Excerpt from The Way We Work: On the Job in Hollywood by Bruce Ferber

We are so proud and excited to share this excerpt from the latest book from Bruce Ferber  which was a #1 new release on Amazon. 


Edited by Bruce Ferber


Most young people are encouraged to choose a profession with a clear path, where education and training yield a reasonable chance of finding a job that leads to long-term employment. Some, however, are determined to reject all that makes sense in favor of amorphous rules, erratic pay, and zero job security. These are the wages of chasing the Hollywood Dream. The true believers go on to amass a long list of diverse and often desperate stabs at earning a living before hitting their stride—if they’re lucky. The less fortunate ultimately throw in the towel to pursue a more pragmatic dream.

As I looked back on the arc of my own career, the common thread seemed to be that nothing in Hollywood operated quite like anything in the “real world.” From the way in which I got paid, to the lack of any kind of dress code, to the unorthodox behavior that was not only tolerated but celebrated in the name of creativity, this was a fly-by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants life choice that I would have been hard-pressed to find performing surgery or working for an insurance company. There wasn’t even a consensus on what constituted good work. While a majority of cardiologists can agree on what defines a successful bypass, according to esteemed screenwriter Robert Towne, “no one can really say what makes an effective screenplay because no one really knows what makes a screenplay effective.” Unfortunately, by the time the rest of us figure that out, it is either too late to apply to medical school or we are already hooked.

While the notion of different rules (or the lack of any) certainly wasn’t a sudden revelation to me, what did seem remarkable, all these years later, was the sheer number of Hollywood stories my compatriots and I had managed to accrue. Whether born of artistic frustration, quasi-abusive stars, or nonsensical premises handed down by the networks, they never failed to provide entertainment value and insight. I concluded that while most people in the entertainment business probably don’t have an entire memoir in them, everyone has a mini-memoir because each of us has a story to tell.

I started to wonder how I might go about assembling and archiving some of these gems. I also thought about the two hundred or so people who worked for me when I executive- produced television shows: the cameramen, the editors, the hair and makeup people, the boom guy—the entire crew. These “below the line” craftspeople had their own Hollywood tales but rarely got to share them because attention was always focused on the glitz: the superstar actors, writers, producers, and directors.

This concept of unheard voices took me back to Studs Terkel’s storied portrait of American life, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. A journalistic masterpiece, white- and blue-collar workers from every calling speak freely about the nuts and bolts of their jobs and how they feel about what they do. From the doctor to the coal miner to the mailman, Terkel deduced:

“It is about a search….For daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life, rather than a Monday to Friday sort of dying.”

I landed on the idea of an inclusive anthology, setting out to find a balanced cross section from both above and below the line. Some contributors would craft essays recounting a specific story, insight, or multiple episodes from their colorful careers. The rest would be interviewed, using the opportunity to delineate their specific responsibilities through the prism of personal experience.

The collection is grouped into nine sections, each exploring a different aspect of the working life. Some of the contributors you will instantly recognize (Chris Rock, J. J. Abrams, Robert Towne, Gabrielle Union). The others you already know through their work, which has been integral to the success of countless award-winning movies and television shows. You’ll hear from the NYU film student/future Hollywood success story who faced trial by fire on Martin Scorsese’s breakthrough feature Mean Streets. You’ll be taken to the set of Tootsie, where the clash between star and director nearly shut down the production. You’ll see Lucille Ball get stalked, meet Orson Welles’s dog, Flora, and discover how Gene Wilder learned to curse a bunch of chickens in fluent Yiddish. You’ll also get better acquainted with one of the directors of The Simpsons, the cinematographer for Entourage, the editor of Bosch, the casting director of Arrested Development, the makeup artist for Black-ish, and many, many others…

In assembling these wonderful pieces, I marveled at how the act of storytelling gave the participants permission to celebrate the breadth and depth of the invaluable roles they play. It is my hope that the fun, the absurdity, and the unbridled commitment to excellence are conveyed within these pages because, to me, this rich mix is what defines the Hollywood experience.

—Bruce Ferber

Before publishing his debut novel, ELEVATING OVERMAN, Bruce Ferber built a long and successful career as a television comedy writer and producer. A multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominee, his credits include Bosom Buddies, Growing Pains, Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, Coach, and Home Improvement, where he served as Executive Producer and showrunner. In addition to being recognized by the Television Academy, Ferber’s work has received the People’s Choice, Kid’s Choice and Environmental Media Awards.

After the publication of ELEVATING OVERMAN, Ferber toured extensively with his novel, delivering the closing keynote speech at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. OVERMAN was recently released on audiobook, recorded by Jason Alexander, and is being developed for the big screen. Ferber’s second novel, CASCADE FALLS, will be published in March 2015 by Rare Bird Books, and followed by another nationwide tour.  He lives in Southern California, with his wife, large dog, and assorted musical instruments.

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