Even the best warm-up will leave somebody cold

I have a friend who wanted to do something romantic and thoughtful for his wife. Apparently, there are still husbands like this.

She had endured a tough week, he told me. One of the kids was sick, there was a big crisis at her job, the kitchen remodeling job was suddenly delayed – it was a constellation of stress-inducing events, and he wanted to do something sweet to acknowledge how rough it had been on her.

“It was rough on you, too,” I said. “I mean, you had a tough week at work, and the sick kid is yours too, and you cook in that kitchen as often as she does. Shouldn’t she be doing something nice for you?”

“That,” my friend said, “is why you’re still single.”

His plan was carefully thought-out. Before she came home from work, the children were fed and planted in front of a movie. Then, he lit some expensive scented candles in the bathroom, drew a bath, put some rose petals in it, and turned on some softly romantic music. The minute she walked in the door, he ushered her to the bathroom and told her she had the evening to herself, to soak and relax and unwind.

It all seemed to be going very well, until half an hour later he knocked on the bathroom door and asked, “How is it, honey?”

“I’m cold,” she said.

And that was that. Some people, it seems, are impossible to satisfy.

My friend is a writer, so he’s used to that kind of reaction to a lot of hard work and preparation. That’s often what writers get when they turn in a script after months of toil. It’s a heady, stress-filled moment when you finally get to the end of a script, after countless rewrites and revisions, and type “Fade Out” at the end. Even the most confident and cocksure writer feels a twitch of insecurity.

I knew a studio executive who began every discussion of a first draft with a writer by saying, in as robotic a voice as possible: “Welikeditalotthere’salotofgreatstuffhere.” And then he’d quickly get down to the parts he didn’t like so much – the “I’m cold” part of the call.

As long as he started the call with a quick disclaimer, even one delivered in an expressionless monotone, he figured he had done his duty to the writer’s fragile ego. Any time during the conversation if he felt as if the writer was getting irritated or defensive, he’d interrupt the proceedings for another incantation of “Welikeditalotthere’salotofgreatstuffhere.” That, for him, was an all-purpose magic spell.

I’ve been guilty of that myself. When I write the first script of a television series, I’m just like every other writer, waiting for a reaction from the studio and network. But once a series moves forward and there are multiple episodes to produce, my position shifts a bit. Now I’m a producer as much as a writer. Now I’m giving notes and reactions, not getting them.

Last week, during a script meeting with a writer on the staff of a television series I’m producing, I kicked off the exchange by saying, “Hey, I think we’re in great shape. Just a couple of thoughts…” After which, it was pointed out to me later, I proceeded to ask for adjustments on every single page of the script.

“I thought we were in great shape,” the writer said to me at the end.

“We are,” I said. “I just think the script will be stronger with a few adjustments.”

“A few? You’re asking for a major rewrite. Why did you tell me we were in great shape if you think we need to change this much?”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I guess I was just trying to be nice.”

The writer left the room, muttering something under his breath. Yesterday, he came back with the new draft. There were still some problems with it, but rather than irritate him with my usual “We’re in great shape” I decided to take the example of my friend’s wife and just be blunt.

“Act three doesn’t work,” I said.

The writer was somehow even more irritated and offended than he had been before. “You know,” he said, “you have a lot to learn about motivating people.”

I told this to my friend whose wife had been so unmoved by his efforts to pamper her. “Isn’t it weird,” I asked him, “that when you try to be nice and soft-pedal something, people complain, and then when you don’t, they complain even more?”

“The fact that this surprises you,” he said to me, “is another reason why you’re still single.”

Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood

On Twitter: @rcbl

Published: August 1, 2014 04:00 AM

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