Nothing Left to Lose

Sometimes in life, our only option left is to take a great risk in order to succeed…

Complacency is something which has come natural to me, like many others. You get into a routine, of financial security. There’s never a good enough time to take a risk because you’re secure. The thought of abandoning comfort for uncertainty seems irresponsible. That’s why there’s no greater time to take a risk than when your back is up against the wall.

I wanted to save a certain amount before going to LA. I knew I would hit my target by the summer. I didn’t get the chance. At the end of my office’s busy season, I was laid off six months after being hired. Instead of getting upset, I actually felt relief. I’m 3/4 to my savings already. Besides, in my complacency I was already talking myself out of a summer move because I told myself “you should save even more.”

The reality is that nothing was ever going to be enough.

I hated my job with a burning passion – I hated that job and it’s shitty culture more than anything I ever did for a living before. But I did my work without complaint. As they say, last to be hired, first to be fired. I wipe my hands of it now. Yet before this unfortunate event, I was almost growing used to the suffering because I was saving a lot of money.

Yet what good is saving if you don’t plan to somehow use those savings to better yourself? That’s where I find myself now. I have no choice but to escape complacency. I have no choice but to take a great risk or be left to take some other shitty job or low paying NY film job with no advancement opportunity. So without hesitation – before I could even talk myself out of it, I put the gears in motion for a move to LA.

I feel physically sick just writing it. I am terrified. I have no job when I get there. There is no security in this decision whatsoever. It feels financially reckless. Yet, it is my only option less I wind up in the exact same place I have been since I moved back from LA five years ago.

It is my only option or else I will wind up just spinning my gears in perpetuity with my next ‘day job.’ I will be 29 in three months. It sounds young, but it’s not. I need to commit to something or spend my life with regrets.

Complacency is awful. It is laziness. Most importantly- it is misery. The only thing stopping you from achieving your dreams is you. The reality is, I probably have more savings than many going out West. The reality is, I’ll find something – even if it’s not in film to start. Complacency is the result of lack of confidence, and to take risk requires confidence. Believe in yourself, it’s a small first step.

I wish it didn’t take such an awful set of events to force me to act. Yet I take my newfound situation as a blessing. This is the best thing that could’ve happened to me because it’s forced me out of complacency. If you find yourself spinning wheels, acknowledge it and take power over your situation in life before some awful external event does for you.

“You’re not the right fit for us at this time,” HR said. I couldn’t agree more. NY isn’t the right fit either. I’ve known that for a while. Now I act on it.

Reject complacency or forever live life with regrets. Life is an adventure, go explore.

Gender Discrimination in Hollywood Isn’t Just a Male Thing

I worked for a production company that made it a mission to hire more female writers and directors. Prior to my start, the company had already made databases of studio-ready female writers and directors (with numbers in the hundreds for both). It was at my recommendation that we also create a database to track female agents at major agencies (WME/IMG, CAA, UTA, Gersh, ICM, Paradigm). While the producers I worked for had contacts at these agencies, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try and build more relationships. And so the talent agent database was born.

The theory behind the creation of the database was that women might be more likely to represent other women – or at least care about gender representation in the industry. As I began my exhaustive three months of research into agents and their client base, the opposite proved to be true. There was no statistical correlation between male and female representation by gender of the agent. Most “super agents,” those who represent the top talent in the business were still overwhelmingly male at all agencies. The top female talent also had male agents, and many big talents had several agents listed as representatives which included both male and female reps.

Sadly, the results didn’t shock us. To understand why women are no more likely to  support and shepard other women, it is important to understand the way the agency business operates. The agents are promoted to agent status only after a grueling period of assisting other agents, and rotating desks – often while making poverty wages for long hours. During that time, they develop relationships with existing talent and attempt to scout new talent primarily through their mentors contacts. Depending on their success, they are either promoted or remain at a desk.

This may seem like a good opportunity for women to seek out female talent, until you understand the prevailing philosophy in the agency business: women don’t bring in the money.  Whether male or female, young agents by the time they reach the level of agent are jaded. They are taught that certain genres make more money, and those genres are geared toward men and male audiences. Never mind that women might also like, write and direct those films — the fact remains that there is an implicit bias when it comes to seeking top dollar talent. After you’ve been working for starvation wages for years, taking a risk seems foolish. The result? Stick to the same formula and dated assumptions.

The solution to this problem is complex simply because nobody sees themselves as part of the problem. During a Star Wars panel, female super-producer Kathleen Kennedy stated, “We want to make sure that when we bring a female director in to do ‘Star Wars,’ they’re set up for success…they’re gigantic films, and you can’t come into them with essentially no experience.” Kennedy was roasted for this statement, since what she was repeating was the same excuse the industry always uses when scouting and pushing talent: women have no experience. This simply isn’t true. Not only that, but Rogue One director Gareth Edwards was given an opportunity with Godzilla after a single indie. So too was Josh Trank — once attached to a Star Wars film himself.

