Hackety Hack

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Yakety, yack. Hackety, hack.

All of Hollywood and then the world were abuzz this week over the massive computer hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s email system.

First it was about the idea that anyone could pull off such a massive theft of so protected a system.

Then it morphed into the high-minded conversation of whether it was done by North Korea in retaliation for the upcoming Sony movie, The Interview – a film where two schnooks played by Seth Rogen and James Franco are pressured by the US government to assassinate North Korea president Kim Jong-Un.

Yep... these two geniuses

Yep… these two geniuses

From there it went to just about the only thing that can trump international intrigue in importance – and that would be the bitchy, salacious, gossipy and racially insensitive (Note: The latter are Rev. Al Sharpton’s words, not mine) hacked emails themselves.

Someone actually had the audacity to call unofficial Queen of the World Angelina Jolie nothing more than “a camp event,” “a celebrity” (Note: To be said with a sneer) and “a minimally talented spoiled brat,” only to then refer to her plan to star in a new film version of Cleopatra as “a $180 million ego bath.” You can thank Scott Rudin, currently the most prolific producer in contemporary Hollywood history whose credits include No Country For Old Men, The Social Network and Moneyball, as well as dozens of some of your other favorite major studio films and Broadway megahits, for steering the world toward that which is really important.

I have an EGOT, bitches

I have an EGOT, bitches

Except the spotlight was then quickly taken away by other email musings on the unofficial Most Powerful Man in the World, U.S. Pres. Barack Obama, by Sony Pictures Chair (Note: No relation) Amy Pascal. This was when she complained/wrote to Mr. Rudin at the end of one presumably very long day about having to attend a stupid breakfast (Note: Her words, not mine) honoring/fundraising for the prez, and wondered in printed correspondence to said producer, what to ask him. When Mr. Rudin sarcastically wrote, if he’d like “to finance some movies,” Ms. Pascal quipped back, “Should I ask him if he liked Django (Unchained)? To which Mr. Rudin countered “12 Years (A Slave).” To which Ms. Pascal bested or “The Butler” or “Think Like A Man.” To which Mr. Rudin topped “Ride-Along,” confessing he’d bet that the first Black president (who is, incidentally, equally as much White as he is Black) most assuredly likes Kevin Hart.

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Don’t they know the president has very publicly admitted to being hooked on both House of Cards AND Homeland and that each have very few to no Blacks as regular cast members? Oh right, that’s TV. And not even HBO.

Unfortunately, the public conversation has now moved on to the inevitable public apologies by both the producer and the studio executive, ironically dispersed to press outlets mostly via email, where both producer and studio executive are desperately trying to steer the conversation back to where we started. In case you don’t remember where that is it’s the massive computer hacking of Sony Pictures email system and the crooks that perpetrated the crime. But both being extremely savvy and armed with a bevy of some of the most ingenious publicity consultants money can buy, the producer and studio head, in separate statements, each managed to smuggle in one other culprit — the complicit media who ran with the stolen goods (those pesky emails) and are thus continuing the crime of making these private, written conservations very public.

I mean, just who are the real villains here, anyway, they or we may ask?

It sure as hell ain't me!

It sure as hell ain’t me!

Are you tired yet? Well, perhaps. I know I am. But that’s only because we are once again dealing with complex issues there are no immediate answers for. However, these two grown adults (said prod & exec) acting like petty elementary school kids with the centralized power of high school bullies as they privately take down the more accomplished colleagues that they hate, are annoyed by or are just plain bored with, is something much more understandable. We can all relate to that conversation because we have all either been bullied or have been the bully. Perhaps even both.

I was never good at determining villains because I tend to see the world in insurmountable shades of gray that can never quite be fully deciphered. I mean, even when I rant against people like the Duggars, Sarah Palin and Michael Bay I question for weeks afterwards whether I’m being completely fair or going to hell, though not necessarily in that order and not necessarily both every time.

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So I am going to refrain from judgment and talk about two byproducts of this debacle – the victims and the broader reality.

