The Next Generation

I spent the last two weeks reading 30 original screenplays and television pilots from graduating college seniors and here’s what I know –

It is a dark, dystopian world out there where pretty much NO ONE tells you the truth.

Of course, I already knew that but I’m almost three times their age.   I mean, when I got out of school in the seventies I knew the world could be a crappy place but what I was equally sure about was that there was also hope.

At least there was hope for better fashion #whoamIkidding #imkillingit

This was because I was as sure as shit that my friends and I were going to be able to change things.  At least a little.  I knew this as sure I knew I was going to live alone and lonely in a huge Malibu beach house, clutching my Oscar as I fell asleep.  That is if I didn’t die in my twenties of some horrible disease, a fact I was 100% convinced was a 50-50 possibility.

Well, of course I was wrong.  Here I am almost more than middle-aged in a relationship of 32 years with nary an Oscar in sight, living way, way across town in a house in the Hollywood Hills.

Yeah, I’m cool

Like many dreams, mine were fairly off but not totally unrealized.  Personal life aside, I did make it to L.A. and the movie business and worked in several categories where one could conceivably get nominated for an Oscar.

Right.  I know.  A grown up with a dream.

This, of course, is the point.  It’s not that my many wonderful students don’t have dreams.  It’s that judging from the past few weeks the majority of them don’t believe their best fantasies can take hold and flourish.

pretty much!

And, I mean, who can blame them?  Sometimes I turn on the news and can’t believe what I’m hearing and seeing.  When I read the newspaper it’s even worse.  And I came of age in the Nixon-Watergate era and spent the last years of my pre-teens watching Robert F. Kennedy get shot live on TV.  And this was several months after that same station almost got to cover the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. live instead of merely its bloody aftermath.

Those extreme acts, combined with a seemingly endless war in Vietnam and the Ohio National Guard murdering four innocent students who happened to be walking by anti-war protestors at Kent State University, made it seem like there was nothing the elders of the American status quo wouldn’t do to hold onto their power.

The general message to the young was:

We will literally kill you in a war or at school if you get too uppity and, if you don’t believe us, just give it a tryYou could easily find yourself in jail, overseas with a gun or in a morgue for doing nothing more than disagreeing with us if you’re not careful. 

Then or now? Does it matter? #Amen

We didn’t realize it at the time but in truth the country did have a modicum of sanity left.  As young people we innately understood we lived in an environment where freedom of speech was the norm, our federal elected representatives had just put the de-segregation of society into law and journalists were almost universally lauded by most, if not all, as the sacred last bastion of truth-tellers.

It was a world that had suddenly and almost completely gone totally off the rails but somehow we knew it was salvageable.  We had gone to the moon, you could still burn the American flag in the street and not get arrested and, if all else failed, the pleasures of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll would get you through until you entered what could only be described as the blissful golden Age of Aquarius.

Plus.. we had Cher

I so want that for the young people that I teach who are going out into the world today and it angers me each day that they have come of age into an alternate reality of stupidity, division and denial.

No one middle-aged can imagine what it’s like to grow up in a time where you could easily and routinely be shot up in your school.  In the sixties and seventies we had fire drills, not re-enactments of how to act or where to hide when a random gunman might happen to enter the building and aim a military style assault rifle to your head or the head of your friend, or younger brother or sister.

This is their reality. #sadtruths

As much as most of my contemporaries might have loathed Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and later, Ronald Reagan, none of us grew up hearing the president of the United States making allowances for white supremacists.  Or calling the American press the enemy of the people and degrading the indisputable facts they report as fake news.

Or, more importantly, respond this way when asked in front of the White House if the U.S. is about to go to war in the Middle East:

I hope not.


Say what you will about any of those men (Note: And I’ve said plenty) when they spoke it was with a definitive thought, not with the vague possibility that at any moment something absolutely horrible can and probably will happen so we’d gosh darn better be on guard for….well, anything.  And by anything he truly means ANYTHING.  Just ask him, as the press often does, if you don’t believe it.

