April 25, 2012: Becoming A No Man
Yeah, I can definitely do this! I think.

Back in the day, Exec. Producer Brad Wright used to say: “Fast is good, but good is better than fast.”  To which then writer/director Peter DeLuise would invariably reply: “GotitgoodisbetterthafastGotit!”. But there was no rush.  Usually.  Stargate was a well-oiled machine, this in no small part due to the writing department’s ability to have a good half-dozen scripts banked before production started on a given season. And, in addition to those banked scripts, there were always a good three or four other scripts in various stages of development as well. But even though we were well-prepared, once production started, those scripts got eaten up mighty quickly.  The show’s writers wore both writer and producer hats, so it was all too easy to get swept up in other aspects of prep and post and, before you knew it, we’d be facing a dreaded scheduling crunch.  Which brings me to another expression I used to hear all the time: “You’ve got to feed the beast” – the beast, of course, a reference to the production’s relentless appetite for new material.  Before you knew it, that comfy six script cushion was gone and you were scrambling to get more scripts completed before those looming concept meetings.  And  yet, despite the challenges, we got it done.  Every year, we managed to write and produce about 20 episodes of television.  Hell, for a couple of years, we even pulled off 40!  How did we do it?  Well, we were well-organized, we had an incredibly supportive creative team, and our schedules, while often tight, were very doable.

April 25, 2012: Becoming A No Man
Fast is good, but good is better than fast. Also, baked goods are better than fasting.

I’ve come to learn that Stargate was the exception rather than the rule.  We were lucky in many respects, not just in terms of the people we worked with within the production, but the individuals we dealt with on the outside as well.  Our studio, MGM, always had our backs and granted us the creative leeway to get the show done, on time and on budget.  Our network, SyFy, despite some fan criticism to the contrary, demonstrated a passion for good SF, good stories, always making a positive contribution to the creative and production process.

April 25, 2012: Becoming A No Man
Busy. Intensely so.

Yes, we were very lucky, but I’ve come to believe that you make your own luck.  And you make it, not by saying yes, being incredibly accommodating, bending over backwards to please, but by being realistic – and ruthless if need be.  I’ve learned that working hard against seemingly impossible odds is a sucker bet because once you make that commitment, regardless of how difficult the circumstances, your determined “I’ll try my best” quickly morphs into “I’ll get it done no problem!” to the ears of others.  Suddenly, the entire burden shifts. It’s no longer “us” but “you” and you’d damn well better get the job done because, if you don’t, it’s all on “you”.

April 25, 2012: Becoming A No Man
Hmmmm. Let me think about that for a minute - NO!

Instead of telling people what they want to hear, you’ve got to tell them what they need to hear.  And, sometimes, what they need to hear is no.  No, that’s not going to work.  No, you’ll never produce the show you have your heart set on with that budget.  No, we can’t complete the script in the time allotted.  No, I won’t work for less even if it is a fantastic project, a terrific opportunity, and you would consider it a personal favor.

Now, on the surface, you would think people don’t like to hear “no” and, on the surface, you may be right.  But here’s something else I’ve come to learn over my many years in the business: People may not like “no”, but they respect it.  “I tried my best to make you happy” – not so much.

Just a little something to think about as you weigh your next job offer.

Or if you’re planning on making me one.

26 thoughts on “April 25, 2012: Becoming a No Man

  1. Before I left my giant corporation gig, I conducted my own personal survey of a number of managers: “If resources were limited so that I could either properly archive my last project or start on my next, which would you say I should do?” Every one of them answered, “both”. Every one of them said it with pride, like they expected to be commended on their “out of the box” thinking. I would have been satisfied with either answer, but no one answered the question I asked.

    I like the different direction you take the dilemma. Just answer the question yourself. It’s something to chew on.

    I hadn’t considered that “no’s” can go up the ladder. It’s not so much about being a people pleaser, but having been conditioned that it’s do it or find another job. But the next time I find myself weighing the risks of devoting myself to one goal to the detriment of another, I could also weigh the risks of sending a “no” up the ladder with an added perspective that I shouldn’t be leaving MY success or failure up to how someone else chooses to hear my caveats about limited resources.

