Straight Talk

Rule of thumb:  If something that’s said publicly bothers you for more than a day, and worse, is inaccurate, you have an obligation to do something about it.

If you disagree at the very least you have to write a letter, tell someone else, or run for office.  If it’s untrue and the person telling it to you is mistaken or, as my Mom used to say – a liar – you have to do even more.  And not be afraid to do it because in the long run you always win when you express what’s true.

So –  here’s what director Adam Shankman said last weekend publicly in a Q&A session at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences when discussing his new film “Rock of Ages” – a musical set in 1987 Los Angeles.

Oh god.

“The year the movie takes place – 1987 – was a great time, a different time  – so free, really.  I didn’t have a care in the world.  Really.”

Really?

Here’s what you have to know because facts and statistics don’t lie:

1987

  • 41,027 persons are dead from AIDS.
  • 71,176 persons are diagnosed with AIDS in the US.
  • Randy Shilts’ investigative journalism book, And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, is published chronicling the 1980–1985 discovery and spread of HIV/AIDS, government indifference, and political infighting in the United States to what was initially perceived as a gay disease.
  • AZT (zidovudine), the first antiretroviral drug, became available to treat HIV.
  • Williamson, West Virginia closed its public swimming pool following an incident involving a local resident with HIV/AIDS. The Oprah Winfrey Show broadcasts a town hall meeting during which local residents express their fears about AIDS and homosexuality.
  • In August, 1987 the Rae family, including HIV+ hemophiliacs (Ricky Rae and his two brothers) living in Florida, are barred from their church and school. After they successfully sue to enroll the kids back in school, their house is burned to the ground.
  • The first known AIDS death at the time was in 1981 but actually occurred in the mid-seventies.
  • An Early Frost, TV’s first prime time AIDS film, was broadcast November 11, 1985 (two years earlier) on NBC.
  • In April and October of 1987 President Reagan finally uses the word “AIDS” in public. He sided with his Education Secretary William Bennett and other conservatives who said the Government should not provide sex education information.

Artwork from 87.

Good times?  Oh yeah.  Especially for someone like Mr. Shankman who is openly gay and in 1987, was turning 23, and already a professional dancer/choreographer having attended New York’s prestigious Julliard School of the Arts.   If I take Mr. Shankman at his word, this last statement (“good times”) is not at all sarcastic.  If I report to you what I think is the real truth – that he is either forgetful, exaggerating to sell his movie, or was indeed somehow personally and callously unaffected by a tragic, international pandemic affecting a lot of people who looked a lot like him (which I can’t imagine is the case but, then again no one can be the best judge of character 100% of time), then his statements are even more egregious.  Because he should know better.

The ignorant and the callous piss me off.  Am I being too personally sensitive?  I don’t think so.  Because pick a tragedy, any tragedy, any tragedy at all,  and substitute an appropriately analogous amount of facts (if you could indeed come up with them) and the result would be the same.  Worse yet – no matter how you try to slice, dice, parse or analyze what was said in defense of that dangling quote, it just gets worse and worse. But let’s try anyway…

Argument #1 — This was an unintentional public misstatement made for no other reason than to sell a movie set 25 years ago.  All our memories fade at some point and years tend to jumble. 

Uh, well – he also said a similar thing in the L.A. Times about that time period and broadened it to include the entire decade of the eighties.  To quote: “It was endless sex with endless partners with no threat of AIDS, seemingly.”

What was it that former Bush president once said?  Ah yes, here it is:

“Fool me once — shame on you.  Fool me (twice?) – you can’t get fooled again.”

What am I looking at here?

Argument #2 – This is just a film director who wants audiences to remember 1987 that way because he’s trying to sell a movie set in an imagined 1987.  So rather than mistake or misstatement here is a huckster making a callous calculation no one can call him on because he can always answer back:   “Come on, we’re talking about a movie that is pure entertainment, a fantasy — and anyone who takes what’s said literally is too PC and has no sense of irony or humor.”