Dystopian?  Dark?  Sadly, I fear these young people have it exactly right and I couldn’t be more pissed off about it.   We all should be.

The Who – “My Generation”

Spin Cycle

There was no such thing as SPIN when I was a grad student in journalism at Northwestern University.


No really – there wasn’t.

Oh, there were lies and bullshit and half-truths – sometimes by interview subjects, almost always from public relations flacks and, on the most difficult of stories, a consistent combination of all three. But our job as journalists, we were told, was to sift through ALL of the information and present the facts of a story, as we understood them, in the most coherent way possible so our readers could then draw their own conclusions.

OK, this method was frowned upon

– There were no alternative facts.

– There were no versions of Fox News and MSNBC with commentators telling us versions of the story we wanted to hear.

– There was no social media from which to consume fake news and no politicians or public figures in this country who would dare to deny even the most basic rudimentary truths that everyone knew were, well, TRUE.

That was what it was like in the late 1970s – a few years after Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of his knowledge, involvement and lies about Watergate and the dirty tricks he employed in order to win his election to the presidency.

seems quaint now

There was a demand for truth.

One wonders if that is even the case these days since there are so many more pleasant alternatives regardless of what side of the political or moral spectrum you are on.

For instance:

— It is much more pleasing to believe that global warming is inconclusive or even a hoax by elite scientists than to believe the Earth’s temperatures will make our planet uninhabitable by the end of the century.

— It’s also much more desirable to believe this doomsday scenario is nothing more than a liberal talking point than to acknowledge an exhaustive research report from our 13 government agencies that conclusively acknowledges our rising temperatures are, indeed, man made.

Nothing wrong here. Nothing at all.

But no need to stick merely to politics.

— Who in Hollywood wants to believe the 57 women and counting who have accused one of our most powerful industry figures over the last three decades – Harvey Weinstein – of various combinations of rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment?  Even if you loathe him, and many did long before this came to light, how do you acknowledge the community was so scared silent about his actions for so long when you were one of the many thousands who heard the rumors?

Are our careers all that much more important to us?


Yes, that was rhetorical.

— But if you don’t want to answer that then do answer how everyone could’ve heard about, and in many cases witnessed, Kevin Spacey’s thing for young boys for all those decades and done nothing? (Note: See Bill Cosby. Or so many others).

And while we’re shedding a light on my fellow liberals – Hollywood and otherwise – let’s talk about some spin on something far less serious.

Excerpts of Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile’s new book have just come to light and in one of the most publicized sections she writes about how she considered replacing Hillary Clinton as the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, less than two months before the election, after Mrs. Clinton fainted going into a limousine following her attendance at the NYC 9-11 memorial ceremonies.

  1. The mere advancement of this statement implies Ms. Brazile would have had the power to make this happen – which she did not.

Really not the time for this Donna.

  1. Imagine all of the things you considered under stress, including MURDER, and then consider how much of a chance they had of becoming a reality.
  2. Then consider the lessons I mentioned from journalism school and decide whether you are really telling the truth about all of the above (Note: Especially the part about you replacing her with Joe Biden for president and…Corey Booker as his vice-president???) or whether you are merely spinning a story for your own salacious benefit i.e. in order to sell more of YOUR OWN BOOKS

Not ready to buy my t-shirt quite yet

Research and analytical skills are important but so is context, instinct and experience.

As adults, we’ve all been human for more than several decades so it is in all of our collective powers to surmise THE REAL TRUTH when something doesn’t sound or feel right.

We might not have the journalistic patience or skill to prove our cases for all of the above but we can use reason to decide for ourselves exactly when we’re being spun.

To whit —

If many of the top people in the very American company you co-owned were proven to have met secretly with numerous Russians yet professed no memory of those meetings after first publicly denying them, would you believe them?

Are we all in a Men in Black sequel? #20yearoldMovieReference


Or would you think you were being spun in an adult version of that nauseating amusement park ride you were barely able to endure as a child?

