My Long-Distance Plan for Hollywood

I am an entrepreneur in the entertainment industry.  Somewhere early on when I couldn't get something I wanted through the system I threw up my hands and tried to figure a way to get it done myself. A lot of it came from my upbringing. My dad was an entrepreneur. He started building small single […]

Last Updated: June 25, 2011 @ 5:30 PM

I am an entrepreneur in the entertainment industry. 

Somewhere early on when I couldn't get something I wanted through the system I threw up my hands and tried to figure a way to get it done myself. A lot of it came from my upbringing. My dad was an entrepreneur. He started building small single family entry level homes in Detroit in the late 1950's. He never worked for a major company, never had a regular paycheck and had to fight off every recession, which in Detroit came as often as a flu season.

He learned to deal with a lot of stress and uncertainty, fought through a host of setbacks, but in the end he had the ability to get an idea, a concept, a project, from his mind out onto the plane of physical reality. He based his life on his gut and when he felt it was time to dive into cold water he jumped in and believed with a fever and the results were his. Win or lose.

When I got into show business as an actor and a comic my life was the opposite in that I was always waiting for someone, some network or studio or casting director or talent coordinator to say "yes." On the other hand, from day one in Hollywood at least from the talent side, life was no different from the independent business world my father was in.

I never once had a regular paycheck. Not for more than six weeks in a row and for the most part not even that. I still haven't. The notion of some whistling kid with a mail cart coming down the hall and handing me my weekly paycheck is something I've only seen in Matthew Broderick movies. The truth is here in this business for the most part, all of us are entrepreneurs. The whistling kid with the shiny mail cart (if he even exists) is illusory and fleeting for all of us in this town save the very fortunate few.

Early on I joined that large group of show business cadets who were "multi-hyphenates," "independents," "self produced" or "alternately financed." Sometimes, most times, I've had to do it all, raise the money, write the script, produce, direct and act in the film. Sometimes I've just put the project together, written the script, gotten the cast, the money and then infused it into the larger system.

It's sometimes been a comical uphill battle, a film getting great reaction then having a studio marketing guy dump it, or an executive loving a finished film, buying it and then getting canned the week later leaving my project sold but an unwanted orphan. Sometimes it's been profoundly heartbreaking, like my comedy series about horny married men premiering on the evening of  Sept. 11, 2001 on HBO, then following the heroic "Band of Brothers" for 12 bleak American weeks. 

I have nothing to complain about, though. Having been instilled with a personality that is more afraid of letting myself down then public ridicule, my uphill run has forged in me an ethic and a discipline that nicely dovetails with the present and future state of our business.

In fact I sometimes feel sorry for the good friends of mine that made it too quickly in their careers and got too soft and rich and complacent to develop the panoply of skills to shepherd their own dreams along. Unless they do catch up courses fast they will surely and sadly miss the next big, wonderful, entrepreneurial, phase of this industry. 

It's common knowledge that the coming reality in the not too distant future is going to let us all work and play inside of a brand new paradigm. 

Independence has been slowly plodding along for decades. Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster went indie-prod and brought on Jerry Lewis who egged on Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper who spurred on "The Groove Tube." which begat Norman Lear and his pals creating their Tandem sitcom world inside the system which spurred on Zoetrope which told Costner and Jim Wilson to just shut up and make "Dances With Wolves," and somehow it all finally gave Matt and Ben the idea to just go ahead and write their own goddamn screenplay.

If you haven't yet read Chris Anderson's book "The Long Tail," read it now before it's too late. It's brilliant.

We're in planning distance of a new day. Start planning.