Christy Grosz is AwardsLine editor and a contributor to Deadline.
Universal President and COO Ron Meyer this afternoon made an expletive-laced commencement speech to the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Class of 2012. He told the graduating students that the best way to get ahead in showbiz is to ask questions. “Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups,” he told the audience. Twice. The longtime studio head also pointed out that despite the cliches “You don’t have to be an asshole to succeed.” He also stressed that finding an agent is the single most important thing a new graduate can do. Ask everyone you meet. “Just don’t ask me,” he warned. The ceremony was dedicated to the school’s founding dean and Oscar ceremony producer Gil Cates. The commencement also honored directors Penelope Spheeris and Shirley Jo Finney with distinguished alumni awards. UPDATE: Here’s the text of Meyer’s speech:
Thank you, Teri.
When Dean Schwartz invited me to speak here today I wasn’t sure how to address you, as I did not, want to make it about me. But as I thought it through, I decided, that even though your journey in this industry, may be different than mine, we probably will have much in common. I realized that in my years, I’ve learned some things, that might help you.
My mother and father were German Jews who escaped Nazi Germany in 1939, and immigrated to the United States and ultimately Los Angeles.
My father was a travelling ladies dress salesman, and I was raised in a very modest but loving home.
My parents had hoped I would go to college, get a degree, and a job. To their disappointment, at 15 years old I dropped out of high school. I spent my days doing odd jobs, boxing, shooting pool and getting into trouble. They were proud and relieved when at 17 ½, I joined the Marine Corps.
In the Marines I got the measles and while I was in quarantine, my mother sent me a care package, which included a book entitled “The Flesh Peddlers.”
It was a fictionalized story about a young man who worked at a major talent agency, drove a fast car, didn’t work too hard and dated beautiful women. It seemed like a great way to make a living.
Although, I didn’t know anyone in the entertainment business… when I got out of active duty, I went door to door, and applied to every talent agency. Willing to do any job. I was ignored or rejected by every one of them.
Not having a formal education seemed to limit my possibilities. I had completely given up all hope, of a show business career and went back to making a living selling men’s clothing. Out of nowhere, one of the agencies I had interviewed with called, their messenger had quit, and asked if I was still interested. I, of course, said yes, and started immediately.
I was hired by the Paul Kohner agency, which represented directors such as William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Ingmar Bergman, John Huston, among others. I initially got the interview because my mother’s best girlfriend’s husband’s sister was married to Paul Kohner’s brother.
This was my first important lesson, and obviously made a great difference in my career and my life.
You never know how and when an opportunity will present itself. Luck and timing are essential.
I spent six years being the best driver, messenger and gofer I could possibly be. I listened and learned and gratefully said yes to every crappy and menial job they had me do.
I was once asked, if there was a pivotal moment in my career, I thought about it and remembered the following:
One of my duties at the Agency was to file papers for Paul Kohner’s assistant, who was my boss. Although I learned a lot from her, she was demanding and occasionally verbally abusive.
One day, while filing, after being humiliated and embarrassed by her, I got up, yelled loud enough that the entire office, could hear me say to her, take this job and shove it, I quit.
My pride intact, I marched out the door thinking that everyone would come after me, begging me to return. Believing I was an irreplaceable, great messenger, and that they would not be able to function without me, I kept walking, until I realized that no one was coming after me. I now had my first major career decision, and ultimately, a life changing choice to make.
I could go back to selling clothes, or suck it up and return to work. I decided I wasn’t ready to give up on show business. I went back and continued filing and we all acted as if nothing had happened. At that point in my career, the lesson was don’t let your ego get in the way of your future, and always try to see the big picture. I’m not suggesting any kind of abuse is acceptable but pick your spots. I chose to lose the battle and win the war. Remember, no one is irreplaceable.
From the Kohner Agency, through a number of interviews and more good fortune, I became a television agent at the William Morris agency.
After five years, four of my fellow agents and I left William Morris and started Creative Artists Agency, where I stayed as President for 20 years.
Seventeen years ago I left CAA and went to Universal as President and Chief Operating Officer, overseeing the worldwide operations for film, theme parks and physical studio and its 15,000 employees.
So, I tell you all of this because I was the least likely to succeed. But, as I look back on my career, I realize that there were a number of things that made a difference, and helped me along the way.
