CRA-ZEE

I was once interviewed to work on a movie that is very, very famous by a very, very famous producer who was so crazed on cocaine that this person not only screamed at two assistants in the office during our interview but barely sat down behind his/her (I am not revealing gender) desk or in his/her chair during the entire interview.

Right around this time an Oscar nominated writer friend of mine was in a meeting with a top studio executive who, each time he/she tried to punctuate a point, heaved a basketball he/she was playing with behind his/her desk at my writer friend  — who was female, by the way, not that it really matters cause she could probably catch a basketball better than me.  Which she did from said producer.  In fact, I asked her – what did you do when you caught it?  Her Answer:  I threw it back, of course.

I didn’t get the job on said movie (thank goodness, the producer and director were apparently a nightmare) and my friend’s meeting never brought her a deal to write the movie she was pitching.  This is not surprising.  Contrary to popular belief – really CRAZY people seldom provide prospective employment or breaks to those of us seeking them.  And in the rare times they do – you often wish that they hadn’t.

I bring this up right now because every year some of my students find themselves working in offices with especially “crazy” people.  I don’t mean difficult and demanding.  I mean CRA-ZEE.  How do you define cra-zee?  See above two paragraphs.

Click me for NO MORE WIRE HANGERS!

Difficult and demanding are okay.  A little crazy is okay too.  What is not okay is CRA-ZEE.  Ever.

Here’s what CRA-ZEE people, particularly in the entertainment business, like to do.  They like to tell young people that if they can’t deal with the impossibly impossible toxic environments said CRA-ZEE person creates, that they don’t belong in the entertainment business.  They like to tell young people that their dreams are impossible to achieve if they can’t suck it up and take constant or even sporadic abuse or harassment or “just joking that you’re taking the wrong way.”  They like to promise nice and wonderful things in a moment of weakness and then pull the rug out from under a young (or even older) person for a myriad of personal reasons that have nothing to do with the person whose balance they have just messed with.  They might not do this on purpose (or they might, depending on the level of cra-zee).  But that doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that they can do this at any given moment at what appears to be the least provocation.

Advising everyone to STAY AWAY from these people at any costs might seem obvious given what we know about contemporary mental health.  Or even ill-advised given what we fear about the current job market and chances for advancement in the business we call show.  But after spending all my life in the biz, this much I can tell you – No good will ever come from associating yourself with the CRA-ZEE.  To you or your psyche.

Now let’s be clear – this is not the same thing as paying your dues with difficult people or doing a series of jobs you might feel unworthy of your vast “talents.”  I bring this up because of a NY Times article this week on a lawsuit filed by two former college interns against Fox Searchlight.  Essentially one of these interns, a student from Wesleyan who interned in the production office on “Black Swan” (wow – I’d like to have done that) was complaining about not getting any dollar salary this time.  Of course, part of the internship agreement is that the “pay” is college credit for your labors (as you would receive if you were in a classroom doing intellectual labor) and all of the experience you can garner by having an inside seat into the production process of a film that, as it turned out, was one of the biggest financial and critical success of the year, if not the decade.

But on closer inspection, I couldn’t help but feel that “pay” was only part of the complaint (that’s the cra-zee part, as opposed to the crazy).  Said student seemed particularly angry that during the internship his duties consisted of “getting coffee, setting coffeemaker, cleaning and preparing the production office” etc. etc. Well, as an advisor to hundreds of students in internships over the years to that I say – did you get to observe other aspects of the production?  Was EVERYTHING done behind closed doors?  Did you have no opportunity to talk to or observe anyone having to do with the film at all?  Did you not get to read and review any documents associated with the production?  Did you never get to speak to ANYONE at all on the film?  And mostly – were you in a position that was difficult and demanding (not so much for what your job was but for what your job wasn’t on the surface) OR were you put into an environment that was CRA-ZEE that was run by CRA-ZEE people who treated you CRA-ZEE-LY?

If it wasn’t any of the above CRA-ZEE and just merely crazy, I say to said Wesleyan student– welcome to the dues paying biz, bud.  It sucks but we’ve all been there and live in the real world.  And consider the fact that – if you don’t cotton to the idea of putting in time learning to do what you want to do without getting paid – then this business might just not be for you.  Because any writer, producer or director will tell you that they create and do lots of work on their own for which they might never get paid for.  It sucks.  It’s not fair – but as Roxie Hart says in Chicago – “That’s showbiz, kids.”

Get to work, interns!

In no way, shape or form take this to mean that I don’t want every one of my students to get paid for the internship work they do.  But I also want world peace, single-payer health care and the head full of hair I had when I was 21.  None likely will happen even though technology has made it possible for me to get that head of hair if I want to look like Nicholas Travolta Elton John Cage, which I don’t.

Bottom line is – we live in a capitalist society in recession and you take the work experience where you can get it.  College is one of the times in life where your number one goal needs to solely be gaining knowledge – not making money. (Hopefully, all of life is about this – and to some extent it should always be number one – but I’m making allowance for those who think differently).