The victims are not Pres. Obama, Angelina Jolie, said producer, studio head or the myriads of other very well paid, successful people whose privacy and/or dignity has been momentarily taken. They are all smart, resourceful, wealthy and have developed somewhat thickened skins from years in the battle. They can take care of themselves. No, it’s not fair but they’ll be fine. Believe it because it’s true. Really.

The victims are the hundreds of other Sony employees who will no doubt have their identities stolen, will lose their jobs because a corporation has to do something when this happens, have their health records compromised and spend the next number of years living in paranoia every time they correspond with anyone – whether electronically, in person or via any other tablet or instrument of choice. I know this as a victim of identity theft myself for two years running because some hateful cow or sow, buck or f–k (Note: Apologies animals) filed a federal tax return in my name and actually got two different four-figure refunds in my place each year. Trust me, it’s not fun.

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Still, there are enough systems in place where these people should all be able to get beyond what’s happened to them and resume some semblance of a new normal life. It sucks the big one and it’s really awful that we live in a world where any one of us at any time can now be virtually violated with little consequence to the perpetrator. But one supposes that is the price we pay for eschewing snail mail for messengers, messengers for email, email for Twitter, Twitter for texts and texts for….microchip implants? I’m surmising, not suggesting. And by the way, I did finally get my tax return after more than a year – each time. I can only hope it takes less than that time for the average lower-mid level laid-off Sony employee to get their next job. But let’s err on the side of optimism. For now

What seems to bother me even more is not the crime – heinous as it is – or the victims of the theft – awful as it is to be a victim. Or even the unfunny racially tinged comments of the producer and studio executive – dumb and small-minded as they were in those moments and even now.

Ugh.. there's more??

Ugh.. there’s more??

Rather, it is the accepted way business is done in the world. The cutthroat, diminishing, low brow fashion so many people exhibit in their industries when they do not get what they want when they want it and the manipulative, back-stabbing, underhanded tactics they will use in the most casual way to sabotage their perceived enemies as all the while they are smiling to their faces, sending them polite, charming and even complimentary communications or merely hiding behind their own work as a way to benignly avoid contact until they pull the big rug out from under those that they choose to engage in the first place.  Perhaps this is human nature. But I don’t think so. And even if it is, we have evolved, if just a little, from the caveman days of hunt or be hunted and fight or flight. Haven’t we? Last I heard there were no Paleolithic nanos or iPods or even iPads. Which reminds me, it was Mr. Rudin’s perception Sony was acing out his upcoming movie about Steve Jobs with intended Cleopatra director and self-professed close friend David Fincher that began the brouhaha here in the first place… but let’s not get off topic.

"Leave me out of this!" says the deity that invented "the cloud"

“Leave me out of this!” says the deity that invented “the cloud”

I’ve spent the majority of my professional life in and around the entertainment industry and I know these hacked emails (Note: See links below for some samplings) typify the best and worst parts of show business. The best being the possibility that people love the piece of entertainment/art you’ve created or hope to create and respect you and your talents so much that they financially and enthusiastically support its coming to life in a way that can be seen by millions of people around the world it will not only please but perhaps influence or change for the better. The worst, however, are the endless and needless betrayals, insults, condescension and out and out lies behind your back or in front of your face by the very people you work with, have dinner with, party with or even do more than that with, who you could have sworn to anyone who will listen are your friends.

There’s an old expression I sometimes evoke to the college juniors and seniors that I try to prepare for the industry each semester and that is that show business is nothing more and nothing less than high school with money. I say sometimes because I’ve sort of put it to bed in the last year or two since after all this time it began to feel, well… tired.  I agree – it’s very tired.   But sadly, that doesn’t make it any less true.

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The Chair Challenge

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Did you ever have one of those weeks? I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of having celebrities I like and that feel as if they’re a part of my family die. Plus, is the universe going to blow up? Are we headed for World War III? It certainly seems that way. Not to mention the fact that there hasn’t been one movie I’ve loved or even liked more than a little this summer. I mean, how many reruns of House Hunters International can I watch? Yes, Costa Rica looks nice and inexpensive but, seriously – you’re going to uproot your spouse and two kids, go live in a shack on the beach and have them all piss happily in a rusted tin outhouse for $900 a month? Really????

