Day Job Blues

I’ve come to that point many arrive at where you begin to question an action you took. I moved to LA somewhat spontaneously after talking about it for many years. The impetus? I was getting older, and the final push was losing a miserable day job in a series of layoffs. I had reached about 65% of my desired savings (a year’s rent- or roughly $15,000). I was initially going to move by the Fall, but alas here I am in July- almost August. Here for three months now and I’ve begun to reflect on this decision.

I moved out here with the long term career goal of becoming a writer-producer. Yes I know, like thousands of other kids who move here every week. From Tribeca Films to assisting an Academy Award nominated producer, working production and doing script coverage around various day jobs at home I figured I’d find something here easily. After all, I have experience, references and a decent network. That network got me added to an elite recruitment seminar -only offered to less than 1% of applicants- at one of the three letter talent agencies. I was 28, everyone else was 22 and right out of school and despite my experience, being a top performer in my recruitment class and having an in with a partner there, I wasn’t hired. I was told to try again in October, and I don’t plan on it.

That rejection disheartened me greatly. Despite picking up set work afterward and expanding my network, I was still crushed. How do you measure progress in an industry which is not merit-based? It’s a question I still can’t answer. While I continue to write and get read, and offers for reads, I am back in the position I was in New York: working a day job to pay the bills while hoping for a career path to materialize.

I should add that hope isn’t the right word- I have every intention of working hard to make things happen. However, I need to get a year lease first and that’s not going to happen on a production gig-based job. You need a 9-5 in order to pass a rental application. Having spent almost half of my savings on the inflated cost of a furnished sublet, I don’t have the financial luxury of toiling in industry gig or temp jobs hoping one pans out and turns full time.

That’s the kicker, being financially independent means pursuing industry work is often a financial burden. Even if I got that agent training job, I’d only be making $13/hour. Literally. That’s it. Plus time off the clock. I would’ve had to live in a ghetto or with multiple roommates to afford it. So I have wound up in the same place I was before I moved, working a day job I dislike while wishing things could’ve turned out differently. Then that thought process turns into “why did I move at
all?”

I remind myself that a day job in LA is infinitely better than one in New York. It means being where the work ultimately is and provides me the ability to network. I’ve already gotten more requests for reads just living here than I did based in New York. People take you more seriously as an aspiring writer in LA than one anywhere else. While my near term goal is hopefully assisting a writer or producer, working for a well known billionaire’s company isn’t bad either. It’s actually great experience to add to a resume.

Finally, many writers wait tables, have side gigs. Even more are doing the same outside of LA. Those who are in LA often can’t afford to work in the industry and if they can it affects the amount of time they have to seriously write.

I am reminded of a recent panel interview THR did during last year’s Oscar season. Several high profile nominees were asked about their days jobs prior to success. Mel Gibson worked in a factory. Denzel Washington was a garbageman. Barry Jenkins mowed lawns. Oliver Stone was everything from a merchant sailor to a temp on a porno film. But when the opportunity arose to do something better, they did and sealed the deal with hard work and dedication.

It’s a reminder that life is hardly a straight path. The decision to move here hasn’t paid off yet. I do know that being here provides me with opportunity that being elsewhere would not. When that opportunity arises I will be ready for it and work my butt off for success. I will work harder than any of my competition if someone gives me that chance. For now I have to make money any way I can, get into a year lease and return to industry work once fully settled. It’s hard to assess risk-reward, because it takes a while for the reward part but I know I wouldn’t be in any position for reward if I hadn’t taken this risk in the first place.

Invisible

I feel invisible. Here in LA, the only time someone pays you attention is if you’re already successful; or seem so. While this may seem like a stereotype, it has largely proven true. Social networking is dictated by what you can do for someone else.

Most of my days spent outside of a dull office job are spent writing, doing coverage for friends or occasionally working on set. Since I moved to LA, I’ve written more than ever. While that’s great, it’s also sort of isolating. Creating so much can also feel exhausting when you come down from the high of an intensive writing session. I look up from my computer in the local coffee shop, and nobody is even paying me attention. I am just another coffee shop writer in a city full of such writers. I walk home, along Sunset Boulevard and truly feel like just another broken dream.

Few look at me like they did in NY, or especially Paris (where I was considered very conventionally attractive with my pale complexion, light green eyes & dark brown hair). Nobody talks to me at bars or shows when I try to make a social effort. In fact, last night I sat at a table all alone until the bar tender took pity on me and engaged me in conversation. Making matters worse, I am a 6 in a sea of available and DTF 10s. Men do not ever say anything to me beyond “where’s the bathroom.” I have grown more introverted because I feel invisible, fragile and so alone. Half those who committed to attend my birthday flaked on me- par for the course in LA. You’re cool until someone finds better plans. I remain grateful for those who did show up but I can’t be clingy and expect to be with them at all times. I need to branch out.

But how do you meet people in a city where socialization is based not on common interest but on what you can do for someone else? I am not wealthy or connected. While I think I have a lot to offer both potential friends, partners or professionals, my social currency is less valuable in LA. I’m not a good enough bull shit artist to succeed here in that respect. I’m a straight shooter riding along a curvy road, and one that feels destined to terminate at a dead end.