Until women are scouted and pushed the same way as men, we cannot say that Hollywood is meritocratic. Until young agents are pursuing the many women that make and write great independent action and thriller films the way they pursued Edwards and Trank, we won’t be any closer to gender-equity. Back to the database at the start of this post; I know for a fact there are numerous women ready for the next step (based on festivals, box office and other critical metrics). Unfortunately, the agency database seems to almost directly contradict that given its lack of focus on female directors except for three or four names. It’s time to stop making excuses, stop promoting dated assumptions and implicit bias. Most of all it’s time to stop being lazy and do your due diligence when scouting talent. All it takes is some research. Unfortunately, too many are not willing to do it.

Are You The Weakest Link?

Gossip. It’s the office politics, the high school cafeteria chatter — and it’s the talk you pick up spending long hours on set or in the company of high profile people. If you want to continue to work among them, you better reassess your priorities when it comes to gossip.

This may seem like really straightforward advice but there’s a number of areas where it’s easy to give yourself a bad reputation without realizing it. So here are three things to avoid doing to prevent the label of gossiper and untrustworthy person.

1. THE BLOGGER

You go to work for a production, maybe even as an assistant to a director or producer. A writer from Variety, or perhaps a prominent film blog asks you for an update. You know never to leak anything to the press without consent from your boss, except they know that too. So they ask you to confirm something or use language like it’s already known. Unless your response is “no comment,” you’ve betrayed your boss and the production.

Yes, this true even if it’s just a small tidbit of information. Why? Because you’ve shown yourself to be untrustworthy. If you’re willing to leak a little detail, what’s to say you won’t leak something larger or more juicier? When working with above the line people, it behooves you to reveal nothing as discretion is of the utmost importance. Failure to be airtight in protecting their private life or active projects from leaks will jeopardize your position.

2. THE SOCIAL BUTTERFLY

A blog. Twitter. Maybe an anonymous message board used by industry folks. People love to anecdotally reveal their experiences in the business. The problem is if someone really wanted to they could figure out who or what you’re talking about.

I’m guilty of this myself on twitter and even on this blog. I even gave a former mentor a code name — now I avoid even subtweets aimed at him less someone try and put pieces together. I still very much want to work for him, and know not to reveal his identity. I am loyal and would never leak anything.

Always be wary how you come across on social media. The smartest working for those above the line just delete theirs or avoid interacting much online. You’re someone’s right hand – you shouldn’t be too accessible. You DEFINITELY shouldn’t be revealing things unintentionally, no matter how vague you think you’re being – you’re probably not.

3. THE TESTER

I’ve actually worked with people that would feed bull shit just to see if you’d repeat it. This is especially prevalent in set or crew work. Someone would start a rumor, just to see if you’d spread it. The idea is to test and see if you’re a loquacious person. By making it seem like they’re just in the know, gossiping themselves, they give the impression they’re in on it too. The reality is they’re testing you and this is their means of doing so.

The best way to avoid failing this test is to just not repeat things told to you. Even if you saw something firsthand, just don’t say anything. Don’t spread rumors yourself. Don’t trust the person telling you stories – chances are they’re feeling you out. Can you blame them? In a business that operates on maximum discretion trust is essential.

So those are my three main ways that you may unintentionally be labeled a gossipy person. Be aware of it, strive for self awareness and adopt a lower profile if need be. Keeping a highly active twitter or talking to the press is not worth sacrificing your career over. Being an assistant or even a writer on a studio payroll requires maximum discretion and selectivity in online presence. In fact deleting this blog and wiping my twitter is the best indication that I have moved on to bigger things or am working with VIPs 😉

New Capitalism

Earlier this morning I came across a provocative headline for a Forbes article on Facebook — “If It Doesn’t Change, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity by 2050.”

Meant to illicit clicks, it did its job. I read through the article but found myself somewhat perplexed by its conclusion – that we must adopt “new capitalism.”

What is this ‘new capitalism’ you might ask? Quite simply, what the author unintentionally advocated for was Marxism. While he used examples of start-up culture to illustrate the idea of labor owning the means of their production – it is not Silicon Valley who founded this economic philosophy. Unfortunately, here in America we’ve been sold a bad bill of goods about democratic socialism and its underlying Marxist philosophy because our schools have long indoctrinated us against anything but capitalism.

The Red Menace, communism, The Soviet Union – a bastion of evil, horrible living conditions and a people abused by autocratic rulers. It is a place where your neighbor might be ratting you out to the spies. The buildings all look the same and so too do the cities as a result. Planned cities, cities like Chernobyl, a crumbling relic of planed living shrouded in a toxic cloud of atomic dust. Big giant nuclear bombs and missile parades celebrating pure lust of power – of global domination and where America and capitalism and freedom is the enemy! The Domino Theory and the end of the world as we know it. Most importantly, where Marxism is the root of all this evil.

