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.

Temptation Waits

When working in the entertainment industry it’s pretty certain that you will become attracted to someone you’re working with – or someone you aspire to work with. With that said, it’s also important that you not cross certain lines.

Earlier today on twitter, I remarked that a professional influence of mine is a “silver fox.” For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s a sort of play on words referring to an attractive older man with salt and pepper hair. When used, it is a term that is meant playfully and even jokingly. Examples include Anderson Cooper, George Clooney and yes, my former mentor who in my opinion is more attractive than both those men aforementioned.

Assuming he even reads that tweet, it might risk coming across as inappropriate. In hindsight, it may have been. Up for hours now, there’s no sense in deleting it or taking it back. Besides he’s already known for a while that I find him attractive.

So what to do if you find yourself in such a situation? Your feelings become known to the person, and now you’re wondering if you’ve put yourself in a compromised position.

The key is really professionalism and respecting boundaries.

For instance, I value my professional influence as a mentor first and foremost. Beyond anything, I would want to work for him and learn from him. I would never do anything to compromise that – including flirting with him or making him feel uncomfortable. Secondly, I respect that he is likely in a relationship and I would always strive to respect that with the delicacy it deserves. If he were single, I wouldn’t treat that as an opportunity to insert myself as a candidate for his affections. In summation, I think it’s really important to remind them if necessary that what you value above all is a professional relationship. Remind them if need be and apologize for any misunderstanding. Being open and clear about your intentions is very important. If anything, you hope that they are flattered that you find them attractive.

In an alternate instance it is also possible that the attraction is mutual – I know I’d be hard pressed to turn my professional influence down if he wanted it. This is especially possible on a film set in which crews work long hours together for many months. On set romances happen all the time – and so too does the ensuing gossip. This is why if you’re going to go that route discretion is essential or else your reputation may be put on the line. Avoid sleeping together on set, this is almost always obvious. If you do hookup on set, be discrete. Don’t be seen leaving together or going in together etc. Do not tell a soul about your relationship. Guard any such relationship as if it was the nuclear codes. If you reach a certain point where it is appropriate to reveal, do so, but only if it is a sincere relationship. Hookups best be kept secret. Nobody wants the reputation of sleeping their way up the ladder – especially so if you’re a woman!

So in summation, the key to being attracted to someone on set or in the entertainment industry is professionalism – as is the case with other industries as well. Don’t be a shameless flirt, or make people feel uncomfortable. If it gets out that you’re attracted to someone, reassert your desire for professionalism. If it’s mutual, be very discrete. Just act like an adult and you’ll be fine.

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.

 

 

The Regressive Left

Progressives hate Trump so much, many are willing to believe almost anything negative written or said about him. As these unsubstantiated rumors wind up in the mainstream press, it does the anti-Trump movement and progressive movement beyond it serious lasting damage.

Case in point a popular rumor grasped on to just these past few days: Blackstone Group is wholly owned by Russian billionaires, and Trump owes them a significant sum of money. Ergo, because Trump owes Russians money via the Blackstone Group, Russia had a vested interest in hacking Trump’s rivals.

Except, Blackstone Group isn’t owned by Russian billionaires, nor are there any Russians in ownership positions. In fact, Blackstone Group doesn’t even have a major Russian portfolio due to risks associated with the country. The firm pulled out of all Russian investments in September 2014, a full year before Trump even announced his candidacy. While Trump does have a relationship with Blackstone, so do most New Yorkers in the real estate sector. Blackstone has the largest portfolio of New York real estate on record.

So how did such an obviously false rumor wind up in Mediaite and other major left-leaning blogs and opinion commentator appearances? It seems to have been spammed all over the Internet first.

A quick google search of the exact phrase “Blackstone wholly owned by Russian billionaires” reveals approximately three pages of results! Possibly more, but I figured three pages of the exact same 500+ word comment were enough evidence to prove my theory of comment spam. In fact, the same comment appears on numerous media sites’ comment sections – from Variety to MSNBC. Most notably, a top comment on Donald Trump’s official Facebook page.

You can see the Facebook comment here: img_6085

It is so long and rambling a comment, a single screen shot could not capture it all. I am not sure who started this comment, as all are posted within a short time frame of one another. It could be human, or bot. It’s possible that it is the same person behind the spam, or just guilable people passing along the rumor. What is clear is that it is a completely unsubstantiated rumor not supported by any facts.

Since the fallout of Russian meddling in our election process, progressives have lost their ability to reason. Many trusted media outlets’ opinion sections (and even beyond editorials) are beginning to read like a rant from Alex Jones. Jones, a notable conservative conspiracy theorist, is well known for his emotional tirades and nonsensical rants on his website and numerous documentaries. He is so passionate about his beliefs that he will print and say almost anything with little to no peer reviewed research or legitimate sources provided. Progressives have long criticized him and eventually sought to ignore him altogether since he clearly lacked any credibility.

Now progressives are engaging in the same behavior. They will print or say almost anything that is negative about Trump. Progressives are so worried about Donald Trump, they will stop at nothing to undermine him. They have lost all reasoning ability – reposting Facebook comments as political theory. There is a sense of hysteria on the Left right now and much like the hysteria of Alex Jones, it has the ability to seriously undermine credibility.

Donald Trump is a very flawed man and an even more seriously flawed politician. It is not hard to act within the bounds of professionalism and journalistic integrity when criticizing this man and his dangerous incoming administration. Lets not stoop to the level of Alex Jones and the numerous opinionated fake news propaganda pieces that helped to elect Trump. Someone has to be the adult in the room, and right now there doesn’t appear to be one.