Problem is in 2012 we’re all too hype weary and too savvy as a society. Annoying people with nothing better to do than call you on inaccuracies (those people used to be called journalists) then come forward and confront you publicly with what your literal words were.  Hype can, in essence, quickly become backlash (ask The Octomom).  To put it more plainly — We might expect to be lied to but when it’s found out and it’s credible we really, really, really don’t like it (or your product) or even you for trying to pull one over one us.  (To put it still more plainly: BUSTED!!).

ARGUMENT #3 – He really doesn’t know he’s “talkin’ smack” and believes what he’s saying is true.  People in show business tend to live in bubbles.  He concentrated on his art – dancer; choreographer; and budding director – and perhaps was not affected the way you were.   

Right.  You mean like the story that used to make the rounds for years about show business legend Ann Miller.  Reacting many years later to news of the death of John F. Kennedy she was purported to have said:  “He died?  What do I know, I was touring in “Sugar Babies.”

Oh, Ann.

Yes, of course that story is a fake.  As is argument #3.  People who are super successful in show business are especially aware of what’s going on culturally.  The ability to take your talents and apply it in a timely fashion to the world around you, whatever that happens to be at the moment, can often be the very talent that pushes you into major success.  Think of it as learned serendipity.

But —  as counterintuitive as it might be to a successful career in show business and even though our present reality might be a quite bitter pill to swallow — it seems to me there is still a human obligation to tell the truth, especially as any kind of artist.  To twist facts in your work for the sake of a good story is one thing — but to take that story and pass it off as some kind of reality when the cameras are off and you’re in the presence of real life with history and facts and people who can actually breathe – that’s another.   It just means that some things that fly in the face of logic can’t be debated.  For instance, you can no longer claim the president wasn’t born in the U.S. when a state (yes, Hawaii is one of the 50) produces a birth certificate in hard ink that says he was.  In the same way two plus two equals four no matter how much you want us to believe under the rules in your own personal idealized new world it is, indeed, five.  Yes, I suppose it could even be seven if you redefine terms and definitions and laws.  But by those standards, I can also proclaim a rhinoceros is a cat and a dog is a yellow-bellied sapsucker, or perhaps one-legged owl.  I mean, anything is possible in a society where only 1% of us make the rules and the other 99% are required to play by them.

Of course, some lies are bigger and more offensive than others, especially when they deal with sensitive issues of the past.  For example, if I were a Jewish man of a certain age from eastern Europe and not a Jewish man of the age I am now living in Los Angeles with grandparents who lived and died in eastern Europe, I could never recall the carefree, lovely casual days in Germany and Poland in 1942 – where things were so much simpler and different than they are in the complicated times we must endure in Germany now.

(Note:  For those of another religion, ethnicity, or even, um, sexual persuasion, substitute another time and place in history and you might get the idea.)

Bottom line:

You don’t get to just throw untruths out there and rewrite history, even in the smallest way, and call it perception, opinion or even hype.  It’s misconception at best, and a blatant total calculated lie, at worst.  And it should not go on the public record unchallenged. Young people especially should not be afraid to speak or shout out when something bothers them in the public discourse, or is, frankly, untrue or something they vehemently disagree with.  Yes, a few people might go running or you might bruise a couple of egos right now, perhaps some of them belonging to peers or elders who could possibly be of help in the short term.  But in the long run the majority of many others will offer you respect and probably many more unforeseen opportunities than you could ever imagine because you had the courage to speak and stick up for what you know in your heart of hearts is true.  Most importantly, you’ll respect yourself for setting the record straight on something that matters to you.  This, in itself, is never a bad thing.

