“Think of This Movie as a Sausage”
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A few years ago I was working on a “B”-movie at Warner Bros. There was a car chase in the script, and the director, who was young and on fire to do something really special, came up with an idea that he thought would take that scene from good to great. He went to the office of the Warners’ exec who was in charge of the production (and thus controlled the budget) and made an impassioned, on-his-feet plea for an extra X thousand bucks, just to make that one scene a showstopper.
The exec listened patiently without saying a word. Then he stood, crossed to the director, put his arm around his shoulder and said, “Bruce, think of this movie as a sausage. It’s just another link and you’re grinding it out.”
(This is all totally true, by the way).
At the time I remember thinking, “This is Hollywood moviemaking at its cheapest, laziest, most cynical worst.” I was outraged.
But a few days later I got to thinking, “You know, the exec is right. This movie is just a sausage, and we are just grinding it out.”
On the other hand, I like sausages.
Why not make a good sausage?
Why not make a great sausage?
Whaddaya think? Was War and Peace a sausage? Was Hamlet?
On the one hand, they definitely were. Both were hard slogs, long grinds. Both required serious, workmanlike patience and tenacity. I don’t know this for a fact, but I’ll bet Will Shakespeare was working at the Old Globe with a producer/financier whose point of view was not far off from that of our exec at Warners. He, the Bard, was probably writing two or three other plays simultaneously, pitching three or four more at the Royal Court and the Dramatists’ Guild, while fending off Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, who was challenging his authorship (along with Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and William Stanley, the Earl of Derby), all the while operating on four hours of sleep, not to mention dealing with crazy actors, late payments of royalties, his landlord clamoring for the rent, the tax collector seeking overdue imposts, while trying to maintain a harmonious relationship with Anne Hathaway (the original one), his wife.
I can picture Will, dashing from a rehearsal or a table read of his next comedy back to his cubby at home so he could return to work grinding out Hamlet. Hamlet was Shakespeare’s twenty-second play. It came between Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Was there an evening when the playwright smashed his quill pen into his writing desk and, gnashing his teeth, troubled deaf heaven with this bootless cry: “Damme! This sausage is killing me! Forsooth, lemme just grind it out and get it done with!”
What I’m trying to say is, in the end, I came very much to appreciate our Warner exec’s point of view.
Of course we’re gonna work hard on our next book/movie/startup.
Of course we’re gonna beat our brains out to make our stuff great.
Of course we’ll obsess. Of course we’ll go OCD. Of course we’ll drive everyone around us crazy.
But maybe it’s okay once in a while to pause and remember, “It is only a sausage and we are just grinding it out.”
In the end, I hear, we’re all gonna be sausage. So maybe hanging onto a sense of humor is a happy antidote to preciousness and to taking our work and ourselves too seriously.
P.S. the executive in this story (I’ll spare him the embarrassment of naming him) had done a number of good movies before the one we were working on, and he went on (he’s still going strong) to do other seriously excellent films afterward. He was, and is, by no means a frivolous player or a hack.
Maybe he understood something that the rest of us didn’t.
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