After asking Richard to write a post on the difference between “diplomacy” and “butt kissing”, he politely suggested that I write it my damn self. So.
What’s wrong with either kissing butt or being “brutally honest”? The biggest hurdle is that both come from a place of fear. Either the fear that someone won’t like you (which leads to dishonest praise or obsequiousness), or the fear that leads a person to preemtively shut people out by saying cruel things in the name of “honesty”.
The middle ground is diplomacy, which balances honesty with compassion, and praise with personal connection.
As a producer, it’s my job to balance the egos and temperaments of a zillion different personalities on multiple projects at once. Maintaining the integrity of the creative work while keeping everyone happy, productive, on schedule and under budget requires some well-honed statesmanship skills.
So how do YOU beef up your diplomacy? It’s all aout balance. Here are a few pointers.
*BETTER BUTT KISSING*
*Q: How can I be a fangirl to my employers, my colleagues, my potential employers, or my heroes without being a buttkisser?*
*Q: How do I ingratiate myself with people I don’t know, like directors and agents?*
1. Be specific. “You’re sooooooooo awesome” is weird out of context. “The scene where the mother dies brought me to tears, I’m really excited to work on this” is specific, and can lead to a conversation.
2. Genuine enthusiasm for your work is great! But people can be overwhelming. Have respect for both realities. Remember that your favorite person is a person. Talk to the *person*, not the poster on your wall. Is that person you love eating dinner with their family? Are they deep in conversation with another person? Give them a smile and leave them the eff alone. Find someone you *don’t* know and ask them about their work.
3. Context is super important when giving praise. Did the person just give a concert, or premiere a movie, or achieve some major accomplishment? Talk about THAT, rather than that thing that they did 20 years ago*.
*I HAVE DONE THIS MANY TIMES. I DID THIS TO DANNY ELFMAN ONCE. IT WAS SO EMBARASSING. RICHARD LAUGHED AT ME.
4. Have an actual, tangible reason to connect. “Hey check my soundcloud” is non-specific and aggressive. Be specific, and only ask for something if your ask ADDS VALUE to the other person. “I am currently working on a project that requires a producer, and based on your work this might be a good fit. Here’s why” or “I have been offered a contract on a movie with X director, and I am looking for an agent to negotiate the deal” are both time-sensitive, meaningful, and have the potential to add value to my work.
5. When I’m fostering a new relationship with someone fancy, I give bribes like a motherfucker. Once I’ve met someone and connected, or gotten a job, I usually send a thank you present. Make it reasonable-sized, unexpected, and unique. As a thank you gift to the first major producer who gave me a Broadway gig, I sent him a replica of a prop from the show we were working together, engraved with the show’s logo. He still has it on display in his office. It was specific to the show we were working on together, it was something he could keep in his office, and while it was good quality, it wasn’t an overly grand gesture.
6. Be personal, but professional. Putting new people on your mailing list is generally innocuous (provided there’s an unsubscribe button), but a personal invite to a reading is way better. If you don’t know the person even more so. “I loved your work on X, so I think you might love my production of Y”.
7. That agent you want to rep you is ignoring you? They’re probably really busy. Until you get a “no”, keep inviting them to your premiers, let them know what’s going on with your work. If they don’t come 100 times, they may come the 101st. And if they say, “I don’t think it’s a good fit”, then say thank you and move on.
8. If a director doesn’t feel that your work is a good fit for a project, they might be right. If you really want THAT gig, offer to demo again, but don’t take it personally if they don’t. Say thank you for the opportunity, and pitch them again. Resilience is key.
*HONESTY WITHOUT THE BRUTALITY*
I get pitched a lot of ideas for shows. A LOT. And most are pretty terrible. But if someone I really want to work with pitches me something, no matter what, I will ask questions about their intent. Sometimes what a director or writer intends is very different than what is coming across.
Approaching all feedback sessions with curiostity rather than anxiety and control helps me find common ground with my creatives.
1. When reviewing a work that you are pitching to work on– if the director has a vision that seems unclear and muddy- ask questions about their intentions. They may share with you that they are still working this out themselves, and you may find that your contributions can greatly help the storytelling.
2. If a scene feels problematic- ask them questions, and be specific. Focus on the storytelling and the craft. Be thinking about solutions. If you don’t have any, say, “I’m honesty not sure what I would do here- what were you thinking?”.
3. When a show I’m working on takes a direction that feels wrong, I try to be specific about why, which requires me to reevaluate my own assumptions. That way, when I bring these thoughts up to my creatives, it comes from a place of curiousity rather than control.
*DON’T BE A DICK*
It’s hard to nagivate a business which requires hard work and incredible emotional vulnerability for seemingly no compensation for years at a time and not get punchy from time to time. But a bad attitude will sink opportunities before they begin, so reselience is key.
Don’t take important professional meetings when you are hungry, tired, undercaffinated, or pissed off. When I’m going into a long production day, I put protein bars in my backpack, because I know I turn into a rage-monster if my blood sugar drops too low.
Don’t send angry emails, angry texts, or write angry FB posts. Period. If it’s going to be a “thing”, pick up the phone and talk to the person like a person.
Assume that anything you post online, send in an email or text, can be read publically.
Follow the golden rule of:
1. Does it need to be said?
2. Does it need to be said NOW?
3. Does it need to be said BY ME?
And if you don’t know whether you’re doing it right . .
*RUN IT BY ANOTHER PERSON*
I have several other producers I talk to regularly about how to handle sticky sitatuations. If I don’t know the way forward, I ask someone else for help. I have them read emails, proposals, budgets everything. Get yourself a tribe. Don’t assume you have to do any of this alone.
Finally . . .
Just about every transgression you can think of can be forgiven if a person is kind.
And the type of kindness I mean isn’t one of those “you have it or you don’t” types of traits. It’s a skill like any other, and you have to practice. Try being of service more in your daily life. Volunteer. Mentor another composer. Call up a charity you support and offer them your services for free. Ask your partner how you can support them better logistically and emotionally. Do the dishes.
PHEW. Okay! That ended up being a bit of a monster, but hopefully it was helpful!