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Eating Oreos in a Mallomar World

Your pick

This all started when I went to see “The Avengers” a few days ago (yes, I was late to the party).  Staring back at me in the climactic Third Act moment when the Hulk is wrecking N.Y. (and no, at this point it’s not a spoiler) were these words on what was supposed to be a big city storefront but looked about as phony as Donald Trump’s hair:

“We Are Insurance. We Are Farmers” 

Now at first I chalked it up to “well, that’s the way it is in our commercial world” and that there could perhaps be that insurance store, or even ad slogan on another building right there as the Hulk was wreaking havoc in Manhattan.  But when the phrase got it’s big lingering close-up a second time I realized I was now in the world of specific payment positioning and suddenly it wasn’t about the Hulk at all but the mammoth strength and power of a corporate interest whose product its producers hoped I might at one point have actually bought.  I use the past tense here because though it’s been 25 years plus with Farmers for me, the company’s blatant obnoxiousness in interrupting a movie I wasn’t particularly loving, created the opposite effect.  It caused me to begin to consider if I even wanted to continue with them.  Perhaps I could instead switch to that adorable Gecko called Geico.  Or maybe phone or text Flo, the cool Progressive Insurance Lady.  Not only are they both snide and funny like me, but I’ll bet they’d also have enough taste to not insert themselves in the middle of the third act of a mindless action film I didn’t want to see in the first place but somehow found myself pressured into vaguely enjoying.  That’s a strategy I’d like to at least reward with, well – something.

I feel ya, Hulk.

Of course, it didn’t stop there.   The next morning I’m pumping gas, still considering cancelling with Farmers, and happen to see Ted is coming. (That’s a movie billboard, not a vagrant named Ted).  Then I look down on the ground next to the gas pump and see a very large, very red “Seattle’s Best Coffee Inside” poster right under my feet — like it’s reading my mind, knowing I’m thinking about advertising.  And yes, since I knew you wouldn’t believe me – I took this picture.

You sure do.

That afternoon I subsequently talk with a student and see a Disney character is on her T-Shirt.  I turn on the radio in my car on the way home and it’s selling me an all-natural bug repellant.  And once home, on my beloved cable TV channel, they’re assuming I have erectile dysfunction or bladder leakage and need either powerful herbal supplements or a sleek, comfortable adult diaper that is called something else but let’s face it, they are diapers.  Plus, to make matters worse, I can’t even figure out if I’d rather be impotent or incontinent.  Pick your poison (or mine).  My gambling Dad actually would put these odds at “pick ‘em’ – which means the outcome could go either way, though in this case both choices are equally heinous.

Certainly ads have been around a long time.  Advertising Age lists the first newspaper ad in 1704, though it is eminently possible the Coliseum in Rome had one or two emperors seeking lion sponsors.  But if Mitt Romney is right and “corporations are people, my friend” then in today’s world we all have many, many more friends than even the ones on our Facebook page, and many of them even more faux than in our virtual existence.

a peculiar delight

Speaking of friends and advertising, did you know you can see, in syndication reruns, many of the NBC “Friends” eating Oreos they never ate at the time their episode originally aired simply because Nabisco or some other parent company inserted the box and/or cookies into their filmic hands in 2012?  And that this is not limited to “Friends” and NBC but includes pretty much all of your fave characters in any episode of any other show you choose to watch?  I mean, what if they’re more a part of the Mallomars/Ding Dong kind of crowd?  Or at the very least, people who crave Lorna Doones?  The possibilities are endless for any advertiser who has the time and money to buy them the snack of their choice.

Elvis v. L-VIS

This was news to me but has been going on since 1999 when a new technology called L–V.I.S. (pronounced Elvis – as in, well, you know who) was launched.   Yes, a computer program named for the King of Rock and Roll that does all this and more, begging the question: did they have to get approval from the REAL Elvis, or the Elvis Presley estate, to name themselves this?  Whatever the answer is, you at least have to give this company credit for being so out there with who it is that it’s very name comes from a show business legend many years after he even existed, especially without his full endorsement of them in the first place.

Unless… can you endorse from the grave?

But this technology does allow David Schwimmer (Ross Geller) to eat Oreos at a table on a random syndicated episode of “Friends” when he never specifically did so in the original scene, nor, for all we know, did his creators ever intend him do so (certainly not at that moment). It can also magically display a new ad for a 2011 movie, like say “Bad Teacher,” in a “How I Met Your Mother” episode originally shot 5 years earlier in 2006 for the show’s second season.  (And no, the HIMYM plot in that episode didn’t have a time travel theme).

Bad move?

