Smile. Lie. This is L.A.

Times Staff Writer

Q: I work at a small production company, and last week, I went to a screening for an independent movie. The director was there, and right afterward, he cornered a few of us to see what we thought. He was really aggressive. I thought the film was pretty weak and predictable and said something vague about the costumes and production design. He glared at me. What do you say to a director if you see his movie and think it’s lame? Should I have been more positive and lied?

-- M.F., Hollywood Hills

Dear M.F.,

Lied? We don’t call it that here in Hollywood. We prefer the term “stunt talk.” And if you simply can’t muster up the grace to gild your adjectives, you should pack up your earnestness and move back to Idaho. Hollywood is no place for a person whose sincerity can’t roll over and play dead once in a while.

But even gilding can be tricky business. Directors are as touchy as new moms with postpartum depression. After making a film, they are needy, exhausted and slightly deranged from being in labor for almost two years. Push, push, push.

What would you do if you leaned into a baby carriage and saw an infant shaped like a cantaloupe with no discernible chin?

“You say, ‘Wow! That child is so alert!” says one studio exec, who declined to go on the record for this column but told me that it was a hot topic in a recent staff meeting. “You would never call a kid ugly to his parent. The protocol is to find something nice to say.”


In other words, you gush about a certain element. But you have to be sure to compliment an aspect of the film that he personally finessed. Mumbling something about the costumes or set design to a director is akin to complimenting a bride at her wedding on her pedicure. Here are the rules: A) Be effusive and B) mention the damn dress.

“Pick out a particular scene and tell him that you have never seen anything like it,” says Hollywood PR strategist Paul Pflug, co-founder of Principal Communications. “And never make reference to another film and say, That car chase reminded me of ‘The French Connection.’ Everyone likes to think their work is original.”

No one likes to see empty seats when the lights go up, though. You may feel like a P.O.W., but ducking out of an intimate screening before credits roll is both rude and heartless.

Plus, directors are paranoid and can hear the soft frush-frush of a pair of corduroy pants exiting. (FYI: You needn’t sit through every credit up to the part where you learn that no animals were harmed in the production unless it’s a screening for the entire cast and crew.)

My advice to you is to start practicing a firm congratulatory back pat on a firm pillow. You can hone your skills at “stunt talk” and smiling like an orca at SeaWorld as you commute.

“We’re all taught to tell a white lie to spare someone’s feelings,” says Mark Pogachefsky, president of independent film publicity firm, mPRm. “Saying, ‘Thank you. I really enjoyed it’ isn’t that hard to do.”


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