LA feels like a dead end. It feels hopeless on most days but I still get up and write. I read over my work and know that I am good enough to be here. Even if I am invisible. Even if I am socially worth less at the moment. Even if I am not important enough to socialize with those I have common interests with (like my former mentor or other friends I made in the industry). I am flaked on all the time by industry folks & managers who pretend to be interested in me and my career only to find someone better. If LA were a single disorder, it’d be ADHD. Yet I keep writing, keep trying to make this work.

I may be invisible, but that’s all I’ll ever be if I don’t try to be something more. I’m good enough to be here. I’m not going anywhere until someone else out here realizes that too.

Obsession v Stubbornness

Oftentimes people on the spectrum tend to become fixated on things which to others would seem odd. This level of interest can often be misconstrued as obsession. When that fixation is on a particular outcome or individual, it can push people away.

Many with Autism and Aspergers become hyper-focused on things which captivate their imagination. There is almost no moderation for those on the spectrum because life for us is defined quite simply in black and white. We are either disinterested in something or passionately interested in something. We pursue our passions with an uncommon tenacity that makes us very successful in the workplace and in industries where specialities align with our interests.

In the case of professional aspirations this can be a sort of double sword. Take for example my frequent musings about an old mentor. He was sort of my first mentor which makes him particularly special versus more recent ones. Most importantly his career is one I admired since high school. He worked for my favorite production company; a company who’s film I could not get enough of and would do anything to work for. When he was promoted to CEO very young, I told myself “that’s someone I want to learn from!”

When friends of mine worked with him and forwarded me his information, I made the rookie mistake of reaching out in an unsolicited matter. In my enthusiasm, I mistook his initial replies as an OK to continue to seek conversation. Throughout the course of three months, I’d try to reach out, assuming he may not have gotten my messages. I couldn’t even consider his POV, that his lack of reply was disinterest. I could only consider my enthusiasm and desire to work for him one day.

This is the problem with those on the spectrum. Oftentimes in our own enthusiasm, we fail to consider others POV. When we do this, we push people away. And push him away I did! While eventually through a round about sort of sequence of events he would come to be a brief mentor of mine, this interaction would always frame our interaction at a subconscious level. He refused to meet me in NY because of that initial interaction.

The truth is those on the spectrum respect and understand boundaries. Unlike obsessives who harbor legitimate mental illness, we would never cross the line. I would never stalk this person or try and find out where they live or currently work. For example, a friend of mine attended the premiere and after party at the hotel of this man and other above line professionals. I never went there, despite dropping off a drawing to his assistants hotel at this mans request. Why? Because I respect boundaries. I live in LA. I never have tried to find out where he lives. Why? Because I respect and understand boundaries. A key distinction between those on the spectrum versus those who are genuine obsessives is the understanding of boundaries. An obsessive would try and stalk him, go to that hotel or try and find out where they live. Someone on the spectrum would never do that because their interest is not personal but rather professional! Even where it may be personal, they would still respect boundaries.

Nonetheless my frequent tweeting about him may still prove unsettling. All I’ve wanted since moving here is a chance at a general meeting to prove to them in person that I’m who they grew more comfortable with: a gregarious and intelligent young woman with many common interests, a talent for writing and a sarcastic wit. Yet I’ve again failed to consider their POV in my enthusiasm.

I’ve learned a great deal about how to conduct myself in this industry. I would never make the same mistakes I did at 22-23. I’ve also improved considerably with my spectrum tendencies, as is common with age and experience. Sometimes I fall back into that trap. It’s important to understand this is not obsession, but wanting to work for someone we know we’d feel comfortable with. It’s a desire for a particular outcome but nonetheless the degree of stubbornness is odd.

This level of persistence is therefore a double edged sword. On the one hand it shows a level of work ethic unrivaled by others. I know he’d never find an assistant willing to work harder, be more loyal or respectful– not to mention a better fit based on genre interest and lingual ability. On the contrary this can also be misconstrued as obsession and make the person uncomfortable. I have to respect that is why this outcome may never happen, no matter how much I may still try and wish it so 😉

 

Through the Looking Glass

The chaotic sounds of the city disappeared, drowned out by the soothing falsetto of synth electronics– my fingers danced along the imaginary piano keys I knew how to play. I was gliding along the sidewalk as if walking along clouds lost in my own space made up from my own imagination – my own soundtrack – this moment lost in time and space WHAM. Someone shoulder checks me drawing me back to the harsh realities of the neuro typical – those without autism or Aspergers.

Why are those on the autistic spectrum drawn to creative expression? Because it is the only time the world makes sense according to us. It is us investing our POV, our headspace and our very ethos and neuro ATYPICAL sense of the world into our chosen medium. For me it’s several; music, art and drawing, and most of all writing. For in that moment it is soothing because to create is to finally be in control. There are no rules or someone else to tell you how to do something. This is your being, your escapism. It is the only time we as autistics feel totally in control or comfortable as ourselves.

While this sort of creative liberty can feel appealing to people off the spectrum as well in a similar sense, it is amplified tenfold for those on it. Additionally the art and writing created by those on the spectrum tends to be much different since it is formed by an atypical sense of the world. It is in a singe world: fantastical. Perhaps even absurd or grounded in the unfamiliar. Some of the greatest original works of all time were created by autistic creatives and those suspected of being on the spectrum; Lewis Caroll, Jim Henson, Tim Burton, Mozart, Kurt Cobain, Stanley Kubrick, HG Wells, Jane Austen, Picasso and Alfred Hitchcock to name a few.