A talented writer friend of mine named Mikko Alanne, who also happens to be a former student at the college I teach at, created the eight-part National Geographic miniseries The Long Road Home. It debuts on Nov. 7 and is based on ABC reporter Martha Raddatz’s best-selling book that takes you INSIDE the U.S. involvement in the post-Iraq War in 2004.

a must watch

The show is riveting, dramatic and sometimes difficult to watch because it shows us the real HUMAN cost of war and death and bloodshed and ideals – on all sides – and allows the audience to come to its own conclusions by re-enacting just the FACTS as much as possible. Without spinning.

Yes, stories are condensed and judgments were made. It’s certainly not a documentary and definitely not a literal re-enactment of EVERYTHING that happened. This is not the purpose of television or even film drama, whose objective is merely to get to the SPIRIT of what is true as it entertains and hopefully, in some way, informs.

I’d settle for that instead of what we’re being fed now by too many real-life sources. The half-truths, the lies and the ongoing general line of bullshit is making not only us but all of our heads worldwide spin so fast and so quickly that it really is as if we are all on one giant collective Tilt-A-Whirl ride with no way to get off.

Try not to hurl

But as any adult knows there is always a way to get off.

Blood Sweat & Tears – “Spinning Wheel”


Like sands through the hourglass..

Like sands through the hourglass..

Students often don’t hand in assignments when they’re supposed to.  Its seldom cavalier.  It’s got to do with fear of being bad in the guise of being “blocked. “ Or being overwhelmed with other things that have a higher priority and forgetting.  But it’s usually not done out of spite or as a tactical maneuver to get something else in return (usually).  Those qualities are mostly learned in the outside world as we move into adulthood and are utilized even more as the years go on.  This common recognition was a big reason for the current sequestration debacle we’re seeing in Washington, DC.   Note: In case you don’t quite know what this timely term on the recent news means (I certainly wasn’t sure), it’s simply this – across the board arbitrary federal spending cuts that were mandated into law in 2011 by a bipartisan Congressional committee in the event that the White House and Congress could not agree on a plan to reduce the deficit. Think of it like your parents grounding you for a week if you don’t complete your chores, then for a month plus no TV if you continue to fail to do so, and then for another six months plus no TV, and no computer or video games if the behavior continues.  In other words – escalating penalties for not meeting your mutually agreed upon responsibilities by a deadline.

A huge part of going to school or growing up is learning how to be a good kind of adult.  Keeping to set goals and being responsible in the work place and in life, as well as navigating both.  This means both a good work ethic and a capacity for human decency.   Particularly in the case of school, I see this as a 50-50 split of learning through academics and experiences.  Sometimes it goes to 80-20.  Sometimes the best you can hope for with a student that semester is 20-80 but perhaps in that particular moment in the latter someone’s life experiential learning will be far more important than a mathematical equation or building a marketing plan or structuring out a sentence or first act of a piece of writing.

Anybody home?

Anybody home?

The societal construct might see it otherwise but in my years as both a student and a teacher I can categorically state this:  A lot of what you learn when you go to college (or any school, including the school of life) is not what’s in a book or article you read for class but what you learn by actually BEING in class. The interaction. And the observation.

From there, some make the leap that since you can “be” and “experience” this same thing in the outside world, college (or any kind of advanced schooling) has little value or is overvalued.  Wrong.  There are immeasurable benefits to learning in a learning environment where, if run properly, mistakes are assumed and even respected.  (Note: The best families are like this too).  This is the opposite of, for example, a workplace, where time is money and usually mistakes are to be avoided at all costs.  You want the experience of missing a deadline or not doing your best work in college so that in real life you have learned that it is better to keep your promises and give it your all.  Because once you’ve had the experience of the former with all the consequences  (both long and short term), you realize that the latter is always the better option in the long run.