This is how American school kids are taught about Marxism. Any word tangentially associated with this great evil – the USSR – is by proxy considered anti-American and evil. So to discuss the actual merits of Labor owning the means of production (you know, real Marxism) is a complete non-starter. You can’t even broach the topic with most people born before 1985, and many after too.

That is because they live and have lived many generations in an America where they were taught by Boomers afraid of the red menace to fear communism and that socialism was a bridge to said evil. They believed and continue to believe and educate our kids that Capitalism will set you free – that it is a system which offers choice and prosperity. Communism these educators say offers no such choice, it is anti-freedom – or more specifically it is anti-American.

The education system in America is designed to intentionally obfuscate and propagandize corporate capital and consumption. It is designed to protect the status quo and keep you mindlessly strolling through shopping malls. So instead of a debate between two economic theories – one where labor owns the means of production (Marxism), the other where capital owns the labor class (Capitalism) – we get a Cowboy versus Indian story of good versus evil. And as a result, John Wayne is considered an American hero while writers trying to organize for better workers rights were blackballed from an entire industry.

So beyond this good versus evil nonsense taught in our schools what does Marxism, or rather “New Capitalism” look like?

It looks like Germany, where the board of companies like Mercedes are split 50-50 between the workers and the owners. It is in start-up culture, and companies like Google, where workers participate in profit sharing agreements so as to own a piece of the company themselves. It is in Italy, Germany and Nordic nations where in order to become CEO, you don’t graduate with an MBA and nab the job but work in every facet of the company as a worker beforehand. Workers owning the means of production mean that robber barons and titans of industry can’t screw them over because they can block that from happening because they own the means of their production instead of it being owned exclusively by the capital class.

On the government side of this equation, It is in Western European nations like France which has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. While they pay higher taxes, they pay less than we do out of pocket for superior care. In fact we pay more out of pocket for life’s necessities than Europeans do — but we don’t call it a tax. Although it should be treated as such, only we pay our tax to aloof corporate overlords instead of benevolent government.

What else is provided by said taxes?  University is subsidized – in many cases free – and only the brightest attend. For those where college isn’t an option, they train via trade schools and educate their kids in high school better than many American colleges do. They invest in science and research. They have state of the art facilities like CERN. Arts and letters are supported versus looked down upon as a waste of time. Many European high school students are better educated and more well rounded than Americans with bachelors degrees!

Americans have been sold a lie. Ask yourself why you can’t afford your healthcare premium/deductibles? Capitalism. Ask yourself why you can’t send your kid to the college of their dreams without incurring massive debt? Capitalism. Ask yourself why you can’t afford to buy a home when your parents could years ago? Capitalism. Ask why your wages aren’t keeping up with inflation and you can barely afford to feed your family? Capitalism.

Capitalism is socialism for the rich. It is the massive theft of Labor redistributed to the capital class at the expense of your economic well being. It is a system of freedom and choice, but only if you have lots of capital. Capitalism has an end stage, and that stage is upon us now – where only the rich have choice and opportunity. You have people making off with the whole damn pie while we are left fighting over the crumbs!

The only reason this is possible in America is because people still see socialism as a dirty word – associated with the USSR. They have been indoctrinated since childhood by a school system that sought to lie to them. A system which told them if they worked hard and did a good job, they’d be able to live the American dream. They lied.

But it’s not too late. We can have an honest debate about the merits of empowering labor, as Marx advocated – but only if we first get rid of the propaganda in our education, entertainment and political landscape. This will be a tough fight, but it is an essential one to have. Let’s go out there and fight for “New capitalism” – since socialism is such a dirty word.

Subtwitter

“I didn’t mean it that way.”

It’s the cornerstone of all arguments, disagreements and misunderstandings. You meant well, but it came out all wrong. You try and clarify but you don’t get second chances at first impressions.

Social media has given a powerful tool to those seeking to amplify their voices – taking it further than ever could be imagined. With that power also comes great social responsibility.

Most on Twitter are no stranger to subtweets – tweets aimed at a particular user under the knowledge they’ll see it, but without tagging them. Blogs like this can be used to reach certain individuals too. The danger in using social platforms this way is when you have to clarify “I didn’t mean it that way.” Or when other users misunderstand a message not intended for them.

The majority of our communication is non-verbal. No matter how many emojis you use, or joking references, or nick-names, you cannot assure the message will be received correctly. The only real way to avoid misunderstandings is to not engage in such tactics. Some things are best left to be discussed in person. If that’s not possible, it makes no sense to try and dominate a one-sided conversation.