First, whatever you do, do it the best you can with a positive attitude, no job is too small or unimportant.
Treat people the way you want to be treated. It may sound cliché but it is not as easy to do as you think. Nice guys don’t have to finish last. Be strong, generous, honest, thoughtful and kind. This business often gets a bad rap but you will find that most people in the industry are good, decent and intelligent.
And, as you move ahead, in your career, you migh have to make some tough decisions. Take people’s lives and
feelings into consideration. Then you can make those decisions with a clear conscience. Don’t mistake kindness for weakness.
Ultimately you’ll want the story of your life to be one you are proud of. Your personal integrity is of enormous value and if lost it is very difficult to restore.
Jobs come and go but your reputation matters… You don’t have to be an asshole to succeed.
Ask questions. Never be embarrassed not to know the answers. Don’t let fear
or pride keep you from getting the right information. You don’t have to have, all the answers and you should not be afraid to make mistakes. I’ve made many, turning down the film Titanic wasn’t my biggest. You will make mistakes, don’t be afraid to admit and own them. You won’t fool anyone.
And last, but not least, when I was a messenger I once saw a phrase on a wall which made a huge difference in my career: “assumption is the mother of all fuckups.”
Don’t assume if you ask someone to do something for you – it will get done or done right. You have to be responsible for what someone else does or doesn’t do for you. Double check everything, that you will be responsible for.
You need to do the things you say you are going to do. People should know they can depend on you. Remember that phrase – I’ll say it again as It may be the most important thing I say to you today. “Assumption is the mother of all fuckups.” I promise, if you remember it, one day, it will make a difference.
It’s possible that not all of you who graduate today, will make it in the entertainment industry. Many people get frustrated and can’t stick it out.
It’s a tough, competitive business and it will take a lot of fortitude to hang in during the toughest of times.
Talent is essential but it’s not enough. Keep your eyes and ears open, take chances, and watch for the right openings. Especially early in your careers, be open to opportunities as you never know who or what they can lead to.
During the five years I was at William Morris there were times, I felt that the layers of important agents ahead of me would make it impossible for me to move forward.
I use to think that some of them would have to either quit, die or go to jail for me to succeed. I waited long enough and eventually many died, quit or went to jail and my career moved forward. I learned – anything is possible.
Never underestimate the importance of relationships. For many of you, it all starts by finding an agent and for most of your careers people will find it easy to say NO. Your job is to find a way to turn those NO’s into Yes’s. This will require perseverance, resourcefulness, determination, personality, talent and luck. Find a way to get yourself or your material to someone. Ask everyone you meet and everyone you know – your friends, your family, your friend’s family, your mechanic, your doctors, your hairdresser, your professors, etc., etc. Just please, don’t ask me.
Whether you want to act, write, direct or produce, you’re going to need an agent. Doing your craft will be the easiest thing, and for most of you, getting an agent will be the hardest. You’re going to need someone to champion and believe in you.
You no doubt came to this school because somewhere along the way, you fell in love with show business– and probably the art and craft of story telling.
There is still nothing better than experiencing the magic of a play, watching a television show or going to the movies. The stories unite us in shared ways, while at the same time they affect, us as individuals.
Whether it’s film, television, animation, digital media or theater, as artists, you want to make people laugh, cry or feel a whole range of emotions.
It’s an extraordinary way to make a living. I still feel lucky and proud each day to be a part of this great business.
The industry will be different for you than when I started out 47 years ago. You’re facing an uncertain economy… more competition than ever… and challenges to the economic models, of virtually every aspect of our business.
Don’t be discouraged by people talking about the decline and problems in our business… It is a great business with endless opportunities. People have always predicted doom and gloom, and so far, and as far as I can, they have always been and continue to be wrong.
I’ve always felt it’s a miracle, when someone says yes to an individual or a project. And the good news for you is that miracles happen every day.
I’m honored to be here with you today. And none of us would be here today without the faculty, of the
School of Theater, Film and Television, and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. I must also acknowledge my friend Dr. Judith Reichman and the beautiful tribute that was done here today in honor of my great friend and her late husband Gil Cates.
Right now, you are graduating, from one of the best, theatre, film and TV schools in the country. Be proud of your accomplishments, and continue to believe in yourselves and your futures. Refuse to give up.
Everything is possible. If I can make it, you can make it.
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