This is not to say that all works of autistic or spectrum disorder people will be on par with those people’s work. It does however indicate that autistic people are inclined to creative fields with a great propensity for talent and a uniqueness about their visions. For those of us who are on the spectrum, our medium becomes our safety blanket. It’s a time for us to be in a very fragile and vulnerable state as we create these worlds, stories and fantastical imageries. When we are removed from the creative process to return to the neuro typical world it can come as brief shock.

Most of my rants on twitter follow a deeply existential state where I have recently written a lot or worked on music or art. It’s sort of like coming down from a creative high, a sort of mania. Similar to those who use speed drugs, it’s a bit like crashing and feeling like shit because all that euphoria is gone. It’s why I don’t do hard drugs, because my mind is complicated enough already.

Once neuro atypical people return to the “normal” world of the neuro typical we are instantly reminded of the fact we are different. We are not in control and we must exist in accordance with their rules and methods. If we are not careful to safeguard ourselves from the shock of quickly going from the high of creative liberty to the mundane of the normal world we can find ourselves in a depressive or anxious state.

Above all else people on the spectrum have unique boundaries and are careful to isolate themselves during periods of artistic and creative expression. We then slowly come back to the neuro typical world. So when people are interrupted or caught off guard, some on the spectrum can seem irascible. I used to be this way myself. I am now less so. However someone like Kubrick was notorious for it. Autistics really need their space to be at their best artistically. So to some in creative fields this comes across as uncooperative or “not a team player.”

Part of this documentary idea I’m working on is to find a way to bridge the divide. How can we allow brilliant creatives a way to exploit their talents and also function within media and entertainment industries still largely run by neuro typical people. It’s a delicate balance which requires a combination of self awareness on both ends and patient mentorship to deliver the talent.

When you’re autistic it can be hard sometimes to consider others POV especially as it concerns your art but you must. We must, or else we’ll always be marginalized by the industries we desire to work in. Comparably we need more mentors and other creatives to help provide structure and encouragement to talented young autistic creatives. Sometimes we’re so overwhelmed by ideas at once that we need to be brought back to focus. It requires patience and understanding but with the right mentorship an autistic artist or writer can adapt just as well to the complexities of the creative industries as the neuro typical. We desire to be understood and truly do want to adapt, we just need some help.

Ultimately it’s about mutual understanding. Currently not enough is understood about how autistic people create, why they’re drawn to do so, what that headspace is like and how they readjust post-creative release. There’s also not enough people helping those on the spectrum to navigate the complex industry politics out of frustration with neuro atypical people (bc we don’t get social cues) and so most just give up, call us weird and despite tremendous talent our sacred outlet becomes little more than hobby.

We must bridge the divide between the two camps. Both must do better to collaborate. It begins with mutual understanding and that is what I hope this documentary can achieve.

Car-Less in LA

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When I first said I was moving to LA without a car, it drew some surprised reactions. Many posited that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Others insisted the public transit options were unsafe, unreliable and poorly planned out. More noted how dangerous biking is and that walking is made difficult by hills, distracted drivers and large intersections. I am writing this piece to show they’re all wrong; now car-less in LA for several months I will demonstrate it.

LA is more like a suburb than a city, culturally. The residents often oppose new developments, housing and most critically new transit options. The CEQA law, intended to be for environmental safety is often used by affluent residents to combat any new development in their towns (in case you were wondering why there’s no metro rail extending beyond Hollywood). Many Angelenos view public transit as an option for the poor, immigrants, young and driverless (like people with DUI). They view driving their own cars as both a status symbol and a form of freedom. Yet they’re making their own city inhospitable with traffic by not exploring other options.

What are those other options? Let’s start with the bus. I live in West Hollywood. Several busses cross through my area. I can take the bus to the beach; Downtown; to the Valley; to central LA and Mid City; to Hollywood and the East Side. Pretty much anywhere I want to go, there’s a bus line. Stops are numerous, making it easy to walk. My commute from Norma Triangle to Fairfax by bus is 30 minutes. Sure that’s 15 minutes longer than if I had my own car, but why would I want to add to traffic as a solo commuter? To go 1.9 miles in a car by myself is not only selfish, its environmentally toxic, and causes more traffic. If you live within a short distance to work, the bus is an excellent option.

So what are the cons to the bus? While the busses are clean, safe, well operated and accept cash (huge plus!), their safety tends to become worse at night. While I haven’t had any issues, friends have had run ins with crazy homeless. No different than what I experienced on the subway back home in NYC though. The other con is when you need to transfer or go a longer distance to work. Busses sit in the same traffic, albeit with the advantage of bus lanes and being able to switch the light green on many lines. So if you have a super long commute, a bus may not be ideal — maybe a carpool or finding work closer to home is better. Although I’ve gotten Downtown at rush hour in under one hour from the Westside. Combining bus to metro can reduce time considerably.

So what about the metro? In a word: limited. However it’s constantly improving both access and service! The Expo line now extends to Santa Monica. When used in addition to busses for areas where service is lacking, it makes the rest of the leg of your trip shorter. LA County is currently trying to adopt plans for a Purple Line which will run along the Westside (but is facing opposition). Right now the metro is great for folks who live near it or have their job close to it. More and more people can say this because of vital expansion. However access is sorely limited on most of the Westside. Additionally, they often run too few cars at peak hours of operation.

