Gambling is an addiction — a high-dive fever trip that people with wired, aggressive natures enjoy because (and I’m not trying to be facile or judgmental about this) it offers a brief respite from the dutiful, methodical, nose-to-the-grindstone rigors that are necessary in order to lead a life defined by at least some degree of honor, dignity, consistency, responsibility and consideration for others. Gambling is, I’ve always believed, about tempting disaster and flirting with self-destruction. It can take you down as surely as alcohol or cocaine or debt or anger. But there’s still something about it that I like.
The willingness or at least the readiness to gamble is, of course, a necessary element with any creative person who dreams of making it big, and certainly with any producer or screenwriter or director. It’s been said over and over that the lack of hot gambler nerve is what ails the film business more than anything else these days. You can’t hedge or calculate your way into a hit movie. The biggest Hollywood cliche of all is that movies are a crap shoot, but over the last 25 years or so the purse strings have become increasingly constricted by more and more nervous-nelly corporate types, which has often been a key factor in bad big-studio movies and the much-bemoaned corporate addiction (unfortunately necessary within the realm that big studios are obliged to operate) to franchises.
The vast majority of creative people in this town are not problematic casino gamblers, although a lot of them are in regular poker games with industry friends. I know a few actors and at least two director-writers who enjoy playing the tables in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, but I wonder if anyone has ever written a piece about the overlap between gamblers of whatever delineation and the type of films they tend to dream up or pitch or try to make?
Gambling addicts are people looking to lose, but is there something in the character of people who, under the right circumstances and with the right idea or inspiration, have the brass to throw the dice on a script or a concept that has a tendency to spill over into Vegas-y gambling (or horses or dogs) to some extent? All the legendary producers have been tenacious with thick skins, but don’t you also need a little of that “crazy guy still playing craps downstairs at 4 ayem” spirit?
I’ve never been into gambling of any kind. I’ve played in less than ten serious poker games in my entire life. I hate losing money. But there’s something about that side of my nature that has also led, I suspect, to not having had the brass or the drive to push harder at other ventures like scriptwriting (which I tried and failed at, possibly because I didn’t have the talent but also because I may have lacked the moxie to keep at it and theoretically improve as I went along). I’m very happy with what I do, but deep down I’ve always admired the gamblers, or at least the thing they have that leads them to an occasional belief, as James Caan‘s character puts it in James Toback‘s The Gambler, that “two plus two equals five.”