Respect & Resolution



It’s New Year’s morning in Dubai, so let us begin with a Resolution for All Producers.

As Producers, let’s resolve to always pay our people on time.

So often, I see the effects of sluggish or sloppy payment processes on the life of the freelancer – tech, production, artist or other.

Terms such as “net 30,” “net 60,” statements like “…we pay all our invoices quarterly…” are virtually incomprehensible, generally irrelevant and always frustrating to the average (and above average) talent one hires.

Further, these people work for you; not your client. It is irrelevant to them and to your relationship to and with them whether or not you have been paid for the work or show. YOU owe the money to the team, not your client.

Respect that.

So many people are uncomfortable around money and their own financial situations. Asking for money can feel deeply demeaning to most people. Be sensitive to this and find ways to avoid that doubt and discomfort that are far too often concomitant with working as a freelance artist or consultant.

It’s not that difficult.

When a production is mine; one of my favorite moments is when I am able to circulate through the team during warm up or pre-rehearsal, quietly handing out checks face-to-face and hand-to-hand with thanks for all the hard work that’s been put in. Paying in this manner shows tangible respect and helps cement the bond of trust between you and your talent and tech.

They enter the stage happier, upbeat, energetic and are able to leave the production – physically and mentally – confident and complete, with no doubts as to where and when they’ll be paid.

This is Big Stuff.

As the name of EMILY, the political group, says, “Early Money Is Like Yeast.” It will grow your reputation among your peers and performers, it will grow your caché with your resources. You’ll achieve greater results with these stronger relationships.

I have worked with a company in the UAE unlike any other in this respect. On the first or second day of my first collaboration with them, in 2011, the Accountants called me in and handed me the contract-specified per diem for the entire contract in cash, up front. No receipts necessary, no waiting, no outlay of my own funds – and I could buy groceries or restaurant meals, pay for gasoline or taxis with no “approval” process.

This made it so easy, and showed me and the other consultants that we were supported by that department and company in getting done what we were brought over to get done.

Great system, imho.

On the last day of the contract, once again; we were called into the accounting office, handed a check, sent to the bank on the first floor to cash it before leaving for the airport. Clean and neat; respectful and easy.

I’ve seen this company send a driver two hours to another city to offer performers their pay in cash as they are working during banking hours, away from their home cities and banks. This is a great policy, and makes people feel appreciated in a fundamental and security-encouraging way.

It does take the producer (you…us) planning; advance conversations and familiarization with the process and logistics of the Financial People, probably some invoice-gathering at a busy time; but it will yield a cornucopia of great results.

Try it.

WAIT: according to Yoda, “…there is no ‘try’!” Just do it.

Now, on to…


It is critical to be sensitive to the natures and processes of your Creatives. Frankly, it can be darn expensive to dismiss or eschew this sensitivity.

Not so long ago, I had the enlightening misfortune to have participated in a creative overview & notes meeting on a production of great magnitude … an experience that epitomizes how not to treat one’s Creatives.

The purpose of the meeting was to give meticulous direction to the development of the visual creative to a team of consultants, four time zones away, via Skype. To participate in this meeting, the Creatives had to be up, awake and alert quite early in their morning.

Anyone who knows and has worked with Brilliance knows that many such artists tend to be late risers. Ironically, the Creative Director in charge of this very meeting is rarely in his own office before 10:00am; yet had called this meeting for 9:00am in the time zone of these Creatives.

We were gathered in the conference room for a meeting scheduled to abut this Creative briefing…and this previous meeting began to run overtime. Several reminders that we had these men waiting in their studio for us to connect with them went unacknowledged by the Creative Director for a full 40 minutes; at which time he announced that he needed a cigarette, and left the room with a few other members of the Executive Team to have a smoke.

Twenty minutes later, one hour past the scheduled time, the meeting finally commenced. One could see, on the faces of the remote Artists, their ire at being treated so dismissively. This early interaction, unfortunately though not surprisingly, colored every future interaction between this company and the Artists, both electronically and in face-to-face meetings…and definitely in the quality of the finished product.

