Monday Prescriptions – Hollywood sayings, worldly wisdom and their real meanings

Hi Film Folk!

The Film Doctor Team have been fortunate enough to share time with some of the wisest owls in the world, bestowing us with some of the most priceless guidance and information we could ever have dreamed of.

However, we have also experienced our fair share of young bucks blithely reciting famous Hollywood (and life) sayings with little real understanding of the meaning beneath the words.

So in today’s Monday Prescription we’ll take two famous film industry sayings and take a look at them from all sides.

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Before we ‘go to town’ on these mottos, let’s take a quick detour and look at why they are so popular.

The explanation is simple. There is a poignancy to punctuated writing. That’s it. The world loves a laconic line and so “Seize the day”, “All you need is love”,  “I’m lovin’ it” and “Every cloud has a silver lining” are often repeated for their swift, punchy quality as much as their content. Voila!


So here we go:



“Nobody knows anything.”

This was originated, or at least was popularised, by screenwriter and author William Goldman. Mr. Goldman used it in his book “Adventures in the Screen Trade” to suggest that prior to a movie’s release, Hollywood has no real idea how well a film will do. Of course now it has been plucked from the book and used out of context so often by so many.

A quotation like “Nobody knows anything” is bound to have multiple meanings but if you are relatively new to the industry and using this ‘mantra’ and thinking it means ‘everybody is stupid and doesn’t know what they are doing’ then you are sorely mistaken. Sorely, sorely mistaken. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the film business who know exactly what they are doing and are excellent in how they do it. The quotation simply means that there is only so much we can do and that, come judgement day (or a film’s release), we are only human and the rest is up to the Gods.

One of the funniest, and perhaps most confusing to describe, usage is by lower to mid-level industry folk, spoken as if they themselves crafted the wisdom and that they are letting you in on a secret. Of course “Nobody knows anything” suggests that we can not know everything about the world or why films succeed and fail and yet by thinking we know something by knowing the quotation “Nobody knows anything” we are defeating the point. We don’t really know.

All we can do is do our best.


“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

This is a hand-me-down from an anonymous source and must be one of the most oft-repeated sayings in almost every industry. There is a lot to be taken that is positive from this saying: the usefulness of networking, of connecting, of scratching a back for a back-scratch in return. But there is a deep flaw in its phrasing and how, for the literal translator, it excludes important factors that contribute to success.

‘It’ is clearly ‘success’ or the ‘key to success.’ That’s what ‘it’ is. And apparently the key to success is ‘who you know’ and NOT ‘what you know’ or your talent or your work ethic.

Of course this is silly, all of the above components feature heavily in success. It’s who you know. It’s what you know. It’s what you know about who you know. It’s who likes you (knowing you isn’t enough.) It’s akin to saying the key to building a house is the bricks. It’s not. It’s the architect, the design, the foundations, the builders, the cement etc etc.

This is not to dismiss the ‘it’s who you know’ part because let’s face it, that is a HUGE key to success. We are simply reminding you to include the other keys…lest you forget.



We’ll leave with something that isn’t punchy, isn’t a motto or a slogan that you can repeat in an instant, but definitely fires up the engine:

“Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful.”

Mark Victor Hansen  (Chicken Soup for the Soul)


‘Monday Prescription’ No. 20 – Strive to learn life to the fullest. Don’t be a slave to famous quotations.

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Any questions/thoughts/experiences of your own??? Leave a comment below!
Have a great week!
The Film Doctor Team
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