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

Making the Creator King Again is Vital to Saving Film

I remember when Titanic came out in 1997, it was everywhere – on billboards, rehashed through several documentaries, on popcorn tubs, on MTV, on the news, on posters, shirts, the word on every teen girls mouth – it was the event of the year. People became obsessed with Titanic – including myself as a kid, I once knew how many rivets were in the ship. You couldn’t get away from it, or that cheesy Celine Dion song. It was a completely dominant force of popular culture and remained the highest grossing film until Avatar in 2009.

Now in today’s Hollywood, everything is hyped to such a grand scale that nothing has staying power. If everything is big, loud and explosive then nothing stands out. The sort of fanfare once reserved for movies like Titanic is now expected of films on a monthly basis. If a tent pole film doesn’t make a billion dollars it’s somehow not good enough. As studios tear through their IP war chests, exhausting all properties to the point of arriving at Bay Watch and Pirates 5, they have finally lost the trust of American audiences. I feel we truly are headed toward rock bottom.

At the same time television has seen a renaissance. A huge reason for that is creative control. Once upon a time studios used to make mid budget films from original scripts. In the 90s it seemed like the spec sales would never stop. Studios would use their big expensive blockbusters to fund these smaller properties hoping enough of them would become hits to remain in the black (thus the term tent pole for blockbusters).

Today fewer and fewer specs are being sold. Studios are no longer stand alone businesses as much as they are part of larger conglomerates. These conglomerates don’t just want movies – they want theme park rides, toys, accessories. They want every film to be just like Titanic was in 1997 where people would literally buy White Star Line napkins and talks of building another Titanic was a serious consideration. Conglomerates want studios to be less about filmmaking and more about brand-making.

The ultimate problem for movies is that TV offers the creativity that modern moviemaking no longer allows. Marketing and non filmmakers hold too much weight in script considerations and story decisions. The movie writer today is a gun for hire to bring marketable IP to life, and is less so a unique creative force. While independent films and Oscar bait still gets made, even those cinematic gems are few and far between relative to a decade ago. Or, they’re being made entirely outside the studio system.

The American public is loosing faith in Hollywood films. At a time where TV couldn’t be better and show runners are almost as popular as some of the actors in their shows – the public couldn’t be bothered to shell out $15 for a mediocre movie. It’s time to make the creator king again. It’s time for creatives to get back some control in the movie making process. Until that happens, people will continue to reject stale Hollywood IP for increasingly better content on the smaller screen.

Hollywood on the Spectrum

It takes a certain kind of person to really flourish in this industry; someone very social, tenacious, a fearless hustler who also plays a good game. In many ways it does come down to luck for all. There are certain ways to increase those odds, and then there are ways in which you can also shrink them. It very much comes down to who you are. I am someone who, albeit is of Mensa intelligence, lacks the same social intelligence — I am someone on the autistic spectrum.

Autism, including Aspergers (which I was diagnosed with at 12) is a developmental delay. Contrary to popular misconception it is not a mental illness nor is it associated with mental illness. It is however linked to social stuntedness, a lack of self awareness, contextualizing things in black and white –and often shyness as a result. It is also linked to higher IQ, greater empathy and therefore less inclination to act in a morally unscrupulous manner. People with Aspergers are very loyal to those they care about and are not the sort of people to stab someone in the back.

In an industry where being an extroverted hustler and social savant is critical to success, people who lack that combination of traits stand a lesser chance at success. This is not to say that someone on the spectrum is not a possible combination of all those things; however there are a few notable ways in which someone on the spectrum would struggle in Hollywood. So allow me to go into some detail.

1. Taking Things in Black and White

People on the spectrum are not very good with social nuance. So much of this industry relies on coded messages and meanings. When life is defined in black and white, the grey in which Hollywood operates can be very difficult to navigate. This breeds frustration since all people like myself and others with Apsergers want is a clear answer (see the ongoing saga with myself and a former mentor). Rarely is this given, and it easily turns into a feeling of frustration when we are given codes or signs we cannot interpret. We wind up spinning our wheels on dead opportunities or wasting time on long shots. A social person with a strong perceptiveness would probably move on more quickly and rebound, whereas it’s easier for us on the spectrum to get stuck still looking for answers which will never come. Especially so when it’s what we want most.

2. Charlie Hustle

Ever watch ‘Better Call Saul’? Jimmy McGill’s nickname is Charlie Hustle. He started in the mail room and eventually rises to the rank of attorney through hard work, social cunning and strong perception. His ability to feel out situations where he could ascertain an opportunity or advantage allowed for great success — not to mention his personable nature.

The same skills are required for success in Hollywood. You will eat crow in low paying positions with the only way up the same skill set Jimmy had. Just to find those mailroom positions is often difficult enough on its own! This is not to say people with Apsergers lack hustle – not at all. We work just as hard but often require more guidance or mentorship at the outset of our careers. We lack the same level of natural perception and social cunning that might make us take risk or sniff out that ‘new position’ which may not yet be available. We work hard but constantly second guess ourselves and are unlikely to pick up a phone without encouragement — good luck finding that in the mailroom! Without a good mentor, it’s very easy to wind up lost and directionless navigating a complex industry.