So what about getting around locally? I walk. West Hollywood is one of the most walkable areas of LA, and is why I chose it in addition to its safety and centrality. I also understand this area is very pricey for some, so other areas may not be as walking friendly (I.e vital services nearby). I walk to the grocery store, deli, 7/11, post office, library, bars, UPS store, shopping, hair salon, nail salon. Everything is nearby. For those who maybe need a car to go a bit further, Uber/Lyft is super cheap in LA because there is a surplus of them. I use Uber/Lyft to go to laundromat and it never costs me more than $3.50! Other areas are just as walkable contrary to popular belief. Hollywood, Silverlake, Echo Park, Santa Monica, Westwood, Studio City, NoHo, Beverly Hills, Downtown — to name a few — are all walkable. The only people who can say that their area is not walkable are those who live in canyons or deep into the hills off an access road (Bird Streets West Hollywood is obviously not as walkable as Norma Triangle West Hollywood). Even then, there’s always biking and taking advantage of more bike lanes and bike rental programs like the one in West Hollywood.

Finally, how did I like driving in LA? I wanted the option of driving so that I could compare it to my car-less routine. The result? I hated it. According to an AllState insurance study, LA drivers rank almost dead last for metropolitan area drivers. Nationwide, drivers average a collision every 10 years. In LA, it is half that time at five years! Drivers are terrible here; they’re on their phones, unsure of how to merge, timid where aggression is required, smoking pot, and just bad urban drivers. I learned to drive in NYC (including Manhattan). I have the best defensive driving skills of cities around the world and these people tested my patience daily because of how distracted and poor they are at navigating dense areas. I also don’t think having a car helped cut down on time. At least when taking public transit I can get other things done; browse social media, write, read, do paper work etc. I economize my time better taking public transit than sitting in traffic. Also, parking is either expensive or very limited, so the small time you save driving is often eaten up by trying to find parking.

I will not own a car in this city. A big reason for that is cost. I can afford to live in the Norma Triangle area of West Hollywood because I have no car. A car is expensive anywhere but especially so in LA. Here you have to pay not only your payment and high cost of insurance but higher gas prices, monthly parking spot, parking for extracurricular activities, smog checks and the highest annual registration fees in the country. Conservatively people spend around $400 a month just to own an entry level economy car in Los Angeles, excluding pricey registration fees and added parking spot to rent. My entire monthly transit cost including occasional Uber’s is $115. I have time to do work whereas that wouldn’t be possible as a driver. I often arrive to places faster than friends because I don’t have to search for parking. I’m in excellent shape because I walk everywhere. All those savings allow me to live in one of the nicest neighborhoods of the city.

Going car-less isn’t for everyone. Those with kids or a job that requires errands/runs mandate a car. If my wildest dreams came true and I were made that producer’s assistant, I’d have to get a car to do their chores etc. Even then, many chores can be accomplished without a car. Grocery stores deliver, so too do dry cleaning services. However hopping around to studios and picking up packages and materials requires a car. If your job doesn’t require a car, explore public transit. Spend your time commuting doing something like writing instead of staring at traffic. The savings you generate alone could allow you to move to a better area or closer to work. It’s good for the environment and your sanity. So the next time someone says “you can’t do LA without a car!” tell them they’re wrong and encourage them to be open minded about other options through experiences versus tired suburban mentality stereotypes.

Understanding Late Stage Capitalism

Late Stage Capitalism is a socioeconomic theory which maintains that Capitalism is an historically limited stage. Proponents of this theory suggest that eventually the pragmatic rational decision making of capital economies will result in hyper-conglomeratization, lack of competition, automation and a redistribution of resources and wealth to those who already have the most capital. If this sounds familiar, it is because this historically limited stage has run its course; capitalism is no longer the most efficient economic model on earth. As the term suggests we are currently living in the end stages of this economic system.

Political scientist and author Frederic Jameson wrote a book about this term in 1991, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. In his book, Jameson noted that the late stage of capitalism would come to dominate human beings – it is a moment where low and high art collapse, culminating in the postmodern consumerist stage where everything is commodified and consumable. Everything is for sale, and a few businesses begin to emerge as those who wish to sell you everything (Amazon, Walmart). In fact, most of what we buy and watch in the media is owned by one of less than ten conglomerates, as alluded to in the infographic featured above.

Some examples of this trend include conglomerates merging and buying up smaller companies to fold into their brand. Disney bought Marvel and Lucasfilm. They also own half the content you watch on television, including ESPN. Outside entertainment it is Amazon, who recently purchased Whole Foods, Ltd. For $13 billion in an effort to get into the grocery business in addition to selling just about everything else imaginable– and it is of course an entertainment content creator too. Yet it began as an online book store.

As rational economics suggest, these actors make decisions rationally, that is they make choices on the basis of sound logical principal in accordance with self interest. Businesses will make decisions rationally in order to expand value and increase market share in order to benefit share holders and themselves. It is this strict adherence to rational economics which also supports the theory that Capitalism is an historically limited stage.

Rational economics is not the best distributor of resources. In the early stages of capitalism there were many markets. Someone created a product, brought that product to market and those with means exchanged something of value in order to obtain it. When a competitor emerged with a similar product, it created competition. With competition, the market for a particular good or item would fall because there was ample supply of it. Since Capitalism adheres to rational decision making based on supply and demand, eventually these markets would be consolidated to better control prices in accordance with self interest. In order to act in self interest, many of these good-makers decided to merge and reap the benefits of lower costs of production, and higher profits for themselves. The result is less competition, higher prices, lower wages and extreme wealth inequality.

