having nothing to lose -- 11/5/20

Today's encore selection -- from Hello, He Lied by Lynda Obst. Lynda Obst, producer of such movies as Sleepless in Seattle, Contact and The Fisher King, discusses the essential Hollywood quality of "nerve":

"Nerve most commonly comes from having nothing to lose. ... That means you're either so low it looks like up to you, so rich you can sustain a loss, or believe in something so strongly you don't care what anyone thinks. It's easy to be nervy when your livelihood is not at stake. This has, sadly, never been an option for me, but it is how the game is most effectively played. As in all high-stakes gambling, you should never roll the dice with dinner money. You must play baccarat as if you were an aristocrat so you are not devastated by any likely subversion. Always remember the famous adage about the movie business: You can't make a living, you can only get rich. So I have to play like I am a high roller whether I have the cushion or not. When Monday morning comes and I've rightly walked away from a bad deal, it only feels good when I have money in the bank. Low overhead can be a great protection, one that I've never afforded myself.

"One of the most winning power strategies is the ability to walk away from a deal. People want you when you don't need them and it stuns them that you're willing to split -- it implies that you are fine without them. Then they wonder how they will be fine without you. When Laura Ziskin was asked to run a new division at Fox, she took months to decide. Her ambivalence raised the ante -- certainly her salary -- for the studio. As noted above, the ability to take this position implies options or money or both. No one cares where the money comes from, either: arms merchants, beauty salons, money launderers, mafiosi (kind of charming, in fact), shopping centers. Money talks; nobody walks. The tragedy is that talent with no nerve equals failure, whereas there are many careers that attest the power of nerve alone. Harry Cohn, crass former garment executive who founded Columbia, is the paradigm. Scores of others have followed in his image.

"A director can have nerve and no talent with a good producer and a crew. If she has talent and no nerve and no producer with nerve, no movie. Someone in the mix has to have nerve, and most nervy people have bad manners. Nerve mixed with style, of course, is the ultimate. Many elegant people are embarrassed at the show of nerve, moxie, or unbridled aggression. They try to cultivate stylish ways to be in your face, but in the end being in your face is being rude and not being in your face is being absent. Subtlety doesn't work here because no one is looking long enough to see it. Modesty prior to success is too authentic for Hollywood. It makes everyone uncomfortable. Anyway, too much modesty inhibits nerve. Modesty post success is what passes for grace."

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Lynda Obst


Hello, He Lied


Broadway Books


Copyright 1996 by Lynda Obst


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