Getting good advice can be tricky. Most insider advice-givers, even if they’re trying to be helpful, will lie to your face about how to make it in the industry. They don’t want to tell you to do the things they did. Instead they tell you never to make the compromises they made. That’s terrible advice! Of course you need to make those same compromises. Those compromises are the secret of their success!
Are they deliberately trying to sabotage you? Not necessarily. Now that they have enough clout to make what they want to make, they’re trying to achieve something great and daring and totally uncompromised, but first they have to unlearn all the people-pleasing shortcuts they used earlier in their career. They genuinely think: “Oh, if only I had never learned those shortcuts, then I wouldn’t have to unlearn them now!” So they tell you to never stray from the one true path of art for art’s sake. Of course, if you follow that advice, you will never make it as far as they did.
Compromise is usually an artist’s friend-- and clout can be deadly. Most writers and directors benefit from a strong producer who can keep them from becoming self-indulgent. Only great artists can keep making strong work even after they no longer have to compromise—these are the artists that truly love their audiences. They aren’t just waiting to get the chance to show the folks at home the kind of story they should like. The great Claude Chabrol, who just passed away, never broke his contract with audiences— for 50 years, without ever straying far from the thriller genre that made him famous, he still managed to made films that were personal, political, and profound.
When someone tells you “Never make the compromises I made,” don’t let them sabotage you. Smile politely, and then ask “Okay, now tell me how you made those compromises, so that I’ll know not to make them myself.” Because that’s the stuff you need to hear. You want to do as they did, not as they say.