The Comedy of Disaster Artist

Earlier this month James Franco, Seth Rogan and their comedic team released the trailer for DISASTER ARTIST. The film is based on the book of the same name, which recounts the production of the hit cult film THE ROOM, famously considered the “Citizen Kane of bad movies.” Beyond the insanity that was this production the book also takes a look at the enigmatic mastermind behind it all: Tommy Wiseau, and his friendship with the author and lead actor Greg Sestero. While the book is intended to be comedy- at times it very much is- it is also an insight into a man who lacks self awareness to an astounding degree, and is very much alone because of that. It is about a man who just wanted to make friends. Most poignantly it is about a man who in spite of all his limitations still pursued his dreams.

After a while, about half way through the DISASTER ARTIST, I stopped laughing. In fact, I started to feel guilty for it. Sure THE ROOM is a literal comedy of errors, and Tommy is hilarious in his own way. Yet, he is also a man who doesn’t understand that everyone is laughing at him, not with him. He is almost autistic in his daily functions; debilitatingly so. As someone on the spectrum I immediately began to see soft parallels between him and myself- namely the feeling lonely part and not catching on to the obvious.

Tommy is harmless. Difficult? Sure. In the end, he just wanted to make friends (and movies). Is he talented? Of course not. But he’s a unique force majeure and that’s what makes him fascinating. It’s why there is a biopic of him being released ahead of Oscars season.

Yet I feel guilty for laughing because I suspect he thinks he is talented. On “planet Tommy” he imagines that he is on par with Orson Welles. He sees THE ROOM as his compelling CITIZEN KANE equivalent. He envisions himself as Tennessee Williams crossed with James Dean. His head-strong optimism is so unrealistic it hinges on delusional. Yet that’s Tommy.

The question is, should we laugh at someone like that? Once you reach the third act of this novel, it becomes harder not to feel sympathy for this mans lack of agency. It almost feels like bullying without intending to be.

For most of my youth, I was horribly bullied. I was bullied so badly I stopped going to school, and was left back in the 10th grade. It’s partly why I avoid talking about that time; because I’m lucky to have survived it all frankly. Perhaps Tommy is secretive of his past for similar reasons. I don’t know.

Like Tommy, I’ve often struggled with lack of self awareness too. My filter is in need of work. While not intending to be rash, sometimes I come across that way. My body language contrasts with my spoken language. I don’t always pick the right time to interject. I don’t pick up easily on social cues or others body language. I don’t anticipate things the way non autistic people do. This has created a host of challenges for me because I must learn to improve upon all those things whereas others have taken for granted being able to do them.

Tommy is probably not someone we should laugh it. Sure he’s fascinating to watch. His film is largely popular for the same reason car accidents cause traffic on the opposite side of the road: people can’t help but look. Yet reading about this man, his loneliness and the way Greg sort of continues along with him out of morbid curiosity (and perhaps need) suggests we shouldn’t gawk. It feels wrong.

Finally, reading this story has also led me to question whether I am sort of a Tommy Wiseau. I have begun to wonder if my first mentor only keeps tabs on me out of the same morbid curiosity Greg had with Tommy. I hope he doesn’t laugh at some of the unfiltered things I say with his established friends. That’d break my heart in a way that might prove irreparable. That said, I don’t think so. Surely it would’ve gotten old by now, surely he’d have gotten bored. Unlike Tommy, I also know that -as my mentor said- “[I] have a gift with language.” Tommy doesn’t have such a gift. But regardless any apparent talent, I am still a “disaster artist” at socialization. Due to that, it’s a wonder if I’ll ever make it to the point someone gives me pen and paper for a paycheck.

So I’ll be there on December 1 to see THE DISASTER ARTIST. I strongly recommend the book, especially if you’ve seen THE ROOM. I equally recommend people be sympathetic to a man who clearly lacks self awareness to a debilitating degree, possibly even on the autism spectrum. So laugh, but laugh with the understanding that we should be sympathetic to others and not take for granted what may come easy to us. It is a fine line between comedy, and bullying.

