“The Operator” Quotes

I recently read “The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells The New Hollywood” by Tom King. Below are the quotes I found most interesting.

“Plunking down $450 for a suit and shopping at the boutique where only the most senior executives at the agency shopped was Geffen’s way of signaling to his bosses that he was determined to enter their league.” (66)

“Geffen’s friendship with Marian foreshadowed a long string of powerful friendships with the wives of his colleagues. He would, in some cases, forge a tighter bond with the wives than with their husbands.” (83)

“We’re in a shark pool here,” Crosby said. “We need a shark to look after us.” (103)

“But he was surprised to realize that the millions of dollars he had just banked and the trappings he had been able to acquire with it did not make him happy.” (184)

“Geffen clinched the deal when he told the star his fee: He did not want a cent. Geffen did not let on that he was playing a much bigger chess game in which he eventually sought to sign Dylan to Asylum Records. The tour was just his opening move.” (195)

“Geffen did not like his mother because she was strange and poor and not refined and rich. He tried to clean her up by hiring a chauffeur to take her shopping for new clothes; he fumed, however, when he discovered that she had directed the driver to the thrift-shop district on Western Avenue. How much easier life would be, he thought, if he had been born into a family of privilege. No matter how much success he achieved, it seemed he could not get beyond the handicapped self-image of a tortured and tiny poor Jewish boy with the eccentric mother and hopeless father.” (224)

“When Ono next asked Geffen what he planned to pay them, he reverted to one of his tried-and-true dealmaking tricks, refusing to be the first to state a figure. He had learned his lesson since 1972. When Ono insisted that Geffen throw out a number, Geffen calmly declined. “You have to tell me what you want,” he said, “and if I can give it to you, I will, and if I can’t, I won’t.” (314)

“Geffen’s strategy all along had been to grant young smart talents free rein up until when the product was almost finished; he then stepped in to shape the all-important marketing. Geffen knew his strength: He could gauge the market as no one else could.” (347)

“When he was under pressure and business was poor, his plans became increasingly audacious. Sitting with a pair of deuces, Geffen often behaved as though he had a full house.” (366)

“”That’s David’s mother,” one of Geffen’s friends told a reporter at the party afterward… “We call her ‘The Explanation.’” (368)

“Geffen the millionaire had been a pure capitalist for most of his life, and for him capitalism was about winning. With the new ending, Risky Business became a mirror of Geffen’s own story: If you maneuver enough, you can get away with anything, and winning is easy. It does not matter if you tell the truth, cheat on a test, or step on people on your way up to the top. It only matters if you win.” (375)

“The people around him, meanwhile, were so shaken and distracted by his screaming tirades that no one could see the frightened boy he still was. “The liabilities are the assets,” Diller said. “He’s gone through a lot, and goes through a lot, for what he gets.” (562)

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“Keep Going” Quotes

I recently read “Keep Going: 10 Ways To Stay Creative In Good Times And Bad” by Austin Kleon. Below are the quotes I found most interesting.

The reason is this: the creative life is not linear. It’s not a straight line from point A to point B. It’s more like a loop, or a spiral, in which you keep coming back to a new starting point after every project. No matter how successful you get, no matter what level of achievement you reach, you will never really “arrive.” Other than death, there is no finish line or retirement for a creative person. “Even after you have achieved greatness,” writes musician Ian Svenonius, “the infinitesimal cadre who even noticed will ask, ‘What next?’” (10)

We have so little control over our lives. The only thing we can really control is what we spend our days on. What we work on and how hard we work on it.” (11)

Lynda Barry says, “The phone gives us a lot but it takes away three key elements of discovery: loneliness, uncertainty, and boredom. Those have always been where creative ideas come from.” (50)

“The only antidote is JOMO: the joy of missing out.” (61)

“Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title without the work.” (65)

Play is the work of the child and there is also the work of the artist.” (70)

“Art and the artist both suffer most when the artist gets too heavy, too focused on results.” (70)

“Write a poem and don’t show it to anybody. Tear it up into little pieces and throw them into the trashcan.” (70)

Another trick: when nothing is fun anymore, try to make the worst thing you can. The ugliest drawing. The crummiest poem. The most obnoxious song. Making intentionally bad art is a ton of fun.” (74)

Quincy Jones says, “God walks out of the room when you’re thinking about money.“ (78)

