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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

HALFWAY


It was brought to my attention the other day that if we get the luxury of playing out our seven season arc, we are halfway to completing that task.  Like all midpoints of a journey, it's often a good time to restock, refuel and reflect.  Sons of Anarchy has been an amazing trip for me, as an artist but even more so, as a man.  I'm a highly flawed individual.  Recovering drug addict and alcoholic, ex-400 pound fat kid, loner and just a generally angry fuck.  I don't present that backstory as an excuse for bad behavior, just as insight into my daily struggle to be a decent human being.  There's a lot of noise in my head and a lot weight in my bags.  Most people I work with are genuinely afraid of me.  Not because I'm abusive or harsh, but because I appear to be a guy who is desperately struggling not to be those things.  When your psyche is in a constant state of effort, no matter what that effort is, one appears unapproachable.  On this show, that is my waking persona.  

I am guilty of embracing that effect.  I don't particularly like people.  And by people I don't mean individuals, I mean a collective body of human beings who might require me to make inane small talk.  I don't do small talk.  I do heartfelt connection or silence.  I'm not a very good first date.  I bring up these defects of character because they clearly are what's in my face as I reach the 50 yard line of my MC saga.  

The greatest gift god has given me is the ability to learn.  When I stop being teachable, I'm dead -- creatively and personally.  Running a television show requires a level of authority and control unlike any other job in Hollywood.  You are king of your little television realm.  All decisions big and small pass your desk.  From the words on the page, to the color of a porn set, to the montage music, I make or sign off on every decision.  That vision and that authority is needed for a show to run smoothly and to be successful.  A singular vision is key.  Shows fail when that vision is lost.  That's why so many big network shows tank, because executives refuse to empower their creatives.  So how does one be a teachable king?  How do you instill confidence in your cast and crew that you have a sure hand on the rudder while still being vulnerable enough to learn from your mistakes?  There's the big fucking rub.

The bigger question is how does one grow as an artist?  In my opinion, the same way any other human being does, by pushing past fear.  I'm terrified of failure.  I'm terrified of change.  I'm terrified of being unloved.  These are the things that usually kick in my default defenses -- isolation, arrogance, denial.  Sometimes I'm neck-deep in them before I realize there's even a problem.  On a show like Sons, strong leadership is crucial to initiate and maintain the intense work schedule.  Seven day shoots, one week of prep, one week of post.  It's not a lot of time to make a 42 minute independent movie.  In that movie, every line, every action has a purpose.  I'm able to cram an incredible amount of story into those episodes because I've learned how to craft these scripts in such a way to utilize every minute of screen time to advance the narrative.  I have extensive tone meetings with my director to ensure that he or she is aware of my intentions in all these scenes.  Then my writer-producer on set is expected to protect those intentions.  What's recently been brought to my intention is that sometimes the specificity of my crafting is leaving key members of my team feeling like they don't contribute enough.  The run and gun nature of our show isn't allowing talent to have their process of discovery.  And yes, our schedule leaves little time for discovery, but that's probably all that's required -- a little time to make shit their own.  Some space to allow other creatives to take what I've done and make it better.  People just want to do a good job.  They truly want to make me happy and proud.  When I ask why didn't anyone tell me this was going on, I get the sheepish reply, "Because they were afraid to."  It's in those moments I really wish I was a different a different individual.  I also wish I still drank. 

But I'm not and I won't.  What I've learned is that leadership requires a strong hand and a good ear.  My credo has always been -- never compromise vision, but be willing to change the execution of that vision.  I can't control how people perceive me.  I lead with my intensity and that's never going to change.  What I can change are my actions.  I am not what I say or write, I am what I do.  And today, as much as it fucking irks me, I choose to do better.  

See what happens when you stop for gas.

34 comments:

Gig said...

That's some deep shit Kurt. And you wrote it without calling anyone a cunt. You must be mellowing in your old age.

Gig

grace said...

Though I am not 100% clear on what this means, in terms of the show, it seems a very brave post to make. As someone who would like to be in your business and is trying to learn from watching you, I find your honesty, not only about what you're doing but about how doing it feels, to be really refreshing. Thank you for that.

MJReilly39 said...

You are probably one of the most amazing people I ever had the pleasure to "get to know". Over these last few years you have allowed the public into your life and virtually into your mind. You've shown us how you tick and what ticks you off and we've all had the pleasure of being privy to one (or more) of the resulting rants.
As a fan I can only tell you how much this means to me personally. Being allowed to "witness" any of this is an honor and I thank you for the the opportunity.