Capitalism is a ruthless system which does not care for the well being of its economic participants apart from those with the most means. It does not distribute resources efficiently because it was never designed to.

Case in point the global affordable housing crisis. A week ago, Grenfell Tower, a public housing complex in North Kensington burned to the ground killing around 100 people. The cause of the fire is not immediately known, but the lack of safety measures is. As the supply of valuable property in London and other major cities becomes scarce, investors moved in as rational decision makers looking to capitalize on real estate investment. The result is hundreds and thousands of properties taken off the market to act as land banks– investment properties, AirBnB rentals, and vacation homes for the rich both at home, and especially abroad. Instead of hearing Grenfell residents concerns, Kensington and Chelsea acted in accordance with rational theory as well. They chose to put the concerns of developers first and install cheaper flammable cladding to the Tower complex in an effort to save £5,000 and make the public unit look nicer to neighboring affluent residents which in turn raises more revenue. Not once did the Council or its contractors make a decision with the safety of its poorer residents in mind!

Rational decision making cares about one thing and one thing only – maximizing profit by reducing costs and acting with the benefits of the company or individual in mind. Nowhere in that calculation is labor, or negative externality considered. It is not to the benefit of the capital class to distribute resources to those with less. It is not to the benefit of the capital class to spend more to prevent negative externalities. The only thing which can do that is public policy.

What do we consider rights?

Is access to affordable and safe housing a right? Is it reasonable to make sure that those living in a given city have access to such housing before investment properties and those looking to make a quick buck off AirBnB? Should we tax or restrict investment properties in given cities where vacancy rates are low, and cost is too high? Is it reasonable to have housing that is safe and up to code?

Is access to affordable education a right? Is it reasonable to reduce the cost of college, including private elite universities so that middle and lower class residents can compete on the merits against wealthier students without burdensome loans? Should unpaid internships be made illegal so that those who cannot afford to work for free get the same experience early in their careers as those who can?

Is healthcare a right? Should we make a profit off of those who are sick or should we subsidize medicine and health services so that we can reduce cost and better distribute resources to those most in need regardless their economic background?

Is a clean and green environment a right? Should we place regulations to restrict polluting industries from contaminating the local community and furthering the climate change crisis? Should we take steps to prohibit certain products and methods of resource exploration to preserve life on earth and the safety of local communities?

Is access to financial products with clarity a right? Should we regulate capital markets so that institutions do not act without the well-being of their clients in mind? Should financial advisors be held to high standards and accuracy, and make decisions with their clients in mind? Should certain financial institutions have faster access to trading floors, which enable them to rig the market in their favor? Should roughly ten companies own everything we buy?

These questions must be answered by public policy makers. Late stage capitalism does not distribute resources efficiently because it is only concerned with self-interest. Therefore a capitalist market is not good at self-regulating itself and leading to the best possible outcomes for all. The logical culmination of this theory is mass inequality, lack of opportunity, fewer choices and the commodification of every aspect of life.

However not everything should be commodified. If we believe in meritocracy, we must make and lobby for policy which makes sure that resources are distributed in a more equitable manner. We must protect aspects of our society which unregulated capital markets do not value; such as the environment, the arts and those with less means to provide for themselves. We must encourage policy makers to take automation seriously, and make plans for a post-work economy. Finally, we must come to the conclusion that while Capitalism has done a lot of good for our world, it is no longer the most efficient system for all. It is time to look at what comes next, and how best to implement policy that respects both those at the top and at the bottom; a system which is equitable and based on merit. Late stage capitalism is a turning point in human history. Where we head next is up to the people and the world they want to see. It will be a tough fight, but it is a fight worth having – it is a fight for the future, and for a better world than the one we live in today.

How Do You Measure Progress Without Meritocracy?

It goes without saying that Hollywood is not a meritocracy. That’s evident even to those not actively pursuing it as a career. I wanted to focus on dissecting why this is particularly problematic for those without connections. More specifically, I want to see if I can answer the question of: ‘how does one succeed in an industry which is not merit-based?’

Around the time I moved to LA, I leveraged previous professional networks of mine from back in NY to have my resume reviewed by a major talent agency for the coveted agent training program. I quickly followed up, and within two weeks I was attending a recruitment seminar that less than one percent of all applicants get to attend. In a way this seminar is meant to assess whether candidates have what it takes to make a good agent. During panels, you will ask questions of employees all the while both agents and HR will be judging your questions, and general interaction with other candidates, and composure on the campus.

At the end of this two-day event, in which I did all ‘optional’ extra activities (a late night screening which kept us on campus for a total of 12h), I was offered a panel interview. I was the only LA-based candidate to be offered an interview with equity partners. The others all got one because they flew in. Some of my peers didn’t even get an interview weeks later. So this was a good sign. Also a good sign was that my peers considered me to be the strongest candidate. Many complemented me on my questions asked, and general knowledge. I emerged a leader in that recruitment class beyond a doubt. I also aced my panel interview, because I prepared a week in advance and knew how to pitch and confidently sell myself (a vital skill set for an agent). The HR person even gave me a wink of confidence as I left the room.

