Magazine
While most of the world conjures up images of showbiz types lounging poolside with cellphones all day and schmoozing at star-studded premieres throughout the night, those of us who actually work in the industry know all too well the enormous challenge of simply keeping your head above water while swimming with sharks. In this business, where everything goes by messenger warrant your full attention, have him meet with someone else and being "swamped" is the norm, free time is a luxury few can afford - not to mention a good night's sleep.
So how does the agent return those 123 calls from last week (including the one from his mother)? How does the creative exec complete her notes on that script being rushed into production at month's end? How does the writer have time for pitch meetings, development meetings, phone calls, treatments, page-one rewrites and that new spec? In short, how does any Hollywood player have time to even enjoy the wonderful life the rest of the world assumes we have?
The key to success (and sanity) is to remain flexible while simultaneously being relentlessly organized. And this doesn't just mean organizing your workload because, as any assistant will tell you, that work is infinite. Manage your time and you can manage your life. Knowledge may be power in Hollywood, but time is the lifeblood of the most successful players.
Here are a few suggestions to make your life a little easier, whether you're a writer, producer, agent, or executive.
HAVE AN AGENDA Once a week, in an inspiring place far away from the daily grind, schedule thirty minutes to examine and reschedule your goals. Write out a list of priorities and give each a deadline. Every week, revisit this agenda and revise it as necessary to keep your priorities current. This will keep you in greater control of your time and make the decision process easier.
THE FINE ART OF DELEGATION Know your limits and maintain them. Of course you can do it. But are you the only one who can do it? If not, whatever it is, delegate it and pass it along to someone else- Let that be the first thought with every task that crosses your path. Otherwise you'll soon be trapped under an avalanche of self-generated work. The psychologist Carl Jung had a sign over his desk that read Yes No Maybe to remind him that every maybe will turn into a yes if you don't immediately recognize it as a no. The maybes swallow up most of our time.
PHONES, PHONES, PHONES Be a call-maker. not a call-taker. Call when you feel like it, and when you need to. It's a simple matter of being proactive versus reactive. When you've swapped calls more than three times - assuming you're not just avoiding the caller - schedule that phone conversation. With interminable ramblers, tolerate the rambling for five minutes, then beg off the call. They'll get the picture and get to the point the next time they catch you. Turn your phone off during meetings. If your visitor isn't important enough to warrant your full attention, have him meet with someone else - or meet by phone.
MAIL AND E-MAIL Take care of correspondence immediately - with a note, letter or phone call - and discard junk mail before it even reaches your desk. Redirect eighty percent of your e-mail to others. Answer e-mall immediately only if it's shorter than four lines. If it's longer, print it out and add it to your reading pile, instead of reading it on the screen and becoming further enslaved to the reactive mode.
MEETINGS Have no meeting until you're clear on what you want to accomplish. Avoid unnecessary business lunches. Not only do they eat up hours, they also make the rest of the day less productive. Instead, meet for drinks, breakfast, or reschedule half of your meetings each week to take place by telephone instead of in person. If you're the traveler, you'll likely save almost two hours per meeting in commute lime.
UNPLAN YOUR LIFE Don't let your personal life slip by. As John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans-" Remind yourself to relax. Take time away from it all. Turn the phone off for a day. Scheduling time to do nothing, or learning a new hobby, is like taking out life insurance payable, in advance, to yourself.
MANAGING YOUR MIND Time management for the Type C personality (C for creative and/or crazy) begins with a practical everyday expression of mind-management. Continually remind yourself that you are privileged to be playing on the most exciting gameboard in the world - the one that everyone back home would give precious body parts to play on.
Winning an Academy Award is a dream. The only way to make dreams come true (excluding blind luck) is to manage goals (getting the movie out of development and into pre- production), and focus on objectives (getting the story straight, finding a director), By reminding yourself of what you've accomplished, you can keep your head together and succeed in managing your time.
Tip for the day: Associate with positive people, and stop associating with negative people. Nothing is more helpful than a positive support group, and nothing more damaging than constant negative reinforcement from "friends" and family. Make whatever adjustments are necessary to reduce or eliminate your contact with the naysayers.
Once upon a time I resigned my position as tenured professor of comparative literature at Occidental College in Los Angeles to pursue a new, full-time career as freelance writer, independent producer, literary manager, and entrepreneurial "story merchant."
For the Type C, or creative, personalities who want their work to "fill" their deepest creative urges, this is the frontline guide to making the transition from a secure and soulless job to a life built around a creative dream. Individuals learn how to follow the mind's eye to construct a life that conforms to personal vision, steal time to make creative dreams come true, use as assets the resources around them, and turn creative goals and objectives into an effective life plan.