In every society both humans and animals, there is the “alpha”. They are described as passionate, composed, ambitious and always willing to tackle a problem. According to Worth Ethic Corporation, an executive coaching service, (http://www.worthethic.com/the-alpha-male-syndrome.html), the alpha male can also inspire fear and resentment rather than trust and respect, often causing expensive problems for their corporations. Though aforementioned article focuses on males, I have been subjected to working for several alpha females in the film business. My first film job was an assistant to a development executive who ran a famous actor’s production company. Our high rise office was located on the 18th floor with a beautiful view of polluted Burbank. One day, my boss was “dictating” story notes to me. While rattling off ideas on how to improve a script at super speed, the fire alarm went off. Though fire trucks arrived and the building was being evacuated, she insisted we ignore the commotion. The first set of firemen insisted but she refused. Instead, we continued with the story notes. Smoke bellowed down the hallway. As I coughed and typed, the second fireman said that if we didn’t leave we would be arrested. While my 5ft, 1in boss vehemently argued, I asked myself, “Was I willing to go to jail for my career?” As crazy as it may sound, I vacillated. It was a great job and I knew there would a slew of new candidates happy to fill my position. Finally, she caved in and we climbed down 18 stories to safety. Several years later, she was arrested for attacking a valet guy when she was late for a premiere.
She was insane. Yet, I wouldn’t be as versed in script analysis and strategy if it weren’t for her. She encouraged me to read and see everything, cultivate relationships with emerging talent and to look for the potential in a project. Her reputation for spotting trends and having good taste was the reason a number of young filmmakers got started. How did I survive her? First I learned how to shelve my prideful ego. Then I figured out her weakness: she had poor time management skills. Her lateness resulted in her forgetting important items for a meeting, missing flights and keeping the wrong people waiting. Not only did I create schedules with directions, gather the items she needed for meetings, I also lied about the times by 15 minutes. I interrupted calls/meetings to push her out of the door. This may seem small but it was life altering for her. Had the subsequent assistant done the same, she wouldn’t have been arrested. She was ultimately fired for trying to move our famous movie star boss to another agency. Once the actor’s agent heard she was “taking meetings on his behalf”, he squashed her. The company was left in my hands for six months while they searched for a replacement. A touch of ALL ABOUT EVE wouldn’t you say? Another lesson learned: there is always a bigger, more powerful alpha out here.
The alpha is not an easy personality to work for but everyone has a weakness. Learn it then help find a solution. Lastly, choose your battles carefully. If you must confront, be prepared to lose and to lose big. Regardless if they are right or wrong, they aren’t going to shelve their prideful ego….ever.