To be clear, a widely used computer program literally drops the ad of a corporation’s choice into any rerun TV episode or feature film past and present whether its creators want it to or not.  And speaking for writers and producers and directors and actors who take their storytelling personally, let’s put it another way – you’re the parent of a six-year old (as many artists consider their offspring) and the school or day care center you’ve entrusted their care to is allowed to force feed them Oreos or Snickers or perhaps even have them use a series of really bad diapers or insect repellents not only without your consent but even without your knowledge.

As sports fans know, this is not only limited to film.  There is a practice where a computer program can continually and magically create stadium billboards of its choice at any number of live baseball games you watch on TV that friends (the real ones) who might actually be at the game don’t see because those billboard ads don’t actually exist in their real live world.  No — those ads are only reserved for those of us who choose not to or can’t afford to or attend the game live but instead find ourselves watching it on the TV or tablet of our choice.  So rather than paying for a real stadium billboard ad that goes to just thousands, a company can computer generate a virtual ad that will, in turn, reach many millions – even when all the time the millions watching are assuming they’re viewing exactly what they’d be seeing if they were live at the game.

Amazing

For some of us, none of this is real news. Studios now have whole departments for this purpose with names like “product integration” as opposed to what it used to be called when I worked in movie marketing – product placement.  Consider the clever corporate wordsmith—ness of the new term, which, if nothing else, proves we all have no chance to survive unscathed.  Placement, you see, implies a sort of fake insertion meant to look real yet is still inauthentic and usually implies undesirable.  Whereas the word integration harkens back to “equality” – a time in the sixties when we as a society decided to come down on the side of “fairness” and make civil rights for all the priority.  Well – what’s more preferable to you – choiceless fake insertion or being in/on the right side of history in fairness and equality?  As a corporate American company trying to tempt you into buying my product, I’ll always fly the patriotic flag of freedom and choose product integration so at least I can appear to be fair.  Especially where involuntary insertion (nee placement) is the other option, right?  Because as far as insertion goes, it is commonly accepted that a human being should always at least be asked.

These ad/marketing tricks.  No wonder “Mad Men” is so popular.  Matt Weiner must spend months every season creating a subliminal popularity formula within every 12 (or is it 13?) episodes.

Even Peggy can’t get excited for Heinz beans

Now don’t get me wrong — overall there’s nothing wrong with using real life products creatively.  Ask any screenwriter in particular and he or she will tell you that most of us do that.  Humphrey Bogart had to watch as not just any gin but a specific bottle of Gordon’s Dry Gin was thrown off the boat in 1951’s “The African Queen,” while Joan Crawford got to take some belts from a real bottle of Jack Daniels (at least that’s the label on the outside, though one can surmise otherwise) when she appeared in “Mildred Pierce” six years prior.  Not to mention the Reese’s Pieces famously consumed in “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial” because M & M’s, the original candy of choice, famously turned down Steven Spielberg’s original offer of insertion. (Uh, Epic fail, as the kids say, Mars, Inc,).  And even the then-hipper-than-hip AOL (uh, yes they were in the pre-Internet age) theme became the chief corporate tie-in of the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan comedy “You’ve Got Mail.”

The former bane of my existence

Yes – we indeed do live in a label-ridden world and to not include characters eating, drinking, watching or listening to something recognizable is to deny them real world existence.  Even I knew this in the late eighties when, as a young writer, I was foolish enough to use the Rolling Stones song “Street Fighting Man” in a script to thematically evoke both character and time period, never realizing that one of the cardinal rules for spec script writing is to NEVER use a Beatles or Stones song (which are preemptively expensive to license) and expect it to be used if your movie actually gets made.

Actually, I did sort of know the rule but used it anyway because, well, it sounded perfect and was absolutely right and what were the chances we’d ever face the licensing hurdle in real life?  I mean, who would ever dream I’d actually win the writing lottery that one time and the damned thing would really and truly get bought and filmed in my lifetime?

It was back then that I quickly learned, as Hollywood corporations now know, that there are indeed thousands of choices for actual products, songs and contemporary references that can be inserted (ahem, integrated), changed or used to make the same exact point.  Sometimes even better than the ones you intended.