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Patience

I was walking by the Tower Records earlier and thinking of the Guns N’ Roses song PATIENCE. The store no longer exists but West Hollywood agreed to put the storefront sign back up to preserve the history of the world famous Sunset Strip. Long before it was the instrument showroom it is today, it was just another Tower Records selling CDs, used instruments and concert tickets. Some of those who used to frequent this mainstay would become successful artists in their own right, including Guns N’ Roses. Long before they made it big, they were just another act patiently plugging away at their craft along Sunset Boulevard. Thirty years after their moment of mega success, I find myself in much the same position: patience.

SWEET CHILD OF MINE is probably Guns N’ Roses biggest hit. It hit number one on the charts two months after I was born in September of 1988. When we look at the final product, this masterpiece of stadium rock, we often lose sight of all it took to get there. Beyond all the wild parties, the drugs, the women– there was a group of men who just dared to make it happen. By the late 80s/early 90s they closed out an era of rock with a bang (and a little of Kurt Cobain’s spit on their keyboard). But it’s not glamorous to sing a song about patience is it?

Yet, they did. Along with all of these crazy drug fueled solos and songs about women and wildness, there is this song about “we need a little patience.”

Nobody wants to be patient any more. Certainly not in your 20s. I am 29, and just moved into my first place without a roommate. It is not far from the clubs where GNR, The Doors, and numerous other LA acts began their journey. While not a musician apart from hobby I am in absolute awe to call this neighborhood my home. When I show the photos of my newly renovated home and tell them where it is people look at me with skepticism. Their eyes read “how do you afford this as an assistant?” The answer: patience.

I got my Hollywood start late because I saved for four, nearly five years before moving. I have no student loans, very little personal debt and ample savings. So I can afford to work for little (and still do extra work on the side) and call this place home. I had patience, because I knew that once I finally decided to make the move that I wanted to be comfortable and secure, live where I most wanted to be.

Yet, many who’ve only recently met me don’t know of the struggle I endured to get here. One which included two failed moves, one which saw me temporarily homeless. No- that’s because most people only look at the final result. They know SWEET CHILD OF MINE, but not the night spent living out of a van.

Patience. If only I could have told my younger self it’d take all of my twenties to get to this point. I guess it wouldn’t matter because I didn’t want to hear it from my mentor (‘Paris’) then either. Along with patience comes learning about it only through experience. As I walk around my apartment, I can finally appreciate all the hard work it took to get me here. It’s surreal sometimes. I’ve failed so much, and now at 29 everything is falling into place.

Yet, it’ll probably be another ten to fifteen years before I start to make any decent money from this business. I know that the lessons I’ve learned from patience will only continue to come into play. But now I am relaxed and can appreciate one day at a time for I am patient. I am patient in learning. I am patient in paying my dues. I am patient with ‘Paris.’ I am patient in working on my craft. I am patient because it took all of my twenties to learn that. It will require utmost patience to continue to grow, and I look forward to it.

 

 

A Bakers Daughter

18th Century Paris is the sort of setting you might only encounter in fancy state funded art museums- an artistically rendered image of a distant past. It’s a place in time which feels so antiquated. Its hierarchical structure of castles and pawns laid out across a chessboard cityscape. Cobble stone streets and stone mason fortresses stretch along the circular grid popping out of the map like a rendition of Game of Thrones in deep amber hues and wispy strands of fog and smoke. On one of these cobble stone street corners lived Isabelle – a bakers daughter.

Every morning before 4am Isabelle would trudge through the mess of chamber pots, horse and pig crap and rotted food to pick up the freshly baked bread which she would bring to market in the nicer part of town. The smell alone would be enough to choke one unconscious but for the plebeian  inhabitants of 18th century Paris such squalor is shockingly routine.

Each and every morning that Isabelle made this trip she would imagine herself in one of those posh castles which adorned the Left Bank. She would imagine a life traveling to the elegant pillars of princedom in Saint Petersburg or maybe the brilliant green hills of Ireland and the heraldic homes of the nobles in the United Kingdom.