I am by no means the only one guilty of sending subtweets and occasionally using this blog to try and reach a certain recipient. I see it all the time in my own timeline. Even journalists are occasionally guilty of the practice using much larger publications. Most times it never works out in their favor. There’s almost always a blow back. I can even recall several instances of people I know unfollowing each other over a misinterpretation of tone on Twitter. Really, it’s quite awful.

So perhaps 140 characters – or a thread of 140 characters – isn’t the best way to get certain messages across or to express yourself in detail. Nor is a blog post or article equally lacking in context and intention. It’s just not worth the hassle of being misinterpreted.

Finally, I’ve met a lot of great people through social media I wouldn’t have otherwise. We got to know each other beyond 140 characters and the realm of a blog. So the collective impression is overall very different from a text based relationship. So use social media with the understanding of its limitations. It’s a great starting point, but that’s really all it is.

Sorry for any misunderstanding, “I didn’t mean it like that.” 😉

A Political Fiction (The Conclusion)

This is fiction. It is purely for entertainment purposes only and any likeness to actual events or persons is purely coincidental. 

Read Part II here

PART III

A sole camera points at the empty chair behind the desk in the Oval Office. Beside it, the President paces back and forth before his advisor.

“Millions voted for me. They voted for me to take a hard line approach. I did a good job!” It is not so much of a statement, but a self congratulatory remark. The president continues undeterred, “I am not going to resign at the first threat of force – not just yet.”

His advisor smiles, ‘go on’ his face suggests.

“I am not going down without a fight.” The president barges out of the Oval Office. “Get this camera outta here. Get it out!”

In the press pool, reporters anxiously await the press secretary. A nervous chatter develops when the Secretary enters the stage. Everyone goes silent as he grabs the microphone.

“The President and his Vice President will resign at 4PM this evening.” He walks off immediately thereafter – leaving a million questions unanswered. The media go into a frenzy.

On the Whitehouse lawn, international and national press cover the developing story with shock. An NBC anchor breaks the story first, “the President and his Vice President are both planning to resign at 4PM. It is revealed to us by sources close to the matter that the Speaker of the House will be tapped to take his place.”

Out at sea, the broadcast reaches the Sino naval offense. An officer relays the news to the admiral. In Mandarin, “they say he is stepping down.”

A long pause as the admiral stares out at the water crashing against his lead destroyers bow. “Maintain course. This man is a slippery snake. I will believe it when I see it myself.” His officer bows and leaves.

3PM, the West Wing. The President has shored himself up in an undisclosed location within the West Wing along with his advisor. The President is furiously typing at a computer terminal, he finishes.

“One down.” The President prints out his memo on official Executive Order letterhead.

His advisor chimes in, “this takes us out of NATO and cuts all funds to the UN.”

“Excellent.” The President signs and begins typing a new letter. “The next one is to cut all trade with China.”

Later on in the Oval Office, the camera remains positioned in front of the desk. The Vice President and his officials have gathered. It’s now 3:55.

“Mr. Vice President, have you heard from the President?” A senior official grows worried.

“No sir I have not. I have not spoken to him in two days.” The room reacts in shock.

Before anyone can say anything, the President enters with a stack of bound papers. “I am ready.”

News stations broadcast the address worldwide. He begins, “my fellow Americans, I am agreeing to step down for the good of this nation and to avoid further escalation with China and other enemies.”

Protests erupt in cheers. Cars honk across America. Celebration begins as if it is the end of world war from coast to coast as the news pours in.

On the ship, the Admiral gives order to halt further progress. A horn blasts. He gives orders to his officers, “halt progress and call off the advance. Await further instructions on prisoners. We will return them to the next administration… with a message.”

Meanwhile the President continues, “I deeply apologize for my social media being maliciously hacked. But I will not apologize for trying to make us more safe. That is why I have drafted several executive orders in my final hours…”

SEVERAL DAYS LATER.

The new president sits at his unelected desk. Phone calls pour in. “Yes I understand, but I plan to govern much differently from my predecessor.” Dial tone. He turns to his new advisor, “so we’re shut out of NATO, the UN, several countries have brought sanctions against us including some of our allies and China will no longer trade with us or buy our debt and Russian troops have built up a military presence on their western border with Europe.” He catches his breath. “He’s completely fucked us.”

Thousands of miles away in the Kremlin, the Russian president swings open the doors to his office. The former president enters alone. “Welcome to Russia my friend. You’ve done my country a great service.” The former president sits. The Chinese-looking hackers from the train car are seated at the bar in plain clothes. “These are my friends who helped with the twitter account – Kazakh-Chinese agents, all former KGB.” The former president nods to them.

“So what about my assets, my debt is forgiven as well?” The former president is almost intimidated by the Russian leader, who reacts with a wry smile.