How to stay alive: 1) find something that keeps you spiritually alive 2) turn it into a job that literally keeps you alive 3) oops! Go back to step one” (81)

“Do what you love” + low overhead = a good life.
“Do what you love” + “I deserve nice things” = a time bomb.” (84)

I noticed a long time ago that there’s actually very little correlation between what I love to make and the number of shares, favorites, and retweets it gets. I’ll often post something I loved making that took me forever and crickets chirp. I’ll post something else I think is sort of lame that took me no effort and it will go viral. If I let those metrics run my personal practice, I don’t think my heart could take it very long.” (89)

“Where there is no gift, there is no art.” (93)

There’s nothing as pure as making something specifically for someone special.” (94)

If you’re bummed out and hating your work, pick somebody special in your life and make something for them.” (95)

If you liked the quotes, buy and read the whole book here.

“Professor At Large” Quotes

I recently read “Professor At Large: The Cornell Years” by John Cleese. Here’s the quotes I found most interesting.


“The first question to ask is, when does this decision need to be made? And that’s when you take the decision. Don’t take it until then, as new information, unexpected development, and – perish the thought – better ideas may occur.” (2)

“In the west today, hurrying has become a sort of mind–set; we do it automatically. Yet after decades of inventing time saving devices, we have less time than ever to do the things we want. So doing everything faster is not necessarily the answer. Nor, paradoxically, is it necessarily very efficient. Remember the old IBM maxim: don’t confuse activity with achievement.” (3)

As Thoreau pointed out, technology is simply an improved means to an unimproved end.“ (4)

He found that it wasn’t IQ, or any other kind of intelligence; it wasn’t how hard they worked. The only difference was that the most creative architects knew how to play with a problem. So when they needed a creative solution, they could switch their minds into a playful mode, where they would just fool around with the problem, chew it over, explore it out of pure curiosity, for its own sake, because they got really interested.” (13)

“So when we need to innovate, to create, we need to access our tortoise mind. And that involves nothing more complicated than giving ourselves permission to stop trying so hard. To forget for the moment what kind of answer we think we want and just let our brains go soft and chew over a problem in a slightly contemplative, open-minded way, to let the mind wander freely, explore associations and hunches, try things out – without worrying where it’s all going.” (13)

Pressure – whether it’s a shortage of time, constant interruptions, fear of not producing a result, or worry about the opinion of our superiors or colleagues – it’s pressure that stops us accessing our tortoise minds. Any kind of pressure forces the brain to focus more narrowly on finding a quick, articulate, and preferably clever-sounding solution. And the greater the pressure, the tighter the focus, the more narrow the tunnel vision, the more conventional the thoughts. So if we are to use our tortoise mind, we must, for the time being, avoid pressure.” (14)

“The creativity research I mentioned earlier shows that more creative people are better at tolerating the anxiety and discomfort of not resolving an issue straightaway. So just stick at it and try to get interested in the problem for its own sake. (15)

“It’s really as simple as that: when people feel free from pressure, free to say the first thing that comes in to their heads, free to play games, make jokes – when they drop their defenses so they’re quite thoroughly unselfconscious-they start being creative.” (17)

“If you want to write about ideas, it’s unlikely that you’re going to have much luck in the movies.” (38)

“It’s very strange to me that a lot of the very best people always have this feeling, “I got away with it.“ And I think the reason is this: if you are creative, you’re always, every single time, you’re going into unknown territory and you cannot guarantee that it’s going to work. Do you wanna guarantee it’s going to work? Then just use the formula. Just do something derivative, same as you did last time. It won’t be a disaster and, of course, it won’t be very interesting. But if you’re really trying to do something new each time, trying to stretch yourself, you never know when it’s going to be a disaster, so you always feel, I don’t really know what I’m doing. And if it comes off, you just feel you’re lucky.” (44)

“When you’re young and you haven’t written so much, you tend to really love what you’ve written. And when you kind of get old and tired and disillusioned and you’re about to die, like Bill and me, then it’s much, much easier to throw stuff away because you know you can easily write something else.” (47)

“I was trying to keep three threads of the story going at the same time and I put it on the page, cutting: ABC, ABC, ABC. Charlie Crichton said to me, “you can’t do that.“ And I said, “I can’t do ABC, ABC?“ He said, “no, no. You’ve got to go ABC, BC, AC. But you can’t go ABC, ABC, ABC.” (53)

