I've spent the last twelve years working my ass off developing, financing and producing movies. You've seen every episode of Entourage.
I'd say we're about even in our knowledge of Hollywood.
I don't know about you, but I get asked the same questions over and over. My brother is a pediatric emergency room doctor, literally saving tiny lives on every shift, yet talk around the family dinner table inevitably revolves around the glamorous world in which I operate. Using the latest issue of People Magazine as their bible, they come at me fast and hard with some apparently crucial questions:
Are they really a couple?
Is she secretly fat in person?
Did he actually need to have that thing removed?
The only way to change the topic is to talk about gaffers and grips and teamsters -- the people who actually do the work on a movie; suddenly my brother's tales of inverted penises seem much more gripping.
This thirst for inside Hollywood knowledge is ubiquitous, so I've decided to answer the more common questions once and for all. Hopefully this will rightfully return our focus to more pressing issues, such as the stellar roster of Republican candidates or whether Kim Kardashian will ever marry again.
Are celebrities really that different than you and me?
Um, yeah. Completely.
Unless you're obscenely rich, freakishly good-looking and have someone to do everything in life for you, then you're nothing like them. Celebrities are part of an exclusive little club, complete with its own rules and regulations.
When I was working on one of my first films, I used to go out quite a bit with the lead actor, a very handsome, famous guy. It was always fun, and our little group would get free everything and lots of attention. One day, another handsome, famous actor came by to visit and we all went out together. So now you have two of the best-looking celebrities on the planet, smack in the middle of a restaurant somewhere in Canada.
A habitual teetotaler, I figured the occasion warranted some real drinking, and I was right. I felt like I was at the center of the universe: every beautiful woman within 100 miles descended on our table, thousands and thousands of dollars worth of alcohol flowed freely, paparazzi swarmed -- it was one of those nights. I only remember fleeting moments -- a battalion of cars magically appearing to escort us to a posh nightclub. Our driver reciting his phantom "credits" to an entranced Sophia Loren-lookalike. The look on people's faces when they spotted one -- no two! -- famous people in one place. Waking up in a lavish hotel suite wearing an astronaut's uniform with Miss Latvia beside me. Or Miss Estonia. (It was definitely Miss something.) Needless to say, it was the greatest night of my young life.
The next day on set, I overheard the two actors talking in between set-ups, with one complaining to the other how "lame' the previous night had been. The other one agreed, and they proceeded to make plans for what they hoped would be a much more eventful night.
It was then that I realized: this is their life. Every day. I was just borrowing some of the leftover pixie dust that night, but they have it with them in their pockets every single night, every single place they go.
I count several celebrities among my circle of friends, but unless I decide to cast myself in one of my films as a pathetic-producer-who-secretly-wants-to-be-an-actor, I'll never truly belong to the Club.
That's just the way it works.
Is he gay?
We all know who we're talking about. Ok, maybe you don't, but it doesn't matter -- I get this question about every single actor I've worked with. All of my gay friends refuse to take no for an answer (they probably assume I'm gay too), and interestingly, even people in the industry constantly spread I-swear-it's true rumors as well. Here's how I figure it. Actors obviously pretend for a living, so they certainly could pretend to be straight and we might not know. They're frequently creative, free-spirited and well dressed -- qualities often inexplicably associated with homosexuals. And yes, many of them are in fact gay. But unless I've seen the goods or sampled them myself, I always answer the truth -- I don't know.
What's it like to be on a movie set?
Thrilling. Intoxicating. Your creative juices are flowing, watching incredible artists and craftsmen at the top of their game. There's truly nothing like it. Unless you stay for more than an hour, in which case you'll probably want to shoot yourself in the head. Because there's nothing more mind-numbingly boring than watching incredible artists and craftsmen at the top of their game for more than sixty minutes. And that's not an estimate -- it's a scientific fact gleaned from years of experience. That sixty-first minute is a killer.
There's also something else that happens if you hang around on a movie set: people assume you belong. I once auctioned off a set visit for a charity event and a very nice, middle-aged mother of three bid a tidy sum to watch the action and maybe even glimpse a star. She hung around for an hour (I kept a stopwatch), and when the magic time was over, I started to walk her back to her car. We ran smack into the lead actress of the film, who took one look at my visitor and demanded to talk to her privately in her trailer. Before I could explain, off they went. Forty-five minutes later, the two emerged, and the actress headed to the set. The mother got into her car and calmly said to me, "she feels like her character would never be so passive or naïve in the end and wants the third act rewritten. And I agree with her." With that, she drove off. Apparently, the actress had mistaken her for a studio executive, and told her in one sitting what she wouldn't tell me in 2 months of hanging around the set. Of course, we did the rewrite.
We also gave the mother an Executive Producer credit.
Are you rich?
Simply put, proximity to wealth does not make one wealthy. In fact, the closer you are, the more painfully obvious your non-richness becomes.
I once played in a high-stakes poker game with A Very Famous Actor. There were several other high profile people involved, but the last hand came down to just me and Him. Now I'm no expert, but my pocket aces seemed awfully eager to meet their shiny red brother in the middle of the table. Three aces -- I could smell the pot coming my way, and all I could think of was how to collect the chips gracefully. The Famous Actor turned to me -- with that Famous Grin -- and said, "shall we raise it to $10,000?" I knew two things for sure: there was no way I could afford the bet, and I'd be damned if I was going to lose to that bully-betting bastard. You know what happened next.
When I got home, my girlfriend asked me how I could lose a quarter of my total annual salary on one hand of poker, and I replied -- quite logically -- that I thought I could beat him. When she reminded me that he'd starred in a goddamn classic movie about poker (which I realized, somewhat belatedly, probably involved months of poker lessons), I knew that it was time to end the relationship. Or, more accurately, have the relationship ended for me.
My name appears on movie screens and posters, I get interviewed a bit and my mug occasionally appears in magazines. Why people assume all this makes me rich is beyond me. To be clear, I ride on private jets, stay in phenomenally fancy homes, and eat at highfalutin restaurants. I'm around a lot of extremely wealthy people. I'm not one of them -- just ask my accountant.
Or my ex.
How glamorous are all those award events?
That depends on your definition of glamour. Here's mine: Wearing the same tuxedo (but switching up the ties in the foolish hope that people don't notice) for four consecutive months. Eating bad food but still trying to keep your teeth clean in case the camera sweeps your way (and god forbid your Aunt Hana spots you with a spinach grin). It's seeing the same people at every event -- people you barely tolerated in the first place -- and hearing the same insincere acceptance speeches by the same unworthy recipients.
Finally, imagine for a moment that you're an accountant. You work hard, do your accounting thing as well as you can, and try to be proud of your work. All the accountants in the world get together and decide to have a party celebrating the best accountants from that year. You're fortunate enough to be included in this amazing group. Everyone around you tells you that, by gosh, you're the best damn accountant they've ever seen. So you get all dressed up, attend a huge event that is televised all over the world, and await your one moment of glory. And then they give the Best Accountant of the Year to the guy sitting next to you. You're now officially a Loser, confirmed so in front of every single one of your peers.
That's what it's like to be nominated for an Oscar and lose.
There you have it -- the inside scoop from years of experience, hard work and bloody skirmishes in the trenches of Hollywood battlefields. Of course, you probably knew all this already.
You watched Entourage.
Rick Schwartz is an independent film producer whose credits include The Aviator and 13. He welcomes any and all movie questions. Really.
This post originally appeared in The London Times.