I felt amazing. I started to act like there was no way I didn’t get it. I truly believed I was on my way.

Three weeks later and my follow ups have gone unanswered. While some of the friends I made during the seminar also haven’t heard back, they never got a panel interview — I did. I was the only candidate not right out of school. At 28, almost 29, I was an average of 7 to 8 years older than my peers with 3 to 4 years of unrelated *paid* industry experience. At most they had internships, granted for top companies, studios and other agencies. We were told we’d hear back within two weeks, which is confirmed by Glassdoor.com in reviews of the whole process by those who got verbal offers. So as of this writing it looks as if I didn’t get the gig.

Shortly after my interview I had lunch with a friend who proffered similar advice to another friend (who herself went through the agency world). Both friends noted that even if I was the best candidate, I may not get the job. I didn’t really accept that because I didn’t want to. They noted sometimes it comes down to favors owed. Perhaps an agent needs to get his friends daughter on board because that friend helped his daughter get a job in another field. Maybe an agent has a family member they need to get a job, or a neighbor. Perhaps by hiring a certain candidate, it could give an agent an in with another company, investor or high net worth individual. All those candidates will be given priority over the best interview performance or the most qualified.

So how does one assess their progress in a system which is not merit based? I was given excellent feedback but still didn’t make the cut. I was considered a leader among my peers, and wasn’t offered a job.

The reality is you can’t assess your progress this way because those things don’t hold weight in a system which is not merit-based. Merit-based indicators therefore hold less weight than external factors such as professional or interpersonal networks and favors owed. Even writers who win contests will be placed lower on the priority scale than a recommend from someone an agent, manager or producer trusts and knows has good taste. Someone that is staffing a department or position will take someone they personally like over the most qualified as well – especially given the long hours spent together in this field.

So any advice peddler who tells you it’s about talent is leaving out critical context – it is about networks, personality and favors owed before talent. Yes to get anywhere you must still work extremely hard and be talented. However, one should still use those merit based indicators to prove to themselves that they are on the right path. I still got a panel interview. I advanced further than thousands of others who never got a reply. I was considered a leader by my peers. A producer has paid me attention for years. Others in the industry have praised my intellect and complimented my writing. People ask to read my work now. I get asked to meet in person (just not by Paris).

Eventually it becomes a numbers game. The more your stick it out, beyond mind numbering rejection, something will eventually pan out. So don’t be discouraged just because you didn’t get a gig, even if it went to someone’s nephew. Why? Because that’s not on you. It is not a reflection of you or your work. While it’s not meritocratic, it’s not a personal failure either. As long as you’re smart, capable and still drawing attention it’s not time to throw in the towel. It’d be a lot different if you got no feedback, or negative feedback. So keep trying and take stock in any positive feedback you get because you’re on the right path at the very least.

It’s not easy to find reasons to keep going in this field. Hollywood is an insanely difficult and very unfair business. It takes a certain charismatic and extraordinarily confident person to keep going despite all the rejection, little to no help and no high level ‘ins’ to the most coveted of jobs (like Agency work which opens doors like no other and is often required experience by many industry employers). So know what you’re up against, an unfair and unmeritocratic business that will punish more than praise you. When it does praise you, take stock in that and know you’re on the right path.

When We Stop Counting

In 2010, Tina Fey accepted the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. She noted that she is only the third woman to have received the most prestigious award in comedy. Instead of celebrating that fact,  she took issue with it and made a hopeful proclamation on the future of this industry:

“I do hope that women are achieving at a rate these days that we can stop counting what number they are at things.”

Before we stop counting, we must start achieving more. Tina understood that. Kathryn Bigelow surely understands that as the only female director to win a best director  Oscar. Acclaimed actress Jessica Chastain definitely understands that, remarking during this years Cannes Film Festival that the lack of female filmmakers has lead to a ‘disturbing’ portrayal of women on screen.

Yet despite the continuation of an ACLU investigation into industry hiring practices and a record low number of women to direct drama pilots in 2017, Hollywood is very good at patting itself on the back for smalls steps forward.

Wonder Woman, directed by critically acclaimed female helmer Patty Jenkins has been a smash success for Warner Bros. and is projected to earn at least $300m domestically. It has been more successful in its second weekend box office haul than both previous DCEU movies, and Suicide Squad. Hollywood is doing laps around its success and patting itself on the back for its feminism.

Yet, Jenkins had to fight against studio pressure to keep what is arguably the most iconic and feminist moment of the film– Wonder Woman’s venture into No Man’s Land. She also had to overcome a lack of publicity and advertising compared to the studios other DCEU films– the film only gained more of a P&A budget after its initial success and has largely gained cultural sensation status through word of mouth.

While the industry continues to loudly proclaim itself feminist for celebrating the success of Wonder Woman, it continues to backslide into old habits. Since WW, I have opened Deadline every day to read about white men with underwhelming resumes attached to studio projects. I read about white men going from epic box office bombs right onto attachments for new projects (the same forgiveness is a luxury rarely afforded to female directors). I have read only one article about a female director attachment, to a small indie thriller.