It is admittedly difficult to keep this straight in a world where sometimes cheating and not keeping commitments seems to work in the favor of some.  One needs only to go back to the Washington DC example to see this.  Sequestration. The debt ceiling.  The GW Bush tax cuts enacted by default.  Every month it feels like some deadline has been or will be broken with the threat of Armageddon occurring – an event that never happens, at least so far, unless what Armageddon will be is a slow unraveling of trust in our social and political systems.  In that case, and given the undeniable rise in the Earth’s temperatures, Armageddon may be well under way.   Time, as they say, will inevitably tell.  Which brings us back to deadlines.

Jacob Bernstein – son of writer-director Nora Ephron and Watergate famed reporter Carl Bernstein – wrote a great piece about the last days of his witty and prolific mother for this week’s Sunday NY Times Magazine.

Click here to read the full piece

Lady Nora.  Click here to read the full piece

In many ways it was about the ultimate and very personal deadline we all face – Death.  To put it more bluntly, we all have our own expiration date – not unlike a carton of milk.  But unfortunately, an extension of this deadline is not really possible unless one believes that modern medicine and sheer will creates an extension of what you see as your own predetermined end.    I like to think of it as a deadline that is open but will occur whether you cooperate or not.  Sure, perhaps some cooperation will change the work you’re doing and thus cause your higher power (nee boss) to extend your life deadline, but we all know (or should know) this – that deadline will come and you will expire.  The same way a container of milk will go bad even if you extend its life a little by keeping it cold or boiling it within an inch of its life.  Note: This kind of talk used to frighten me – for decades.  It now is less scary and more of a free-floating anxiety of an assignment I know I will one day finish and also know I have the power to make really good if I just buckle down a little bit and not worry so much.

The glib Ms. Ephron chose not to so much make friends with death but rather to ignore the ominous tenor of it and live her life with a renewed practical edge towards professional and personal productivity.  She directed a movie (Julia and Julia), wrote a play, created 200 blog essays, cooked, saw friends, traveled and did many other things in between medical treatments and who knows what else.  Perhaps she would have done all of these had she not known she was ill, since she always seemed to be busy.  But it is more likely, at least according to her son’s piece and her own writings (I Feel Bad About My Neck), that she recognized the impending deadline of her life, it influenced her and she wrote about it in ways of her own choosing – not letting it dictate the work she was doing but also using it as both material and motivating factor to complete, as much as possible, her ultimate project – herself.

To let a deadline freak you out or to totally ignore it is to deny the table, or framed photo or spot on the wall in front of you as you write this.  What’s the old joke: “I took a philosophy class in college – now I can prove the chair across the room isn’t there?”  (This is not unlike the Woody Allen joke in Annie Hall: “I was thrown out of N.Y.U. my freshman year for cheating on my metaphysics final…I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me”).

It is not good to deny reality too much in the same way it is not good to pretend that the amount of time you have to do something is infinite or endless (choose the world depending on your religious affiliation).  Because eventually, the axe will fall and you will find that your time is not only being used unwisely but actually has been squandered on things that, in the end, don’t really have much meaning to you.  No one really WANTS to live in this kind of fear but sometimes this fear just happens and it feels far beyond our control.

I only know this because I used to live this way on and off.  Luckily, after years of self-examination and the inevitability of my own eventual deadline (hopefully many decades away) I realize that to deny that something is due – an assignment, a piece of writing I want to accomplish, a returned phone call, the book I’ve been meaning to read or the home office I have to get in order (2013 is the year, I promise!) or even my own deadline of my life (help!  And to whom is it due – Satan? The Grim Reaper?  The God Of Too Many Pizza Slices?) – is to drive myself further down into the abyss.  Not to get all Zen, new-agey or 12 step-py, but the first task is to at least acknowledge your avoidance so you can see it out in the open and then begin to deal with it.  The second step?  Well, that depends on what you like.  Here’s what I prefer:

1. Make lists (like this one!).  Partly because I like to forget stuff I don’t want to remember. And because – I have no memory.