“All gone my friend. We will harbor you here to protect you from prosecution and look forward to hosting your enterprise. It will prove very popular here in Russia. You’re a true hero.” The Premier walks to the bar. “Lets have a drink.” He pours himself the last of the bottle. “It appears we’ve run out.” He motions to the former KGB agent to fill a glass from a new bottle. “My own family recipe.”

The former President cheers, takes a shot. “This is terrific, thank you.” Behind him two guards appear. He grows feint.

“Please escort our friend to his new home. And do make him feel comfortable.” He tries to resist but the poison is too powerful, he’s asleep almost immediately. The Premier turns to his comrades, “advance the troops on the Western front. It is time to reunite the Satellite Republics.”

END

Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuses of power” – James Madison, Federalist Papers, 1788

A Political Fiction (Part II)

This is for entertainment purposes only. It is not based on any credible threat or Intel. It does not advocate treason or sedition. It is fiction and any coincidence, people or events portrayed in this story are also fictitious.

Read Part I here

PART II – On the Brink of War

The generals come to terms with what they have just heard. He’s their president, they are to obey his orders as commander in chief. Yet their faces ask a question they won’t dare pose aloud “what if he is wrong?”

The senior most general, head of Defense chimes in, “sir I’m not sure we have the man power you need. We’re spread thin at the moment. Most of our fleet is patrolling the waters off Iran in the Gulf, not to mention off Africa and around the Middle East.”

“Then scramble what we do have. We won’t be met with our pants down.” The president abruptly gets up. “Find me a working twitter account.”

“Sir might a speech to the nation be better suited at this fragile moment in time?” His staffer gets out of his way as the President swiftly exits the situation room.

News crews gather around the island of Oahu in Hawaii. All cover the same story. We focus on CNN, “I’m here live from Oahu where several credible sources at the Pentagon are saying there is a large Chinese naval presence offshore. Are we headed to war?”

Another crew covers the concurrent narrative of the presidents personal Twitter, “the latest message is tweeted in Chinese traditional characters, when translated reads ‘America is no longer the world’s greatest super power.'”

At the White House, the President emerges from the situation room to his lower level staffers surprise. They watch the news unfold on several TV monitors.

“Turn it off! Turn it off. It’s fake news, turn it off.” Embarrassed for him, they comply. All stand around waiting for orders. He doesn’t say another word. Suddenly his advisor emerges from the room too, grabbing his shoulder.

“Are you just gonna let those career assholes run the show? This is your time to lead! Get back in there, I’ll have your back.” The president gets the jolt of energy he needs. They head back down.

The president re-enters the situation room as camera footage shows naval cruisers preparing to meet the Sino forces. “Give me updates, now.” The president speaks with forceful confidence as he takes a seat at the head of the table.

“Sir we have activated our entire Pacific fleet, mobilized from Pearl Harbor with backup forces on alert in San Diego. We will approach by air first without firing. We have already scrambled Navy jets to issue said fly over.” The general eyes the President as if to expect a retort.

“Good.” He sits, almost too comfortable. “What is the status of my Twitter?”

The two generals eye each other – their faces suggest ‘how do we tell him?’ The head of Defense steps forward and clears his throat. “Mr. President…”

A long pause. Too long of a pause. “What, what is it?” The president grows impatient.

“Mr. President the Chinese have asked that you resign the office of the presidency, along with your Vice President due to violating Chinese territory in Taiwan.”

He throws a tantrum, banging his fists on the table. “I will not bow down to these thugs! We will win this war. Taiwan isn’t theirs. The whole world knows that! If I have to build hotels up and down Taiwan I fucking will!”

The general continues unfazed by the outburst, “sir that’s not all. They said failure to comply with this request will result in escalation. You have five hours to comply.”

His advisor chimes in, outraged, “we don’t negotiate with terrorists. This man was democratically elected!”

A lower ranked general chimes in, “they’re not terrorists, they’re a nation state. There are people rioting in our streets across the country demanding you step down and a Republican congress ready to impeach. We risk war with a nation of three billion people and likely no allies to help.”

“You’re fired.” He says it with almost a grin. But the general doesn’t move. “I said you’re fired!”

The head general tries to restore order, “sir, respectfully, I think you need to take a page from the Nixon administration and consider what is best for the country.”

News footage shows massive protests across the nation. Fires, and Black Bloc mobs setting storefronts ablaze all over the nation. Sirens, and first responders overwhelmed. Protesters chanting for impeachment. It’s 1968 all over again, as the national guard is activated in response.

With the drumming of protests and the slow burning fire not far off in the distance, we catch site of a familiar rail yard. In the background is Washington DC. Just past the entrance to the rail yard, the refrigerated rail car. The agents have been operating out of DC the whole time.

Inside the men make their final preparations. They rig the train car with timed mines. The senior Intel officer bows, “it’s time.” They swiftly gather laptops and anything with traceable evidence and flee.