Film critic Maureen Ryan wrote about this tendency for the industry to backslide on diversity for Variety a few weeks ago— a day before the bow of Wonder Woman. Perhaps it was prophetic, but more likely it is due to the feelings of ‘been there, seen this before.’ Ryan noted regarding the slew of diverse shows recently canceled:

“Hollywood is way too quick to pat itself on the back for the smallest and most overdue steps forward when it comes to diversity, inclusion and representation — and the industry is far, far too quick to let the backsliding begin.”

The backsliding has already begun. In the case of Wonder Woman, as Yogi Berra would say “it’s deja vu all over again!”

Seeing such a huge turn out of women -and men!- for a femal-led and helmed superhero film is hardly surprising to women. What’s also not surprising to women is the understanding that female stars can carry a blockbuster film to success and that there are many talented women directors working, and deserving of the same chance at success.

The only people ever surprised by this are the male executives and predominantly male industry players reluctant to give women a chance in the first place. Yet these same studio executives and insiders are the first to celebrate and count women’s success as evidence that the industry is improving its diversity initiatives. Except it has hardly made a dent in the problem. Worse, the industry has -again- merely used a single feminist/diversity success as a red herring while it continues to fall back into old habits (hire the same white men & men just like them).

This isn’t the time to backslide. It’s the time once and for all to use the success of Jenkins and Wonder Woman to open doors for women of all backgrounds to write, direct, produce and star in major films. It’s time to hire more women below the line. It’s time for men to be more than allies just in words and use their power to actually mentor, support and hire women– not just men like them.

FACTS:

– Women can direct just as well as men.

– Women can star in successful blockbusters.

– Films with and by women make money.

– Women can write just as well as men.

– Women can produce just as effectively as men.

– Women can write and perform comedy just as well as men.

– Women can work in any position in this industry just as well as men.

Like Tina Fey, I’m tired of counting. So lets cut the the BS– talk is cheap. Action is what matters. It’s time to tackle this diversity problem once and for all. There are no excuses left!

 

 

The Curious Adventures of Lord Buckethead

Buckethead

1977, SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND

A three-wheeled Reliant Robin races down the pot-holed roads of Sheffield, England. Police chase after the black Reliant, barely staying upright with each clunking pothole it hits.

“We’ve got the Reliant in sight, over.” The cops close in for a pit maneuver, the cruiser strikes the reliant, sending it tumbling end over end until the heaping clunk of metal rests aside a sign post.

The cops surround the smoldering wreck, closing in on the drivers side when a BEAM OF LIGHT blinds them. A man emerges from the three-wheeler, his face bloodied and disfigured. In his hand, a relic, which emits the light and a HIGH PITCH. The man gathers his strength to speak, “here I have the power which shall defeat the Tories once and for all!”

In an instant, he vanishes. The cops look around at each other in shock…

…The same bright light fades to reveal an operating table. Several aliens, an evolved fungus of sorts, crowd around a surgical bay where the man from the reliant accident is being encased in a black suit. Finally, the alien leading the surgery, King Alienfungus the Sixth lifts a giant black cylindrical helmet– he speaks in clicks and grunts, when translated, “we anoint you Lord Buckethead, leader of the Gremloids, we return you to the year Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Seven to challenge Lord Thatcher, leader of the Conservative Cthulu Party.”

1987, SHEFFIELD.

A light streaks across the sky, a black reliant robin with jet engines activates its reverse thrusters, coming to a landing in the middle of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. A match comes to a halt as the reliant lands. Lord Buckethead emerges, “fear not fellow men and women of the North, I have come to defeat Lord Thatcher.” The stunned silence is broken as a single can of beer bounces off his helmet. More soon follow.

“Get the fuck off the pitch you bucket muppet!” A rotund supporter shouts from the stands. More BOOs ensue.

“The Gremloids are on the working class side!” Lord Buckethead is determined to win over the crowd, when the lead official walks over and gives him a red card. Stunned, Lord Buckethead head butts the official and quickly enters the Reliant. Fans and players give him the chase.

The black reliant quickly rolls over on exit from the stands, flipping several times over before coming to rest in a pile of trash left over from the strike. With a mob of football fans at his heels, Buckethead rights the reliant before continuing along. More beer cans pelt the rear of the Reliant, when finally he activates jet thrust. The car quickly winds up on its two rear wheels and vanishes.

PLANET GREMLOID.

King Alienfungus the Sixth surveys General Election results. “141 votes, that’s it,” the leader clicks and grunts. He’s visibly upset, apparent even in his alien features. “Cthulhu wins again.”

“Your Leader, we can still convince Madonna to move to England and fake a British accent. She could win more votes, sir.” His footman seems convinced.

1992, ANOTHER FAILED ELECTION

A female servant enters the King’s quarters with a pink Milton Bradley dream phone. Pop music plays from its speakers. “King Alienfungus, it’s for you.”

Buckethead sits in a pub, on his pink dream phone. “King, I am sorry to disappoint we lost against John Major– but my sources say we can expect the second coming of Lord Thatcher in 2017.”

Across the pub, the bartender watches the Lord in his black costume. From a functional telephone of his own, “yes — there’s some loon in a bucket talking to aliens on a toy phone. Send the constable at once.”

A police chase ensues as the local authorities chase Buckethead in his black Reliant, and sure as shit, it is pitted and the rocket Reliant goes off the road and into a pond… and sinks.

LONDON, 2017.

Tourists gather round to watch a streak in the sky, it’s the black Reliant!

“See there Bradley, you said we could go on holiday in Australia the moment Reliants could fly!” Bradley’s middle aged wife beams with happiness before her less than pleased husband.