Sorry, I will not calm down. Or pull out my dog-eared copy of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz from 2008. That was then and this is now. Besides, a good rant can do just as much as being impeccable with your word, not taking things personally, not making assumptions and always doing your best. And in case you were wondering – YES, THIS IS MY BEST! At the moment.

Okay, I feel better already. And so will you. So if that works imagine how good an unlucky 13 of them will feel. What follows are a baker’s dozen of my petty best of the moment. And I CHALLENGE ALL OF YOU to come up with at least one of your own and write in about it. Don’t worry. You don’t have to dump a bucket of ice water over your head afterwards. Or send money. This is therapy. At least for me. For all of us.

Oh, in case you were wondering I AM GRATEFUL – to live in a country where ranting is still legal and among others who can relate, understand and come up with funnier and better things to complain about than me. So as my mother used to warn: DO NOT DISAPPOINT ME. Which explains more than you need to know about myself or my rants on any given day.

MY UNLUCKY 13:

1 – You’re no longer a SPORTS HERO if you beat women and children.

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Nuances are meaningless when a man knocks out his wife with a punch to the jaw and drags her limp body across a floor. Ditto when another guy repeatedly whoops his 4 year-old son with a switch to the crotch or beats him bloody with a stick and then chews on the remainder of its picked off leaves in front of him. The NFL’s Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson should be in jail for these offenses – not the subject of debate.   How does any woman put on a Rice jersey or a single football fan support a star running back who put a little boy not yet old enough to attend public school into the hospital? #TimothyRayJones? #Malala? #OJanyone?

2- If you throw your adolescent child out of the house for being gay you should be neutered against your will and relieved of all your wordily possessions. Rolling Stone recently did an expose about the epidemic of homeless LGBT kids, many of who have been thrown out onto the streets by their fundamentalist parents. I, for one, am tired of small-minded cowards hiding behind dogma in order to inflict pain and suffering on family members who they deem unworthy. So let me put it in language their pea brains might understand. Think of your offspring like a plate you knock over in the store. Meaning, you break it, you bought it. Or in this case – you make it, you own it. For life. But unlike a plate, you can’t throw yours out or give it away because you decide you suddenly don’t fancy its pattern or it fails to live up to your preconceived idea of the surface on which you choose to put your cold meatloaf sandwich during one of your typically lazy Sunday afternoons.

3- I don’t have the time to iWatch.

... and just about as useful

… and just about as useful

Who doesn’t love the sleek, stylish lines and shiny cool bling of something Apple? But wasn’t one of the benefits of the iPhone stapled to your person the fact that it pretty much rendered wristwatches obsolete? Do any of us really need a mini computer timepiece on our arms? Well, perhaps need is the wrong word. How about want? Isn’t it tough enough to make an effort lifting up your arms to do…. anything these days? #WWJobsDo?

4- Matthew Perry needs to sit out some more pilot seasons.

Stop trying to make Matthew Perry happen. It's not going to happen

Stop trying to make Matthew Perry happen. It’s not going to happen

We all love MP not only as one of our perennial Friends but for various admirable turns he’s done in both drama and comedy since those halcyon days. Still, a reboot of The Odd Couple as a half-hour CBS comedy this fall? Which was already rebooted in the eighties with an all-black cast from the 1970s hit series? Which was rebooted from the hit film? Which was reinterpreted from the hit Broadway show? The only person not tired of all of these hits is Neil Simon, who brilliantly created the story to begin with and even more brilliantly continues to collect royalty checks from it five decades later. #NoPoachingZone.

