x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

When others are fuming, try just doing nothing

Being able to keep your calm is a valuable thing, in Hollywood and in real life.

A man walks into a jewellery store to buy his wife a gift. The salesman points first to a case filled with expensive bracelets. "These things say, 'Darling, I love you'."

Then he points to a case filled with diamonds and pearls. "These say, 'darling, I adore you'." Next, dazzling necklaces. "And these say: 'darling, I'm terribly sorry'."

The husband thinks, then asks: "What do you have that says, 'darling, will you please calm down?'"

Anyone who has every been in a relationship - romantic, familial, business, whatever - knows that is what you want to say most often: please calm down. That is also what the other person often needs to hear, but as many of us have learnt the hard way, it is never a good idea to say those exact words.

This is a problem in the entertainment industry, because it is filled with volatile people, many of whom have made millions from precisely the inability to remain calm.

Even those of us in the quieter sectors of the business - writing, lawyering, that sort of thing - have been known to get emotional, despite our reputation as retiring intellectuals. Something will happen - maybe a television show gets cancelled, or a studio executive is rude. Big or small, these things happen. Every business has disappointments. The trick is to calm down.

"Never do anything in anger" is a good maxim. But the entertainment industry is full of impossibly successful figures with mythic tempers. There are stories about Oscar-winning directors tossing laptops from moving cars, blockbuster-starring actors erupting into spittle-flying rages, rug-chewing producers, shrieking leading ladies. Most of these tales are mostly true.

In this business, anger sometimes seems like a pretty good moneymaking strategy. It is not really, of course. We all know how these things go for most of us, who are not gorgeous or powerful: you get angry. You say something crazy. And now you have dug yourself in and you cannot get out.

Hollywood has found a solution to this problem: agents. Agents find new, diplomatic ways to say "calm down". And that is what keeps this business humming along.

A friend of mine is involved in a nasty dispute with a studio, where he is still working under a fairly lucrative contract. It is awkward and complicated to be interacting with management while harbouring the seething, slightly irrational resentments that only Hollywood writers specialise in.

He will be in a meeting and things will be going along smoothly. Then some executive will say something in a slightly "off" tone of voice, and the whole meeting will sour. My friend's resentments and grievances will bubble to the surface, he will say something inappropriate, or needlessly insulting and obstinate, and everyone will get uncomfortable.

After the last such eruption, he did what everyone does in Hollywood when something like this happens: he called his agent to vent his frustration. He really let loose about every small thing, every large thing, every medium thing the studio has done to him that made him ready to walk out.

His agent wanted to say, "calm down". But what he actually said was: "Let me handle this."

"But am I right?" my friend sputtered. "You're totally right," the agent said soothingly. "But this is my job. Let me be the bad guy. Let me yell at the studio. That is beneath you. You're the artist. I'm going to handle this. I'm going to go ballistic. The minute we hang up the phone, I'm calling over there."

Which, as any good agent knows, is exactly what he did not do. He did nothing. He waited for my friend to calm down. The studio, which naturally has noticed that my friend has been antagonistic of late, reported back to the agent a few days later that the air had suddenly cleared. They noticed he was smiling more.

My friend reported to his agent that the studio seemed friendlier and more conciliatory, which soothed his ego and defused the resentments. Assuming that his agent had yelled at the studio, my pal no longer felt that he needed to.

The agent's actual "work product" had been to listen to his client on the phone while playing Candy Crush on his iPad.

That is often the best way to get someone to calm down. First, tell them you will handle it. Then, do absolutely nothing. It works in Hollywood, foreign relations and in the toughest combat of all, marriage.

 

Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood

On Twitter: @rcbl