Andrew said...

Greetings Mr. S,
That is some very good insight. This is perhaps the best I have read of you. Thank you for the validity and being able to put into words those thoughts and emotions. And know too that others have those feelings and emotions and thus we are not alone in that.

celesta said...

I have tried to figure out since season 1 what made me like SOA so much. When you commented that you dont like smalltalk BINGO...you dont let small talk into the show. Maybe others IE Networks- should pay more attention to what you are saying, "by not saying anything". Your fans get you..well most of them! We love the show and how you do it!
Celesta

Katherine Turner said...

F*cking brilliant, full of heart, stones, humility, Yes...

Your struggle shows up in SOA. And helps make my own less of a drag to carry . . . thank you . . .

Can't wait for Sept and season 4, episode 1!

@Panger2011 said...

Read this but, please, no need to publish:

A few years ago, I was head of a company that sold a highly creative product. It had my name on it, but I prided myself on hiring some of the brightest, most creative people on the planet - iconoclasts who hated corporate culture - and offered an environment that entertained even the craziest idea. (We made most of our money off of those.)

It started out wonderfully - at least I thought it did. Then a few months into a major project, I received a resignation letter from one of my strongest members, a powerhouse in his own right. He said he had become so afraid to piss me off that he was paralyzed, that my quest for perfection and control was chocking the life out of the group, and what he thought would be the best job of his life had turned into the worst.

I was stunned. Thank God I was still smoking then, because I'm pretty sure I went through four packs reading and rereading his letter.

At first, my only reaction was, "FUCK HIM, who needs the fucker" - but after the fiftieth reading, it started to dawn on me:

I was pretending to care, pretending to listen. In my head only I had the right answer. I brought these amazing people in under false pretenses and treated them worse then a tight-sphinctered, bitter bean counter.

I suddenly realized it was all a sham: My ego didn't have room for other good ideas, just the ILLUSION it did.

My proudest moment was that clarity and changing because of it.

I let people take more control. Was it perfect? Fuck no. Things didn't always turn out as I had envisioned. Sometimes, it tested me. But often it was better. Ironically, in the end I got even more credit and cash.

Letting go of my creative stranglehold - letting people in to add their distinct voices to the mix - made the product more challenging for me, but better than I could have ever dreamed. A whole so much greater than the sum of its parts. And I think I'm a better person because of it.

Trust me, I was - and am - still a handful. That's part of what makes me "me." But it's remarkable how much better your world is when when you leave a little air for others to breathe.

Sorry for the length but hope it proved useful. I'm excited for you. Get there.

Best, @panger2011

lowecat said...

Holy similarities, Batman! The more you share with us, the more I find you and I have things in common. Except for the drug/alcohol thing.

You're not alone in the being feared on the job, Mr. Sutter. The accusation has reared its' ugly head my way atmy job. Course, I'm just one of the peed on instead of a peon, but there are nights when the powers that be charge me with runnin' the show for the day. The responsibility of us makin' goal is on my shoulders.

Because of that responsibility (with none of the authority to back it up), I tend to be focused on the job at hand instead of being all buddy - buddy and making people comfortable. I'm not a mean fuck, cussing people out or doing any of the things from 'Horrible Bosses'. But, the people complained. *sigh*

I appreciate how you feel about people. Linus Van Pelt of Peanuts once said it best, and I had the poster for years, 'I love mankind, it's PEOPLE I can't stand!'

I was once the fat kid with the coke bottle bottom glasses that PEOPLE didn't like on sight, and was bullied unmercifully from childhood on into adulthood. That kinda shit does tend to mark one for life. You try not to grow into an angry, embittered, grouchy asshole.

I tend to think of myself as a tiny, feral kitten hissing and arching it's back, puffin' it's tiny tail to twice its' size in an attempt to warn off danger. Pain hurts, dammit. Pain of rejection and pain inflicted from others just because they can hurts a lot.

We both have one thing that saves from turnin' into the stereotypical angry old person yellin' at those damn kids outside. We can learn, and grow, and try to let down the barriers we erect to keep from bein' hurt. We might not be able to completely change who we are and what life has made us, but we can reach out and try to connect and therefore grow into something a little more bendable.

