x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Never take no for an answer, if you've got time

The studio that's paying the bills and the network that's holding a spot on its schedule get antsy, and as everyone in sales knows, a little bit of eager anticipation is a very good thing.

Last year, I was trying to cast a television show and I wanted to cast a certain actor who just wasn't doing television. He was a movie star - or, to be more precise, a former movie star - and at the time I wanted him in my show he didn't really know that his movie career was dwindling down.

He was the only one, of course, who didn't know that. But when it comes to things like this, that was enough.

I offered him the role anyway, and the answer was no. So I offered it again, more insistently, and the answer was still no, but then I decided to do something that pushier, ruder producers - read: more successful than I am - do.

I called the actor's manager. I said, "Look, in the spirit of never taking no for an answer, maybe if we just sat down with him? Talked about the amazing quality of life you have as an actor on a television series?"

That last part, in the immortal words of Henry Kissinger, is not only persuasive but has the additional benefit of being true. The actor's life on a television comedy is blissfully low-stress. They work no more than 22 weeks per year, and even those weeks have a few very short days. An actor on a hit television comedy is available to do feature films, or just lounge around Malibu for the bulk of the year. And it pays well, too.

The manager said he appreciated the spirit of never taking no for answer. It was entrepreneurial, he said. It showed passion. He liked that. And yet in this case, he said, in the spirit of never taking no for an answer I was just going to have to find a part of that spirit that will take no for an answer.

"But that's not really the same spirit," I said.

The manager chuckled sadly. He wanted his client to take the role. He wanted his client to figure out that his next career move was going to be on television. But he didn't want to be the guy who said it first. Because the first person who tells an actor that his career is evolving away from above-the-title billing in a big feature film to member-of-the-ensemble in a situation comedy is the first person the actor fires.

So the manager said I just had to take no for an answer. Or, if I was willing to, I could take no answer at all. I could wait. His client wasn't ready. Yet. But he probably would be. The answer isn't no, the answer isn't yes, the answer is … wait.

Look, said the manager, I'm pretty sure he'll be ready in, I'm guessing, 18 months. That's when he'll be finished remodelling the house and he'll suddenly realise how much all of that tile and stonework cost.

Can't you wait? the manager asked. He'll realise all of this himself soon. Probably around tax time, when he meets with his accountant.

We couldn't wait, of course, for the actor to suddenly get interested in television. Projects like this are dated for freshness, like cartons of milk. If you wait too long - even for a former movie star - the freshness seems to ebb. The studio that's paying the bills and the network that's holding a spot on its schedule get antsy, and as everyone in sales knows - and as all romantic suitors know - a little bit of eager anticipation is a very good thing. Too much, though, and the ardour cools.

But most of what we do in the entertainment business is wait - we wait for a green light, or to sell a pitch. We wait to hear back. That's how we put it: we're "waiting to hear back", and we don't ever have to identify whom, exactly, we are waiting to hear back from. There's always someone holding out on making a decision. It doesn't matter who that is.

We try to be patient, because patience is a virtue, but it's also the sign of someone with nothing else to do, with no other choice but to wait for the wheels to turn slowly, for a series of phone calls and meetings to be had, for the slow chain of call-hear back-meet-call-hear-back to make its way, finally, to our little phones which will light up with a call from a familiar number (most writers I know have assigned their agents a special ringtone; one I know used the theme music from the horror film Halloween.) Then we get our answer, which by that time is really irrelevant, because we're so exhausted and spent from waiting we've forgotten what we were really hoping for in the first place.

This year, I heard, the former movie star decided to take a part in a television show. It's supposed to be very good. The "buzz" on the pilot episode is terrific. I called his manager last week to congratulate him.

The funny thing is, the manager said, they actually offered him the role a few months before you offered him a role in your project.

The other guy waited, he said.

"And just like I expected," he added, "he changed his mind right after he met with his accountant. Whom he fired, by the way."

Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood. Follow him on Twitter @rbcl