This was an exceptionally expensive hour. Not only in the context of the practical costs of paying for an hour of creative consulting time that was completely unused, but the negative effects of this dismissive and thoughtless act were felt through the rest of the production. Treatment such as this can (and in this instance, most certainly did) color the tone of an entire production, and have far-reaching costs well beyond the immediate and tangible.

Again: such disrespectful disregard for the time and process, the work, of one’s team members affects not only the working relationship but also the actual product.

Irrespective of one’s commitment to professionalism; when one is treated poorly, it will ultimately affect the nuance of the work and the relationships among the collaborators, especially when it comes to “crunch” time. Ultimately, it affects resilience, responsiveness and – most critically – Creativity.

It is a wise discipline to develop and hone; to remember one is dealing with people who have lives and schedules of their own. You do know own them, they are not your property to pull off a virtual shelf and use at will.

Respect your Team. Show it.

Be it Resolved…

Happy New Year!

No Room for Kings

from my balcony...

from my balcony…

A couple of stocking-stuffers for Producers and Prospective Producers…

No Room for Kings.

There are no Kings on a Production Team

Just one of the great things about being a Creative Consultant and able and available to work anywhere in the world is the opportunity to encounter, mentor and sometimes team up with individuals from other cultures – to learn how they do things, how they might think, to be able to teach and to learn how to teach in a given culture.

Children of privilege show up, all the time, wanting to learn and create a career in production, film, theatre… The Key is the burning desire to learn…

While in Dubai, I was invited to give successive guest lectures on The Nature & Management of Creativity at the EMDI Institute of Media & Communication ( ). The classroom of nearly 50 students is a powerful microcosm of this part of the world.

Pakistani, Indian, Lebanese, British, South African, Sri Lankan…these students are from everywhere. The unifying factor throughout the classroom was a virtually tangible thirst for knowledge and a desire to work; to take what is learned back to home countries and make a difference, to build a life and share with others.

We put some of these students on the team for the National Day event, here in Dubai. Though they were assigned at the lowest of levels and asked to do everything from untie knots to glue things together, they jumped at every opportunity (well, most of ‘em!); embracing the chance to be among a killer team of professional creatives, stage managers and technicians, to observe from inside a production of magnitude and to be able to ask questions of anyone within earshot.

These are great young adults, and it was great to get to know them, a little bit.

Impressive, too, has been witnessing the setting-aside of ego in order to learn. Not every culture facilitates such breakthrough. Many, though not all, of these students are Children of Privilege who don’t actually have to work, who are used to deference and exception in their personal lives and are able to set aside that mindset in order to actually learn.

Their Passion trumps their Privilege, and that’s impressive. Impressive…and necessary to truly learn anything.

No matter how highly ranked in one’s native society might be an individual, when on a production team, that person must be part of that team; accepting responsibility, taking direction, being corrected when appropriate in the context of the team. Nobility does not alter the job of the film or music editor, the script supervisor, the cultural consultant, the project director, the intern… In my experience, I have seen Ego obstruct Learning and add significantly to the cost of a project in far too many of the cultures in which I’ve been able to work (including the US). And Ego can be a very expensive quality to bring to a Production.

It sure chaps my hide when I do see it. Missed opportunity is a painful loss.

Ego. Park it.

To the Google!

Before meeting with someone new – be they prospective client, employee, partner, investor, resource, vendor – Google ‘em.

There is a Certain Demographic that already knows this. I am regularly surprised, though, at the number of professionals who blithely make no use of this undemanding and accessible, richly informative tool.

Countless are the times I’ve shown up for a First Meeting, sometimes scheduled weeks in advance, and been asked about my “background” by someone who, imho, should already know as much about me as I know about them.

Before sitting down across a table or desk from someone, know as much as you can about who they are and what they’ve done; especially in a Professional Context. This is simple stuff.

Frankly, when I discover at a First Meeting that the person with whom I’m meeting has not taken even a few moments to do such research – whether they be potential employee or potential client – I am compelled to take another look at whether or not I even want that individual as partner, teammate or client.

The ramifications of that failing are, frankly, profound and often critical…and could adversely affect a potential working relationship.