Yes, if you were my student and you were ONLY in a room making coffee and doing the dishes, I’d tell you to leave, because that would qualify as CRA-ZEE.  But don’t mistake the CRA-ZEE for the insanely difficult and demanding.  Because part of what you’re learning by being put in these kinds of situations is how to navigate the shark-infested difficult and demanding waters and not wind up being CRA-ZEE or inflicting the CRA-ZEE on yourself (or others).  That might seem CRA-ZEE, but actually – it’s merely life.  Which is crazy enough on its own.

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4 thoughts on “CRA-ZEE

  1. I know that young filmmakers and film students need to “pay their way” in the biz but we should recognize that unpaid internships is another way low-income students are left behind. I was lucky enough to take advantage of the Ithaca LA internship program but I my college didn’t have a program like this I wouldn’t have been able to afford to intern at all. Also these unpaid interns are supposed to be given a valuable experience that is equivalent to college credits. I wasn’t adverse to making coffee for my co-workers but if that is your only job, you’re not an intern you are a slave.

    • If you’re a very low income student who can, at the very least, attend a community college, chances are you can work as a summer intern even without a formal internship program at your own school – and in that sense internships in many ways level the playing field for everyone. Yes, students with “connections” sometimes get the “better” internships (whatever those are) but generally when one works for nothing it’s survival of the fittest, not necessarily the richest or most privileged. And an internship usually winds up being what any student can make of it.
      The problem with the lawsuit is that it will greatly discourage the practice of internships at companies across-the-board and everyone will suffer. (And realistically, industry experience, not a minimum wage salary, should be foremost on the intern’s mind).

      Certainly if this student was only cleaning and making coffee and not allowed to ever leave the kitchen (which I SERIOUSLY doubt), that’s unjust and not what he signed up for. But I’d say that is the overwhelming exception. It’s all about what you can figure out and make from that very first opportunity — attitude and hard work are really what’s important. If you’re working in the production office of a major movie, there’s A LOT to take advantage of between coffee runs and cleaning up duties. If you’re so inclined. But are likely not going to get to shadow the director and producer 24/7 — nor are you at the point where you should be able to.

      As for students who can’t afford college — EVERYONE in the US should be able to attend college – and for minimal cost in many cases (yeah, I went as an undergrad to one of the C.U.N.Y colleges in NY basically for free). But that is the subject of another discussion – one I talk about weekly with all my fellow socialist, commie, uber liberal, like-minded friends who many in the world would have you believe are trying to destroy the country. Our next meeting is Thursday night, by the way…in an undisclosed bunker….

  2. The CRA-ZEE Hollywood boss is a stock character of entertainment media, good examples I can think of include Kevin Spacey in SWIMMING WITH SHARKS (1994) and TROPIC THUNDER with Tom Cruise as “Les Grossman.” And there are certainly plenty of crazy people in Hollywood. You have to be at least a little crazy to even want to make a movie. It’s also true that the industry tolerates more eccentricity in executives than other businesses and that leads to some bad behavior towards underlings. In a perfect world the lower-echelon worker would be respected and mentored and developed to their full potential. But few executives have the time or temperament for that in any business. The great mentor is a rare bird.
    But the fault is not all with the crazy bosses. In the past few years I have heard stories from studio executives who have been amazed at the expectations of their interns or low-level assistants. The typical scenario is a new assistant or Summer intern who is an ivy league student who got the job through connections. Now the new intern is wondering what their $400,000 Harvard education has to do with making coffee, operating a copier, or delivering a script across town in traffic. I have heard it said that these youngsters, called variously “millennials, echo-boomers, or generation Y” are terrible assistants and make “the worst interns ever.” And the bosses cite the same set of problems — narcissism, a rejection of conventions, and particularly a sense of entitlement. These are generational markers mentioned by Jean Twenge’s book GENERATION ME (2007.) Basically, these “Gen-Y Interns” are not used to being ignored by adults and put to menial tasks. It insults their narcissism and sense of entitlement. Fred Bonner believes that much of the commentary on the Millennial Generation may be partially accurate, but overly general and that many of the traits they describe apply primarily to “white, affluent teenagers who accomplish great things as they grow up in the suburbs, who confront anxiety when applying to super-selective colleges, and who multitask with ease as their helicopter parents hover reassuringly above them.” All said, too much wealth, opportunity and parental helicoptering makes for a poor assistant to an insane Hollywood producer.

    • Yeah – and in some odd ways this actually benefits our students – who are not Ivy League but quite smart nonetheless and quite unjaded and extremely happy to be working in the industry. Narcissism tends to breed narcissism to some extent. I’ve actually seen cases where someone I met early on in the industry who was really down to earth and terrific has become an absolute narcissistic mess with gargantuan or even middle level success. And raise the kind of kids you’re talking about. And then there are those who don’t really change or even become better – I guess those are the parents of the students I’m mostly meeting 🙂

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