  2. You know.. if all ELSE fails, there’s *ALWAYS* the “Convention-Circuit”! ..You get to Travel, amass FlyerPoints, mingle with the Spandex-of-the-Week-Super-Heroes, have “assistants” who work for Green-Room-Leftovers-and-a-FREE-“Con”-T-shirt, get to use your “phoney”-Signature, claim hand-massages on your Income-Taxes, call up DAS in front of thousands of People just to say “hi!” – because you *can* and, it’s a great excuse to kill time on stage – better yet, SKYPE-Her! 😀

    The List just goes on…

  3. That’s damned good advice Joe. In my experience if you say yes to an impossible situation, people, like you say, just expect even more from you. Then they think you can do impossible as the norm.

    Of course when you can’t – then they consider you a failure. Sheppard’s pressure on McKay comes to mind – poor Rodney! Was it Scotty on Star Trek who used to add on time so it looked like he was a miracle worker? At any rate there was a clever man!

  4. Learning to say “no” respectfully is an important part of keeping your life manageable, and ultimately of keeping your sanity. Also, it keeps getting easier the more you do it!

  5. I really miss Stargate. it was a great franchise with massive potential on a global scale. it is a shame that American production companies only consider local scale – that is: the American populous. They have yet to realize that America is less than 5% of the global population.

    There is a fan-group on facebook working on producing their own 3rd season of universe, completely CG. You might want to look into them and offer your moral support. I know it would be appreciated 🙂

    The later seasons of Atlantis, the early seasons of SG1 and the last season of Universe is by far my favourite out of all of them. I would love to see some direct-to-internet-for-purchase Stargate movies.

  6. So…Joe…in other words…you don’t what you’ve got till it’s gone. I hear ya hon. But…I look at every experience as a learning experience. I try to take what I’ve learned and exprienced, and try to apply it to my next adventure. 🙂

  7. Speaking of Peter DeLuise(YAY)

    The value-added joy of he and his boy wonder partner Gary Jones’ commentaries, in SG-1 particularly, make me happy I bought the dvds every time I listen to them.

    @Joe, in a previous post you didn’t seem to get the ‘how come room’ reference,,,it, as well as the ‘what the hell room’ were Peter-speak for being taken to the Wright/Glassner/Cooper woodshed for directorial discretion exercised upon some of the scripts.
    IF there are blu rays in the SGU future and you have any input on super-duper blu rays extras…could you please suggest additional commentaries by writers/directors/camera operators/lighting directors, oh etc. to mine out more gooder SGU nuggets? If nothing more, a thorough treatment by Wright/Cooper on “Air” would be sooo satisfying & apropo.

    Marina Sirtis, Kevin Sorbo and who knows who else will be at a FanBoy event down the trail from here in Pigeon Forge. If I saw Sorbo I’d want to ask him about working with DeLuise so its best I not go and be a rude monkey.

    I hope that DeLuise gets involved with something spectacular in the way that Kindler/Wood/Tapping have done.

    Finally, when the monster is hungry and HAS to be fed post haste, isn’t the veritable ‘clip-show’ always a trusty stop gap? PUNT! OY!

    Cheers!

  8. Hello Joe,
    maybe one of your best blog ever although I am surprised that it is the same in showbusiness. I agree with you: “Instead of telling people what they want to hear, you’ve got to tell them what they need to hear. ”
    I write laws and bylaws and work with ministers and I consider that I would failed if I told them what they want to ear.

    Now a personnal note. I know that you wanted to se them so badly…since so many years…Finally you will have the chance to see it in person … See what you ask?
    Hélène Labrie’s bronzes of course what else? You can now see two bronzes in person at White Rock gallery, Vancouver vicinity. Hopefully more to come sooner! Let me know if you like it or not. You are a good food critic so you should be a good art critic to.

  9. Perfectly good advice, Joe. Hubby is having to institute some of that for work, and it hasn’t been pleasant.

    Hope you don’t have to say no too often. 🙂

    Have a great afternoon!!!

