"Juniors And Heavies"
Excerpted from
Breaking Through, Selling Out,
Dropping Dead And Other Notes On Filmmaking

by William Bayer.


Scanned and formatted by Cassiel C. MacAvity

   Bayer's book is a collection of short essays on filmmaking and the filmmaking industry, listed in alphabetical order by topic. One such essay is titled "Juniors and Heavies".

Juniors and Heavies

   (Footnote from the revised and updated edition:

   When this book was published this section (inspired by Susan Sontag's "Notes On Camp") was the most controversial. Many people told me it was their favorite part of the the book; some even said it was the only part worth reading. Still others found it perplexing, and stared at me with furled brows as if I were some kind of psychopath. All I can say is if you get it you get it, and if you don't you probably never will.)

   If you work in film for very long, you will meet a great number of people. Some will become friends and some will become enemies; there will be people who will cheat you and people who will be straight with you; you will meet young people and old people, winners and losers; in short, people of every type. Of all the distinctions you must learn to make, the most important is the difference between a heavy and a junior, and, for that matter, between things in film that are heavy and things in film that are light. The importance of this distinction cannot be overestimated. It applies to everyone in film, from actors and agents to producers and directors, and to every aspect of film, from screenplays and packages to films themselves. It is a distinction that is partly, but not always, qualitative; that has something, but not everything, to do with achievement; that reflects both objective and subjective standards; that is important and unimportant, irrelevant and basic, all at the same time. The ability to make these distinctions cannot be taught; there simply comes a day when the recognition of what is heavy and what is light, who is heavy and who is junior, is plain and intuitive. The terms involved cannot be defined, but the following notes may serve as a guide for the reader who must, in the end, define them for himself:

   (1) Heaviness and lightness are words that do not pertain to bulk or to physical weight, or, for that matter, to heavy-handedness or to a "light touch."

   (2) Within a corporation, relative titles and positions on a company organization chart do not necessarily express relative degrees of heaviness. A heavy is a prime mover and he may or may not be the company president.

   (3) A heavy gets things done. When he speaks, people listen. When he says he is going to do something, he does it. When a junior speaks, people begin to stare at the floor. When a junior says he is going to do something, you cannot be sure that he will.

   (4) Heavies in the film business do not refer to somebody not present as the "boss," unless they are being deeply ironic. Although a heavy may be an employee, he is not supervised. He may be fired for making a mistake, but he is never called on the carpet.

   (5) A heavy is decisive and gives you a straight yes or no answer, which is the most you can ask from anyone. A junior strings you along, interminably.

   (6) When a heavy says "no" he means "no," and usually there are no further grounds for discussion. When a junior says "no" it doesn't mean anything except that at that particular moment he is feeling negative.

   (7) Heavies say "no" with a smile, and kill you with a grin. Juniors like to stick in the knife, twist it in the wound, and then rub in some salt just to make sure it hurts. This gives juniors a satisfaction that heavies do not need, because being heavy is satisfaction enough for them.

   (8) A heavy is not difficult to get to see, the first time around. A heavy returns your calls or else lets you know that in the future you had better speak to somebody else. A junior is very difficult to reach, and makes a point of not returning your calls.

   (9) Heavies use juniors as messenger boys; juniors pretend they have messenger boys of their own.

   (10) Heavies play their cards very close; juniors often say things they should not say, and don't know when they've tipped their hands.

   (11) Heavies make mistakes, which they are happy to admit. Juniors are always right-at least according to them.

   (12) Heavies are frequently ungraceful. They also tend to dress simply and without pretension. Juniors are mod and hip, and their grooming is contrived.

   (13) A junior tells you that he "vetoed" a certain project; a heavy tells you that he talked it over with the boys and that "they" decided against it.

   (14) Heavies are often impolite. This is not intentional; many of them are simply crude. When a junior is rude, it is usually with a purpose.

   (15) Sometimes when you are in a meeting with a heavy, there is a long silence, a dead hole in the conversation. It may seem awkward to you, but it does not bother a heavy. A junior, on the other hand, will always try to fill a hole.

   (16) A heavy is just as likely as a junior to cheat you, but he will do so on a much grander scale.

   (17) Sexual orientation is irrelevant to heaviness.

   (18) A heavy agent can put together a package very rapidly and sell it to a major studio with an apparent lack of effort. Junior agents set up meeting after meeting with juniors at various studios; half the time these meetings are cancelled, and on those rare occasions when they actually take place, there is a great deal of fast talk and no results.

   (19) Women, of course, can be heavies. There are many, particularly among actresses. A common error is to confuse a woman who is a killer with a woman who is a heavy.

   (20) Heavies, like certain maitres d'hotel in first-class dining rooms on transatlantic passenger liners, have seen a great deal of the world and are impressed by very little. Juniors are very easily impressed, especially by success.

   (21) Heavies who are producers like to gamble. If you ask one why he took a certain chance, he is likely to say something about the hair sticking up on the back of his neck. Juniors hedge their bets, with this writer and that writer, this star and that star. Juniors also tend to intellectualize their decisions.

