I get asked this question a lot. And, as I described in the book, the answer basically boils down to roles.
At a very high level, you want just enough people on the team to make something great. People should have clearly defined roles with not too much overlap.
For instance, if you’re making an album, the only people in the studio should be the band, the producer, and perhaps someone to handle engineering and technical setup. If guest artists are collaborating, bring them in to work with the team when they are needed.
You don’t need extra people standing around and getting in the way, or even worse, someone from the business team (studio manager, record executive, marketing people) “approving” the music or trying to insert themselves into the creative process. Their understanding of the audiences may be flawed, or they will bring their own biases into the mix, thereby pushing the creative people down the wrong path.
Big teams dominate many areas of media
It may seem strange that I even have to say this, but the reality is many creative teams with a little success behind them often assume they have to add more people to make something even better. Or, the people from the business side insist on having meetings to discuss or approve creative elements. I’ve seen it happen in my own career in the music industry, broadcasting, news, and online media. Director Brian De Palma also related how this tendency is endemic in Hollywood:
I’ve never seen such studio interference. I mean, I would get stacks of notes, over and over again, from multiple sources. It’s changed. They want to be included on everything. I remember throwing executives out of the room during a reading for “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Are you kidding? I can’t have these actors performing in front of studio executives during the first reading! They claimed they wouldn’t say anything, which was nonsense. I had the same thing with the Paterno project. I said, “This is the first time Al has heard this material. I can’t have executives sitting here.” They were offended beyond belief — sulking, tense. I finally walked away from it.
If you’ve seen HBO’s “Project Greenlight,” the HBO executive on that show, Len Amato — that was the guy I was dealing with. On the show, there’s Len in the editing room, making suggestions. That’s like my worst nightmare. I have never dealt with a producer in the editing room. And you can’t get final cut on television. Can you believe that Martin Scorsese doesn’t have final cut on television?
In a nutshell, this type of interference negatively impacts the creative core, slows things down, adds unnecessary meetings, and sometimes leads to “features” that end up driving audiences away.
Of course, in some cases there may be a required approval. The legal department needs to perform a check to make sure the new work does not violate other parties’ trademarks or copyrights. Or, an investor will insist on having some involvement with the creative team as a condition of providing money. These approvals are unavoidable.
But when it comes to other types of approvals? My advice is to minimize or eliminate them, and let the creative people work their magic.