3. Oversharing & Blunt Talk

So much of this business is about having a certain personality. Part of that is being really level-headed, positive and not oversharing. People on the spectrum tend to lack a filter that comes natural to others. Sometimes this leads people to conclude someone on the spectrum is too blunt. We’re usually too honest for our own good. Especially when we’re frustrated, or doubting ourselves — we take to Twitter, blogs or just vent to others because we desire to be understood and seek empathy. This could come across as emotionally unstable or weak (i.e why would someone say that?). We’re not emotionally unstable, but we are sensitive (weakness in this field). This industry requires thick skin and an understanding of when to say a white lie or avoid how one is really feeling. You gotta sell that confidence and that smile – you’re happy to be here! People on the spectrum are honest and morally inclined. To lie, be phony, talk shit or just play a good game of bullshit is not in our nature. We are more likely to despise it.

4. Adherence to Meritocracy

Those on the spectrum tend to have very high IQs. They usually know they’re very smart and so for someone who is morally inclined and intelligent it is hard to settle for the world of nepotism, favors and brokered deals which place intelligence and potential after ‘the right cultural fit.’ It is hard to watch ‘the right fit’ win over the best qualified, or the person with most potential. Hollywood is not a meritocracy. This is probably the most annoying thing to those on the spectrum because of their moral inclination and very black or white sense of fairness and justice. It’s why people on the spectrum tend to flock toward industries which are more meritocratic like the hard sciences. There one’s intelligence and capability is more important. Not so in Hollywood, you could be average and capable with the right personality and win over the person who may be brilliant but not be ‘the right fit.’
While many with Aspergers are writers, directors and musicians, not many are screenwriters; probably because writing novels is an introverted process whereas writing scripts is collaborative. You have to deal with that junior exec’s notes; someone who got the job from their aunt. Being a director or musician, one is in charge of the creative process (and the directors I refer to here aren’t the Yes men working for studios, but in the Indie world). You must have incredible social aptitude to be a good screenwriter – not just a good writer.

Conclusion.

All of these examples may not apply. In some cases none apply. However in most cases a combination of those difficulties can make it extremely difficult to break into the coveted film industry with autism/Aspergers. While many on the spectrum are very creative and capable, they are often deemed not the right fit. It’s easy to fall trap to social stuntedness. The most one can do is be self aware of these limitations and try to fight them (it’s what I do every day). I won’t say it’s not hard — it’s a constant struggle where for others the pursuit is more effortless. I am a well of potential crashing up against the walls. While I will never use my Apsergers as an excuse, certainly not for my failures, I will also not deny that it does occasionally play a part. I am my own worst enemy, and I must conquer myself before I can the industry beyond.

Dreamers v Settlers

There are two types of people in this world, the dreamers and the settlers.

“I was more at ease with you going to Europe than LA… anywhere in the world is potentially unsafe but at least in Europe you had an itinerary.” These are the words of a settler. They are the words of my concerned but supportive father. A settler has a low appetite for risk and likes a clear itinerary in life. The settler settles for comfort over risk and therefore usually takes a stable career in industries with a lot of job security and financial comfort.

This is not to disparage the settler types. Settlers are happy in their decision to hold onto a secure job which gives them guaranteed benefits and a solid understanding of how their life will play out. All my dad had to do was move up in rank while inching closer to retirement. Granted his job as a NYC fireman was hard from guarantees in one respect- safety. He was a 9/11 first responder and I am supremely proud of his heroism. Still, a government employee now enjoying a secure retirement, he is very much a settler.

My mother too is a settler. For a while she wouldn’t talk to me due to my decision to move. She is a nurse manager who worked at the same hospital for 35 years as a nurse manager. She’s done well and will be traveling to France for an entire month in May. She settled for a secure job, a good salary and certain guarantees.

But I am a dreamer. I have already seen France in my 20s because I want to see the world young – not in my retiree years. In fact I don’t want to wait to enjoy my life in retirement. While I think my dad enjoyed the FDNY I’m not sure my mom was always very happy at work. It was very much just a job to her. A dreamer like me reasons that if we have one life to live and most of it will be spent working, we may as well love what we do.

So I am taking a huge risk in moving to LA without a job and savings to get me through the summer at most. Dreamers will take risks that a settler would be terrified of – naturally my parents are terrified for me. But I’m not scared. Dreamers can’t waste time being afraid of failure for they must only concern themselves with the prospect of success. Dreamers are the people who change the world because they are the unconventional, the risk takers – the ones who won’t just settle for ‘that’s the way it is.’