Well, at least that’s what my producers told me.  Though when I think about it – I still believe only that one particular Stones song would have perfect.  In fact, to this day I wonder if that was the reason why my movie was not the award-winning coming of age drama I intended, I’m sure of it.

Okay, not really.  But maybe a little.  Partly.

When I’m not dwelling in the past, though, here’s what I really and truly think.  On a recent trip to The Hulk’s Manhattan, walking down Times Square and its billboards and licensed rights, I can see myself as I look around.  And soon, very soon, I find myself longing for the 1970’s porn palaces of my youth that I now find far, far less offensive than anything in New York bearing the word Trump (or some other reasonable facsimile).  Feeling this way, then I wonder – have we made progress or should progress be called by some other name?  Then I wonder even further – what would Elvis, not L–V.I.S., have to say?

And then I finally ask myself one last question — Am I the only one who even cares?

Pretty in Pride

Twenty-five years ago screenwriter extraordinaire John Hughes sat opposite me in his office on the Universal lot and looked me straight in the eye.  Then he suddenly (and repeatedly) banged his fist on his desk, insisting quite loudly:

“It’s about pride, it’s about pride, it’s about pride.”

Mr. Hughes was referring to his not-yet-filmed classic movie “Pretty in Pink” – a script I had read, liked and related to even though my life was quite far from the suburban teenage settings in most of his films.  I can’t recall what I was saying or even what aspect of the story we were discussing.  All I remember is I hit on something that spoke to him that caused him to hit on his desk (more than once but in a good way) because our polite business conversation quickly got a lot more real and a lot less, well – full of crap.  Bizarre as it was for a famous writer-producer to bang his fist on his desk and bond with a person he was actually supposed to be interviewing for a job, I sort of liked the guy for, at the very least, behaving like a recognizable human being with feelings.  Suffice it to say, this was not something I was used to seeing much of in Hollywood in eighties.  Or enough of since.

Work it.

Even though word got back to me Mr. Hughes liked me very much too, I wound up not working on the “Pretty in Pink” crew.  This is because when I was subsequently interviewing with someone even higher up than he was on the production, I had my own little attack of pride when this person sneered:  “Why should I hire YOU on this film when YOU’VE ONLY worked on TWO movies?”

I think it was the nasty tone or perhaps the condescension in this person’s voice that caused me to answer: “Well, no, actually, I’ve WORKED on two movies.”  And then I explained that these movies were equal in stature (actually they were more prestigious) than the film I was now being interviewed for and I did a good job, which could be checked out.  Of course, none of that mattered because my involuntary retort had thankfully sealed the deal that I would never have to be in the room with or be working for the jerk and a half who was now looking me up and down in contempt.  I knew that the moment I answered this bully back as sure as I also knew that had Mr. Hughes himself been in on the meeting he would’ve been proud of me for sticking up for myself when someone more powerful was trying to play the superior card and belittle the new kid on the block for no apparent reason other than the fact that they could.  P.S.  Did I mention the sum total of this person’s feature film credits at the time was zero (meaning two less than mine?).  I thought not.

Seriously bro?

Yes, pride cuts both ways.   But as John Hughes showed us not only in “Pretty in Pink” but also in all of his films, the best choice is usually to own who are you and actually take pleasure in the imperfect mess of a human being that is you.   Because even if you don’t get the job, or into the cool clique or wind up with your dream mate, at the end of the day you will at least be able to look in the mirror and have something resembling your real, true self staring you back.  (And from the benefit of time and perspective I can HONESTLY testify that that is no small thing).

Amen!

In keeping with the theme of Mr. Hughes (for no other reason than we can), this week marks the beginning of the 2012 Gay Pride Month (substitute another sexual orientation or ethnicity if you’re not gay and want to make this more personal  because even I am getting “gayed out” these days) and the annual colorful march in Los Angeles down the boulevard of dreams not yet broken.

