A Palmful Of Gold

“When someone criticizes me, they are putting gold in my palm.”

I first heard that from Larry Hama at a symposium on the role of Asian Americans in comic books at the Museum of Chinese Americas. In Lee Goldberg’s case, expect him to back up the entire dump truck onto your lawn.

My introduction to Lee Goldberg occurred earlier this year after perusing Mark Evanier’s website and finding an entry where he mentioned Lee Goldberg in the same breath as Colleen Doran. Seeing that he was being placed in such esteemed company, I decided to delve further into his work.

Lee Goldberg cut his teeth as a television writer then rose to shot caller status as a show runner and producer. He displayed a forte for mystery shows which included Diagnosis Murder, but he also worked on shows from different genres including Baywatch and Sammo Hung’s American television debut Martial Law. He also wrote an episode of The Highwayman starring Flash Gordon’s Sam Jones, which I fondly remember and established himself as a New York Times best selling mystery writer and blogger.

Recently he reposted an entry titled “Stop Looking for a Short Cut” from his Mail I Get section of his blog which was a response to an email proposal from a reader to collaborate in developing a pilot. Lee Goldberg provided a very blunt and honest explanation of why he was rejecting the proposal and instead of taking the gold that was placed in his palm, the reader got “butthurt” over the response and refused to recognize the critical knowledge being provided to him free of charge.

Disheartening but not surprising.

What the general public often overlooks are the parameters of quality assurance that are required to comply with in order to work in Hollywood. It is no different than a landlord who runs a credit check on prospective tenants and a company that requires an interview and background check for candidates applying for a job.

The best explanation of these controls is the following exchange that takes place in the Tony Scott classic True Romance where Dick Ritchie explains to Clarence the difficulties of selling a suitcase filled with an illicit product indigenous of South America.

I’m offering a half a million dollars worth of white for two hundred thousand. How difficult can that be?

It’s difficult because you’re sellin’ it to a particular group. Big shots. Fat cats. Guys who can use that kind of quantity. Guys who can afford two hundred thousand. Basically, guys I don’t know. You don’t know. And, more important, they don’t know you.

Now I am not equating Hollywood as a drug haven, of course some would beg to differ, but the point I am making is that the movers and shakers are not prone to allow outsiders within their inner circle so easily. This inner circle maintains a defensive perimeter of gatekeepers, sentries and other barriers of entry in order deter any outsiders who do not have the proper introductions or have not been indoctrinated in the culture of the industry.

Because of the highly competitive nature of Hollywood, these safeguards are in place to keep the teeming masses at bay and this infrastructure is present all over the industry. Did you know that Steve Spielberg has a department dedicated to cataloging gifts that are mailed to him? So the old sneak the screenplay in a fruit basket is not going to work.

Is this system perfect? Hell no. Does it get abused? Absolutely.
However, the rules of engagement are in place to make order of the chaos.

Although it is highly unlikely for an outsider to bypass the system, it is not impossible to circumvent it. When Fast and Furious 6 star Sung Kang first started out, finding representation proved quite difficult for him to acquire and without representation he was unable to audition for roles. So Sung Kang and some acting buddies created a front for a fake management company and even hired a courier service to drop off head shots because there was no way Sung and his acting friends would ever be allowed onto the studio lots. It led to his first professional assignment and his first agent. This creative solution that Sung Kang utilized was the result of his time in the industry. This acumen, which has successfully allowed him operate in Hollywood, could not have been developed by staying home in Atlanta.

Every day at LAX there are arriving flights filled with people armed with just a dream and possibly no job prospects. They start from the bottom as an assistant, production or otherwise, and they work their way up building a network and mastering the nuances of the business. But there are no guarantees of success because of the unpredictable nature of the industry. Tastes change, people change and executives change. Careers live and die on every film and television show. And when the pendulum swings, it swings with unforgiving speed.

Which is why, regardless of the potential upside, every new project is a risk in Hollywood and explains why there are currently a massive number of films based on comic book properties and why Disney is ready to carpet bomb the general public with even more Star Wars movies. These films have established a past performance of profitability and the studios mitigate their risk by producing them.

Lee Goldberg must act as his own gatekeeper and mitigate his risk by protecting his reputation, his network and more importantly his time. It is hard enough for professionals to navigate this highly competitive and unpredictable arena. Why would Lee Goldberg or any established professional want to handicap themselves by collaborating with someone who has no proven track record, no basic understanding of the entertainment industry or even the desire to learn as this disgruntled reader has demonstrated? A collaboration of this nature would be akin to sending money to someone claiming to be a Nigerian prince. Lee Goldberg would just be endangering a career that is the result of many years of hard work.

What the reader fails or is unwilling to realize is that at the core of Lee Goldberg’s response is self-preservation. And he is to be applauded for it because not only is he giving a palmful of gold, he is demonstrating how to protect it.

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