Hollywood’s Insincerity of “Maybe”

hollywood-sign-addressTelling someone YES, I believe, is easy. Everyone loves to hear YES, because it’s usually good news.

Pop the cork, can’t wait to get together, we chose YOU.

How you say NO, however, is another matter entirely. The ways in which you deliver bad news speak volumes about your character. NO is the dreaded word that embodies failure, negativity and rejection. Many’s the time I have received NO via an email or a rambling message left on my voice mail.

Most messengers are fearful of saying NO, afraid of the conflict, awkwardness and potential embarrassment. They lack courage – and tact. So they resort to the impersonal nature of the email (or a text). Most avoid the task altogether.

I had a leading humanitarian agency that occasionally called to hire me for overseas relief shoots, my assignments always leaving in just days. To my frustration, the next morning there would be a quick “sorry about this” email from the client waiting in my in-box, cancelling my participation. They’d found a previously busy staff member available instead.

After the 3rd abrupt cancellation, I called them on it, told them it was unprofessional: You hire by phone, then cancel by email. They didn’t even realize how insincere they’d become. The production manager was startled, then apologized straight away.

It’s my firm belief that saying NO – whenever possible – should be delivered by the decision-maker personally. Either face-to-face or voice-to-voice.

Unless the person is on the back side of the planet, or it’s a legal matter, I try 90% of the time to tell someone the bad news myself. That way they can listen to the tone of my voice. Ask questions, understand the circumstances, hear why. I believe this is a matter of courtesy and respect – for the other person.

Email is the EASY way. Speaking to a real, live person is the RIGHT way.

There is, however, another dangerous, dodgy answer that for decades has remained the bane of Hollywood (and modern society) – MAYBE.

Truth be told, the word MAYBE really means nothing at all. Just MAYBE. Doesn’t indicate you’ve gotten the project, landed the job or clinched the deal. Nor does it mean you haven’t. It’s just…MAYBE.

MAYBE, in my opinion, can do much greater harm then a YES or NO. Why? Because a) it’s neutral. b) it’s non-committal. And c) it gets people’s false hopes up anticipating a possible YES that can take-up weeks or months.

Over the almost 20 years I’ve spent working in network and cable production, the use of MAYBE has been in play scores of times. You had a great meeting. Trade phone calls. Swapped emails. You’re in consideration for an assignment, project or show. Waiting for confirmation, hopefully a good answer.

That, many times, doesn’t arrive. (To be fair, sometimes you get a YES.)

Then, your calls aren’t returned. Emails go unanswered. The messages pile up with no updates. Deadlines pass. You’re on hold until YES or NO arrives.

Welcome to Hollywood, the Land of the Eternal MAYBE.

I was going to list in this blog item the numerous examples I’ve encountered in my dealings with production companies, cable networks and faith-based clients. But, then again, is it really worth it? Probably not, for sanity’s sake. My sanity.

But I will provide one anecdote. Awhile ago I was talking to a very smart attorney named Marc. He’d worked years before providing legal advice for film companies producing horror pictures. We swapped stories. Marc explained that he’d left the film industry because he’d witnessed the repeated lack of integrity of the producers he advised.

Why? Everything to them. Marc explained, was a MAYBE. So Marc grew tired seeing other people being strung along unethically, waiting to hear a YES that was never meant to happen. Marc felt the legal profession was more ethical than the entertainment world. Wow, that certainly speaks volumes.

Moral of this missive? Let your YES be YES. Your NO be NO.

And watch out for those who say MAYBE.


One thought on “Hollywood’s Insincerity of “Maybe”

  1. so, so true, Criag – I’ve faced this and been guilty of it in the business world. People hate recruiters because they never get back to them and tell them one way or another! I tried to be different, but sometimes failed.

    It occurs to me that we also do the “maybe” business with those closest to us, too – our friends and family. I do it in the sense that I don’t tell them my truth, how I really feel about something. Nor, do I ASK others to tell me their truth, how they honestly feel!

    There’s a whole lot of dodging going on. Thanks for the reminder of the pain it causes.

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