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This story first appeared in the Sept. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
I’m quite surprised by how many requests for favors I receive in any given week. And I’m neither important nor powerful. I wonder how many times a week David Geffen gets hit up for a favor and if he is as sick of it as I am.
The favors I’m talking about are not the requests that relate to the normal order of my business as a producer. If an agent calls and asks me to look at an actor’s reel in consideration for a pilot or movie I’m producing, that isn’t a favor, it’s two people each doing their job — same as the clerk at Whole Foods asking me for $150 for my one bag of groceries. My ire is limited to those who ask me for something without much promise for a return of similar consideration, putting me in the position of resentfully complying or awkwardly declining. Some examples:
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1. “Can you put me up for a job?”
What I do for a living entails a lot of selling, and any salesman knows that to maintain the interest of buyers, you need to limit the number of times you knock on someone’s door. And when you do, you need to have the goods they want to buy. So if I do this for you, I might be undoing something else for myself. And if I’m asked for a recommendation for an open job, I don’t need to be reminded to offer the reference. Anyone who doesn’t come to mind in that situation is not someone I know sufficiently to endorse.
2. “I’d like some career advice.”
This is really just a disguised version of my first example. Some might feel awkward to ask a friend or acquaintance to put them up for a job, so instead they camouflage the ask as an appeal for wisdom, hoping the askee will receive the flattery well and in turn put the asker up for employment. Either way, it is pretty much the same thing.
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3. “Will you read my script?”
You’d think that after Josh Olson‘s much-circulated 2009 Village Voice post titled “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script,” the number of requests I get to read scripts would decline — but it hasn’t. And I’m not talking about an agent offering me a spec feature or TV pilot they are taking out to buyers, nor am I referring to writers with whom I’ve worked wanting my input on their new work. I’m talking about people I barely know asking for feedback and help in getting their script sold. What I hate more is when I’ve been asked to read the script of someone’s friend or relative. I will never forget taking a call from a guy who told me that he was a friend of my father and wanted me to read a script by his nephew. When I asked if he thought the script was good, he seemed surprised and told me he hadn’t read it. Screenplays are unmade movies and about as enjoyable to consume as a cake recipe written on a piece of paper. If I am going to read a script, there had better be a reasonable chance I will profit from it. And don’t ever say to me, “If nothing else, you’ll enjoy the read,” ’cause I will do nothing of the sort and most likely be thinking about how much I hate you as I turn every page. If the script hasn’t been sent to me from a third party who’s a proven judge of writing talent, I’m not interested. I need independent verification before I commit to reading “FADE IN: THE INKY BLACKNESS OF SPACE” or some other cliche.
4. “Will you ask your celebrity friend to wear jewelry I’ve made (or come to my screening, or do stand-up at my son’s bar mitzvah, or sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to my mom on her voice mail)?”
One way to be unfriended by a famous person is to try to take advantage of their famousness. It isn’t friendly or good business to cavalierly ask to use someone’s celebrity for some personal reason.
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5. “Will you donate to my charity?”
I’ve asked this question of others, and I don’t begrudge anyone for sending an e-mail or letter requesting funds for a cause that means something to them. What I do resent is having to deal with a follow-up call. I don’t want to be strong-armed, and I will not do that to anyone else.
I give to causes that are meaningful to me, but what I care about may not be what you care about. I don’t give a shit about museums, artists’ rights, anything religious, the commemoration of any bad thing that happened a long time ago, “Wiki-” anything, any disease I probably won’t get or political advocacy. And I really, really, fucking really don’t care about your kid’s school. If you choose to send your child to an expensive school and they lean on you for funds, it should have nothing to do with me. The uninsured with cancer, maybe; animal welfare and the environment, always; but a bigger cafeteria for a lot of overindulged Westside brats, never. “Oh, but they give scholarships to poor black kids.” Yeah, right — the poor black kid with a 180 IQ who will have every Ivy League school begging for him anyhow. Tell me how you want to help the poor child of color with an average IQ and a mom who works two jobs.
I may be selfish, but at least I’m not self-centered. Most interactions between humans are exchanges of one thing of value for another. I would not ask someone for a favor if I didn’t think I had done something for them in the past or if there were not a likelihood that I could do something for them in the future. Wanting balance in my interactions with others may seem selfish, but it may be more selfish and certainly is egotistical for another person from whom I most likely will never want anything to make their problems my own.
There are a few of you who will read this and think to yourselves: “Hey, I asked him for something recently. I hope he isn’t talking about me.” But worry not: You’re different. It is a pleasure to honor your request, and even though you’ll never do anything for me, I’m lucky to have the opportunity to help you out.
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