5- Too many actors are changing pace. You can’t blame a professional impersonator for wanting to try on all different types of personas but that doesn’t mean you can’t bitch about it. Steve Carrell is a humorless gazillionaire mentally abusing Channing Tatum in the upcoming Foxcatcher, Pushing Daisies’ charming Lee Pace (no pun intended) played the nastiest of villains in this summer’s sole megablockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy, and post Thanksgiving we all have to look forward to a live version of Peter Pan starring Girls’…..Allison Williams?? How would they like it if I renamed this blog Notes From A Zeppelin? Or An Elongated Rant from my Chair. And no, the correct answer is not none of them cares. #Dontbemeanasme. #Thoughtofthatfirst.

She is just too tall to be Peter Pan. TOO. TALL

She is just too tall to be Peter Pan. TOO. TALL

6- We need to thin the herd of tour buses everywhere. Somebody somewhere is probably offering a tour of pretty much every region in the world. But nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than on the streets of Los Angeles. Here’s the bottom of lines, though. Those of you in the rest of the country don’t get to hate on us (nee make fun) and then come here to visit from every state in the union all year where you will undoubtedly spend at least one day on a tour bus going 5 mph gawking at everything and everyone you see with disdainful admiration. You’re gumming up the traffic and acting like the asshat guy/girl we all once dated who couldn’t make up their mind about us. Note: Those types of relationships never work. And certainly never end well.

7- Drivers of automobiles are not allowed to signal on their choice of odd or even days. While we’re on the subject of L.A. and traffic listen up – you’re a selfish pig if you don’t indicate when you are going right or left and a complete failure as a human being when you suddenly decide to stop in the middle of the street for no other reason than because, well – the sun looked nice? Organic fennel suddenly came into your mind? You thought a pretty guy or gal looked familiar but then realized it was only your own image reflecting into the windshield from your side view mirror? This also applies to big men driving their big trucks who have decided that because they seem more menacing no one else on the road will ever take them to task. Well, I guess I (let’s make it WE just in case) showed them.

Preach Batman

Preach Batman

8- Huge television stars need to stop doing car commercial voiceovers. I was going to let Jon Hamm slide as the voice of Mercedes Benz because after all, he’s Jon Hamm. But he’s started an epidemic that reached its peak last week when I actually recognized the voice of Modern Family’s Ty Burrell on an ad for some other vehicle. I can’t remember which one. And that’s the point. It’s understandable when they get Samuel L. Jackson or Alec Baldwin before the cameras to endorse Capital One credit cards. Their crazy on-camera personas are being bought and paid for with a lot of cash back. But what difference does it make who’s telling me to drive an overpriced automobile if I can’t see their handsome face IN the car and imagine they’re with me? No, of course I’m not specifically talking ONLY about Jon Hamm.   And certainly not of Matthew McConaughey – who is featured live on camera in one of the oddest, newest and most bizarre auto ads of them all.

9- Why can’t we have one universal cord that plugs into everything??? This was not my idea but came from NBC’s Tom Brokaw, who this week said he suggested it to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Yeah, I know, they’ll call it the iCord, build the prototype here and mass-produce it in China with unskilled, underpaid and overworked cheap labor. We’ll all feel guilty about it but it will come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and be sexy and irresistible. And we’ll purchase all of them because once again, well, life is so, so, so haaaaaaaaaaaard. #Too1stworldXGoogol

10- Network television needs to stop putting John McCain on the air right after every presidential speech.

What I see everytime he comes on screen...

What I see everytime he comes on screen…

In my mind, Sen. McCain gave up all rights to criticize presidential judgment the moment he selected Sarah Palin as his choice for vice-president. There will be no Sarah Palin joke here because how does one top anything she’s already said and done in the past, including the drunken brawl her entire family was reported to have gotten into this past week in Anchorage? What will be stated is that Sen. McCain’s expertise in the area of decision-making and strategy not only sucks but is potentially quite dangerous. Putting him on directly after Pres. Obama spoke to the nation about how he will deal with the beheadings of two American journalists at the hands of the fundamentalist religious terrorists of ISIS is akin to….well, I’ll let you fill in the blank. (Hint: Insert that Sarah Palin joke here).