The dreams helped her trudge through the pig shit that was her life. All she wished for was the chance to be something more than a peasant; a diplomat or maybe a scholar or politician. Of course that wasn’t possible, not merely because she was of a poorer background but also because she was a woman.

As the sun rose over the fresh swept streets of the Left Bank, Isabelle set up her bread stand. Lines quickly formed, the usual hustle and bustle of carts, cattle and important people went by. Isabelle was fascinated especially by those women who were engaged to important men. Society girls with their powdered faces and elegant figures. Isabelle was by no means unattractive, but she was indeed plain by circumstance. Perhaps were she born to better means she might even be considered gorgeous. But she was a bread seller; only a scholar in her spare time.

It was while reading an essay on treaties that she first saw him; the author Jean. He was a well to-do and esteemed member of the community. Maybe not among the A-list so to speak but certainly a member of the club. He and his type of people were not the kind to buy bread for themselves. No, they had household staff to attend to such chores. Yet here he was- staring at her. She stared back.

“How much for one loaf of pan de mie?” She stared at him not registering the odd request. He was handsome, older, but incredibly charming without necessarily intending to be.

“Miss?”

“Three copper.” She somehow blurted out the answer. He handed her a silver and was on his way. It’s much more money than she’d every accepted for a single loaf of morning bread. That’s when he turned back.

“Where did you learn to read such things?”

“I taught myself.” She sounded so shy when what this really called for was some confidence. After all, she was being presented with a unique opportunity. But such men don’t take up with peasants, professionally or personally so best to keep ones distance. Now he was nodding to himself before again getting onto his horse and making his way back to whatever land he owned.

This would go on for months. Sometimes they’d even make small talk. They were convivial and kind, maybe even a bit tense with one another. But whenever she finally felt comfortable to talk freely, he’d quickly make his way home. So they never really shared what would be more than brief conversation. Yet it felt like eternity to her with him in her presence; she adored this Jean. Some might even say she lusted for him.

Of course Jean is an esteemed author who’s travelled the world. While he’s fallen on some bad debts, he’s still quite well to do. He’s even been linked with one of those carriage society girls with a perfect powdered face. Surely Isabelle thought to herself it’d be no use to think of herself as worthy of his affections. What with her trudging through pig shit with a bakers cart, a carriage was a luxury she could only imagine. So she imagined travelling the world with him on his journeys instead, learning from him. Saint Petersburg, horse races in England, the Kingdoms of Monaco and Prussia. He’d be a fine instructor and she knew she’d make a finer student. How quickly she would awake from those dreams to reality.

Years would go by and they would no longer make conversation. Jean became more withdrawn and reserved. Always an introvert this aspect of his personality seemed to grow more pronounced with each passing year. He no longer bought bread any more from her. Instead he would just ride past her stand and stare at her knowingly. They would share this silent appreciation of each other’s presence. It became a sort of cat and mouse game, maybe today he’d buy bread. But he never did again.

Years later Isabelle would inherit the stand from her father. With a strong customer base she moved into a brick and mortar shop and was soon invited to the social events of the bourgeoise class. Despite the rumblings of revolution, Isabelle was just gracious to be able to set foot in such surroundings she had only ever imagined. That’s when she saw him, alone in a corner with a glass of wine.

“Jean?” She asked, sure it was him. His hairline had receded, he seemed much thinner than she remembered but he was still attractive in that boyish way he had always been. He recognized her of course, half wondering how she had made it here.

“The bread girl?” She almost felt insulted by this. He hadn’t remembered her name. I guess it was wrong to expect him to.

“Isabelle,” she said expecting him to reply. He nodded, that’s when his young expectant wife appeared. By all appearances she must’ve been younger than herself. She was Russian aristocracy, her accent made that apparent. Quickly, she reminded herself she had no right to ever expect to be worthy of this mans attention even now. To him and people like him, she would always be the bread girl.