A good start

A good start

2. Break large assignments down – This helps A LOT.  It’s too daunting to write a whole book, article, or explain everything to your spouse, friend or parent that you need to.  What section of it do you deal with first?  Second? How many parts are there to the whole?  Take it in sections that are guaranteed to get you to the finish line because unlike human beings (yourself included), math doesn’t lie and you will one day be guaranteed to complete the task, or write/say “The End”

leave the 8 ball for last!

leave the 8 ball for last!

3. Reward yourself – also in increments.  This includes small rewards and bigger rewards, especially when you finish.  It’s the finishing of something (a section or the whole thing) to reward, by the way.  Not how good or bad you think it turns out.  The truth is – you don’t ever really and truly know the quality except that it feels good to you.  We all want approval but the victory is in completion.  Some of my best work has not been recognized and some of my only merely good work has. Some of the just okay or occasionally bad work – I’ve been told is good.  Which was and was not true, depending on the work and who said it.  If you try to separate any of this it’ll drive you crazy anyway.  Even more reason to recognize the real reward in doing what you set out to do.BTW, tangible rewards can be – clothing, a cookie, a car, sex, alcohol, mindless television, a trip, sleeping all day, the beach, ignoring your overbearing family or friends for a few days, a spa treatment (real or emotional spa), or a walk in the park or more time than you had planned with your dog or cat or pet snake.  It’s mostly about whatever floats your boat.

4. Make a schedule.  With a script this helps immensely.   How long will the outline take?  How many pages a day to the first draft.  I used to schedule this way: five days a week work – at least 3 pages per day, five days a week.  That was a MINIMUM.  Meaning, at the very, very, very least – I’d do 15 pages per week, 60 pages in a month and 120 in two months.  Often, I’d go faster.  Some days I’d go slower.  But it NEVER took longer than that.  Ever.  Don’t set the deadlines too punitively or you’ll find a way out of it.  Better to be disciplined but not school-marmish with yourself.  You don’t get karmic points for the amount of self-deprivation that contributed to your accomplishment level

(Note on scheduling:  I have been more ambitious on skeds when I had an inevitable deadline from the outside.  I can remember sitting down to write the first draft of one script on a vacation from a full time job.  A one-week vacation.  I knew that technically I had only 9 days to write.  I planned out for a month the amount of pages on those ten days, cancelled everything else and had a first draft in 10 days.  Twelve pages a day – four hours in the afternoon, two to three at night.  It’s intense but not that hard.  Also, it helps to be single.  Requirements include that you don’t engage with the outside world, including your television set and the web.  Don’t worry.  They will still be there.  You’ll be missed too – but not that much or as much as you think.  And Everyone will survive.  Especially you)

It's about Adult Beverage time..

It’s about Adult Beverage time..

5. Accept you can be brilliant, as well as bad, as well as limited, as well as unlimited.  Not every day is great.  Sometimes they just suck.  But not every day will suck.  Unless you determinedly decide they will.  Some of my best days of accomplishment started out as my worst days of procrastination and self abuse (literally) until I got so disgusted with myself I just didn’t care and decided to dive in.  Meaning – it helps sticking it out no matter how painful or a waste of time it might seem.  Even if it’s just for a day or a few hours.

Sometimes you can wing it and get lucky and meet the deadline anyway.  Or you can miss it and leave it to the fates to work it out and it does.  In these cases, I think it’s because people have a vague plan but their experience, creativity and relaxation just allows them to do their best.  That’s what I love about blog writing and generally working for yourself, especially when the financial wolf is not knocking at your door and you’re doing your project because you WANT to – not because you HAVE TO.  I try to think of every paid project like this too – literally trick my mind into it, pretending it won’t count for anything really or the person I’m reporting to won’t pay much attention even though they say they will.  You might be shocked at how easily I can trick my crazy little mind in that moment but we all can easily talk ourselves into all kinds of things.  Just go over the myriad of lies you told yourself about one or several former boyfriends, girlfriends or spouses in your life that you convinced yourself were true at the time but turned out to be as false as Nixon’s initial denial of the Watergate break-in and you’ll get the idea.

