Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Trivial Pursuits

As mentioned in a previous post, once upon a time, I produced a Trivial Pursuit game for PC, Xbox and PS2.  My brain holds onto a lot of bits of information from that project, I proof read, verified sources, and edited thousands of questions by the time the project was done.  One of the best parts of the project is that I sourced and directed a set of celebrities to read the questions for each category.

One of the celebrities we hired was John Cleese, and he opted to read the History category.  I sent the script off to his agent, and went into the recording session in Santa Barbara feeling prepared for the experience.  I should add, this is the FIRST voice recording session I ever directed.

As we were going through the session, John was getting more and more annoyed with the topics of the questions.  Apparently, John Cleese used to teach history at a prep school in England, and he felt that we were mis-representing current events as History.  He was right, it was America focused, and not deep history, our goal was to create a game where the average 30-40 year old American SHOULD know the answers to the questions.

Less than an hour into the session, he was visibly agitated, and I don't even remember the question that put him over the top.  All I know is this was my first ever voice recording session, and the talent looked at me through the glass, called me an 'illiterate con-artist' and stormed out of the studio.

I looked at my co-worker, and said "Oh shit.  What do I do now?"

"Get him back!  GO! GET HIM BACK!"

So, I went.  John was getting into his car and I started explaining what the goal of the game was, and how we arrived at the content that we did.  He said he understood that, but that I shouldn't call it 'history'.  I explained that we didn't actually CONTROL that nomenclature, Trivial Pursuit is a branded product, and the brand owners defined it, and that they had approved the content.  Finally, I closed it, like any good used car salesman would, I asked him the action question.

"What would it take to get you back behind the microphone, Mr. Cleese?" I asked, with my best, most charming smile.

"Five Thousand Dollars", he replied.

I quickly ran some budget numbers in my head, and thought of what my boss would say if I came back to tell him I'd lost John Cleese while standing outside the studio in downtown Santa Barbara.

"DONE.  Let's get back to work"

I went back into the studio, and sat behind the control board.  My hands were shaking and I was actually seeing little black spots.  I pretended to be pulling something out of my bag while I took a few deep breaths with my head down near my knees.  I realized I was actually going to throw up, so I spun my chair around and grabbed a garbage can.  I discreetly dry heaved into a garbage can while my co-worker and the studio rep looked on.  Then I wiped my mouth, grabbed my water, took a deep drink and spun back around.

"Alright, John.  Are you ready to get started?" I asked through the communication system.

We finished out the day, I got what I needed, and I put a call into my legal group to amend the contract to include an additional $5,000 talent fee.  The next day I was driving down to San Diego for a lunch date with a friend.  My cell phone rang, and I answered it.  It was John Cleese.

"Hello, I wanted to talk to you for a moment.  I believe I owe you an apology.  My wife and I were drinking some wine last night, and she reminded me that it's called 'trivial pursuit', not 'important pursuit'.  I shouldn't have called you names and stormed out, that was unprofessional of me."

I reassured him that I understood his frustration, and very much appreciated the follow up call.  Then he got to what, I believe, was the REAL reason for the call.

"I was wondering, can you treat the additional money as 'expert consultation' or something like that?  I'd rather not pay my agent fees on the additional money." He was very matter-of-fact about the request, and I am such a people-pleaser-person that I really wanted to be able to honor his request.

"I'm so sorry, John.  I can't do that.  I've already had my legal amend the contract and it went out to your agent this morning."  I really was sorry, I wanted him to continue acting like he liked me!

"Well then," he replied, curtly.  "Very well.  Goodbye."

One of my first bosses in the industry once told me this bit of wisdom.  "We make games.  No one dies.  You can't eat your liver over it."

As I've been struggling with getting my next project lined up, and dealing with self-esteem issues around feeling unwanted because I haven't figured out where I can best be effective at my job, (not to mention my insecurities about motherhood) I am reminding myself that creating entertainment is truly a trivial pursuit.  The important stuff is outside of these walls, just there waiting for me.

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