“One of the problems with a lot of comedy that is written is that people write stories that could be dramas and then try and put jokes into them. So be very, very painstaking when you’re constructing comedies. Create funny situations, which will take much, much longer. But your reward is that the dialogue comes so easily because the situation’s funny.” (60)

“One of the greatest forms of dirt is negative emotions and habitual indulgence in them. The greatest filth in a man is negative emotion.” (88)

Somerset Maugham, the writer, said, “by the time you get to 50, you’ve either met everyone or they look like someone you’ve met.”” (94)

“Police were no better than any of us at telling whether people are lying because they think everyone is lying. And the reason they think everyone’s lying is that anyone being questioned by a policeman tends to be anxious, and they send out anxious signals and the police make the unjustified jump of assuming they’re anxious because they are lying.” (113)

“People at lower levels of mental health are very uncomfortable with ambiguity and paradox and leaving anything unresolved, any element of doubt. They like certainty and, with it, they like authority.” (151)

“at the bottom level, Christ’s teachings are seen as extremely important rules which must be kept precisely because focusing on the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of the law, is characteristic of behavior at lower levels of mental health. At the middle level of mental health, people pay more attention to the spirit then they do to the letter of the law… At the top level we can read these and understand better how our minds work and what we need to do to make our minds work differently if we are ever to be transformed or reborn. We’re helped to “repent” in it’s real meaning of “rethink.”” (157)

“Robin Skynner felt that, unless there is something greater than you that you subscribe to, you are always going to stay at a lower, narrower, more selfish level and be less happy as a result.” (160

“Do you know that during the doctors’ strike in New York a few years ago, the death rate went down? …When cardiologist leave the hospital and go to conferences, the death rates at the hospital drop.” (206)

“33% of the American population believe that they are going to be billionaires within the next five years.” (208)

William Goldman:
“That fear of having it be over permeates everything in the entertainment business.” (23)

“When you write… You have the power to publish what you want. It’s your baby. In a movie, it’s everybody’s. So essentially, no matter who you are, you have no control.” (25)

So “kill all your darlings“ means once you’ve figured out what your story is, you must protect it to the death.” (27)

I then try and write very briefly 25 or 30 words, which I’ll put on my wall, which is the spine of the piece, which is the story. In other words, the King movie opens with Jimmy Caan finishing a novel, getting in his car in Colorado, driving, getting caught in a storm, having an accident. So I wrote, “blizzard.“ That’s the first five or eight minutes of the movie. Then I wrote, “rescue.“ That’s when Kathy Bates comes. And then I work down and, once I have that thing on the wall – I tape it to the wall, literally –that’s the movie. The rest of it then becomes a matter of rote work. The hard part is reading and rereading or researching and trying to figure out what is the story we’re trying to tell in this case.” (31)

“Movies are not about snappy dialogue. It helps if the people are supposed to be intelligent, but that’s not what movies are about. Movies are about making the story work on camera-making it be as surprising and interesting as you can for the audience who has come for the night.” (32)

“If you can make the last minutes of a movie a crescendo-I don’t mean a bloodbath, I mean a crescendo-you’ll have a hit.” (33)

I think we were all strange, you know, nerdy. And I think, suddenly when people tell you you’re wonderful, you want to believe that so badly and, in Hollywood, you do and your careers are over.” (45)

“if you don’t need to know that, get rid of it. Movie writing is about connectives: this scene connects with that scene connects with the next, and there’s a kind of inexorable thing that happens as it rides you along toward the climax of the movie. That’s hard to get right. Anything that stands in the way, you’ve got to get rid of. Sometimes your best writing is what stands in the way of it.” (46)

“There’s a book I always talk about that is the most simple piece of storytelling, the little engine that could. Somehow, in that little children’s book, we all want the toys to get across the mountain. That’s all we have to do: get people involved with wanting.” (51)

“I think if you don’t have the audience caring, wanting the story, it doesn’t matter how wonderful or what else it is.” (52)

No screenwriter has ever had control. If you want to become a writer-producer or a writer-director, it would be different.” (52)