And I continue to have hope for Mankind (and I'm not talkin' about the WWE persona, here). People are another matter. That's an on going process.

If you ever find yourself wondering if there's anyone else in the word other than your family, who understands, the answer is yes. Former fat four eyed preacher's kid, with a hairtrigger temper and a creative aspect struggling to find a place in the world at the age of 51 (Though I only admit to bein' 49!)

That's why I follow you on Twitter, read your blog, support your show, and respect you.

billiejeanbliss said...

I wanna say congrats on creating this epic show. Its unlike anything else. I think its gritty and so raw and thats a positive. During the first season I became hooked and I dont really do too much tv watching but every airing of SOA.im there! Thanx

Emilio Mejia said...

Thanks for this post Kurt. I'm just entering the TV/film industry, and it's refreshing to know there are people like you working in it. I was able to connect to one thing you wrote in particular: "I don't do small talk. I do heartfelt connection or silence." Some people call me anti-social, but those that become close to me through friendship or creative endeavors know that's not the case. Again, thanks.

MKS said...

I am hoping that SOA will continue to go at least & seasons! I LOVE the show, cast, and writer very much! You have a huge fan base that LOVE the show regardless of what the critics think! I know this show won't last forever but as the seasons continue I find myself more in love and involved with my "Charming Family!" I love the way you are you and DO NOT change for anyone! Keep kicking ass and taking names!

Your loyal SOA FAN!

Cathy said...

I am married to a line producer for television.
For years I have listened and observed the process of making that particular sausage- TV.
Some shows have been truly wonderful, most real shit.
The shitty ones are usually bad for the reasons you describe, lack of singular vision and brave leadership.
As an outsider who sleeps beside an insider I loved reading your post. I will pass it on to my true love because (when he gets the time) he will appreciate
your brilliant articulation of what he shares with me every night.
Hang in there - you are doing a great great job!
All the Best,
Anonymous- for obvious reason

Dawn said...

I'd like to extend upon your post...

I truly believe that along with teachable, the world also belongs to teachers. We're all teachers every day. When we stop taking in and learning AND when we stop teaching others, that's the true death. We all have so much to offer and we all have so much to learn FROM each other.
Bravo. I think this blog post will be favorite-d.

Gl0riacat said...

By reading this (quite emotional) post, I have the feeling that you communicate much better through the written word, than by the spoken word. But, that's why you're a writer right?

I just hope that the person(s) that this was intended for, gets the chance to read it. It's very heartfelt.

But, you might have to follow up with a few spoken words too. Sometimes they're just as important.

Thanks
e.a

Anonymous said...

that is one of the "best" blog postings I think I have ever read of yours!...Scary in a way!...cause it reminds me alot of myself!...to make what you said open to the public to see and read says alot about your character!...I take my hat off to you Sir!

cheers
Bryan

aohora said...

Dude. Yer harshin' my mellow.

[I'm lying. You're totally my hero. :)]

Cali said...

I tend to lead with my intensity, too. I don't mean to, but it is what it is. Other intense people don't seem to notice, but the meek and mild among us do.

Also, I don't like people, either. Certain people are fine, but the whole of society sucks, mostly because they are nearly all bovine-stupid. Just look at all the self-serving dumbasses that our idiotic society has voted into office and it's pretty easy to tell how stupid people really are!

Keep on being intense, Kurt. It's what makes you who you are.

katherine. said...

From my view...one of your best posts. Second only to the one about your Dad.

Brian H. said...

Bravo.

Kate O'Hare said...

You may not like "people," but I always enjoy chatting with you (and if it had been colder, I would have worn my skull-and-bones scarf to set) ...

Kate.

lici2 said...

"Sometimes the bigger picture is limited to the frame that you put it in" L M Roberts

In your case, the picture is brilliant!

The artist of the picture is always named and remembered for the beauty of the work. The people that work for the artist revel in his successes and boast his name, not theirs. Let Them.

Love ya work

Urno Talbot said...

Geez Kurt, you turned us into therapists. You are loved, liked and have made a good life for yourself. You have a family, better than the one you were born with. Fuck anything else, be in the moment dude, nothing else matters. We all wind up worm food anyway, you need more Kierkegaard.

Dianne ~ California said...

Kurt, Very nice narrative and insight into your complex soul. Yeah, being clean and sober means having to feel. That is the biggest hurdle...after that it's cake (well without ice cream for sure)! Many congrats and much luck to you bro. Cannot wait for September.

