After three years as head writer for Saturday Night Live, Adam McKay was ready to quit in 2000. He disliked the long hours and ongoing battles with Lorne Michaels, the show’s strong-willed founder, over creative issues.
McKay sought to write his own screenplays and become a film director. But before leaving SNL, McKay took his agent’s advice and approached Michaels with a series of demands he’d need to stay put.
Armed with five conditions for remaining at SNL, including the freedom to make short films, McKay confronted Michaels using the “least-interest principle”—the person with the least interest in continuing the relationship wields the most power.
Michaels agreed to all of his head writer’s demands, and McKay stayed aboard and thrived in his new role. He shot dozens of short films for SNL over the show’s next two seasons. Then he left for good.
By the time McKay moved on to direct movies, he had valuable experience thanks to his last two years at SNL. He parlayed that experience into successful projects such as “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.” Today, he’s one of America’s top comedy filmmakers.
Adopting a nothing-to-lose attitude, McKay’s negotiation with Michaels proved the turning point in his career. By listing his terms for staying as SNL’s head writer (and bracing to quit if terms weren’t met), he convinced his boss to reconfigure his job to help him expand his craft.
— Adapted from Business Brilliant, Lewis Schiff, HarperBusiness.
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