“So you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” – John Lennon

Lennon was a dreamer too. Some of us dreamers will fall short of the stars he reached. If you shoot for the stars, you might still end up on the moon. And I’ll take that over the same boring place on earth until my 60s. Life is an adventure – go live without any regrets.
***
Side note: I shared this piece with my parents and for the first time I believe they understand the differences and why what made them happy won’t make me happy – and vice-versa why taking huge risk wouldn’t make them happy. Finally I believe they respect who I am and that this is how I must live my life. I think now I finally have their support, even if in addition to their concerns.

Parachutes

One week from now, I’ll spend my last weekend in NY. For a while anyhow. I’ve got barely enough savings to hit the ground running – and that’s if everything goes smoothly and according to plan. In many ways this move to LA feels like jumping out of a plane with a busted parachute, it may or may not open.

I had a dream last night that I’d wind up begging in front of the supermarket for food. My mother has decided not to talk to me, hoping I might change my mind. Yet somehow I must remain mentally strong enough to make this life altering decision with little to no support. Somehow I’m expected to write, work on this feature and apply to jobs with an albatross of fear and anxiety around my neck.

Harder still is knowing that as I write this it is cathartic but few to nobody will read it – including him, the one person I’d hope after all these years would reach out again. It’s never going to happen. During this time this blog has become more personal than ever. Yet, while I write for me I don’t do enough for me. I don’t put myself first. That’s why moving to LA is a necessary step for my own career and goals.

My single greatest fear is winding up just another shattered soul along the boulevard of broken dreams. Part of this whole journey is starting to feel like the fallacy of sunk costs. I’ve put so much time into saving money for this move to pursue a career that I fear switching plans. Then I remember that I don’t know what else I’d do. I also don’t know how I’m even gonna keep my head above water and get started. I feel old next to 25 year old assistants – a job I’d kill for. In this industry, I’m like Robert DeNiro in the intern.

There doesn’t feel like a happy end in sight for this Hollywood tale. I’m moving without anybody in my corner and everyone I speak to seems to want something from me that I can barely give to myself. I’m near tapped out of energy, spinning toward the ground with this faulty parachute. I just hope to find a soft enough spot to land…

God speed.

Timelines

It’s very easy to consider yourself a failure before you’ve even had the chance to become a success. That’s because society and those around us have established timelines for success. This timeline has not budged much in expectations despite economic recession and new generational attitudes. You will still be judged by this timeline, and you will be rated by where you rank on it. Approaching 30, by most accounts I am  a failure according to it.

What is this timeline I speak of? It is the societal expectations of the American middle class. It began with the Boomers, and has shifted little over generations. It goes a little like this: go to college, get a degree. Get job with degree, and by 25 have a career path outlined with stable benefits and income. By 30 you should have moved out, and optimally are looking to purchase a home. By 35 you should be making solid money and have married with plans for kids in the next year or two.

On this timeline, I am a failure. I feel the judgment every time I speak to timeline adherents, like my parents (both stable by 30). Or even my neighbors, including those five years younger than me —  they’re all on track to stable lives; one a policeman, the other a teacher, the eldest a corrections officer, the youngest born in 1998 is taking the FDNY exam and will probably be making stable income by my age (29). Sure they’ve all chosen stable careers which will promise middle class lives at most. They didn’t take a lot of risk, but they’re OK with that. They want stability, and the timeline adherents support their decision.

Settle. Plan B. These are words I hear all the time. From my parents. From neighbors when they politely say they saw a job opening at their boring company in the city. I feel it when out with friends who’ve become very successful because they entered a high paying field (computer science). I sense the judgment every time I cannot afford the same restaurants as them – let alone neighborhoods to live in. Everyone is more successful than me. Heck even my own [former] mentor, my idol in the industry, was at least an assistant working for an A-list production company at my age. He’d already started a career track with coordinator credits on major features to his name. By 35 he was a CEO. By 35 I hope I can at least afford rent!

What do I have? A blog and some writing samples – a few read by major players? Some sporadic work experience in the industry dotted around temp gigs to support my dream career? Assistant experience at an indie company where I barely made any money? Independent projects which look like a dime a dozen since thousands of kids will be calling themselves ‘producer’ making their friends films? What I do have is an appetite for risk. What I do have is good work ethic. Most importantly I refuse to give up no matter how many times I fail.

I will move to LA with no excuses left in two weeks. I am terrified. I keep thinking of the timeline, the disappointment I am to others, the possibility of failure. I also realize that I must live for myself and adhere to my own timeline. My former mentor said to me several years ago, “it takes ten to fifteen years to get anywhere in this industry.” He’s not wrong. I am barely five years into it. I got a base of experience and I know LA will provide me with more opportunities, and most importantly opportunities with career advancement.

I have no clue what will happen, but I will take the risk anyways. I know my parents hoped I’d grow out of this dream by 25. I didn’t. I’ll continue to pluck away. It’s a numbers game, and most will give up but I refuse. The longer you stay in the struggle, the greater the chance for reward. So if you’re like me ignore the timeline adherents and their judgmental comments. You’re on your own timeline, and you will make your own success. The only thing worse than failure, is settling for it.