Friday, 7 July 2017

Book review: "Hello, He Lied"

Lynda Obst is a former editor of The New York Times Magazine. She moved to Hollywood in 1979, where she became a producer, author, and commentator on the film industry. She was involved in the development of Flashdance (1983), and produced The Fisher King (1991), Sleepless in Seattle (1994), Someone Like You (2001), The Invention of Lying (2009), and a stack of other movies and TV shows.

She recently published a book which is getting a lot of attention—Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business. I haven't read it yet, but during my week by the seaside I caught up on an earlier work, Hello, He Lied, and Other Tales from the Hollywood Trenches.

It's an excellent title for a book, but not original to Lynda Obst.

People seemed to lie to each other as a matter of course. No big thing. "Hello, he lied" was a joke I heard about someone I knew during my first month at work.
But, as a great producer would, she recognized the potential of the phrase and put it to work.

In the book, Lynda shares what she learned during twenty years in the business, all that stuff we know producers do but don't know how they do it, such as how to pitch an idea, impress a suit, win a bidding war over a hot script, massage an ego, and how to dress on location, what to say to skittish directors, where to eat lunch, and how to produce a successful movie.

Although the book is written from a producer's POV, it contains some excellent material for writers. I will be talking about some of that in more detail in the near future. In the meantime, it's an excellent read for anyone who has ever wondered what is really going on in the movie business.

As usual, here are some quotes to give you a feel for the book.

  • This is the flip side of ambition: debilitating exhaustion and the constant threat of defeat. Therefore every crisis can't be taken too seriously or you won't survive.
  • It is just as important to move on in the wake of stunning success as in the wake of disaster.
  • A writer should bring a producer to a pitch meeting for social savvy, political leverage, and simultaneous translation for the artistically challenged.
  • Being quick on your feet isn't the same as being good on the page.
  • Good writers pitch badly and bad writers pitch well.
  • To me The Fisher King was a masterpiece about the healing power of grace. To Peter Guber (then chairman of Columbia TriStar) it was a summer buddy comedy. Fine. We were both right.
  • Bulletin to all Cinderellas, female and male: There are no rescues here. No fairy godmothers. No princes. No white horses. You have to do it yourself.
  • The corollary of never going to a meeting without a strategy is never getting off a jet without a strategy, never going to a screening without a strategy, never going to dinner without a strategy, never going to a breakfast without a strategy.
  • Flashdance, like its progenitor, Rocky, is a paradigm bull's-eye movie in that any movie where the hero reaches for and achieves his or her dream, particularly one with dance numbers, is bound to connect with, at the very least, the American public.
  • Never ask permission. It will not be granted.
  • Getting what you want is dependent on knowing how things work.
  • Learn to ride the horse in the direction it is going.
  • You must never look threatened as the big players come on. The march of the big players is the drumroll that announces the movie will in fact be made.
  • When a producer has information, he must never share it, except tactically. Ipso facto, gossips know nothing because they are not trading information for anything useful, unless they are gossip columnists.
  • Power is a place as well as a verb; it is inside the information tent.
  • If there are so many powerful people in Hollywood, why are there so many nervous people at Hollywood parties? Because they're all standing on shaky ground, and the calm ones stay home.
  • If you are in a war where the damage is beginning to exceed any possible gains, surrender, Dorothy. You will be astonished to learn how little you have lost, because no one will even remember what the spoils of the original war were supposed to be.
  • Beware of all people campaigning for your friendship. Especially if you're hot that week. Too much obvious effort is suspicious.
  • Beware of obsequious human beings. Everyone here has a strong, healthy ego. The most dangerous wolves are in sheep's clothing.
  • Beware of inappropriate personal revelations—these are often part of a campaign.
  • The fact that I know little or less about the man's point of view in Hollywood doesn't stop me from theorizing about it endlessly with my girlfriends.
  • The fuzzy model is always acceptable, of course, in writers. This is true also for men. Being kind of distracted, artistic, vague, sensitive—these are all excellent traits for writers. They bring out the maternal in the woman executive, the paternal in the male executive, and this is how talent gets embraced by its protectors: the agents who have to mediate between it and the exploitative buyers.
  • Style for women is a vital component of success. If you can afford it, Armani is the rule for crisp girls on the move.

These are just a few of the gems. There are wonderful sections dealing with handling pitches, meetings, script auctions, how to dress, how to keep stars happy, and ten commandments for women working in film. This book is highly recommended.

First posted: 17 August 2013

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