  10. And you make it, not by saying yes, being incredibly accommodating, bending over backwards to please, but by being realistic – and ruthless if need be. That is my favorite part of your “words of wisdom”. It shows you had good bosses. I’ve been lucky with bosses myself but… Hubby’s had a couple of bosses that wanted complete YES MAN. Those companies didn’t do well in the long run. One of them went out of business and the other is floundering. You have to listen to the talent.

    Deni: I had the highlights done at a shop, so I don’t know the brand. Sorry.

    Has anyone watched the last season of Eureka? I’m loving it! They are giving Kavan Smith more air time and he is shining! Such a shame we are losing this show. SyFy is becoming the Paranormal Channel.

  11. “No” applies to friendships too, and lending money to friends. They become ex-friends.
    Don’t mind me, having a rough patch of cynicism this week.

  12. We must now add to your list of knowledge, skills, and abilities. Situation analyst. GREAT advice!

  13. Good advice, Joe. I mentioned on this blog a few weeks back that I was offered a job in Vancouver. Well, I actually ended up saying “No” to it even though it was a great opportunity which much more responsibility and money. It just wasn’t the right time to be moving countries. It was a tough decision but, ultimately, it feels like the right one. Although, ask me again in six months time if I still haven’t found any work by then and you might get a different answer. 🙂

  14. Wow I haven’t commented here in ages.

    I miss Stargate too, shame that SGU wasn’t as popular, didn’t stop it from being a great show, just wasn’t as appreciated by the wide audience as it should be, but nevermind, life goes on.

    Shame about MGM and their prior financial woes, didn’t help matters. Personally I wanted everyone to do a 3rd Stargate spinoff if SGU, or anything relating to that was a no go. I thought everyone did brilliantly on Stargate over the years. Just a shame things ended up this way.

    On a whole I loved Stargate Universe, okay some dodgy episodes aside(In terms of story), it was a fun ride.

    Why don’t you, Brad W, and Paul M get together and make a TV show together Joe? I’ld love to see that.

  15. I can’t begin to underscore this post enough. It’s also an eerily timely piece given current events at my place of employ.

  16. Thank you again Joe. I had no idea I would need your counsel and advice this afternoon. You saved me a potentially great deal of stress and pain. I don’t think I ever perceived or been told I was a “yes” person; but I am most certainly very accomodating. I think I like being a “no” person. THANKS!!!

  17. An intriguing blog given the potential projects you have mentioned in recent weeks. And chock-full of good advice as well. Being able to say no is important, but so is knowing your worth. It echoes something a former mentor once told me: Never undervalue your skills or others will do the same.

  18. For the record, bosses who are wishy washy with their “no”‘s cause too much spinning in circles, too. The boss I have now is ruthless about murdering my darlings and that’s awesome. There’s no time wasted trying to figure out what he wants or wondering if I’ve figured out his priorities well enough.

  19. The thing that always bugs the shit out of me about saying “NO”, is that “NO” *always* requires an explanation. I’m in informaiton technology, and I say “NO” a lot. And “they” always want to know why “NO” is the answer. Well to be quite honest, I could explain. But “they” wouldn’t understand anyway. So telling “them” why is a huge fucking waste of my time.

    Just once, I want someone to ask me to explain when I say “Yes”. Then I can officially go postal.

  20. Back a year or so Mika Bzezinski on Morning Joe came up with the impetus of her latest book “Knowing Your Value” via the epiphany of women learning to say no.
    I learned early on, back during my Wally World days. How to say no. Reminiscent of the ‘movie night turned tool party trap’ Das mentioned a fortnight or so back, a new assistant mgr, new as in unintroduced, approached me in the stockroom and asked if I would like to do so and so & naturally I said no, but I would do it if it was a command. Several hours later he, the mgr and I emerged from a meeting room, my bed made after informing them that three of my cousins were lawyers and my grandma a retired judge. I worked another 61 weeks and made my stock goal and bid them farewell. Just say no.
    Bossypants by Tina Fey is good also for sage advice on positive self promotion.

    Cheers!

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