Laziness, ignorance, fear of the interwebs, whatever the cause… The reticence to appreciate and access the tools of the web indicates what it indicates; irrespective of rationale, it’s a Big, Red Flag in every respect.

Keeping abreast and conversant in the ever- and rapidly-evolving platforms of social media, research tools, communications platforms, et cetera, is critical for survival in business – especially in the business of Experience Creation and Production. Eschew it and risk your very livelihood. Eschew it for long and the task can seem insurmountable.

Believe me; as decision-makers grow younger, knee-jerk evaluations are made on what may seem insignificant or incidental to you, but are indicative of a relevant savviness – or lack thereof – that could easily cost one a gig or a client.

One’s email address, alone, can say enough to remove one from consideration.

Yes; really.

In an era when a personal or professional domain name costs only a few dollars and takes less than five minutes to set-up; a hotmail, yahoo or (ancient) aol email address speaks of irrelevance and datedness without any interaction whatsoever.

Get up to speed, get up to date…or simply retire.

Is that harsh?

I’m just sayin’.

[Feel free to download the interactive book, “imho,” for iPad from the iBook Library. And, by “free” I mean it won’t cost you anything…]

Producer = Protector – Part Deux


…picking up the conversation from the previous post…

As Producer, as Leader of the Team, Admiral of Your Chosen Metaphor, you set the tone and establish the standards of and for your Team. It is your example by which members of your team should be inspired and offer themselves measure. Your integrity must be sacrosanct; the respect with which you treat others should be unshakeable, your communications clear and complete, your leadership inspirational and enlightening.

This really isn’t difficult, if the commitment is within you. That and a little zen discipline and you’re there.

As producer, you stand accountable. Responsibility for anything that goes wrong with the production is on your shoulders. This means that you jump up and acknowledge responsibility for anything that goes wrong or falls short without a second thought. Never let an employee take the fall; not publicly, in any case.

Conversely, anything that goes uniquely or impressively right with the production is an opportunity for you to publicly acknowledge the professionals on your team who are or were directly responsible for what stood out. ‘Tis a good Rule of Thumb to simply never take credit; always find someone to credit, or simply credit your Team.

Without that team, you’re just a big, good-looking bundle of Good Ideas (and maybe not even all that good, without the collaboration of the gang that makes it great).

Remain approachable. Work to be approachable, watch out for seeming “too busy” to be interrupted. Each such interruption likely bears the potential for some Learning, some Evolution, some exchange of ideas or even the sharing of some bit of information that can perhaps save time and or money, down the line. Guard against dismissiveness and discount no one.

Vest your people with responsibility and let them know you mean it. (This takes discipline for the Type A; but if s/he really wants to build a dependable and ultimately reputable team, then delegate, one must … and mean it).

I launch virtually any production with a few, regular conversations; one of which is the stressing of the fact that, on my teams, no one will be penalized for making a mistake, miscalculation or mis-judgement. Penalty is levied when that mistake is hidden or kept secret.

The moment one sees that what is intended may not happen as envisioned; that’s the moment to raise the flag.

Someone makes a mistake: that person is probably the person best qualified to devise and implement the solution. Ergo, when someone comes to me with a mistake, my first response (after the “oops,” “omg,” or “holy cr*p!”) is usually “well, what would you suggest we do?” And we figure it out together.

This teaches practical skills and problem-solving and is a compelling and resonant example of the trust you are placing in your team. This makes what you have been saying tangible and makes you trustworthy to them.

And, pertinent to what I was saying, above; should one of the team come under fire for a real or perceived error, the immediate response of the Producer is to stand by his team and take any heat, resolving direct responsibility issues offline and in private.

If your team knows you will stand by them, they will go the extra mile for you, push their own envelopes and take considered (and some not-so-considered) risks in the pursuit of higher standards of storytelling and production.

I want to underscore the Responsibilities of the Producer from last week by reprinting the comment from Ben Tripp, brilliant artist and author…

“The one-point-of-contact thing really is critical.  A couple of other things that happen with diffuse communication:

Conflicting critiques — a couple of executives may have directly contradictory opinions.  They deliver their reactions independently and expect results.  This leads to creatives acting as liaisons, taking sides, or believing the process had broken down (which it has).