Any Pride Month or organized march is meant for the individual to proclaim a certain amount of positive love for oneself despite the ample opportunity for oppression in the world even if you’re not looking for it.  As one of those gay people who has marched in and or attended any number of pride parades, it’s become apparent over the years to me that in the contemporary world, Pride is not always seen as the same kind of positive that Mr. Hughes proclaimed it was in our face-to-face meeting back in the eighties.  In fact, in politics it’s often noted as being partisan, pandering, special, chosen or – at the very bottom of the totem pole – too “politically correct.”  I mean, if a group sees itself as so special that it needs a parade or pride day (or month), doesn’t that mean it’s asking society to give it special rights and that that group is holding itself above all the rest of us?  Well, uh, maybe – but let’s consult dictionary.com to get the real verdict:

pride 

1. a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.

2. the state or feeling of being proud.

If you lose the sense of superiority, because let’s face it, everyone feels both superior and inferior depending on the way you look at it, pride has a pretty positive meaning.  To have a high opinion of your dignity, importance or merit in the world is not a bad thing as long as you don’t inflict it on other people in an oppressive fashion. Especially not bad is the state or feeling of being “proud” – of who you are and how you are. Of not so much what you’ve achieved but what you are trying to achieve and how you are trying to do it.  This is particularly true for 100% of the groups who have some type of parade since they are always somewhat oppressed and never among the majority or the privileged in the society that they live in (i.e. there are no RICH, STRAIGHT WHITE GUY PARADES unless you count the annual Allen & Co. Sun Valley Conference, which last I heard does not feature any sort of march and is slightly integrated).

Glitter always helps

It would be nice to live in the earthly village of Utopia where flying your freak flag is as useless and unnecessary as the 8 Track tape, a Nehru Suit or a Zeppelin (not the Led kind).  But unless human nature cross-pollinates with the lost genes of Gandhi, Mother Teresa and the most selfless religious figure you can name (Jesus? Moses? Buddha? L. Ron Hubbard?) it doesn’t seem likely.  On a personal note, I’d rejoice in the streets if the grand marshals of this year’s Gay Pride Parade – the Trevor Project – were rendered extinct because then there would be no need for an organization dedicated to helping young gay, lesbian and transgender youth considering suicide since that joyous accepted minority would have no reason to contemplate such thoughts in the first place.  The same goes for the National Organization for Women (though ironically women are a majority), the NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center and labor unions (though the latter might soon be forced out of business by a select few not mentioned on the aforementioned list).

In the meantime – it might be worth noting some other touching, necessary and instructive instances of pride I’ve personally witnessed in the every day life of others that have meant something to me in the last few months:

1-    My student who in one semester did a record 650 plus internship hours (that means working for free) in a four-month period for two different film companies because this young person would never, ever consider not going the extra mile.  I might add that during this time, the student also wrote and rewrote an entire original feature screenplay and worked tirelessly for another producer who then offered this student a job on a currently shooting prestigious feature film in New York.  And who says pride in one’s work doesn’t get you anywhere?

2-    The dear friend who has seen and done it all many times over who last week went to a fundraiser for our current president and told me it was the “highlight” of his life.  This was not necessarily because of politics (though that helped) but because, after a lifetime spent working in political causes, it was simply humbling to finally get to meet the person who led the country that has meant so much to him.  Patriotic pride or simply patriotism?  You be the judge.

3-    The young woman I’ve known for five years who has had many career opportunities but instead had enough faith in herself to choose to take off to Ireland for a year and support herself with a series of odd jobs because it was something she “always wanted to do.”  I caught up with this clearly free and upbeat spirit last week and can report she now has a graduate school degree, a very cool new job and a very cool new mate – all of which happened after (or perhaps as a result of?) her ability to take a detour and simply live her life the way it felt right.  A lucky dreamer or pride and belief in oneself?  Hmm…

The only thing these three people have in common is their ability to take some sort of pride in themselves – in their work, their tribe and their deepest desires.   They are, as we say in the LGBT community – out and proud.

Common Indecency

The 21st century’s great debate

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.

Let’s call him Mr. A List

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!!

Care for another apple?

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.”

Roughly how it went down

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?”

Take… a hike

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.