Guards spot them exiting this time, and a chase ensues. The dogs are let out ahead of them. The men reach the exit as the guards pull their weapons and aim down sights. Target locked. Finger on trigger. A massive sound.

Just as the guards approach the train car, it explodes killing them instantly! The agents continue on foot, with the dogs still in pursuit. Finally, the German Shepard takes down the slowest agent. The senior agent stops, turns to the dogs. He raises a handgun… instead of shooting the dogs, he shoots the agent in the head and continues. A black Mercedes sprinter van opens its doors for him. He jumps in. Smoldering wreckage in its wake.

The cockpit of a naval fighter jet. Several jets in tow in a V formation. Our pilot makes out the lead cruiser in the Sino naval command. “Got them in sight over.” The jets make a low altitude pass over the boats bow. Two hover in place.

Several Chinese officers cheer at its sight, ready for a fight, fists in air. The jets begin a broadcast. “You are entering US Waters, turn around now. You are entering US Waters, this can be construed as an act of war.” On the captains deck, the admiral smiles. He gives signal for the horns to be blared again. Then he gives another signal, “lock on target.”

In the situation room, things grow tense. His head of defense hangs up the phone. “That’s a no from France, a no from all of NATO actually. Even the U.K. says it will only cautiously watch the situation right now. Most cited your desire to defund NATO as reason.”

“What about Russia,” the president asks almost dumbfounded. “If our so called allies won’t help, let’s see if they will.”

“Also a no due to sanctions, we tried.” The president shrinks in his chair as the general tells him this. Perhaps the lowest blow of them all, his face can’t help but show incredible disappointment, heartache even.

“These are our allies!” The advisor is outraged. “This is why NATO is obsolete, they pay nothing and won’t come to our defense!”

A staffer enters. “We have word from the UN, almost the entire body is willing to take this up in special session and call for the resignation of the US President to ensure restoration of peace.”

“I don’t answer to the UN, I don’t answer to anyone!” The president is furious now. “Who is using my twitter? I will sue them for defamation and criminal hacking.”

“Sir, perhaps you will answer to us. Step aside or millions may needlessly die in conflict.” The president almost seems to not be listening. A phone rings, cutting through the tension. It is the emergency phone, he puts it on speaker.

“Sir, two of our naval planes were shot down. The pilots have been taken hostage.” The general slowly hangs up in disbelief and turns to his president.

“Do what is right for your country and resign, sir.”

“You’re all fired.” The president won’t back down, yet his voice seems weak if only for the first time. Nobody moves. “I said you’re fired. You’re fired!” He remains seated in his chair with his arms crossed, obstinent and determined like a child in the grocery store aisle who refuses to put the pop tarts back. He looks small, helpless. Even his advisor seems unsure of him now. Never has he seemed so weak in his life.

The advisor gets up. “Sir, let’s go.” The two exit the room. The five hours are up.

On the Chinese destroyer, the admiral is aware of the time as well. “No response. Set course for San Francisco.”

A Political Fiction (Part I)

The following is pure fiction intended for entertainment purposes only. It is not based on any empirical evidence or based upon any credible threat, foreign or domestic. 

PART I

A rail yard in an undisclosed location, two masked figures in black move decisively in the dusk toward a refrigerated train car. German Shepards bark in the distance, we catch first glimpse of a guard tower to the East. Flash lights appear beneath other cars, guards footsteps approaching fast. One masked figure tries to key into the rail car from outside. The keys remain red, the code is no good. The other man pushes him out of the way, tries another combination. It works, just as the German Shepard’s and guards round the corner – to a dead end.

Inside the train car is a state of the art computer terminal with servers and several monitors. Two Chinese men meet them. One, clearly senior in rank, steps forward and speaks in Mandarin, “did you bring it?” The man removes a brief case from a black backpack with a nervous nod.

Washington DC. A red carpet gala awaits this years new Congressional leadership. Media gathers, photographing and interviewing several politicians in line for the black tie event.

In an undisclosed location, the President lays out a choice of bold red ties before returning to his cellphone. He is distracted by several messages. He can’t help but begin to reply to them. A knock — a secret service officer enters.

“We depart on Marine One in ten minutes.” The president gives him a curt nod before returning to his phone.

The messages appear to come from Twitter, indicating that a password change has been requested. He pauses, when another message comes in.

“If you believe this message was sent in err, please reenter your old password and hit send.” The president pauses. A knock catches him off guard as he types in a series of characters and hits send. Two secret service agents enter this time.

“Sir we have reason to believe you may have received an unauthorized text message.”

“No only from Twitter. Everything is fine.”

“Sir, your phone is not secure we need –”

“You said I could continue to tweet. Everything is fine, I’ll turn the phone off. Is Marine One ready?”

The two men aren’t going to fight it any more. They hold the door for him.

Meanwhile, in the rail car… The two masked men have settled in before monitors. The brief case has been converted into an encrypted radio device. One of the senior men step in to use it.

