Sunday, February 8, 2009

Leggo my Ego

The Hollywood Juicer in this recent post inspired me to kick back into this blog with a subject that's weighing heavily lately. As the whole world knows, recently Christian Bale's rants on the set of Terminator Salvation (on which some VFX guys now on 2012 worked), were made public. I wholeheartedly agree with Taylor and his sentiment that Actors are a different breed. They can easily get more fluffed than a peacock in heat because of a rancid cocktail of indispendibility and insecurity. As Taylor says, they really are the only piece of the puzzle that cannot be replaced, the only thing that is undeniably locked into a film once it starts. Everyone treats them like glass because they have massive bargaining power. You, the PA, knocked on their door and woke them up. They can jepoardize the whole shoot if they leave and it may just be your fault. The thought is absolutely terrifying when you're on the bottom.

This is method that Hollywood uses to get you down. Fear. Absolute, gut-churning, psychotherapy-inducing, become-a-chain-smoker fear. Actors are just one part of the psychotic whole. They're divas, but they're just one department. What if you're dealing with the ones in charge? What if the guy you work for runs the show and everyone else's show? What if your boss is an agent, or a producer, or an executive? Life as a low-level (and I'm talking even lower than assistant) assistant is riddled with hazing purposefully intended to break you. I once had a boss who sat across from me and expressed her crushing disappointment at how I ended requests on the phone with a question ("Could you please check if Mr. Jacobs is available?") instead of a statement, ("We need to see Mr. Jacobs tomorrow.") There are very specific things you CAN and CAN'T do. Like Bale says, you don't walk into the shot, and like Tayor reiterates, the DP could not talk back and rightly shut up.

This city, maybe not this industry but at least this city, is built on that kind of social boundary. You CAN'T talk to this person, you CAN'T do this job, you CAN'T walk into this room, it's all can't can't can't. It's like foot binding. Before you know it you can't get anywhere and every step is painful. Most of the time, these "can't"s are absolute bullshit, things like keeping your head down when this person is in the room, or never saying "no" to this other person, or that you have to wipe the dust from his desk because he "can't". Most of the "can't" are absolutely bogus. They're plants by people to make their insecure, mundane lives more livable, as they get a little power from following fake rules and yelling at others for breaking them. Most of them mean nothing but should you question them, you're just looking for a can of whoopass. I was once repeatedly chastised for binding scripts before counting pages, when my boss told me to count the pages before binding the scripts.

I'm really bad at dealing with this kind of crap. I don't see why things have to be the way they are. Most of the time, the limits are there simply because they've always been there. It's true, as Taylor says, when you're in that situation it's very hard to rebel because, well, if everyone is against you how will you keep working? I came from indie production in New York City and on the east coast, there's a special thing called PERSPECTIVE. The coffee runs out, but it's nothing compared to the homeless guy trying to weasel onto the set. The producer may be worth millions, but it's doubtful he'll get his own trailer because he knows there's no space. But here, reality doesn't apply. No matter how low-budget you are, you HAVE to have a minimum of two trailers. End of story. If people found out your Camry was the green room your actor would walk off. Never mind that the money that would've been spent on a trailer would go to people's salaries. People are carried by a very strong tradition of hubris and abuse. The theory is "That's how it is and that's how it'll always be." Those that at first think otherwise start to embrace that theory, and before long they add, "and that's how I like it." and by then they're long gone, never to return.

Once you like the way it is, that's when you're officially a hollywood douchebag.

I have trouble playing this game. I don't want to devalue myself or the people around me. What kind of a life is being surrounded by yes men? I don't want to grant someone that misery. For people that like that delusional way, I don't know how much I can respect that. A good producer would be honored to have someone real beside him, not an empty shell with a bobblehead. My ideal is to treat others, no matter their position, as my equals. They're to be respected for their job and their work; this isn't serfdom here. All of us little people do silly tasks now and again, but if I have to pluck all the green M+M's out of a bowl, it's only for the paycheck. I shouldn't do it to further my career because a career brought on my sifting through M+M's is not one that I want. We shouldn't fear getting fired over post-it note colors, or accept to fill a bathtub with Evian to get a script passed on, and I make coffee as a PA because it's part of the job and coffee makes people (including me) happy. That's a reason to keep the pot full, but if it's so inexplicably important that that pot CAN'T be empty, and following this dumb CAN'T rule just because it's a rule is the way to climb the ladder, I'm very sorry at the quality of work that is waiting on those upper rungs.

I want to play the game, but on my terms. It doesn't seem like a lot to ask but... maybe it is.

In other news:

Kims Video has lost. Just like Indie 103.1. What does this future hold? If theaters start shutting down I may just give up on life.

Also, Battlestar Galactica is getting too close to current events for comfort.

Also, I used to be a funny person.


Ian said...

I just want to say, great post! It really sucks with how it is in the industry but it's difficult to get around it. I'm not sure the best way to get around that kind of stuff. Maybe it's just the fact that you have to try and keep working on your own stuff and hopefully break through that way.

Business Affairs said...

I so, so agree with this (obviously, since you read my post on the same subject).

First of all, yeah, at one point do people morph from being an abused assistant to feeling entitled to demand the ridiculous? Very likely, it's when they get power, and their every ridiculous whim is fulfilled just because they have that power (as you say, sometimes we have to pick out the green M&Ms just because we get a paycheck; we don't say, "Excuse me, but that's ridiculous."). Some psychologist actually made up a diagnosis for this that he called Acquired Situational Narcissism, which is basically indistinguishable from Narcissistic Personality Disorder except for the fact that they weren't born with it; it was induced by having been in that kingly position for so long. And although, as you say, actors are the ones we hear about in the tabloids, producers and agents aren't immune from it.

But my theory is that it's a cycle of abuse just like any other: 99% of parents who abuse their children were abused as children themselves. So if people come up through the ranks getting abused, even if they swear they'll never do it to others, by the time they get into the top position, it feels like the normal thing to do is lash out at others.

As for the boundaries, I hate them, too. And sometimes I wonder if it's the people who ignore them who become successful. I once didn't even ask to attend a premiere my boss was going to because I was afraid of offending, but then my replacement asked, and he got to go! On the other hand, I knew a girl who added her boss as a friend on Facebook, and got fired just for that. I mean, I see the difference between those two situations--the Facebook girl was clearly an idiot--but I guess it's just annoying that your radar has to be SOOO finely tuned to what you can push for and what you can't, and it means the difference between getting a huge opportunity and getting fired! Maybe the rule is just that it never hurts to ask politely and respectfully.

I think you're 100% about being sorry about the quality of work on the upper tiers. I happened to notice that in development, it was the one who just yes-manned the boss on stupid opinions about projects was the one who got the brownie points--NOT the one who rightfully said that a project was not worth pursuing. The system of rewards is totally fucked, just like the health care system as Michael Moore explains in Sicko: in the for-profit system of America, doctors are rewarded for keeping people sick!! While in state-run medical facilities, doctors are rewarded for making people better. Likewise, in development (and probably every other aspect of the film industry) you're rewarded for agreeing with whatever your boss wants rather than creating the best project you possibly can. Taking this into consideration, it's really not surprising that there are so many shitty movies.

What to do? I guess just try to hold on to your perspective, as you mention. Just as keeping a coffee pot filled really isn't important in the grand scheme of things, so isn't a tyrant mouthing off about it. :)