[IN THE TRENCHES] Industry Peers: Mortal Enemies?

Back in my first few days at NYU, all of us freshman Film & Television majors naturally gravitated toward other like-minded students, forming the inevitable cliques.  This was great for hanging out, making the most of a single believable fake I.D., and, of course, deep conversations on the subtext within Battleship Potemkin, Un Chien Andalou, and The Lost Boys.

New York University's Tisch School of the Arts

NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts

But when it came time to work on projects (whether school assignments or self-started masterpieces), there became job issues.  If your clique had one aspiring director, writer, actor, and D.P., you were golden.  You’d just recruit a few more kids to fill out your crew and away you went.

The only problem, was that kind of serendipity was rare.  Vaporeon rare.

What you had instead, was a huge amount of redundant ambitions.  As a result, on any single project, one of those aspiring directors was going to have to be an assistant director, one of the three future D.P.s was going to have to be the camera operator and the other one was probably going to be forced to do sound (yes, you had to force people to do sound.  Why was it so hard to find someone who actually wanted to do sound?).

As a writer, I worked on a lot of other people’s films not as a wordsmith, but as a producer, production manager, coordinator, and – yes – even sound man.

Of course, we were at school, and wearing lots of different hats was a healthy part of the learning process.  Not to mention, there were enough different projects that a certain amount of responsibility-rotating allowed most kids to take the reins of their coveted gig at least every once in a while.

In the professional world, however, things are less Kumbaya-y.  Learning is no longer a primary goal (though still an ancillary one, ideally), replaced instead by building a career and scraping enough cash together for rent and Starbucks.

Author Somerset Maugham working on some pithy quotes for the internet

Author Somerset Maugham working on some pithy quotes for the internet

So, if you and your best friends are all writers, then there’s a good chance you’re all vying for the very same jobs.  And those jobs are limited.  As a result, it can sometimes feel like success for anyone you know is equivalent with failure for you.

There’s a quote from Somerset Maugham I’ve always found darkly funny (attribution research props go to Quote Investigator)…


it is not enough to have achieved personal success. One’s best friend must also have failed.”

-Somerset Maugham.

That’s terrible of course, but I think we can all understand the emotion it’s borne from.

So when your best buddy and sometimes writing partner sells a spec screenplay, do you actively wish them ill?  Cut their brake lines?  Or perhaps something less cliché (you are a writer, after all).

The problem with that particular plan is

1.) That’s the kind of thing that could ruin your career as well.


2.) How well do you know cars, really?  Are you sure you have the right kind of gloves?  You’re probably just as likely to lose a finger in the process, and then how’re you going to flip the bird or type a “Q” when either of those things becomes necessary?

No, I’m familiar with the feeling, but you can’t linger in that homicidal place.  The truth is, you want your friends to succeed.  You just want to be succeeding at the very same time.

It can help to remind yourself that these people are your peers and hopefully it’s only a matter of time before you get your next opportunity/job/success.

In the world of television writers, it’s actually kind of beneficial if one of you succeeds a little bit ahead of the others.  That means the “succeeder leader” may soon end up in a hiring position themselves and be able to reach out to offer their fellow writers opportunities.

That should be enough for everyone

Yeah, I think that should be enough for everyone

Producers can hire story editors, story editors can hire writing staff, and someone on the writing staff might be able to suggest a freelancer or two.  Everybody wins.

Of course, if your peers aren’t in the same specialty as you, the success doesn’t really even take away any opportunities.  Your friend is producing their second season of a reality show?  Fantastic.  Actor buddy just got a recurring role in a new Hulu series?  Sweetness.  Maybe you can all split an Uber to the Emmys.

Oh yeah, there’s also the highly dubious moral issue of wishing your friends ill.  If there is such a thing as karma, that’s not gonna fall in your plus column.  And even if there isn’t, how is feeling that way going to help you, the people you care about, or your career?

Support.  Encourage.  Congratulate and wish well.  Genuinely.  It’s what you’d want them to do for you.

You know, once you get past how much better you’d be in that job you should’ve gotten instead of them.  

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5 Responses to [IN THE TRENCHES] Industry Peers: Mortal Enemies?

  1. Austin says:

    I still think you deserve some sort of award for starring as Cleetus in “You, Too, Cleetus?”, which was one of my ridiculous attempts at directing while we were at NYU.

    • textsmith says:

      With some restoration help, it’ll hopefully be included in the DVD extras of both of our respective feature film career retrospective Box Set collections.

  2. Mike Rovner says:

    One of my closest work friends for the past 2 years just resigned today…to work at WME/IMG.



    Happy for him.


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