I know what you’re thinking. “How could drugs, alcohol, and infidelity help your career?”
Simple: They aren’t my drugs, alcohol, and infidelity.
I’m somewhat of a straightedge in the entertainment industry. I don’t drink at work (not even a glass-of-wine-to-unwind-at-night when watching dailies) or use drugs. I don’t cheat in my relationships because one woman is already too much for me to figure out.
See the V-Blog: V-Blog: Drug Abuse and Alcohol: The Best Things That Ever Happened to My Hollywood Career
But I’ve seen a lot of it. I’ve worked for and with drunks, addicts, and cheats throughout my career. They always leave a void. It’s not like the studio says, “Oh, you’re hungover? Well, take the day. We’ll pay you. Let’s get back on the horse tomorrow.”
Nope! There’s still work to do. Working in film production is like drinking from a firehose. It doesn’t fucking stop.
When you work around people with messy personal lives, they create gaps for hardworking and ambitious people like myself to fill. By filling those gaps, I was able to accelerate my learning, impress my superiors, and claw my way up the ladder quickly and at a young age.
Let me tell you three stories about how drugs, alcohol, and infidelity boosted my career.
1. James the Cokehead
When I was 18, I worked with a producer in the record business. It was my first entertainment job. I was a tape operator in a recording studio. I worked for a producer that we’ll call “James.”
James liked cocaine. Actually, he bloody loved cocaine.
One time I came into work for a late-night recording session. I was greeted in the lobby by little puddles of blood and a pile of bandaids. I followed the trail of blood from the lobby, down the hall lined with gold records on the walls, and into the control room. There I found James cutting tape, his fingers all torn up and bandaged.When you work around people with messy personal lives, they create gaps for hardworking and ambitious people to fill. Click To Tweet
He was so coked out of his head that he couldn’t feel anything when he cut himself.
(This was back when you had to physically cut tape with a razor blade to assemble a 1/4” master tape to make a record. You would add paper fill between each track so there wasn’t any tape hiss between tracks. We added that before the record was sent for mastering by literally putting the tape in a splice block and cutting it up.)
Aside from the bloody mess, he also left a pile of cocaine that was he was cooking into crack. Right in plain view. Classy, right?
James’ cocaine problem meant that he either missed recording sessions or was too strung out from a bender to do much. I can’t tell you how many times I had to apologize to a band because the producer couldn’t stop horking up blow long enough to show up.
When I worked on Poison’s first record (“Look What the Cat Dragged In”), James just wouldn’t show up. The band and the recording engineer (“Hank”) decided they didn’t want to sit around and do nothing. Hank started the session and essentially played the producer’s role while I handled his job.
Hank and I certainly weren’t the only ones to work on that album, but I’m proud of the work we did to keep the project rolling while the fuckup producer got high and a few weeks later fired by the band.
The silver lining is that James’ addiction gave me an education most people that age couldn’t obtain. I got to learn a job no one would give to a 19 year old kid. After a few years of working with James and his missed sessions, I had more education and experience than people five or ten years older.
2. Emily the Drunk
When I was 25, I worked for Disney as an assistant accountant for the studio on a show called The Good Life and later a little show called Home Improvement. It was my first finance job and the start of my production finance career.
I worked under a raging alcoholic named “Emily.”
Unlike James, Emily could show up for work (most of the time). The problem was that she was always so hungover that she was useless. She just couldn’t contribute.
This means that all of her responsibilities fell on me. I would stay until 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock at night every day to finish my work and hers. For example, the daily hot cost has to be turned in by 9 AM every morning after a shoot day – without exception. Hot Costs were way outside my job description. No one would expect me to know what they were, let alone how to do them. But I handled them every day because I was ambitious and willing to fill a gap.
My bosses, bosses, boss called me into his office one day and asked why he saw me driving off the lot at damn near midnight. I gave some vague excuse, but he already had a hunch that I was doing Emily’s work and mine.
Now, I’m not someone that throws people under the bus. There’s a lot of that sleazy shit in Hollywood and I won’t take part in it. I told my bosses bosses boss that I was thankful for the opportunity she gave me (by hiring me) and was willing to work with whoever and do whatever was needed to get the work done.
The next week he made me a full production accountant on another show.
(Here’s a funny side story: You’d think a person like Emily would get fired for low productivity, dropping her responsibilities on her team, and drinking like a fucking fish, but nope! One of the other accountants told me she was sleeping with an executive at the company, so her “punishment” was a transfer to some crappy show. She never missed a paycheck.)
Just like James (the coke head), Emily’s absence taught me how to do things six months into my training that most people don’t learn for two to five years. I got a little smarter each time she got piss drunk.
3. Unfaithful Jerry
Before I start criticizing other people’s love life, let me be clear that I don’t claim to be good at it either. I’m divorced. I’ve had countless girlfriends. Not because I’m a serious player, but because I can’t seem to make relationships work. It seems I have been attracted to women who aren’t compatible with my lifestyle or way of thinking. Some are just a massive trainwreck.
To me, the idea of staying in one relationship is hard enough. Managing multiple relationships is insane and way above my skill level.
I’ve met married people who openly talk about their girlfriends at work. Everyone knows they’re married. Everyone knows they’re a scumbag. They’re shockingly brazen about it.
I once worked with “Jerry” who wasn’t just open about his affair. He had his assistant handle her. The assistant managed her apartment and made sure she was happy, quiet, and – ahem – performing.
I never understood why someone would openly behave that way.
(Yes, open relationships are a thing. I’ve never seen any work as well as they claim, but I’ve heard about them. I have, however, seen some supposed open relationship blow up spectacularly. But that’s beside the point.)
But here’s the thing: Whenever Jerry spoke openly about his infidelity, what he was really saying was…
“You can’t trust me. You can’t trust anything I say or do. I am completely open about things that should be private. I’m willing to publicly betray my own wife – the person I’m supposed to care about the most. I am absolutely willing to lie, steal, and cheat you at every turn.”
Here’s what I learned from that experience:
First of all, if you’re cheating, keep it to yourself. You’re telling people they can’t trust you.
Trust is extremely important in any relationship, but it’s especially important in the entertainment business. Without trust, you don’t have a stable footing in which to do business.
Film production is nonstop, no-holds-barred entrepreneurship. You need to trust the people you bring into your team and the people you follow from one job to the next.
Second, if you’re in business with someone who is unfaithful (especially if they’re fucking proud of it), recognize that they will cheat you at some point. If they do it to the person they supposedly care about the most, what do you think they’ll do to you?
Stay Out of the Mess
“You shouldn’t drink, use drugs, or cheat on your spouse because those activities are physically and mentally unhealthy.” You’ve heard that advice a million times and I don’t think it has ever stopped anyone from partaking.
So here’s some better advice: Don’t drink, use drugs, or cheat on your partner – other people will. Many people are broken and when they lift their skirt showing their true colors someone will use their failures to boost a career – they deserve it. Let them fall behind, it’s their own doing.