An aspiring comedian completes a set to applause. They notice an established comedian watching and strike up a conversation. The aspiring comedian asks, “Do you think I’m going to make it?”
The established comedian says, “No.”
It’s not that the established comedian doesn’t want the aspiring one to make it; they simply know that if this aspiring comedian is deterred by this simple discouragement, they’re not going to make it. The comedy world is full of rejection, and this is just the first one they’ll hear.
(I wrote this anecdote up, although my memory is telling me it’s based on a real situation; I’d just misplaced the original source.)
It came to mind when I was recently reading Backable, in which author Suneel Gupta asks film producer Peter Chernin, “How do you test somebody’s passion?” Peter says:
You tell them, “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” and see how they respond. You want to create environments where they are supportive of one another, but very direct with one another.
Nobody’s right about everything. What you want is thoughtful people who will take input in, fight for those things they believe in, try to convince you why they believe in it, keep fighting for it, keep pushing for it. And then those things they don’t believe in, or that they can’t stand up for, have them say, “You know what, maybe you’re right. Maybe I should give up on this.”
Here’s what the system looks like at work, when Peter Chernin was trying to make a decision on X-Files:
Bob Greenblatt was capable of ordering scripts without my approval. He told me that he was ordering scripts. I go, “That’s a stupid idea, but go for it.” And when the script came in I read the script and said, “This is ridiculous. I don’t get it at all.” We argued about it, and he was more passionate about it than I was. I believed enormously in him; I thought he was one of the smartest young people I knew. I finally said, “Look, if you believe in it so much, go make the pilot.” You’re not committing to a whole series; you’re committing to the first episode.
And then by the time the pilot came in, I still didn’t get it. And everybody loved it, so at that point you should be both open-minded and curious enough to go, “Wow, there’s something here because everybody else seems to love this and I’m obviously wrong about this and we should put it on the air.”
The more people who were exposed to it, it was clear that he was right and I was wrong. That’s exactly the system I wanted to set up.
50 Cent writes in Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter:
Someone with a strong passion stance, on the other hand, will really dig in. Get their feet planted and shoulders squared up. So no matter how hard the world pushes back, or how much negativity gets thrown their way, they ain’t budging an inch. That’s the sort of energy I want to work with. The type of people I’m willing to put my money behind. A strong passion stance is what separates the hustlers who win from the people who always seem stuck in place….
I’m looking for the same kind of passion in the people I work with. Maybe not putting your life on the line, but at least being willing to consider it. Might sound dramatic, but that level of commitment is often what it takes.
With an example:
Passion is what allowed me to lose more than fifty pounds to play a football player dying of cancer in the movie All Things Fall Apart. In nine weeks, I went from 214 to 160 pounds by going on a liquid diet and running on a treadmill for three hours a day. Now that might have been a little bit easier for me than the average person—I was more comfortable with a liquid diet because I’d been on one after I was shot—but it was still an extremely challenging two months. I was dropping weight like crazy, but every day when I looked in the mirror, all I could think was “I need to get smaller.” I was passionate about nailing that role….
I didn’t win an Oscar—or any award—for All Things Fall Apart. I also didn’t care. I’d proved to myself that I was passionate enough about acting to do whatever it took for the role. I saw some folks try to clown me—“Clown thinks he’s De Niro or something. Fuck outta here”—because I’d put in so much work for a movie that ended up going straight to video. Those jokes don’t slow me down for a second. I know damn well I’m not De Niro. I’m still going to work to get to that level. And even if I never win an Oscar, my movies have made over $500 million at the box office. Fair to say that’s a number a lot of other actors would dream about putting alongside their names.