Show business is littered with rejection and is not for the faint of heart. But there is a chasm as deep and as wide as the one separating Donald Trump and reality between rejection (meaning “no”) and just plain indifference. Or worse yet, and much more simply put and deadly – encouragement that goes nowhere vs. good old-fashioned real support.
I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating – most creative people – or for that matter ANY person – would in the long run much rather hear a “no” from a producer, director or studio/network head or boss than a “perhaps” that in hindsight was clearly never to be. I came of age in a world when people doing that kind of stuff would say things like “Maybe,” “I’ll get back to you,” “I’m not sure” or my past personal favorite – “I didn’t get your/your agent’s/your mother’s message.”
Of course, the latter can’t realistically work anymore because of cell phones; Facebook; Twitter; Skype; or our beloved text. So because of our love for all things Apple (except in many cases, the real fruit) if you try that old excuse – you are, as they say in Hipster McHipville – “busted.”
Still, you can only be busted if someone has the nerve to publicly or even personally bust you. And these days it’s amazing how much everyone is getting away with for fear of death (being shot); firing (confronting a lying boss or co-worker); or love (I don’t want to be alone because, well, it’s lonely out there). It’s a literal field day for common indecency or inconsiderate behavior or cavalier entitlement – so much so that the kind of rude, dismissive insensitivity I’m talking about is actually considered much more usual than indecent and, in many circles, has actually become the norm.
Here’s a quick example.
More than a little while ago, a very influential person in the biz I’ll call “A List” was very enthusiastic about reading a piece of my work so I quickly dispatched it ASAP, per A.L’s exact instructions. Time went by. Like a few months. That alone is the amount of accepted period you’re supposed to give someone to read anything though I’ve never really understood why since over the years I actually read both “Prince of Tides” (688 pages) and “Gone With The Wind” (558 pages) in less minutes (And, trust me, my script was far shorter than several chapters of either). “Aaaah, but was it as good,” you ask? Well, you can’t really tell that until you read it, can you? Certainly “A list” couldn’t tell at that point.
Anyway, after some months I did contact “A List” who profusely apologizes and says he/she has every intention of reading it but — can I send it again? Given the fact that I might have even exhibited this behavior (“we’re all busy!”) once or twice myself to people (and mea culpa to those people), I actually buy what “A List” is selling, don’t get offended and make another dispatch. Okay, many more months go by and though I’m a bit pissed off, I’m over it. Until one day, someone mentions “A list” and I think – you know, I’d like to know the truth. If “A List” didn’t like it, I’m at least a grown up chronologically. I can handle it – much better than I can handle, well — crickets.
So of course I contact “A List” again and get profuse yadayadayadas with promises and mea culpas and everything except, well, a blood panel and pledge of a first born (not that I’d have any use for either). Then even more time goes by. And more. And guess what happens?
And finally – I give up.
Except – many, many more months go by and this week I get a message from “A List” about another unrelated matter as if none of the above ever happened. “A List” is friendly even though we’re certainly not anything more than good professional acquaintances. We get this new matter out of the way and I think – “well, should I?” And finally I decide: “uh, no.” (My behavior is what’s called in life and the biz as – cutting your losses). I do get upset for a day and start wondering if what I sent was actually bad (it wasn’t) until I realize the truth of what I already knew all too well — this is the way “A List” is if matters are not urgent or there isn’t some very grand personal gain for A.L in this and that, mostly, it’s not personal.
However – is it acceptable?
Certainly it isn’t from friends, family or lovers – but in the course of common courtesy and decency in show or anything other business – if it is, then WHY or WHEN did it become acceptable???
To put it another way, as someone who likes confrontation and “Revenge” (and not just the television show), how did “A List”’s behavior become the “norm” without any sort of repercussions and should I have let him/her off so easily since, obviously, there’s freedom of choice here?
“You’re talking about business, where different rules apply,” you say?
Well then, I suppose we could ask the upwardly mobile young Mom my sister traveled up the elevator with yesterday at a Century City medical building. Said Mom was munching on an apple and maneuvering her snazzy baby carriage into the large space so neither my sister (in one corner) or the woman running late (in the other corner) could get out. Fine. My sister didn’t feel well anyway and didn’t really want to move before they got to her floor. But as the elevator traveled and stopped at another floor on the journey, the door opened and two very elderly people tried to hobble in. I say tried because one determined senior did manage it on a cane because Mommy decided to move an inch. Then there was another crunch of the apple. But no other movement as the second senior assumed there was no more room in the elevator carriage and Mother Mary (not her real name) wasn’t moving another centimeter even though there was clearly a good foot or two of space if she chose to navigate a bit. But she didn’t and my sister, usually no shrinking violet, was too tired to channel the Chair and chastise the young Mom for being so selfish because she had an ear infection and, well, we all know how we are when we are sick. We (for example) might end up screaming:
Oh – move your frickin’ kid, lady – don’t you have grandparents??? Put down the goddamned apple and show some respect because if you’re lucky, you’ll be that old one day. And I hope you are or I am because then I’ll grab your cane and trip you with it, you – you, poser!!
