Bring Your Best
Hey youse guys. Lots of stuff going on in my world but I must wait to announce some things. Rest assured that this blog is going to get a lot more interesting soon.
Until then, I can tell you that part of my job is to take MEETINGS. Lots and lots of meetings! Meetings where people tell me that they are “interested” in working with me. Meetings where studio execs just want to “reach out” and “catch up” and “connect” with what I’m up to. I take at least 50 meetings a year, I’d say. Sadly, very few of these meetings are the kind where someone says “We’ll buy it!” or “You’re hired!” and immediately write a check.
What everyone in Hollywood wants is your “next big thing.” They want “the best thing you have.” Or at least that’s what they say. But that’s not true. In my experience — and I’m trying not to be cynical here — what Hollywood really wants is the safest, easiest, cheapest pile of ingredients that will yield the most money. If those ingredients include me or my idea, it’s a win-win. I wish I could tell my younger self from ten years ago that nobody is waiting for my brand new, never heard-of original idea. Not all by itself. They need some “KNOWNS” to prop it up. If that means a big actor who’s interested or a comic book that’s selling or a toy line that the studio already owns, then my idea on top of that might just get the exec to nod their head “yes.”
This is all on my mind because in meeting #456 a few weeks ago, I meant with a very active animation company backed by very successful producers. They liked “Hoodwinked” and “Krogzilla” and some other scripts I’ve written and wanted to know “what I was up to next.” They are looking for movies to make. They pay for scripts. Great! I pitched a few of my ideas to them — two that I am most passionate about. Two ideas that I think would make more than just great movies — they could launch franchises. But here’s where that pesky problem of “not enough easy ingredients” comes in. They were original ideas, not based on pre-existing product. Even worse, they were about worlds that had already been explored in animation recently (i.e., no one wants to hear your caveman movie right now. No one.). I ended the meeting with my favorite topic: I asked the producers what THEY are looking for. What haven’t they seen? What genre are they hoping to work in? Maybe I can actually hit a target they have or fill a need if I KNOW WHAT IT IS. That’s when creative people are most successful in this town.
The producer running this particular company simply said, “Bring us your best. We want the best thing you’re most excited about.”
Lots of execs say this. “Bring us your best.” I’d like to tell you all that this is B—S—.
“My best?” First of all, I just pitched the guy “my best,” or at least my definition of my best. It was the thing I was most excited about. But that didn’t matter. There were not enough known, safe, easy ingredients involved. Secondly, a producer’s definition of “my best” is really what THEY like, not what I like. So in my egotistical creative mind, I have now decided that ANYTHING I do will be “my best.” Why not? Anything that I am allowed to create and get paid for is going to be the BEST version of it I can make. I will never give anything less than all of my effort to make THAT particular thing if it has the good fortune to get made. So that’s the good news. It’s ALL “my best.” Because if I worry about my precious, beloved idea getting the thumbs-up from a studio exec, I’m rarely going to get it, and I will feel defeated most of the time.
It’s all good. It’s all my best. You’ve optioned a toy that has no story? I’ll give you my best version of that story. You bought a script that has a terrible third act? I’ll make it into my best version of that script. You’ve always been obsessed with some public domain legend? I’ll give you my best take on that legend. For too long, I’ve made the mistake of hoping Hollywood would just see how wonderful my new ideas were. For most of this town, NEW IDEAS ARE SCARY. These days, my goal is to take their half-ideas and vague interests and upgrade them into something better. I’m handing them back their own thing that they were already interested in. That’s not being cynical or selling out, it’s just figuring out how to make this big dumb machine work for me.
And in time, with enough successes, perhaps the big dumb machine will even see ME as a golden ingredient… and actually listen to one of those fresh, untested ideas. So when someone tells you to “bring your best,” just nod your head and say “okay”… but inside your head, know that anything and everything you do is going to be your best. Even if it has to start as a board game or an 80’s TV show.