Isabelle went home that night feeling quite poorly. She had hoped they might finally be able to extend those conversations they once had. While she remembers them so well, surely he must’ve forgotten. Surely she must think much more about him and his success than he ever thinks about her and any modest gains she has made. So Isabelle went back to work faithfully serving her customers. She would become more successful even opening another shop. Eventually she married and sort of forgot all about Jean.

But never entirely. For no, that was not possible. Jean was her first real professional inspiration; someone who drove her to dream of something more. The more she thought of it, the more she realized in a way she was doing this to impress him. But he could not be impressed and he certainly could not be had. Not that she wanted him, no. But it was worth repeating because maybe underneath it all she sort of wouldn’t have minded if she were to have him. Alas it was never something she chiefly desired or aspired to.

Jean and her never spoke or met again. He died in his late 80s, long divorced from the woman she met at the party according to a brief newspaper obit. In fact, she’s not sure what exactly became of him after the Revolution; only that in some way he had a small but indelible impact on her life. That maybe if not for him she would not have taken such risk and might still be trudging through chamber pot mess and pig shit. She’s quite thankful for him and her own ambition that she’s not.

What it Took

For anyone who would dare to call me a spoiled brat, I’d like to share with you my story about how I finally came to live and work in California. Let this be a lesson for never judging someone you don’t know the first thing about…

In 2012, I had a great opportunity- or so it seemed. I was given a verbal offer to begin work with a production company in LA only to have that offer revoked and given to someone’s friend. Hey, it happens. Nonetheless, I was on the hook for thousands in moving costs from NY and had to move home and start anew.

So for the next several years, I began saving and netting work experience. By 2014, it looked as if I had a path back to California. I ended up moving in with a college friend. However, we soon ran into disagreement since she was living with her boyfriend and it just wasn’t going to work out. So after getting a job offer in the Bay Area, I went from celebrating to being homeless. Literally, after a fight (over paint) she kicked me out and I wound up sleeping on a park bench in the Haight bc I had nowhere to go so late at night. I had none of my belongings. I finally got a motel, but had only the same tee shirt to sleep in and no clothes to change into bc I had all of my things in her apartment (which she wouldn’t let me get). Eventually, I had to involve a civil escort to retrieve my belongings from someone who suffered from bipolar (my things were partially destroyed anyways). Without enough cash for an AirBnB or apartment deposit I had no choice but to move home in spite of a job offer.

So I found my way back to NY shortly after a blizzard delayed my flight home. For the next several years I’d work for free, or little money- scraping for any opportunity I could to make my way back to California- back to my goals, closer to LA. I was depressed at times because I felt so far from where I wanted to be, working a pay check job alongside any film gig I could take. It was a real grind and so to insinuate I’ve never had to work a day in my life is laughably inaccurate. I’ve worked three jobs at a time, and currently work one in addition to the studio gig I have.

Yet now I find myself on three to four years of savings living in the Norma Triangle of West Hollywood. I have a rental car while I wait on selling my VW back home. I have a few nice clothing options. I traveled to London and Paris. I PAID FOR THIS MYSELF.

I slaved for years to be able to finally afford my dreams- and to visit my dream city one last time before moving. I am the daughter of a nurse and fireman. I am a product of the middle class. I went to a state school because I couldn’t afford the private school alternative. I saved for years to call West Hollywood my home- knowing where I wanted to live and also knowing I wouldn’t make enough at first to qualify on my own. So yes, my parents co-signed my apartment. Sure, my mom bought me a bed (which I was glad to pay for myself). Yes they’re coming to visit. Yes they care about me and now that I’m making things work, they’re a bit more willing to help out.

But boo me, because I saved up and worked hard over the years some people (who I won’t name here) think I’m a brat. You don’t know the first thing about what I’ve gone through to get here. I am so eternally happy because I’ve worked most of my 20s to be in the position I am in now and will never take it for granted. Don’t ever judge me- or anyone for that matter who you do not know well. If you have disdain for others success, that speaks volumes about you and your own life- which you should attend to over worrying about mine and others.