All I ever worry about when I’m offered something is, “can I make it play? Can I figure out a way to tell the story? Would I want to see this movie? Would I be excited or pleased or whatever it is by it?“ If those answers are yes, then I’ll say, “yes, I’ll try and write the movie for you.“ (54)

“Movies don’t require brilliant dialogue. It just has to be solid and tell the story. Movies are not about dialogue. It’s one of the great myths. Screenwriting is not about dialogue.” (60)

“I tend to write for dead actors… It gives you a fix on the character your writing.” (63)

If you write a good line at the end of a scene and the secondary performer has that good line, don’t do that! Rewrite the scene so the star has that good line.” (69)

A great producer told me, “add 1/3 for the shit.“ That’s a line about stars. If you’re going to have a star, he’s going to cost you.” (71)

“Remember this: stars have no flaws. I’ve written this and written this. They are perfect. A star will not play flawed. They will not play flawed.” (71)

Stephen Ceci:
“Pretty much every public figure, people rate them as being more attractive after they’ve seen them a lot than they did the first time they saw them.” (108)

If you liked the quotes, buy the book here.

“Sitcom Writers Talk Shop” Quotes

I recently read “Sitcom Writers Talk Shop: Behind The Scenes with Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, and Other Geniuses of TV Comedy” by Paula Finn. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. (Since many people are quoted in this book, the person’s name who said it appears directly before their quotes.)

Leonard Stern:

“They told me of a memo they received from the network which said, “please change the dialogue on page 14. A Martian wouldn’t have said that.“ (23)

“Herbie Baker sent me a note he’d received on the Fred Astaire specials he did which said, “too much dancing.“ (23)

“Until I was satisfied with the story, I didn’t think it advantageous for us to get involved in a script. Once you start to put dialogue down, the story is more difficult to change.” (25)

“The most important factor in my success was a belief in myself. And that was important because it taught me to reject rejection.” (27)

Norman Lear:
“Imagine 50 people in a room, and somebody yells, “fire!“ And there’s one small door, and when everybody rushes to the door, everybody’s not going to get out. Some of them are are going to be burned. And you think of your ideas that way. It doesn’t matter in what order those people get out; you sort them out afterwards if you wish to. Just get them out. It’s the same thing with your ideas. Good, bad, indifferent, they fit, they don’t fit – you’ll sort that out after they’re out the door.” (33)

“When you had an audience caring about something, they laughed harder. The more they cared, when something funny occurred, the harder they laughed.” (34)

“The most proud thing that I’ve done in my life is, stayed sane.” (41)

I’ve always liked a Talmudic story that says a man should have a jacket with two pockets. In the first pocket, a piece of paper, on which is written, “I am but just in ashes.” In the second pocket, a piece of paper, and which is written, “for me, the world was created.” (42)

Elliot Shoenman:
“I always call it “make the boy a dog“ –meaning we love it, we love it, but why does it have to be a boy?” (39)

Irma Kalish:
Hal Kantor once introduced me by saying, “Irma is a writer, her husband is a writer, her son is a writer –and her daughter is happy.“ (54)

James L. Brooks:
“The purpose of popular culture is to let people know they’re not alone.” (69)

Treva Silverman:
They had nine months lead time, and Jim and Alan have often said that having this long lead time helped them enormously because it gave them a chance to really know what they were doing and think about the show.” (75)

Ken Estin:
“If you can’t think of four scenes, you don’t have enough to tell in 22 minutes. If you have to tell it in 8 to 10 scenes, you won’t be able to do it because that’s too many.” (86)

I remember spending hours trying to find one joke for the end of a scene. Sometimes we’d get tricky; if we couldn’t find one big enough, we’d steal one from earlier in the scene and find a way to rewrite it so that the joke came up at the end.” (96)

I tell people that, if the show has heart, if it has a soul, if it has those human elements that are so precious to us – it’ll be a better episode. I always thought about finding a really human moment, a really touching moment. But you can’t do it all the time because then people start predicting it. It starts getting old if someone does something sweet in every episode.” (102)

Matt Williams:
“With movies, you go into outer space or the center of the earth or to the wild west, right? With television, the viewers get to be a part of their characters’ lives; they invite you into their house. So in creating the Roseanne opening, I said I want the family around the table and I want the camera to rotate around the table and, on an unconscious level, just kind of invite the audience to pull up a chair and join the family.” (108)