The Reliant lands atop the Tower of London. Buckethead exits. “Here, here, I am Lord Buckethead, sent by the Gremloids to lead the Party of Gremloid to defeat the agents of Cthulu in the General Election of 2017.”

“He’s a knight,” one tourist notes in Italian.

“What century is his armor from,” beckons another in Chinese.

Later, at a pub, Lord Buckethead takes a seat before a bartender. “Can I see a menu please?” The bartender points to a sign, No Helmets Indoors. “Ah you see I was horribly disfigured in a Reliant accident in 1977.”

The bartender rolls up his trousers to reveal a peg leg. “Me too, crashed into a van in 1976. First round’s on me.”

The press go wild as Buckethead announces his candidacy officially. “Lord Buckethead, where is your title from?” One journalist points a microphone at his helmet.

“It is inherited by ancient fungal aliens who started all life on earth.”

The press are eager to get clickbait headlines, so what the heck– “how can we contact these aliens,” asks a blogger.

“Do you have a Dream Phone,” Buckethead asks.

“A Dream Phone?”

“Yes, the toy phone from the early 90s is actually an intergalactic communication device– er never mind.” Buckethead makes his way toward his Rocket Reliant.

“If you win, will you get a car with four wheels?”

Buckethead turns around, “the Reliant is the people’s car. Not ever.” He gets in and blasts off, leaving thousands of frenzied reporters in the dust.

PLANET GREMLOID

King Alienfungus the Sixth is very old, he’s grown more spores and his gelatin body has thickened. He watches as Buckethead takes the stage to the left of Theresa May, who concedes the election to Labour. “Finally, we have defeated Cthulu and all its agents with a record 150 votes taken from the Tories in Maidenhead.”

Waiting on a train station platform, Buckethead contacts Alienfungus on his Dream Phone, “thank you for believing in me when no one else would.” No response on the other end. “Alienfungus?” A train pulls up, passengers stare at Buckethead on his toy phone as they walk by. “Alien fungus?!”

****

Eyelids open slowly, revealing a basement. The Dream Phone game is open. A Super Nintendo sits in the corner on a TV with dial switches. A 1990 World Cup Poster. Some moldy edibles by a man in black’s side, the black bucket helmet too. The man rolls over, comes to. He manages a grimace despite his slightly disgusted face as he turns on the television to hear: “Labour Shock in 2017 General Election.”

He turns it off, goes back to his Lord Buckethead helmet. “ay that was one hell of a forty year trip.”

END

 

The Arts & Autism

I few weeks ago I wrote a post about being on the spectrum pursuing a career in Hollywood – Hollywood on the Autistic Spectrum. It spoke to a lot of people and made me realize that our voices are desperately needed. And so I’ve decided to begin developing a documentary about people on the autistic spectrum working and pursuing the arts, along with those who were talented but never tried.

The ultimate inspiration for this documentary came yesterday, when I wrote a piece about realizing that despite my best efforts, I will not meet or work with an old mentor at this moment in time. It hurt to even write it. While it may have nothing to do with me, I always think it does. I always imagine that it’s my fault because of the way I came across or something. That’s typical for those of us on the spectrum, we constantly replay moments in our head where we know we messed up. Then we try to overcompensate and explain ourselves over and over again– even  though we have no evidence that it was our fault. Heck my mentor just doesn’t have any opportunities now and may not feel comfortable having coffee. Maybe he feels like a failure. Maybe he doesn’t know what to say to me. At the very least I’d never judge him a failure. I adore him, and would never say an unkind thing about him.

People on the spectrum always feel like a failure. It’s rare that we have this constant  run of success and even where we do succeed we always imagine ourselves screwing it all up again. In the creative fields, where jobs never feel quite secure, that breeds a certain level of anxiety for anyone – even more so for us. It causes self doubt and over-corrections. We always recalculate what we’ve said in our heads, making sure we came out right. We’re always trying to be super logical about an industry which is anything but.

Creative fields are a natural fit for those on the spectrum. We are naturally drawn to forms of creative expression. However the industry which makes these forms of art is very unkind to those on the spectrum by design. It is a very social business where behaving and acting a certain way is expected above all. Towing the line and not stepping out of bounds is essential to success. Except many of those on the spectrum can’t even find the line to begin with. Those who find it often find themselves falling off it.

I can’t begin to tell you how many people I know on the spectrum who won’t even try this industry or try to get their work seen out of fear of rejection. We don’t feel welcome in this business and so many who I know that are on the spectrum aren’t public about it for fear of backlash. For every Tim Burton and Dan Akroyd, there are numerous kids who don’t feel like their vision of the world is worth sharing because they just assume they’ll be pushed aside.

This is a form of diversity that I want to talk about. How can we create a more inclusive environment for those on the spectrum? I want to talk to those who never tried. I want to talk to those like myself who are navigating the complex social politics of the art and film/tv world to the best of our abilities. I also want to talk to those who are successful, and how they managed.

So over the next few months I am going to devote myself to developing a documentary on Autism & the Arts. I want to highlight the problem of why so many brilliant and talented people never try, why many more fail and perhaps glean something from those who are successful. I hope to have help in this endeavor, and so plan to create a site where you can get in touch. In interim, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter if interested in contributing or helping (@LaFemmeDeNY)

MK