A New Chapter

Going forward I will be forced to be a lot more selective about what I write. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s good to have strong opinions as a writer, but it’s also important to balance that with diplomacy.

Sometimes I lack a filter, being on the spectrum. I say things that make ordinary folks face palm. I also tend to overshare at times in an effort to be understood. I am becoming a lot more self aware of when I do this, and that’s an essentially important development.

I am so grateful to be where I am now not solely for professional reasons but also for personal development reasons. Working on a studio show has forced me to become a lot more self aware. I cannot simply speak without consequence any more as a writer or as an employee. I am apart of something much larger than just myself and words always have consequence but especially so in this industry.

Beyond my social media presence this self awareness also extends to social interaction at work. I must be careful about how I come across in emails and respect the power balance emphasized in those emails and interpersonal communications. Hollywood is hierarchical not because they want to be Marie Antoinette about things but because this hierarchy is what enables the business to work and have order. It’s important because without it there is no way we’d function as an industry given the time constraints we work under.

So I am very excited about how much I have grown this past month and how much I will continue to grow. Being apart of a really great crew also makes this Hollywood adjustment easier as well. While I’ve worked within the industry, never have I had such access to executives and above line professionals before. Such responsibility is most appreciated because it is molding me into not only a more capable professional but also a more self aware and mature person.

So while I may be on the spectrum, I will never use that as an excuse for my behavior. It is a challenge, yes- but if people from Dan Ackroyd to Tim Burton could do it then so can I. We all have our challenges in life, so long as we always look to personal improvement we will not be impeded by our own difficulties.

Scab Work & Snake Oil

Let’s talk about free spec work, unreputable and predatory contests! Thinking about paying a premium to submit to that screenplay contest? Or maybe a studio has offered you an incredible opportunity to enter your short film into a contest. Perhaps someone just offered you a chance to pitch to them or write for them — for free. Regardless what situation you find yourself in it’s important to consider whether it’s really just too good to be true. That maybe, just maybe you’re actually harming versus helping yourself.

This August Warner Bros. released the latest in the popular conjuring universe, ANNABELLE CREATION. Directed by the helmer of horror feature LIGHTS OUT (originally a two minute short on YouTube), the studio wanted to capture the sentiment of the YouTube to Hollywood fantasy. So WB created a contest to encourage aspiring filmmakers a chance to enter their own two minute short for a chance to get optioned and fly to LA to meet the director and WB execs.

Sounds great, right? Not so fast. Upon further inspection a few glaring sentences are evident in the fine print. First of all- the winner isn’t even guaranteed to meet with the director or execs. More disturbingly, the option is only $50. Most disturbingly, the cost to exercise that option in the three year period is only an additional $50 all the while you obtain no ancillary rights and the studio can do whatever they want with your creation without additional compensation or credit. Additionally, you’re not guaranteed screen credit or story by credit which could get you into the WGA. So basically you’re a free spec hire to a multinational corporation that just used your hope to further its bottom line. Oh and if you want to sue- even if you win the studio also has in this contract that you’re only entitled to $10 in damages. Woohoo $110 and fifteen minutes of fame!

So why time after time do young aspiring filmmakers enter into these contests? Simple- they’re desperate and think it’s their ticket to success. The winner has already been approached by managers- and brings this up when criticized for participating in a scheme which undervalues the creative process. However if he is still contacted by those same reps in six months I’d be shocked. It’s normal to be contacted by reps after winning a contest. To maintain that interest requires exceptionalism.

Surely someone who won a contest of this magnitude is exceptional, you may say. Regardless that’s irrelevant because simple business suggests that this person valued their talent at $50. Like so many young filmmakers, they figured entering into this contest would pull them right out of bartending and into Hollywood royalty. It doesn’t work that way, and it never will. Even if he does get in the room with others, that he valued himself at $50 makes negotiations for future pay very hard. If he was willing to lowball himself once, why not again? If you’re this person’s manager or agent, you’re not going to eat very well on the commission earned. Therefore if he is still contacted by reps in six months, I’d be surprised. Which is ultimately why undervaluing yourself for a foot in the door is a very bad initial career move.