Angi said...

I read this and it made me think our elected officials could learn a thing or two from it. GREAT post. Thanks for sharing your writing and vlogs with us!

Anonymous said...

Well.... Atleast you do what you gotta do... and you do it well. Thats something to be admired.

Vicious Vic said...

Hi Kurt!

Love the show.

Me and a friend are flying to New York next saturday to rent a Road King and a Heritage Softail to drive cross country to L.A. We were just wondering if there are any upcoming events connected to the show between aug 20 and sep 4 somewhere in the country. We'll drive down to D.C. and then towards Memphis and Oklahoma City and continue our journey along route 66 until we reach Los Angeles.

Best regards from two of the shows most die hard fans, Victor and Anders of Savage Row MC, Stockholm, Sweden. victor@frykholm.net

Fritz said...

Self Awareness is a B!tch!

JohnnyFive said...

What up Kurt. Just wanted to ask where I can score a poster/print of the b&w promo pic. I don't do the twit or facebook thing so here's my email- hellcamino59@gmail.com. Ill hit you up on a youtube comment as well. Later

lauren said...

I loved this post. I have tremendous respect for you. I battle with an addictive personality myself and sometimes that has caused me to lose focus and lose track of my goals. So despite being called lame and a party pooper, I choose not to drink anymore. I choose not to drink after a fucking rough day. I choose focus instead. I admire your passion and focus and energy you put into every show. I watch tv for fun and I also analyze it and I'm able to watch your show over and over again and discover new nuances each time. And I know every nuance is intentional and thought out by you. I think that is amazing. I know this is truly ebullient and a little embarrassing but you should know how much your fans appreciate what you do. And as a side note: your fans understand your twitter feed. You have opinions and are so sarcastic and realistic about Hollywood life. It is refreshing and people are scared of you.

lici2 said...

P.S Dont even think about not doing this anymore!

Big Bev said...

Hey Kurt,

I was never an addict, just the tall fat kid who people seemed to like, but never felt comfortable around most of them. In reading your post, though, you reminded me of something from my past.

I went to a Catholic high school. And I had an English teacher who was very influential in my life. He taught me to love reading, not because of good stories, but because of the exchange of ideas that lay just beyond the words on the page. His most important lesson, though, was started every class period with the beginning of the Serenity prayer. (Just for those not familiar with it, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.")

You reminded me of that in your insight as to how you now live your life. Many of times in the past, in business and in personal issues, I'd remember that prayer, and break things down, to see what the best course of action was. Along the way, I had forgotten about that, trusted too much in myself, didn't take that moment to just...take a breath...step back...look at things, and avoid snap decisions.

I usually read your blog because you're a pretty interesting guy. And I totally get the speak deep or keep silent preference. It's usually mine, too. What I wasn't expecting was to have a moment of clarity this morning, and for that I thank you.

Keep doing your thing. And thanks.

Chris

Negative_Beauty said...

As everyone else has basically said; fuck the haters!

Caroline Gerardo said...

Give yourself a present of something beautiful.

Melissa Baggett said...

My husband became a fan of your show after the first season when he was in Afghanistan working as a contractor, he rebuilt a motorcycle from scrap parts while he was there, and in a way I'm assuming he related his prior military service & (at the time) living conditions with the camaraderie of the SOA on the show. He insisted I watch it...I was skeptical...a show about bikers? But after watching all three seasons I realized it's more than that, and after reading this post I understand why. This show doesn't just tell a story, it attaches itself to your emotions, you feel for people who don't really exist. But it's the character...we all know a "Tig" or a "Tara"...we watch them struggle, and in the same way good literature or music teaches you something cinema and television does the same. We're all flawed, some of us more than others, we all struggle. Or maybe it's just the ones of us who aren't good at pretending. I think you're brilliant. Not because you made a tough television show about violent, sexy or beautiful people...but because you connected us to your characters, and sometimes each other. My husband says that I reminded him of "Gemma" because our entire 7 year marriage he's been to Iraq, Afghanistan, Louisiana (after Hurricane Katrina), and a number of other places I kept our home here in Arkansas. I tried my best to hold it all together for our kids, and kept him tethered here when it was hard. But that's when you find out who you are as a person. When you face those challenges, when you over come those challenges, move on and above. I was honored to be compared with a character that despite her imperfections, was devoted, and strong... You're an inspiration.