The Importance of “True Friends” in “Hollywood”

Editor’s Note: Two of my dearest friends are JD and Yolanda Cochran. JD is an indie filmmaker in L.A. and is perhaps the single biggest contributing factor to me becoming a professional filmmaker and starting my business (read my About page to see why). He was also in my wedding.

His wife Yolanda is a veteran in Hollywood, having recently completed a nearly 13-year stint at Alcon Entertainment, where she was most recently EVP of Physical Production.

They are both USC film school alum (actually, I think Yo was an accounting major, and JD went to SC’s film school. He frequently enjoyed razzing me about that fact that I got my film experience from De Anza. But I digress.)

I recently saw an article about JD, Yolanda and their whole gang of friends from SC and asked if she’d write a piece about the role the college friends play in a filmmaker’s career. Enjoy!

BTW, if you get a chance, listen to my Crossing the 180 episode with Yolanda from a few years ago. It still remains one of my favorite with a very poignant take on what it means to be a professional “creative” in Hollywood.

+++++

The fall issue of my alma mater’s (USC) alumni magazine included an article that highlighted me and a group of my friends who are also fellow alumni.

The crux of the piece was:

  • That we’ve all, in various capacities and by various pathways, enjoyed some measure of success in the business of feature films and/or television, and
  • That we’ve remained close-knit friends for in excess of 20 years….effectively a “generation of time” (I’m sure they’ll all appreciate me highlighting just how much time has passed).

The size of the group coupled with the frequency and depth of our interactions and the duration of our lasting friendship is uncommon in this city and particularly in this business.

Yolanda is seated furthest to the right in the front row (#14). You may also recognize #3 (James Leshure from "Las Vegas") or #15 (J. August Richards from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) Photo by Curtis Bechdholt.
Yolanda is seated furthest to the right in the front row (#14). You may also recognize #3 (James Leshure from “Las Vegas”) or #15 (J. August Richards from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) Photo by Curtis Bechdholt.

When I shared a link to the article with another long time friend who happens to be editor-in-chief of “Dare Dreamer Magazine”, he asked if I’d be interested in writing a guest blog post on the topic of “the importance of building and keeping friendships in the industry”. (I realized AFTER already starting to write this blog, I had inaccurately remembered the requested topic, believing it to be what it means” to have lasting friendships in this business. This is an important distinction as it informs the content of my musings.)

I very quickly agreed to write the guest blog, feeling (without a moment’s consideration) that the blog would practically write itself. Why? Because this group of people has meant so very many things to me, and I to them and us all to each other. There exists this thread of true love that has bound us all for so many years and for what I’m certain will be many more to come and life-long. Hence, “what it means…” would assuredly pour onto the page, writing itself.

But then it took me a good bit of time to commit thought to paper. The delay owed mostly to other demands on my schedule, including the occurrence of one of those moments in your life’s journey where events conspire to set you on a new trajectory. But it was also because, after taking that moment’s consideration that I had not initially taken, I wasn’t sure exactly what I might write that could duly convey the specialness of this multi-person love affair that would not also come off like a bunch of platitudes…i.e. come off the precise opposite of “what it means…..”, at least to me and to us.

Hhhhhmmmm. Okay. With what point to start?

Let’s start first at the core, the root of what binds the group. The core essence and unchanging foundation of this group is love of each other in the absolute best manner one could dream up to love or be loved. For instance, if you were to ask any person off the street how they want to be loved by someone, their answer might go something like this:

I want someone who really KNOWS me. Someone who knows just about everything there is to know about me; the best things and the worst….my idiosyncrasies, my likes, my dislikes, my family history. Someone who’s seen me ‘grow up’. Someone who’s witnessed me at my worst and witnessed me at my best (demeanor and accomplishments). Someone who thinks I’m the most talented, warm, loving, hilarious and audacious person walking the earth, but yet will tell me without hesitation and in constructive detail when I am not being any one or any combination of those adjectives. Someone who will call me to the carpet on my ish and not let me get away with being anything less than good or great or amazing (both because they know that I have it within me to perform on such a high level and also because our relationship demands that depth of honesty). Someone who finds me beautiful, because they see the beauty pouring out of me, the beauty in my “unique self” manifest in physical form. And laying allllllllllll of those good and bad attributes aside, love me unconditionally. And also love me precisely BECAUSE of all those good and bad attributes.