There’s more to why this is not only bad for the creator but also for everyone else making movies and writing. It allows studios to continue marketing these predatory contests because aspiring filmmakers desperate for a shot will keep submitting material. Even if 98% is garbage, that 2% could yield fruit. Even this winner of the ANNABELLE contest was quite derivative. It was a clone of almost every James Wan film before it. So if studios can acquire content for $50, and they can keep going to that well- it’s that same studio which in turn will be less likely to shell out money for a traditional option. So essentially, by selling your self out for $50, you’re working as a scab. You lower the going rate for everyone else because studios know they can get away with it.

Without over-focusing on this contest, I also wanted to say the same of many script contests that equally prey on writers and creatives hopes. Screenwriter John Gary calls it the “hope machine.” That’s exactly what that WB contest was doing- preying on the hopes and dreams of desperate young creators. So too do many snake oil salesmen that charge for notes or “access.” Same of minor screenwriting contests that few reps monitor. Unless it’s the Nichol or on the Blacklist – it’s up to the individual rep whether they even care. Most don’t. And they also only care about winners, not second place.

This may all seem disheartening but the reason I write this is to underline that there is no short cut to success. All sorts of money-interested folks will try and take advantage of you by suggesting some secret path or access if you just sign away all your rights or pay up “right here.” The sooner you accept that and stick up for yourself the less likely you are to be conned. The moment you stop undervaluing yourself means that down the road you’ll have a better shot at sustainable financial compensation. The moment you stop doing free spec work is the moment other writers and creators like yourself will be paid properly. While not all contests are bad, it’s important you understand the fine print. Stop shilling for a predatory system thinking that despite ALL THE EVIDENCE you will be the exception and learn to do things properly. Get in line and work hard like everyone else.

Milieu

The bar smelled like ammonia and stale beer mixed with patrons perfumes and various vices. It’s a place where most have given up. It’s a local watering hole where seats are practically assigned. It’s where you go to purchase conversation when you have no one to talk to.

Yet here they were in the corner, too good for this place. I ordered one of three beers on tap and clapped as they finished their set. They appreciated that, we exchanged a look: what are you doing here? I looked back, what are you doing here? Stuck in this suburban hellhole devoid of culture or any discernable path to a better life. The greatest city in the world is only miles away but from this hole in the wall it felt continents apart. Here we were, this band too good for this bar and me sat before it. A handful of battle scarred Millennials itching for a better life.

That was six months ago. Weeks after I would be laid off. Weeks after that I’d move to LA. Six months later I sat in a theater watching a story of suburban dreams next to agents, an actor and various industry players as a member of the studio system myself (a step above janitor anyhow).

Patti Cake$ spoke to me the way a lot of stories about dreams hadn’t before. Sure my family may not be as dysfunctional nor are we pursuing the same path. But it captured suburban milieu in a way that I hadn’t seen depicted on screen before. It showed what it’s like to be some Long Island or north Jersey kid growing up around big fish in a small pond; the guy who inherited his dads pizza shop and drives a custom car or the girl who’s famous at one bars sad karaoke night. Hey maybe it’s the jerk from high school who still calls you names at 27. The wise cracking deli guy. Or the school teacher you see drowning their sorrows one zip code over from where you attended science class. If it was anything, it was a zip code filled with broken dreams and those who settled. Patti wanted more. That band in the corner bar wanted more. I wanted more.

Leaving that milieu behind was the best decision I ever made. While there’s certainly many lovely aspects to the NY metro area, it wasn’t where I needed to be. Never have I been so clearly reminded of what I left behind. Patti Cake$ shows the strip malls, metros and boring bar life 2,800 miles in the rear view mirror. I don’t regret the decision one bit, even if I do miss the diners.

See Patti Cake$ in its limited release. Support original films. Don’t forget to dream even when it seems impossible. I certainly never thought I’d be here living off the Sunset Strip at the beginning of the year…

Car-Less in LA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding Late Stage Capitalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do we consider rights?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!