Will came home from work the other day and fresh from a disappointing meeting. He told me about the players and the outcomes and why he suspected it went awry. He’d done a good job running the meeting, he thought, but it still didn’t work out the way he’d wanted it to.
I said: Maybe you’re in the wrong movie.
He said: I think I am. But what’s the right one?
Believe it or not, this conversation made total sense to us.
I’ve been working my way through the podcasts you all recommended here on this post (thanks again for the recommendations!) and have been enjoying them so much. They’re entertaining and informative while I’m out and about, but the occasional phrase or concept is permeating my (and sometimes our) daily vocabulary.
The episode in question here is Sam Jones’s interview with Matt Damon on the podcast Off Camera. (Heads up for profanity.) They cover a lot of ground, discussing Damon’s “business meetings” with Ben Affleck in the high school cafeteria, the directors he’s worked with, tricks of the trade, and his ambitions to one day fill the director’s chair. But my favorite moment is at minute 54:23, when he shares one of his favorite notes he’s ever gotten from a director.
It’s Damon’s Big Moment in The Informant, a movie directed by Steven Soderbergh and based on a true story. After the very first take, Damon thought he nailed it. He was feeling every emotion his character should be feeling: his performance was heartfelt and raw and pretty darn perfect.
But Soderbergh wasn’t impressed. He came out from behind the camera, walked over to Damon, and said, “Um, no.”
Damon thought he was crazy: he thought his scene was spot-on.
But Soderbergh told him his performance wasn’t bad, not at all. The problem, he told Damon, was this: “You’re in the wrong movie.”
Earlier in the episode, Damon had explained the concept. He said that if a seasoned actor’s performance didn’t work, they had one excuse, and it was not knowing what movie they were in. The actor thinks he should take a certain tone, but the scene needs an altogether different one. Maybe the scene demands tragedy and the actor brings sentimentality. Or the scene needs a straight man and the actor brings irony. The acting can be amazing—but if they’re in the wrong movie, it still doesn’t work.
I know little about the behind-the-scenes of movie making, which is one reason I found this episode so fascinating. But being in the wrong movie? I get it: I do it all the time.
Take my kids: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brought out my bossiest self when what a kid really needed was a sympathetic ear (or vice versa). I recently exasperated a friend by expressing sympathy for her struggles, when she actually wanted some problem-solving help. I wasn’t being a horrible mom or friend; I was just in the wrong movie.
And how many times have acquaintances tried to say something comforting—maybe after a loss or a disappointing event—but they still got it all wrong and made you feel weird? Wrong movie.
Or you deliver a rousing speech at your meeting and you did it well, but it wasn’t what people needed to hear? Wrong movie.
I find it oddly comforting to think that so many times when I’m screwing up in life, maybe it’s not because there’s a gigantic problem with me and what I’m bringing to the table. Maybe I’m just in the wrong movie.
And thankfully, it’s not terribly hard to put myself in the right one.
I would love to hear about the times you’ve been in the wrong movie and how you’ve figured out how to put yourself in the right one. If you have any other tips and tricks for being your best self in the big (or small) moments, please tell us all about them in comments.