Friday, March 25, 2016
James Franco's Rigorous Work Ethic
I've given a number of mentees and colleagues copies of Sam Anderson's "The James Franco Project" which was a 2010 New York magazine profile on the polymath, because I was impressed by Franco's uncompromising work ethic. Here are some highlights from the piece:
He’s just flown back from Berlin this afternoon, he says, and he has a 35-page paper due tomorrow. Next weekend he has to shoot a student film, because in two weeks he’ll be flying out to Salt Lake City to start acting in a movie called 127 Hours
Revisions are due soon on his book of short stories, which will be published in October by Scribner. He’s trying to nail down the details of an art show that will be based, somehow, on his recent performance on the soap opera General Hospital. Also, he has class every day, which—since he’s enrolled in four graduate programs at once—requires commuting among Brooklyn, Greenwich Village, Morningside Heights, and occasionally North Carolina.
He persuaded his advisers [at UCLA] to let him exceed the maximum course load, then proceeded to take 62 credits a quarter, roughly three times the normal limit. When he had to work—to fly to San Francisco, for instance, to film Milk—he’d ask classmates to record lectures for him, then listen to them at night in his trailer. He graduated in two years with a degree in English and a GPA over 3.5. He wrote a novel as his honors thesis.
As soon as Franco finished at UCLA, he moved to New York and enrolled in four of them: NYU for filmmaking, Columbia for fiction writing, Brooklyn College for fiction writing, and—just for good measure—a low-residency poetry program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. This fall, at 32, before he’s even done with all of these, he’ll be starting at Yale, for a Ph.D. in English, and also at the Rhode Island School of Design.
According to everyone I spoke with, Franco has an unusually high metabolism for productivity. He seems to suffer, or to benefit, from the opposite of ADHD: a superhuman ability to focus that allows him to shuttle quickly between projects and to read happily in the midst of chaos. He hates wasting time—a category that includes, for him, sleeping. (He’ll get a few hours a night, then survive on catnaps, which he can fall into at any second, sometimes even in the middle of a conversation.) He doesn’t drink or smoke or—despite his convincingness in Pineapple Express—do drugs. He’s engineered his life so he can spend all his time either making or learning about art.
Vince Jolivette, Franco’s roommate and general right-hand man (he runs Franco’s production company and plays bit parts in many of his films), met Franco in acting class in 1996. “Our teacher made us rehearse at least once a day outside of class,” he told me. “James would get eight or nine rehearsals. Everyone else would do, at most, one. If we didn’t rehearse, or if I had to cancel, he’d be pissed.”
According to his mother, Betsy, Franco has been this way since he was born. In kindergarten, he wouldn’t just build regular little block towers—he’d build structures that used every single block in the playroom. At night, he would organize his Star Wars toys before he slept. When Franco was 4 years old, a friend of the family died. Betsy gave him the standard Mortality Talk: no longer with us, just a part of life—yes, but hopefully not for a very long time. Little James burst into tears. He was inconsolable. Eventually, he managed to choke out, between sobs, “But I don’t want to die! I have so much to do!”
One of Franco’s most serious productivity advantages is his personal assistant, Dana Morgan. “I tease him when people say, ‘How do you do it?’ ” she tells me. “ ‘You don’t! You do all the things they know about, but you don’t do the normal human-being things.’ ” Morgan [...] makes sure he wakes up, gets dressed, eats. “I guarantee you he would not eat unless I fed him.”
And here are some excerpts from Rolling Stones' 2016 cover story "The Mystery of James Franco: Inside His Manic Days and Sleepless Nights" (I feel compelled to warn that the reference to "G_d's p_ssy" by Seth Rogan and Franco is possibly the absolute worst form of blasphemy I've ever heard!):
The Cranston fight in Why Him? involves a ton of choreography performed by stunt doubles, which translates to a ton of sitting around for Franco. Since he hates wasting time, the result is an absurd tableau: As the stuntmen scuffle right in front of him, he sits cross-legged in a canvas folding chair, calmly sips coffee and reads not one but two different paperbacks at once – a Jackson Pollock biography and Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Franco takes in several pages from one, then switches to the other, paying no mind to the cacophony mere feet away. "On comedies, usually everybody's fucking around between takes, but that's not James' process," Hamburg says. "He's making use of every single moment. The other day he was in hair and makeup, typing on a laptop. I said, 'What are you doing, writing a novel?' He said, 'Yep.' And he actually was!"
In all my conversations with Franco, he seemed locked in – fully present to what I was saying, pressing me for clarification and nuance even when it was small talk. Other collaborators attest to his powers of concentration amid the feverish multitasking [...]"Other producers and directors would praise the talent in one breath and then tell you a story about him falling asleep between camera setups with some annotated copy of a Faulkner novel in his lap. But then he came to work, and he had both of his characters surrounded. He didn't let slip a line or a gesture."
If you're having trouble completing your projects you may want to use Franco's work ethic as motivation to sleep less, work longer but smarter too (i.e., Don't waste time. e.g., You can read while you're waiting on line at Trader Joe's.)