Of course, there are the moments where you’re so anxious about what you have to do that it’s just a total freak out where your lack of preparation shines through and causes you to be basically – well, fucked.


Yet even then there is solution if you don’t look too hard or too far away.  And that is to – own up and be 100% totally yourself. Yeah – just embrace your total lack of prep, your brain freeze, your lack of focus and irresponsibility.  This is what happened recently to a young British journalist from BBC radio in the absolute best six and a half minutes I’ve seen in months. Interviewing Mila Kunis during a Disney press junket for Oz, The Great and Powerful, he was clearly unprepared and admitted to being hopelessly nervous.  If you have ever seen Notting Hill, imagine the bumbling journalist played by Hugh Grant had a child with the huge movie star he was interviewing played by Julia Roberts and that their son is now in his twenties and interviewing another huge movie star much like his father had many years before.  (In fact, the kid looks a bit like a young Hugh Grant).  And this is what happened:

NO – This was not rehearsed.  This is real.  But if the kid is an operator and you can prove that – please don’t tell me.  Spend that time meeting some other of the many deadlines you have looming.

Besides, right or wrong it won’t matter.  Mila’s Oz made $80 million in 3 days despite what any one critic or audience member like you thinks of it, or its stars or the journalists covering its debut.  Plus, this kid is a viral video sensation clearly destined for far bigger things than you and I.

Despite everything, this sometimes happens in life.  So be prepared.

Owning the room

“They can smell desperation a mile away,” was the harsh assessment from a very successful and wealthy (not the same thing) friend of mine years ago when I was going through a particularly dry employment stage.

“Screw you,” I thought, “I’m not desperate!  And even if I am, the projects I’m pitching are great and I am charming, funny and exude confidence no matter how I’m feeling.  So I know for a FACT you’re wrong and that it doesn’t have anything to do with that!”

“or ….does it?”

After all these years I hate to admit — Yeah, it does.

It’s easy to preach this sort of advice from high atop your pile of money or at your “A” table or house in the snazziest neighborhood in town.   Certainly easier than doing it from a broken down kitchen table in a crumbling studio apartment where you can hear your neighbors’ every footstep at all hours of the day or night.

Well, not necessarily.

The reality is – it’s all about ownership.  Of yourself, of the idea and…of the outcome – meaning you’re not even thinking about whether it’s good or bad, that’s how much you believe in what you’re doing or saying.  The latter is the toughest, especially when you’re desperate.  How do you pretend you don’t care when your very life and livelihood depends on it?  Because your life and livelihood never DEPENDS on it.  Repeat:  It NEVER does.

Workin’ it.

Former President Bill Clinton gave the master class in ownership this past week when he addressed the Democratic National Convention in a highly detailed 48-minute speech on economic and governmental policy that had most of the nation, and worldwide audience, at the edge of their seats.  How do you do that in an age where even the ratings of “30 Rock” and “The Office” have slipped while “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” is enjoying a never-ending ratings surge?

Consider the following wrong answers:

  1. Bill Clinton has a near genius I.Q. (approximately 137) so he can pretty much do anything.
  2. Bill Clinton is rich and not motivated by money so he doesn’t care about success or failure anymore.
  3. Bill Clinton is selling someone else (Pres. Obama) and everyone knows it’s easier to do that than to sell yourself.
  4. Bill Clinton was speaking to a crowd of people already on his side.  He was preaching to the choir!  There’s NO degree of difficulty there!!!

Really.  Isn’t this the guy who was impeached from the presidency in national disgrace, reviled by half of the country and most of its women AND nearly died from heart disease just a few short years ago?  How do you make a public comeback from that no matter how smart you are and how much money you have in our cynically cynical A.D.D. age of fact-checked, slogan-bloated, generically engineered reality?

Here’s a thought – by knowing what you’re saying and standing by who and what you are and what you believe no matter the outcome.