In addition, specialists can create difficulties by delivering their criteria without regard for the rest of the show — I was once on an entertainment project in which the PM gave equal voice to a guy way upstream whose central role was leasing real estate.  So the entire design ended up geared to making it really easy to swap out retail tenants.  

You need communication to flow through the point man — the filter.”

Time and again, I see weak producers taking opinions from far too many others; not trusting professional instincts enough to take responsibility for the result. Go out on a limb, dammit, and stand behind your beliefs, your instincts, what you trust in your heart.

To illustrate, I am going to repeat an anecdote I’ve cited, before, in this space…

Twenty years ago, in the final months of run-up to one of my first globally-visible ceremonial spectacles, the Board of Directors suddenly began to second-guess and challenge my concept and the execution of it (because, as you know, everyone’s a Producer). I spent many a sleepless night exploring the course I should take. Finally, winnowed it down to this crux:

  • If I capitulated and caved, if I made the changes the Board was seeking, and the production was a failure, I’d have nothing…just the fact of the empty failure on my shoulders.
  • If, on the other hand, I stuck to my vision, refused to capitulate and held the line…and the production was a failure, then I would at least know that I’d been wrong…and that had to be enough for me.

I decided that it would be enough. Knowing I had been wrong in my vision would have been far better than having only the failure to my credit with nothing learned. I would also have had to live with having relinquished my integrity and forsaken what I knew in my heart was right.

…and, by the way, the production was a smashing, paradigm-shifting success. Just sayin’…

Trust yourself, and stand by yourself. Don’t cave to the armchair experts; irrespective of how convinced they are that they are right.

Remember, you are vested with the result, with realizing the vision, with knowing how best to manifest the idea. You cave and it bombs, you’ll be blamed. At least be able to own your bombs…do that, and you’ll have far fewer, if any, of ‘em.


Meanwhile, feel free to download my eBook, “imho,” for iPad from the iBook Store – No charge to the Adventurous.

Producer = Protector

Crack Stage Management Team - UAE

Crack Stage Management Team – UAE

Protect your Creatives

Protect Your Creative Relationships

Protect your Product and Production

You’re the Producer: so Produce. Your job is to protect the Creative(s) from the Barrages of Reality as Concept and Vision evolve and develop into Experience.

Your job is to protect the budget from the wild and expensive ideas of your Creatives when approaches less grand might even be more effectively evocative.

In the absence of a Creative Director or Director, your job is to wear both hats and to exhibit and engender respect for and from both camps; ultimately creating a team out of the technical production side and the creative development and interpretation side.

You don’t know everything; don’t pretend that you do. Producers who pose as knowing it all just give Producers a bad name and certainly don’t find themselves embraced by their creative or technical teams. Get advice from those whom you trust. Develop relationships with creatives whom you respect or admire and with whom you can share ideas and insecurities. Do the same with technicians and engineers, designers and choreographers. Build your cabinet.

A good producer knows where to get the best answer and when s/he’s getting the best result or product. The better the team, the better the producer.

Take credit for recruiting the right people. Give credit freely and unhesitatingly to those who really do the work. The more you give credit and acknowledge source and inspiration, the better you look and the stronger your relationships will be with the teams you build. Become known for the teams you build and what they create.

Do not manage by committee. Just don’t.

Your job, as fulcrum for the production, as Protector of Creative and Budget, as Shepherd of the Show is to protect all processes. This is how you will protect your budget and your relationships as you work to achieve and present the best, possible Experience.

You’re unsure about a component of the show? Share your dilemma with your mentors, a friend, other creatives. Then, you take and absorb that feedback in the context of the overall vision for the show and decide what is valuable, relevant, pertinent. DO NOT UNLEASH THESE PEOPLE ON YOUR TEAM.

One Point of Contact.

Your job is to filter the input and share what is appropriate with your creative, production or technical professionals. You are the One Point of Contact with the world outside the Production. Your duty is to protect that relationship at all costs.