11- Stop calling America “The Homeland!” There is no other way to say this. We are not in Adolf Hitler’s Germany (yet) or living in a cable series starring Claire Danes. When we discuss whether enemies of our state plan to attack our country that is what we fear they will attack – the country. Words matter. Jingoistic, fascist terminology is dangerous. Unless I’m using it to attack Rick Perry or Ted Cruz in an ironically worded twist on the words they ordinarily use. Which I have not done. Yet. #Oops.

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12- Adored celebrities need to stop dying for a while. Or at least stop dying so close together. Aside from the emotional grief it causes their friends and loved ones it is hell on us. Robin Williams, Joan Rivers and Lauren Bacall all in the space of a month? And then there’s Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death just a bit before??? The least of this is the confusion it causes to consumers and the corporations they love. Do you feature Mr. Hoffman prominently in the ads for Hunger Games: Mockingjay? Will it ever be kosher to watch a rerun of Fashion Police again? Was it unfair of me to get creeped out by the live images of a great actor like James Gandolfini in the recent ads for his last film, The Drop? It’s only creepy because none of us will get out of here alive. Oh, grow up – it’s true!!!

13- Give Billy Eichner a show that is not on Fuse TV!

Can you ever watch too much?

Can you ever watch too much?

It’s not as if I haven’t known about comedian Billy Eichner’s hilarious Funny or Die videos for the last year or two. But suddenly he seems to be on every other click of the web making me LOL (yes, I’m using THAT abbreviation because I’m not as clever as he is) at what might have been my lowest moment of the week were he not available. So, network or real pay cable TV – why? Why? Why? Don’t tell me he’s too gay or too New York or too Jewish. I might take it personally. As for Billy, no one is this funny and strange and entertaining so consistently. Not even Matthew Perry. Who I am a great fan of. (See #4 above). Don’t believe me? Fine. Here.

Julia Roberts Obstacle Course

It’s Debra Messing, You Gays

And in case you’re in the mood for a song, here’s something you won’t ever HEAR on the radio. Write in and Rant On.

Horse Manure

As unemployment soars to new records, the middle class slowly evaporates and young people are so frustrated and angry at the rigged financial system that they’ve taken to (WALL) streets across the country– I am going to talk to you about 20th Century Fox PROUDLY announcing this week its plan to make a big new movie.  That movie is – wait for it – a big screen film version of the 1960s TV show “Mr. Ed.”

For those of you who don’t remember, “Mr. Ed” ran for five years from 1961-1966 (in glorious black and white) and starred a talking horse who alternately helped, hindered and generally wreaked havoc on the life of its poor perpetually befuddled owner.

Full disclosure:  I watched the show as a (very) wee lad and have fond memories of it. But I also have fond memories of “My Mother the Car” — another not as popular sixties TV series about a guy whose mother was reincarnated as his vintage automobile and never stopped talking to him or butting into his life —  so my memories are not necessarily a barometer of anything more than, well, what I would be well-advised to eventually forget.

But back to “Mr. Ed: The Movie.”

I love animals as much as the next guy but —  do we really need a movie version of “Mr. Ed?”  Oh absolutely.  ESPECIALLY if you are an executive at a major film studio OR a major film producer trying to get a movie made in 2011, 12, 13 (or the foreseeable future) at ANY of our major (or even mini-major) movie studios.

And here are some of the reasons.  Check that – Here is the PRIMARY REASON – and in the words of “Mr. Ed”’s very proud veteran movie producer David Friendly:

‘It’s always the perfect time for a FOUR-QUADRANT FAMILY MOVIE.  Those are the movies that have the strongest pull  As a producer I try to envision the poster and this one looks pretty good….”

Really?  Yeah.

We all feel like Biff.

For those not up on the latest movie biz marketing lingo or don’t have “The Google” to look it up, let me translate.

A “four quadrant” movie crosses across all genders and all ages we can measure.  The quadrants are men or women (that makes two quadrants) who are under age 25 or over age 25 (that makes four quadrants total).  From a business perspective, the more quadrants you can potentially attract, the more money you will make.

