UPDATE: The original name of my blog, Intermittent Reinforcement, has changed since the date of this post, but I feel the concepts behind it still apply.
Since someone asked about the name of my blog…
“Every time I think I’m out, they pull me right back in.” complains Michael Corleone in the Godfather Part III. For a lot of aspirants in Hollywood, this is a somewhat familiar feeling, except that they don’t want to get out, they want to get inside. During the struggle, it often feels that you just had your last shot at the game, you just played your last chip, and this tournament is about to come to a halt for you.
And this is usually when the call comes in. “So-and-so liked your script over at fill-in-the-blank company.” Now the roller coaster is back on again. In psychology they call it “intermittent reinforcement”, when the reward for a specific action is received at intermittent and unpredictable intervals — it’s the most effective way to hook someone on performing a specific action. Other than being a very effective dog training tool, it’s also how Las Vegas makes most of its money. If you sat in front of a slot machine and it never gave you a dime, you’d stop playing pretty fast. And if it gave you a dime every tenth try, you’d probably figure out the math after thirty tries or so — free money has a way of turning people into math wizards. But instead, every slot machine is programmed to give out certain random amounts of money at random intervals, sometimes often, sometimes seldom, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot — but always less than what it takes in. The slot machine is intermittent reinforcement at its purest form.
Hollywood is nowhere near as pure, but for many people, it works on the same principle.
That’s it for now, but I will be back soon to write some more. Not sure when yet. Maybe soon, maybe not so soon, maybe I’ll write a little, maybe a lot…
Hi, my name is Tamas and I am a gambler – in more ways than one. I’m a writer and filmmaker and a few years ago I realized that you need a certain Vegas mentality to survive in Hollywood. For a while I didn’t see that correlation between Tinseltown and Sin City, but that changed shortly after I felt the weight of $500,000 in crisp Benjamins in my hand courtesy of a certain gambling establishment owned by a certain Native American tribe.* It wasn’t exactly my money, but it didn’t need to be for me to learn a lesson from it.
No, that money, though legally briefly mine – I did hit the jackpot that payed it out – officially belonged to my boss who was running a professional gambling operation at the time. Working for him was one of those odd jobs that came my way as I was trying to pay the rent while attempting to break into the movie biz. To this day I am bound by a non disclosure agreement as to the exact nature of the job, (hence this stuff * earlier) but perhaps I can skid under the radar by just saying this much: this fellow was part of a group of other fellows, who studied a particular game in a particular set of casinos and figured out that at particular times, said particular game was worth playing for a particular amount of money to turn a profit on the long run.
In other words, they did the math, they timed their action, then went in strong. Now, compare that to your Average Joe who shows up at the casino with a hundred bucks, hoping for a kiss from Lady Luck, sitting dreary eyed in front of the slot machines, chasing dreams, but never bothering to examine the odds themselves – and if you spent any time in Hollywood, you’re probably beginning to recognize that these two types of players are exactly who populate this town as well.
You have your Joes writing query letters from Greenbay or Glendale, hoping for that million dollar dream deal they read about in the last issue of Creative Screenwriting Magazine, not bothering to study the craft or even formatting their scripts properly, and you have your professional gamblers, coming out, making connections, studying the biz, writing, writing, writing. This second group is not guaranteed to win of course, but what they are doing is working at ways of improving their odds a few percentage points here and there, adding up their advantages over the long run. And when it comes to winning or loosing, the long run is all professional gamblers think about. In gambling terms, Hollywood is not a slot machine or a roulette table, though many people play it that way. No, the game I would most compare the movie biz to is a no limit Texas Hold’em poker tournament. It requires a combination of skill and luck, patience, calculated risks, knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, and yes, when the time is right, bluffing.
I’ve been at the tables of this casino for a while now so I figured I would share some stories, experiences and some of my mistakes on this blog.
Let’s shuffle up and deal!