Let’s break those wrong answers down.

Piece of cake.

1. Genius and talent. As a person who has traveled through the businesses of entertainment, politics and academia through most of my life I’ve met some incredibly brilliant and talented people.  I mean, so smart that it might make you never want to utter a sentence again and so talented that you have the urge to never, ever even attempt to try to do anything original in your field because this person has already gotten there and done it way better than you could have ever hoped.

But what I also know is one of the finest female singers I ever heard, who was in my high school class, I’ve never heard from again in my adult life.  And that Van George Serrault, the brilliant artist, never sold a painting in his life. Also, that Sarah Palin was the nominee for vice-president of the United States (I’m partisan, get over it) and ——  – —– (too soon to be that partisan) was actually president.  Plus, there was also that teacher you got stuck with in college (or even high school) who convinced you that even you knew more about a given subject than they did. (Do I need to even mention his or her name?)

As my Dad so wisely told me, “there will always be people more and less smart (and talented) than you.”  The key is what you do with what you have and how hard you are willing to work.  What is it they say in the World of Dated Though They Shouldn’t Be Homilies – talent is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration?

Meaning Bill Clinton didn’t just get up on a podium and espouse a bunch of partisan talking points.  He had lots of statistics, research and thought to back it up.  But he also didn’t list a boatload of genius statistics and expect you to understand it.  He took the time to analyze and synthesize all of the information in order to make his points.  In fact, he did such a good job that even and countless other organizations found his speech to have a total of ZERO stats that didn’t check out.  Talk about arithmetic.

Former Clinton spokesperson Terry McAuliffe confirmed that on a vacation with Mr. Clinton more than a month ago the former president spent innumerable hours each day personally working on this speech, despite being rich enough to have a few other geniuses do the digging and at least one to write it.  And the freedom to not even give it in the first place.  Not surprisingly, he chose none of the above.

I’m rich, bitch!

2. Being rich means not caring about the outcome.  Seriously?  Well, I’ve met several billionaires in my life – that’s with a “B” – and the opposite is true.  A billionaire’s credo: every deal is personal and winning is the only acceptable outcome even if it takes years of double and triple dealing to make it so.  For most active, wealthy people, rather than retirees or dilettantes (because who wants to talk about them anyway), there is always something being worked on – a project or an argument or a personal desire to bring into fruition.  That’s often what made the person wealthy in the first place.  The determination and desire to win, communicate and/or prove the other guy wrong or yourself right.  It’s always personal and there is ALWAYS something at stake.  All the money in the world won’t change deep down inside the fact that – YOU LOST – even when you try your best to convince the world that you don’t care.

Note:  Now let’s not mistake losing for financial failure.  For example, I’ve met many famous (and less than famous) artists, myself included, who do a project that might not make a lot of money or receive mixed to bad reviews, who truly believe and feel that in the end they’ve won.   In the final analysis, the victory can be getting it done in exactly the way you want.  This is universally true for a section of both the wealthy AND the poor.   For the top 1% the loss is usually much more public.  But for the other 99% it can be equally humiliating, or perhaps even invigorating, depending on one’s point of view.

As for Bill Clinton, he’s made many mega-millions through memoirs and high-priced speaking engagements in the years since his presidency AND has even given away billions to solve worldwide problems through his Clinton Global Initiative.

But it’s also taken him more than a decade of hard work and dedication and image rehabilitation to emerge as the most popular living American political figure of 2012, according to recent polls.   All the money in the world can’t buy that.  Ask Meg Whitman, former EBAY CEO who is wealthier than Bubba but whose money couldn’t even lift her to the governorship of California that she so desperately wanted.  Or Ross Perot, whose presidential run against Elvis  Clinton cost him more money than Bill Clinton is now probably worth in total.

Shilling for a living, baby.