   (22) Heavies form the aristocracy of film. Their proportion to juniors is roughly that of one to a hundred.

   (23) On many occasions it is fun to deal with juniors, but one must always remember that one is playing a game, and that nothing exists until it has been certified by a heavy.

   (24) Juniors tend to be more charming than heavies. Needless to say, the last thing the filmmaker is interested in is charm.

   (25) Many directors who have made a great number of interesting and successful films are not heavies. It is difficult to say why. Perhaps something that one cannot define is missing from their work. Elia Kazan is a heavy director, and Sidney Lumet is not.

   (Footnote from the revised and updated edition:

   I was too hard on Lumet. His New York cop films constitute a fine body of work, and his excellent Prince Of The City is badly underrated.)

   (26) Perhaps the heaviest of all actors is John Wayne.

   (27) Orson Welles and Marlon Brando are representative of a very rare breed who cannot be characterized as either heavies or juniors. In their work there are elements of both which commingle and cannot be unraveled.

   (28) One of the many troubles with the television series Bracken's World, which dealt with the goings-on at a major Hollywood studio, was that one never saw a heavy. Bracken himself acted much too junior for a man with his apparent power, and his ace director, a character called Kevin Grant, was so junior, so feather-light, such a messenger boy, that it was impossible to imagine him directing anything except a series like Bracken's World."

   (Footnote from the revised and updated edition:

   Does anyone remember Bracken's World? No? Perhaps because it was so very light.)

   (29) There is something about every film ever made by Stanley Kramer that has an aura of pseudo-heaviness. There is something about every film ever made by Stanley Kubrick that is indisputably heavy."

   (Footnote from the revised and updated edition:

   Kubrick was overrated in this book. At the time I thought he was the best we had, but sadly I've watched him slip in recent years, perhaps a victim of the very virtues (obsessiveness, reclusiveness) that originally made him strong. I would say the same of John Schlessinger, a fine director who, for some reason seems to have lost his touch. And, since publication we've all been witness to the extraordinary rise and fall of Francis Ford Coppola, the Godfather Pictures and The Conversation being masterpieces, while his more recent pictures (i.e. Tucker) seem wildly overblown. But none of this should surprise us. After all, Orson Welles was a motion picture genius whose last good film, Touch Of Evil, was made in 1958!)

   (30) The terms heavy and light do not pertain to tragedy or comedy. In fact, good comedies are always heavy.

   (31) Everything about the film Doctor Dolittle is very light, and everything about the film Dr. Strangelove is very heavy. This may sum up the difference between these two "medical classics."

   (32) It is possible for a hack to be a heavy. This implies that heaviness has more to do with the way a person sees himself than with anything he may do.

   (33) In a performance, the quality that most pertains to heaviness is the actor's conviction.

   (34) A heavy, like any big-time gambler, will take a loss with a shrug. A junior will brood upon one endlessly. A junior will also restage conversations in his mind, turning heroic phrases which did not occur to him when he was under pressure.

   (35) Shots that confront scenes are heavy, and shots that caress scenes are light.

   (36) Heaviness may have something to do with knowing who or what one is. Lightness seems to surround people and films that are seeking a category for themselves.

   (37) The late David Selznick is often held up as a heavy because he was the producer of Gone with the Wind. However, there is something about the style of his famous and endless memoranda that smacks of juniorism. This implies that heaviness may not be a permanent attribute, but something which comes and goes.

   (38) It is very difficult for a film critic to be a heavy. It is impossible for a publicist or a press agent, no matter how spectacular, to be a heavy. There may be more heavy producers and promotors than there are heavy actors and directors.

   (39) Heavies can fail, but only juniors can overachieve. The words "heavy" and "overachieve" are contradictory terms and cannot be used together, because there is no limit to what a heavy can do.

   (40) The statement "You are only as heavy as your last picture" is stupid.

   (41 )After a little exposure to people in the film business, one can make nearly instantaneous judgments about who is heavy and who is junior. These judgments may later prove to be incorrect, but generally speaking, one is more likely to overestimate a junior than to underestimate a heavy.

   (42) One of the highest compliments that can befall a filmmaker is to have one or more recognized heavies say to him that his picture is good, and that it is moving. Other compliments, including the words "dazzling, stupendous, brilliant, devastating, best film I've seen all year, etc.," are strictly from the vocabularies of juniors.

   (43) One of the surest signs that a person is a junior comes when he looks you straight in the eye and tells you that someone you never heard of is the greatest director in the world.

   (44) The openings of films that are heavy seem to be energized by something that has gone on before the film started; when such films are over, one feels that there is sufficient energy left to continue the story, if the filmmaker so desired. Light films, on the other hand, crank up while you look at them, and die when they are finished.

   (45) It is necessary to understand the difference between juniors and heavies, and between light things and heavy things, because without this knowledge it is impossible to survive. .