Thursday, April 14, 2016

"The Truly Lucky Ones"

There are “The Lucky Ones.”  And then there are “The Truly Lucky Ones.” 

I was one of “The Lucky Ones”.  I got to do for a living what I dared not even dream I’d be able to do.  (And conversely, spared from doing what I inwardly dreaded I might have to do, which was everything else.)

But, as with all categories I can think of, there are gradations of “Lucky.”  By which I do not mean there are seven winning numbers and your lottery ticket has six of them.  That’s just unfortunate.  And borderline pathetic.

In my personal field of endeavor not “The Lucky Ones” but “The Truly Lucky Ones”… wait, let me give you an example.

Not long ago, a good friend reminded me of something I had once said to him, which I myself no longer remembered.  My good friend’s reminder pleased me in two directions – one, that I did not recall what I had said, reflecting a measure of humility concerning my personal pronouncements.  And two, that somebody else had remembered what I had said, suggesting implicitly that it had been eminently worthwhile. 

Now, should I predecease my good friend, I would, through my eminently worthwhile pronouncement, live on after my demise, at least until my good friend dies.  Unless he told somebody else what I had said, and then they did the same, and then they did the same, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, in which case I would conceivably live forever.  Triggering a smile just thinking about it.

My good friend told me I had once said, in the context of a conversation about I-no longer-remember-what but it apparently concerned the relationship between  successful artists and their work:

“Steven Spielberg didn’t make E.T.  Steven Spielberg is E.T.

Let us us now take a moment to allow that to sink in.  And another moment – or as many moments as it requires – to decipher what exactly that meant.


Okay, let me help you.

What I meant, and what my good friend immediately “got” and remembered for decades so it must have perfectly hit the bull’s eye – was that…


There are many businesses that assiduously evaluate whether their “target customers” will respond to a new product they are thinking about making and snap it off of the shelves the moment it appears prominently in their supermarkets.

“Armadillo pudding.”


“Thank you.  We will not make that.”

In the movie business specifically, however, not matter how much “market testing” you choose to shell out for, quoting William Goldman if not ad infinitum then the tiniest distance beforeinfinitum”:

“Nobody (still) knows anything.”

That cautionary dictum was particularly accurate during cultural “Transitional Periods” like during and following the “Sixties”, when to coin an inelegant phrase,

Nobody in the movie business knew anythingier.

The film studios were still making musicals.  Twentieth Century Fox made Hello Dolly and wound up having to sell off half of their back lot (which is now “Century City”; the “Century” part reflecting the huge chunk of real estate Twentieth Century Fox was forced to surrender to offset the losses incurred after making Hello Dolly.)

At that point, the studio heads threw their collective hands in the air, giving the entire business over to the children.  Not their own children who might have continued making musicals, but to prodigiously talented young filmmakers, who were distinctly scruffy-looking, which fit perfectly because those were distinctly scruffy-looking times.

The “Children” bailed the embattled film studios out, following no previously-set-in-stone rules but pursing instead their own passionate visions, delivering movies they themselves enthusiastically wanted to see.  

One of those “Children” was Steven Spielberg.  Another was George Lucas.  (“‘Space Adventure’ movies?  I kind of like them.”)  As well as Francis Ford Coppola.  (“Who’s ready for a ‘Mafia’ movie?”)  And Sylvester Stallone.  (“A ‘boxing’ picture.  Why not?”)

If you feel so inclined, you can research how difficult those particular movies were to get made.  Nobody wanted any of them.  (Until afterwards, when they straight-facedly took credit for their remarkable courage and prescience.)

Warning:  It takes more than personal passion to insure commercial success. 

ASPIRING FILMMAKER:  “I have always found something intensely human about nose-picking.” 

Sorry, Genius.  Not now.  Not ever.

More conventionally, E.T. ( and Jaws before it) reflected the type of movie Steven Spielberg in his kishkas (with every fiber of his innards, hence, “Steven Spielberg is E.T.”) connected with and therefore naturally wanted to make.  And the same goes for the others, their unbridled enthusiasm to make Star Wars, The Godfather and Rocky deriving not from marketing reports but from viscerally within. 

For better or for worse. 

And, since the latent instincts of the “Audience-of-the-Day” were generically “in sync” with the creative impulses of the filmmakers…

It turned out to be very much “For the better.”

Making those passionate filmmakers, and filmmakers of their ilk both past and present…  

“The Truly, Truly Lucky Ones”? *

(* Topping “The Truly Lucky Ones” list.)

1 comment:

Jes said...

I hope you don't judge your success or your legacy by the number of comments (zero) or by tallying up your features at the Huffington Post. Though it couldn't hurt to advertise your online publishing successes more! Your craft is a privilege to enjoy and learn from, I only feel bad for years back encouraging you to write on your weekends, you were at a crossroads and clearly couldn't decide for yourself.

Always educational!