I once said of my husband (who is also in this group), that I love the things that I hate about him. [Ron’s comment. Can I get an “amen sister” on that one?!🙂 ] This holds true for him and for my USCclique.

Someone who loves me for all of me…everything that makes me me. Someone I know is always going to be there for me, whether I’m riding some current success or in the lowest valleys of temporary failure….and in those moments of perceived failure, carry me and encourage me until I can stand on my own again.”

That’s what the members of this group get from one another. No matter what moment any of us is in, when we are present with each other, we are just enveloped in that essence. It’s pure and it’s rock solid ground in a place on the planet where things rarely, and perhaps never, are.

When you have that kind of relationship with someone (or in this case “someones”) it allows for a tremendous amount of honesty and SAFE freedom of expression. That freedom and safety net is invaluable, especially in this business of entertainment.

By its nature, entertainment is a business that hinges on a constant flow of ideas. Ideas and creative concepts, as well as their reception, are subjective. And of course subjectivity resides in places that don’t lend to concrete hypotheses and theories. More notably as it relates to the business of entertainment, subjectivity also begets vulnerability (fiscal and psychological). Hence subjectivity in that context is perilous territory.

Time and again there are examples of talents and moguls in “Hollywood” who reach a level of success and stop hearing honesty, even from those closest to them. And when people stop speaking to you (or others) with honesty, you get trapped in a bubble. Almost without exception, that’s a marking point of decline, unless you can avoid going down that path and drinking your own “Kool Aid.”

Ron: "Kevin Bacon in The Big Picture is an excellent example of this.
Ron’s comment: Kevin Bacon in The Big Picture is an excellent example of this.

Taking a step back for a moment, however, let’s be mindful of something else. Los Angeles is a town full of “transplants”…..people who came here from other parts of the country. And why? They were compelled and driven enough to make the move in a pursuit of making THEIR dreams a reality. And in that, they are self motivated. Self motivation, on its face, is NOT a bad thing. In fact, in performance evaluations and many other contexts, having the “self motivated” box checked is a major plus.

However, anyone who might fail to keep in mind this impetus that overwhelmingly drives the decisions and behaviors of essentially everyone in entertainment may find disappoints that have the potential to divert them from their path or instill personal hurts when others in the business act and behave primarily in self interest.

entourage

More often than not, YOUR dream(s) has import, relevance and resonance to others almost only when it furthers THEIR OWN. That may sound harsh. But when you strip everything away, it’s the reality. So one should be careful about the definition of “friend” and operate clear-eyed about the classifications. And there is nothing wrong with this reality. It just is. So I would say, cultivate and keep FRIENDS, those people who love you by the definition above and hold those relationships sacred and apart from the business (though not necessarily needing to be void of the business, meaning friends who also work in it). Aside from that, it is entirely a relationship (and ideas) driven business. That’s proven time and again. So networking is KEY, and it is in fact important to build and keep relationships and associations, what I like to call “professional friends or associates” (a definite distinction).

Thankfully for me and the rest of my #USCclique, we’ve got a haven where love and honesty abound with ZERO contingency for reciprocity or equal stature. It’s unheard of. And it’s always been the case that you really need a core of REAL friends to stay sane in this biz. In an age of Facebook, Twittter, tumblr, Google and all manner of instant information and “virtual microphones” that reach (literally) the world over, that may never have been more true than now.

I’m not certain if this is what Ron had in mind for the topic of “the importance of building and keeping friendships in the industry”. My guess is that the thought was more along the lines of networking and being agents for creating work for each other. (We have our share of that in the group as well…and it’s growing.) But the above reflects the importance of this particular circle of friends to me. And it’s rare; in life… and ESPECIALLY in “Hollywood”.

+++++

yolanda_headshotYolanda is a veteran in Hollywood with 20 years’ experience, starting as a production accountant and consultant at Disney. Her latest job was Executive VP of Physical Production at Alcon Entertainment, where she oversaw movies like “Book of Eli” and the Oscar winning “The Blind Side.” Follower on Twitter.