In Mandarin, “Project Shaolin underway.”

At the other end of a radio, a naval officer hangs up the receiver. He gives order to sound the horn.

Beside them are several hundred naval vessels, including aircraft carriers. They all turn up their engines and begin to head in the same direction.

At the red carpet gala, the president exits his limo with several secret service agents building a wall around him ahead of gathering media. Lights flash as cameras capture the presidents arrival. Reporters throw questions at him from all angles.

“Mr. President, many say your ramping up in rhetoric with regards to China is inappropriate.”

“Look – we’re going to put America first. I really don’t care if the Chinese are offended. Next questions.”

A friendlier face catches his attention.

“How are you dear, you look terrific.”

“Oh thank you. Um, Mr. President, can you please explain a tweet sent by you exclaiming we will defend ourselves against any Chinese attacks?”

“I’m sorry can you read me this tweet?”

“‘China is weak. We will defend any attacks with the full force of our SUPERIOR military’ — what does this mean, has there been a threat of attack?”

The President grows pale, silent. His detail rushes him inside. The media erupt in pandemonium. “Mr. President!”

A situation room has been set up. Several military officers in uniform, and the presidents heavyset advisor in an ill fitting suit and crooked tie.

“When was this tweet sent?” A senior official asks.

“I never sent it.” The president is stoic, almost unfazed.

“Sir, it was time stamped fifteen minutes ago.” A military officer looks at the President. “We’ll need your phone sir.”

A staffer enters, hysterical. “We’re locked out, we can’t get into his account!”

Another military officer enters. “I have word from the pentagon. A large Chinese naval presence has been spotted 3000km off Hawaii. We sent a spy plane out. There’s close to 100 vessels, possibly 250,000 men.”

The advisor speaks up, “then bomb them. Why are we sending out spy planes when we should be sending out destroyers!?”

The officer retorts bluntly, “you have no experience to make that call. War with the Chinese is a loosing proposition — Mr. President?”

A long pause. “They got my twitter password. I thought the text was from Twitter.” The room goes silent. Several officers then look at one another. Finally, “scramble all available ships and blockade our borders.”

Read Part II

Stop Swimming With Sharks

In the annual Hollywood Reporter director round table, one of the points of conversation touched upon what everyone did before they got their industry break. The answers ranged from factory worker to landscaper and right up to their industry positions before being launched to fame. The one answer I really latched onto was Barry Jenkins response:

‘Oh, I want to be a filmmaker and this is my way,’ but I wasn’t really trying to be a filmmaker, you know? I was trying to be a development assistant. Realizing that about myself, I felt terrible.”

Barry Jenkins’ directed this years sensational drama MOONLIGHT. His rise to stardom couldn’t be any more atypical; he was raised in poverty in an overcrowded apartment in Miami. His real father died when he was 12. His mother was addicted to crack cocaine. In spite of this adversity, he went on to Florida State and became interested in film. Finally, he had an epiphany realizing that the road he was on – development assistant – wasn’t for him. He was more ambitious than that, he wanted to direct. He had an innate ability to tell harrowing stories and it dawned on him that in order to showcase his abilities he needed to move beyond the industry desk job.

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I titled this post stop swimming with sharks because I think it’s time someone challenge the notion that in order to achieve our industry goals we must settle for the traditional Hollywood route (agency to production company to whatever beyond). It’s time to challenge the notion that to get anyone to consider you or take you seriously you must have CAA or WME on your resume. It’s time to stop being a lemming for this lie.

You want respect in this industry? Here’s a start, how about you stop responding to job posts noting “must have thick skin or do not apply.” Why? Why should anyone who respects themselves apply to a position where they’re guaranteed to be treated with all the respect of a frat pledge? Why endure verbal abuse and a complete lack of respect for you, your work and your time? If you truly have thick skin you won’t take shit from anybody where it is not warranted. If you let people walk on you they’ll never stop walking all over you. Stand up for yourself. When you’re wrong, own it. But damn it, stand up for yourself. Don’t ever kiss someone’s ass who doesn’t deserve it.

What’s worse is so many of these positions are either unpaid or poorly paid with ridiculous hours and no overtime (illegal). This includes positions at the major agencies. Yet in order to get into the frat of Hollywood you must first pledge this abuse.

Uh wrong. Just so wrong.

Look up one of the directors or writers you’ve admired. Chances are none of them took this route. Why? Because they had too much self respect to devalue themselves before people who would ridicule them and treat them like shit – and who were likely half as smart. They knew they were intelligent and took any job they could in order to invest in their creative passions. You enter the cesspit aforementioned and you’ll be so mentally drained you’ll be lucky you ever write or direct something again. That is until you move on – like Jenkins.