I guess this young woman is even worse than the lady I saw a few weeks after I bought my new Volkswagen Beetle five years ago. Now you have to know, I have a soft spot for “The Bug” because when I was a teenager all the cool older guys used to drive them and I, more than anything else, wanted to be that – or have that – meaning…. well, you know what I mean (and if you think about it you’ll really know). In any event, I finally got one – The Bug. And I’m at the mall parking lot, inside of it; still admiring it’s mine, starting the engine, and carefully looking all ways many times before pulling out because The Bug deserves respect. Gingerly, I slowly begin to back up when – SUDDENLY this lady in a BMW comes barreling up the parking structure, stops at my level on her cell phone and looks around. I breathe a sigh of relief until she steps on the gas, makes a hairpin left turn and comes REALLY close to blindsiding my back end until I slam on the brakes. I stop, breathe and begin to start again because she’s now idling, talking on her phone waiting for me. Except she’s not. And not paying attention and then barrels through again, this time barely missing me but managing to speed into the parking spot next to mine.
I breathe, open my window and motion – “what’s going on?”
“Watch where you’re going!,” she says, still on her phone and now pulling out of the space again.
“Excuse me, “ I respond, “you’re on your cell phone not looking and you’re telling me to watch it?”
She continues chatting on her cell, backing up once again, and I say, “Excuse me?”
To which she responds: “Okay, fine. Why don’t you take your little bug and go now.”
Having coincidentally promised the sister I just told you about that I would not start fights in cars anymore because she read an article about someone’s brother who got killed during a road rage incident that month, I backed off and silently left.
Though to this day I’m still giving that woman the finger and keep an ice pick handy unless (or until) we meet again.
I’m not proud of this behavior but felt it important to provide some instances non-show business related. Which finally brings me to what happened to a student of mine interning in L.A. last year.
An Oscar-nominated actor whom this student loved and looked up to was going to be working on a small video shoot my student was working on. My student was so excited – this actor not only acted in classy movies but did all kinds of creative other stuff in the biz (and still does) and was close enough to my student’s age to allow the student to think that hard work, lack of ego and creativity could make anything possible and be a model for the student in how he/she would guide his/her career. Until said actor showed up on the shoot and was nasty and dismissive and mocking to every single person on the crew (yes, it’s true). He even mouthed off to my student, who was slating each scene (for those who don’t know – that’s the clapboard that gives the scene info: Take 1, and Take 2).
“You think you’re important because you can do that?” Mr. Oscar Nomination But Not Winner snarkily snapped. “Well, do you?”
Needless to say, my student shrunk into nursery school size – but not quite as tiny as his tiny new view of Mr. “Oscar Never Was,” who I would like to tell to eff off because the truth is he’s not quite good enough to be acting that way and will probably not have a movie career in 5 years. But hey – at best I’m decent enough not to say it so FRANCLY out loud and shame him in front of a room full of strangers. Or am I?
Yes we know that for every one of these instances there are others where people are incredibly nice, helpful and understanding – willing to lend a hand to their fellow man or to those less fortunate. That’s a given. But somehow those people are becoming less and less the norm and more and more the exception. The norm is not necessarily extremely rude, but it’s not extremely positive either. And what is extremely rude? Well, the line has shifted both publicly and privately. Take Donald Trump. Please!!!
Now obviously I’m as snarky, or even more snarky, than the next person if I’m pushed far enough, or even if a video I want to watch is hopelessly buffering. Or even when I’m trying to open an email and I get the dreaded multi-colored mini computer beach ball telling me, “not so fast, Mister.” But I am also not commonly indecent enough to loudly talk on the cell phone in the supermarket or local doctor’s office in a way that will enable you to both hear the conversation and feel like I’m talking to you about my kidneys or bran requirements. I have also not spent so much time alone on my computer or at home watching television that I don’t know how to enjoy a movie at a public movie theatre without talking all through it to my date or putting my feet up and my coat on or beside the empty seat next to me in a crowded multiplex.
Or finally, not that self-centered that in my profession I can’t take the time to say what I mean or mean what I say – behavior that many in this country claim to be the American way but that, frankly, I don’t see much of anymore – certainly not even in our actual movies.
No, I’m not that way. Or at least I like to think I’m not. Or maybe — that’s what we all say.