“I think sarcasm and yelling and insults can be funny unless it becomes painful. I think it was Molliere or another of the giants in theater who said for Comedy you have to ridicule without pain. So you can tease, you can be sarcastic-but the second you inflict pain, it stops being funny.” (110)

“When a program knows exactly what it wants to be and what it’s trying to say about the human condition-people respond, relate, and become more emotionally involved.” (118)

“In the shows that failed, it was usually because you’re too distracted or you’re too busy juggling too many projects to put in the time to figure out what are you trying to say about the human condition.” (119)

Larry Charles:
When we were told things that were status quo in our lives, many times we would just go, “why?“ And you would find out there really is no “why.“ That this is all a big front, these rules and these regulations, and all these kinds of things. If you just question them, suddenly the whole thing collapses.” (142)

“Larry and Jerry both sort of led the way in terms of, “we’ll just do this, we’ll do it exactly the way we want it – and whatever happens, happens.“ Once you have that attitude, it’s liberating.” (143)

David Lee:
“We didn’t want to be different just to be different; we all agreed that that’s a path a lot of people take, and I think it’s a false path. But to re-examine every convention in the sitcom and if it’s something that serves you and you can do it well, then you can hold onto it. But if the answer to why you’re doing any particular convention is, “that’s the way it’s always been done,“ then you really need to think about getting rid of it.” (163)

Phil Rosenthal:

The most important thing was having good food because the army travels on its stomach, and the only way to show love for your staff and your crew and everyone that works on the show-other than being nice and paying them a reasonable wage-was food. Because I’ve worked on a lot of shows where the food was crap, and nobody really cared.” (176)

“When you write very specifically, you have the best chance of being universal.” (177)

“the laughs come from character, and story comes from character.” (181)

Steve Skrovan:
Because in comedy, when you have somebody who’s got a skewed view of life, it’s only funny when they’re absolutely certain that’s the right way to go.” (179)

We also had the fun boards. One of them was dedicated to memorable things said in the room or inside jokes that made us all laugh out loud at once.” (179)

Mike Reiss:
The key thing on the Simpsons is you’ve always got to have some heart in there – but not too much. I think, for a lot of us, our instinct would have been “don’t have any of that stuff at all-and here’s our edgy show.“ But they told us, “if you throw in 25 seconds of emotion right at the end-if Homer can be a goof the whole show and then suddenly realize he’s been bad-that will be very powerful to people.“” (191)

Jay Kogen
“I think your job is just to please the show runner, to think of things that they’d like and will agree with. If you pitch something that’s super funny but you know the show runner will hate, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.” (210)

“Most show runners could and would write the shows themselves if they had the time, effort, and energy. And for the most part, what they really need is a bunch of brains working together to solve a problem, and hopefully the ideas they get are all or mostly within the range of stuff they like and might even think of themselves. Every now and then, and idea will strike a show runner’s fancy that they could never possibly think of, so occasionally you may get stuff in like that. But primarily, your job is to read the room, read the show, read the show runner – and pitch towards what they do – not try to change the show.” (210)

“You can’t go above the audiences head. With all the great shows I’ve worked on, we never worried about talking down to an audience, ever. The Simpsons, Malcolm in the middle, Frasier-they were shows where we assumed our audience was just smart as we were, had the same reference base as we did, if they didn’t get the joke specifically because they didn’t know the reference, they’d figure it out.” (211)

David Isaacs:
“Stabbing the frog“ means someone pitched a joke, everyone laughed, and then someone tried to improve it, and then someone tried to improve the improvement-and by the time you’re down to the third or fourth generation of improving, no one is laughing anymore.” (220)

Carl Kleinschmitt:
“If you feel like an outsider, you start observing. And when you observe, you see things from different angles than the obvious. And everyone I know who was a successful comedy writer always had a way of looking at things from the outside rather than inside out.” (227)

Did you like the quotes? Then buy and read the book here.

Ben’s Newest Book Now Available!

I’m excited to announce the launch of my and Michelle Slonim’s new book!

New Parent Smell book cover

New Parent Smell: Funny Thoughts On Pregnancy, Newborns & Tots is an illustrated humor book that helps ease the stress of parents-to-be.

New Parent Smell is the book to read after you’ve read one of those “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” type books, got hit with anxiety and could use some laughs.

Learn more or buy a copy here


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