Now that’s not to say all bosses or companies are like that but many are. Many, many, many are. That’s because they once endured that abuse so now they think they can give it. This is a toxic cycle that will never end until people stop accepting this behavior as normal. Literally just quit or find a better placement. I have almost entirely avoided working with Sharks and jerks because I am selective in where I will work and have thus far avoided the agency grind.

You are in my opinion ten times better off finding a group of filmmakers who want to go out and make things. Make something and get it into a festival. Put yourself out there. Finance your passion any way you can. That’s something I’m doing now and I’ve found I have expanded my network considerably versus fetching coffee and making copies.

Another alternative of the agency route, production. Granted you’ll endure some abuse here too, but you’ll transcend it faster and move up quicker if you work hard and are reliable. There’s more camaraderie and appreciation for what you do on set. It’s also easier to meet people higher up. Of those I know who are assistants now, many started as PAs, became office PAs and are now producer and director assistants. I include myself in this; I worked Production and events at Tribeca and then went on to be a development assistant and an academy award nominated producers’ assistant in New York. I’d still be there now if I could afford to live on independent film wages, but there’s a lot of famine to the feast in this industry so it’s understandable it doesn’t always work out.

Point is there are so many paths to what you want in this business. Stop settling for abuse. Stop fearing what you say on Twitter will cost you opportunities- definitely don’t be an asshole or act nuts – but don’t censor yourself too much either. I didn’t get attention from those in the business by being a bland as fuck writer who does nothing but talk the business and play diplomat by complementing people. I call bull shit when I see it. And I’m calling bull shit right now. Go be you and stop accepting abuse as normal – it’s not.

Twitter Trash

Our president is baited into petty argument by an actress, sitting on a gold toilet bowl shouting accusations of elitism on Twitter. He is mass-producing Twitter trash.

He’s addicted to the adulation it provides him; the instantaneous gratification of likes and re-tweets. He has tanked stock prices and even triggered talks of a pending trade war using the medium to blast his opponents and anyone who doesn’t share his world view, or simply praise him as a god.

While Trump remains the best example of infantile word vomit on Twitter, the trash on Twitter doesn’t stop with him. In fact, most of us are guilty of saying things on the medium we would certainly never say in person.

Twitter is all real-time. There is no edit button. It is a live-wire, where what you blast out in 140 characters or less is what stays in its original form unless deleted. As things move quickly, as your feelings build, the urge to just spit something out is all too tempting. Twitter is often our subconscious made conscious, and that can be a dangerous thing.

“What is wrong with you, calling people assholes?” I could practically hear him shouting at me from thousands of miles away across the Atlantic.

I was upset that after months, I still hadn’t heard from him regarding my latest spec effort. It was a second chance from him, to try again with another script. It was a script he explicitly told me to write, and told me to send to him. After months had gone by, he started to drop hints that I wasn’t going to hear anything. Most notably this hint was conveyed via a New York Times article about Louis C.K.  discussing the dreaded “no by way of silence.” I tweeted a generic remark about the way people in the industry play games, including the word asshole. It wasn’t directly aimed at him, but he and I both know what the catalyst for the tweet was: him.

What followed was a difficult and painful DM conversation that lasted over an hour. I like to think that it ended on a good note. But if there is one thing I could point to as reason for him to never hire me in any capacity, it is that tweet. He is a very patient man who has given me a lot of opportunity, and has even read my posts as recently as last Fall. He is most certainly NOT an asshole. When I re-read that DM encounter, I know I cannot ever expect to hear from him ever again.

Impulsivity. That’s what it really comes down to. It is all too easy to just blast something into cyber space without thinking about the way people will react to it. I’d never call him an asshole to his face, or even complain to him in any way –  I was then and remain today nothing but grateful to him and his time.

Yet on Twitter, it is too easy to complain. It’s too easy to let your emotions be worn on your sleeve. It is cathartic to just get whatever is bothering you off your chest, but some things are better left unsaid. I was hurt and unfamiliar with the industry etiquette of rejection at the time and made a stupid mistake I will probably regret the rest of my life.

Trump I imagine, in all his narcissism, is almost certainly not thinking about the way he comes across. That is not only a danger to him personally, it is a national security threat as well — a danger to us all.

The difference is whether you choose to admit your mistakes. Trump has never once apologized for his remarks on Twitter. I don’t think I have ever stopped apologizing to Paris in hopes of being forgiven. I am so so so eternally sorry.

With several years industry experience under my belt since that conversation, as well as personal growth and maturity with age – I look back on my trash tweets at 23, 24 with great embarrassment. I’m not sure Trump has any such remorse.

There are no do-overs. There is no edit button. Instead of tweeting it out, save it as draft and review it in a few hours, or even days. Outside your emotional state at the time of writing, is it still appropriate to post? Probably not. Delete it as a draft, not as a public tweet.

Twitter trash is toxic. Don’t be an asshole. Pass it along.