3.  Selling someone else is easier than selling yourself. Most writers, directors, actors or any other creative people in film who want to work will at some point find themselves on projects that, to put it kindly, was not their idea, choice or in any way their personal favorite.  In other words, it’s not uncommon in the world to be a “gun for hire” – employed to do the best job using your particular brand of expertise.  Often times you get paid, sometimes you’re doing it for merely the credit, and still other times you’re doing it as “a favor.”  (Yes, people still do those).

I can recall a particular low point myself going to work on a grade “C” Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.  Some designer friends of mine like to recant stories of lugging bags of cut rate underwear from a shopping mall in the middle of nowhere on a 100+ degree film shoot or stacking miniscule pill bottles in a fake pharmacy that will probably never be seen onscreen for a drug store commercial.  The take away here is not how dedicated we all were but that even if you’re working on the crappiest thing in the world at some point it dawns on you that your name will be on it and that, “screw this, I’m gonna make my part of this piece of crap slightly less crappy” even if it kills me AND them (hopefully, the latter).

This is not quite the case with Bill Clinton in his DNC speech since his wife is the President’s Secretary of State and by all accounts relations between the two Presidents have grown much more cordial in recent months.  So that means there is some personal investment. Still, here are several reasons why this speech had to be extremely important to a man who is no longer president:

  1. His wife is Secretary of State AND might herself want to run for president in 2016.
  2. His entire life has been about building himself and the Democratic Party up – meaning he truly believes the first two are what is best for himself and the country.
  3. All presidents are concerned about their legacy and are somewhat egomaniacal (who else would want that job?) despite what they might say to the contrary.

You might think this is “just a job” and “easy money” when you start.  But if you’re any kind of real, high-achieving professional, by the time you finish you’ll swear you were extremely overworked and way, way, way underpaid.

Preach Whoopi!

4. It’s easy to preach to the already converted.  In the early 1970s, my mother told me she was going to vote for Richard Nixon because he promised to end the Vietnam War and she didn’t want me to be drafted.  Well, you can imagine how this went down with me.  I couldn’t vote but was a Chicago 7 revolutionary at heart.  How could my Mom, the person who loved me more than anyone in the world and would swear on a stack of bibles I was innocent even if she witnessed me gun down a busload of senior citizens, betray me like this???  It literally still makes no sense to me.  Because despite my ample persuasive abilities – and as my friends, family and students will tell you, they are formidable – no amount of nagging, cajoling, intellectualizing, tantrums, facts, figures or even tears would change her mind.

Good god, Mother!

Lessons learned at an early age: no matter how friendly your audience is to you, it will take a lot of work to convince them of something they might not want to be convinced of.  You have to be crafty, mature and in most cases, over the age of 17.  (Especially when dealing with my mother).

Bill Clinton’s speech at the DNC certainly roused the attendees in the hall.  But he was shooting for a lot more than that.  He was shooting for undecided voters watching or reading about he said.  He was aiming towards dispassionate Democrats who didn’t particularly think working on this campaign was important.  He was addressing the rest of the world about what he, the President who presided over the greatest economic upturn in the last half century, thought would be the best strategy to solve the world’s problems.

Part of owning the room on any given day is taking nothing for granted and leaving a little bit but not everything to chance.  Compare the text of Bill Clinton’s written speech and the actual version of the talk, complete with 20 minutes of ad-libbing, as Sec. of State Hillary Clinton joked a few days ago that she planned to do.  Then consider Clint Eastwood’s almost totally ad-libbed address at the Republican Convention talking to an invisible Pres. Obama seated in an empty chair.   Several days ago Mr. Eastwood admitted to his local newspaper in Carmel that the idea for his speech came to him moments before he went onstage and that rather than massively prepare he had little idea what he’d do prior his entrance onstage.

Certainly both Mr. Eastwood AND MR. Clinton are hard-working icons who, on any given day, could take on each other.    And if on a film set and not on a political stage, Mr. E would, in particular, have the advantage.

But on that given moment, on those two arguably equal nights, who truly OWNED the room as they spoke?  Think about it.  Then, think about it some more.  Then, take some action of your own.