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.
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.”
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.