You’ll discover two, distinct benefits to this process…

  1. Your team will trust and appreciate you; resulting in a more candid “in-house” give-and-take and sharing of ideas as concepts and approaches evolve. You can share an idea you’ve gleaned from another source and get candid, honest feedback from your creatives without risking offense to your external source. You can then, with integrity, make informed decisions in the context of your project and vision and continue to massage your project in line with that understanding and appreciation.
  2. You protect the clarity of the vision. Remember, irrespective of the esteem in which you may hold your mentors and advisors; their advice is based on limited exposure to your concept and approach. Listen fully, consider thoroughly, but only adopt and share what truly makes sense. You must be the filtering arbiter, period. You.

Above all, do not allow “committees” of people to offer input to your project to anyone but yourself. And, by “committee,” I mean anyone but you. There are few ways more sure to derail a relationship or project than allowing direct input from more than one person. The net effect is nearly always deleterious to your project, diluting potential potency, and will definitely undermine your working relationships within the team.

Trust, once broken, can never be fully restored.


Download the eBook, “imho,” for iPad from the iBook Store – No charge to the Adventurous

Quoting Arthur Penn or Did This All Start With T-Ball…?

I’ve been out of communication for a bit; buried in a project, information on which was embargoed until after the Show…which was last night.

I’ve been in Dubai for the past two months, participating in the mounting of this Emirate’s Show and Celebration for National Day. This experience has offered me enlightenment as well as reassurance and confirmation, across the board. I have had the opportunity to test my methodologies against a significantly alien culture and found that, fundamentally, all our brains are wired similarly and – while culture and experience may result in divisive or disparate perspectives – emotions can be evoked and connections made in any language, especially nonverbally.

I have had the opportunity to Guest Lecture for two successive nights at EMDI UAE – The Institute of Media & Communication in Dubai; sharing my experience and interacting with a group of students, many of whom are brilliant, motivated and preparing to test themselves in this business.  (I tried, but failed, to dissuade them!) Many of these fine young men and women ended up participating in producing the Show we just mounted.

Among the talent and tech support for the production, I came to know – albeit briefly – some wonderful men and women and was granted opportunity to be touched and moved through our interaction.

Unique individuals from across the globe gathered to work on this project; to many of whom I’ll be reaching out to join future teams with me, should that opportunity arise. Most significant among all these, though, were the gracious people of the Arabian Deserts…Oman, Lebanon, Dubai, Abu Dhabi… Through just a few, I experienced such moments of grace and was so gently and deeply touched that I doubt I shall forget.

These are experiences that will become embraced and protected memories.

Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t all Pretty, not by a longshot! But, that’s for later; when the dust has settled and I’ve assessed the experiences with some bit of objectivity.

Meanwhile, and what prompted me to get moving on revivifying this site, I share with you this recent missive from Arthur Penn. In this, he nails the elastic, modern definition of what is deemed approbation-worthy and which, in actuality, dilutes the quality of theatre, certainly, and the creation of Experience, globally.

Read on; we’ll talk…

‎”I do not want to know another thing about what a nice guy or gal someone on the stage is: This is entirely irrelevant to me. Some sort of desperation has crept into our theatre–all of our arts, really, but we’re discussing theatre–where we feel a defensive wall is erected around the meretriciousness of our work by highlighting how hard someone has worked; how many hours they’ve put in at the soup kitchen; how many hours they spent researching the aphasic mind in order to replicate the actions of one; how many ribbons sweep across their breast in support of causes; how much they love their lives and how lucky they feel to be on Broadway!

There is very little art, but there is a great deal of boosterism. Fill the seats; buy a T-shirt; post something on the Internet; send out an e-mail blast.

I’m in my eighties, and I think I should have left this earth never knowing what an e-mail blast was.

I saw a play recently that was festooned with understudies: Not the actual understudies, but the hired, primary actors, all of whom performed (if that is the word) precisely like a competent, frightened understudy who got a call at dinner and who raced down to take over a role. No depth; no sense of preparation. These were actors who had learned their lines and who had showed up. And that is all.

