How do you put together a team? I got the following advice years ago, and I think it applies as much today to everything from corporate departments to startups. It begins with finding two people who are living in their cars.
I heard the advice while interviewing Garry Marshall for Esquire. Garry has worked with everyone, in many different capacities, from being a writer on Dick VanDyke to creating Happy Days and Mork & Mindy, to directing Pretty Woman and a bunch of rom-coms.
I asked Garry: “How do you staff a show?” He’d created amazing staffs and ran them incredibly well.
(Note: I’m keeping Garry’s pronoun “guys,” because the world he was describing was dominated by males, with the unique female, including Garry’s sister Penny, breaking through once in a while. Feel free to replace “guy” with “person.” But I wanted to preserve the rhythms of his speech here.)
“You start out with two guys who are incredibly talented, just getting started, and are living out of their cars. They will work their asses off for you, do anything. They’ll live in the office, because, you know, otherwise they’re sleeping in the car.
“Over them, you put two guys who were living in their cars last year. They’re overseeing those other guys and they’re afraid of the two new guys because they could show them up. So even though the guys who were living in their cars have apartments, they’re not going home because of the two other guys who stay and work all the time.
“Next, you have two guys who have been doing this for a few years. They have apartments, lives, they probably have girlfriends or wives. They’re not gonna be there till midnight. They know more than the other four guys, including all the shortcuts. They know the ropes, they know how to turn out a good script or fix a bad one. What drives them is that they think they should be the showrunners, not middle guys.
“Now, you have one or two guys who are your showrunners. They know those other guys are gunning for them, but they’re also trying to sell their pilot or get hired somewhere else for more money. They just want your show to look good so they can tell someone ‘We can do that for you.’
“Now, you keep all these guys in a room together, and they’re arguing and writing and rewriting and tossing ideas back and forth. And most of the time it’s working, but sometimes they can’t get anything done. And that’s why you hire Phil Harris. He sticks his head in and says ‘The thing you’re trying to do is called Meet Me In St. Louis and it won’t work!’
“And that’s how you staff a show.”
Me, Fred Graver
I have a long career spanning almost every kind of media, from long-form to short-form digital. I think a lot about what it’s like to work creatively today and how to manage creatives. Often, I “think out loud” on this blog. Everything I write here is a “work in progress.” I’d love to hear your take; Please leave a comment below.