Lessons from James Garner | Notes From Andy
Notes From Andy
Andy Lee's weblog
Posted on August 21, 2011
Lessons from James Garner
Never mind that I'm not in show business; I wish I could have worked for James Garner. In his book Enchantment, Guy Kawasaki quotes this story told by Stephen J. Cannell, the creator of "The Rockford Files".
There were occasions when I sent a script down to him that I didn't think was the best script that we'd ever shot, and I'd never hear from him. A lot of other actors I worked with over the years would call me up and say, "Hey, I don't think this is a very good script, we need to do this, this, and this…" Never a word from Jim. Nothing. He'd just do it. So I started to think that he didn't see that it wasn't a good script.
Once we were at a wrap party at the end of a season, and one of those weak-sister scripts came up. Jim wagged a finger at me and said, "Not one of your better efforts, Steve."
So I said, "Okay, let me ask you a question: Why don't I ever hear from you when you don't like the script?"
He said, "I'll tell you exactly why: I trust you and I trust Juanita [Bartlett] and I trust David [Chase], and I know if you send me a script that isn't quite up to what we're used to doing, it's because it's the best you can do that week given the pressures that are on you. And if I spin you guys all around and force you to rewrite, I'm going to turn one bad script into four bad scripts.
"So that's the time that the acting department has to step up and really kick some ass. We have to step up and really make the stuff work. I have to look for more motivation to make comedy where I don't see it on the page and try to make it go past the audience without them seeing that it wasn't that good a story."
Whoa. I mean, come on. What a pro! What a pro! And he's right: Very often I've found that when actors have spun me around like that–I know the script's not as good as it should be, but let's get past this one and have a good one next week. You can't do twenty-two excellent shows–it's just not possible. Anybody who does series television will tell you that. There's always a few that aren't as good.
He told me, at the same time, "You never sent me two bad ones in a row."
For a guy like that, I would make extra sure not to send two bad ones in a row. There are lessons in this story about trust, professionalism, and appreciation for the hard jobs other people do to help the star succeed.
I watched the whole Rockford Files series last year and was surprised at how good it was. Maybe I can appreciate it more now than when I first watched it as a kid. A friend told me Garner's old show "Maverick" is also excellent. I've been meaning to check that out too.