I spoke to the director afterwards. By all accounts a nice and talented and smart guy. I asked him why a particular part in this play–a Group Theatre classic–had been given to this certain actor. He’s a great guy, was the response. Prince of a fellow. Well, perhaps, but send him home to be a prince to his wife and children; he is a shattering mediocrity. But nice and easy counts far too much these days. Another director told me–proudly–that he had just completed his third play in which there wasn’t one difficult player; not one distraction; not one argument. Can I add that these were among the most boring plays of our time? They were like finely buffed episodes of Philco Playhouse: tidy, neat, pre-digested, and forgotten almost immediately, save for the rage I felt at another missed opportunity.

All great work comes to us through various forms of friction. I like this friction; I thrive on it. I keep hearing that Kim Stanley was difficult. Yes, she was: in the best sense of the word. She questioned everything; nailed everything down; got answers; motivated everyone to work at her demonically high standard. Everyone improved, as did the project on which she was working, whether it was a scene in class, a TV project, a film, or a play. Is that difficult? Bring more of them on.

Is Dustin Hoffman difficult? You bet. He wants it right; he wants everything right, and that means you and that means me. I find it exhilarating, but in our current culture, they would prefer someone who arrived on time, shared pictures of the family, hugged everyone and reminded them of how blessed he is to be in a play, and who does whatever the director asks of him.

Is Warren Beatty difficult? Only if you’re mediocre or lazy. If you work hard and well, he’s got your back, your front, and your future well in hand. He gets things right–for everybody.

No friction. No interest. No play. No film. It’s very depressing.

I don’t want to know about your process. I want to see the results of it. I’ll gladly help an actor replicate and preserve and share whatever results from all the work that has been done on a part, but I don’t want to hear about it. I’ve worked with actors who read a play a couple of times and fully understood their characters and gave hundreds of brilliant performances. I don’t know how they reached that high level of acting, and I don’t care. My job is to provide a safe environment, to hold you to the high standards that have been set by the playwright, the other actors, and by me. I hold it all together, but I don’t need to know that your second-act scene is so true because you drew upon the death of your beloved aunt or the time your father burned your favorite doll.

Now the process is public, and actors want acclimation for the work they’ve put into the work that doesn’t work. Is this insane? Read the newspapers, and there is an actor talking about his intentions with a part. I’ve pulled strands of O’Neill into this character, and I’m looking at certain paintings and photographs to gain a certain texture. And then you go to the theatre and see the performance of a frightened understudy. But a great gal or guy. Sweet. Loves the theatre.

Every year or so, I tell myself I’m going to stop going to see plays. It’s just too depressing. But I remember how much I love what theatre can be and what theatre was, and I go back, an old addict, an old whore who wants to get the spark going again.

I don’t think we can get the spark going again because the people working in the theatre today never saw the spark, so they can’t get it going or keep it going if it walked right up to them and asked for a seat.

It’s a job, a career step, a rehabilitation for a failed TV star or aging film star. I got a call from one of these actresses, seeking coaching. I need my cred back, she said.

This is not what the theatre is supposed to be, but it is what the theatre now is.

I don’t want to just shit on the theatre: It’s bad everywhere, because it’s all business, real-estate space with actors. It’s no longer something vital. I used to think that the theatre was like a good newspaper: It provided a service; people wanted and needed it; revenue was provided by advertisers who bought space if the paper delivered, but profit was not the motive–the motive was the dissemination of truth and news and humor. Who goes to the theatre at all now? I think those in the theatre go because it’s an occupational requirement: They want to keep an eye on what the other guys are going, and they want to rubberneck backstage with those who might use them in the future. But who are the audiences? They want relief not enlightenment. They want ease. This is fatal.

I talk to Sidney Lumet. I talk to Mike Nichols. I ask them if I’m the crazy old man who hates everything. You might be, they say, but you’re not wrong. They have the same feelings, but they work them out or work around them in different ways.

The primary challenges of the theatre should not always be getting people to give a shit about it. The primary challenge should be to produce plays that reach out to people and change their lives. Theatre is not an event, like a hayride or a junior prom–it’s an artistic, emotional experience in which people who have privately worked out their stories share them with a group of people who are, without their knowledge, their friends, their peers, their equals, their partners on a remarkable ride.” ~~ director ARTHUR PENN