In other words, if you have a broad enough appeal to your film (or as these biz folks call it, your ASSET), you are designing a blockbuster.  Which is, of course, the ultimate goal.  Because, as you may or may not know, creating a real 2011 blockbuster by today’s movie standards doesn’t mean you’ve created solely a movie. No – you’re actually the BIRTHER of an ASSET that can be associated with toys, games, restaurant tie-ins, theme park rides and many other more avenues of replication (including numerous sequels) that should set up you and your employer/partner quite nicely for many moons to come.

Notice:  Nowhere in that analysis does the idea of storytelling, creativity, emotionality or passion come into the equation.  This in, in fact, NOT a criticism of studios or the people who love or work for them.  This is merely a retelling/relating of 2011 FACT.

Now, before any and all creative people go ringing their hands or ripping down the door of the closest marketing executive or even hedge fund manager (something tells me the latter are all quickly relocating to numerous secret worldwide underground bunkers even as we speak), I am also happy to report that the very day  “Mr. Ed: The Movie” was announced it was proudly proclaimed that rock star PINK (using her real name of  Alecia Moore) would star in a very different type of other film with the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim Robbins and many others.  This new film is written and will be directed by Stuart Blumberg, the Oscar-nominated co-writer of “The Kids Are All Right.”  And this film is called “Thanks for Sharing” and is about – wait for it – a group of recovering sex addicts.  Yes, it’s true.  And that is about as far from “Mr. Ed” as you can get (unless you consider the plotline of Edward Albee’s brilliant 2002 play, “The Goat,” but I digress).

FYI, “Thanks for Sharing,” is being produced by William Migliore and David Koplan, two well-known NY indie producers  for Class 5 Films, a company where Mr. Blumberg’s Oscar nominated self (you get a lovely certificate and A LOT of cache even when you’re nominated) is also PARTNERED.

NOW — aspiring screenwriters, producers and directors (and veterans who still aspire to get our current projects made one day)  listen up:

There is NO major studio attached to Mr. Blumberg’s cutting edge subject matter film nor will there ever be until a distribution deal gets made after at least a rough cut is favorably screened. Film studios (for the overwhelming most part), are NOT in the “Thanks for Sharing” business any longer nor have they been for some time.  Nor can they be expected to be… ever again.  That’s like waiting for your bankers to thank you personally for bailing them out or expecting Barack Obama to suddenly morph into Franklin, or even Eleanor, Roosevelt.  Economics, logic and reality tells us this is not going to happen no matter how much we keep hoping that it just might.

However – and it’s a big however but I absolutely know it to be true right down to the core of my bloodied, bruised self and the selves of all my close friends –  there is more than one way to fight a fight; win a game; or get the “spoils.”  And for aspiring writers, producers and directors we’ve lucked out because that is where our secret weapon – our CREATIVITY – comes in.

I am writing this as much for me and my frustrated other contemporaries as I am for you.  Do NOT expect the film studio(s) who are making “Mr. Ed” to be interested in your passion projects, or even most of your perceived mainstream projects.  And don’t spend another millisecond even being slightly or marginally upset about it.  Be powered by the knowledge that you have the ultimate solution – your creative self – to figure out a way to make it work (No, this is not a new age rant – merely truth).

Maybe “Mr. Ed” is your thing . Then – good for you!  (FYI, they’re using a real horse but CGI’ing his mouth).  But if you’d rather see a movie about a group of recovering sex addicts, or a movie about anything that wasn’t the subject of a TV show in the sixties or in some other way doesn’t aspire to or fit into the “four quadrant” paradigm, then:

  1. Do you work and make it the best that you can.  And –
  2. Take all of the original thinking it took to bring your work to this point and use it to enlist people you like, admire or respect or even whom others respect who will help you get your project (effort) realized.

No one does it alone.  But letting the movie studios dictate what you are going to do or what kind of professional life you are going to have, is like giving Bank of America the power to charge you a $5 monthly fee for the use of your debit card when there are plenty of other ways to purchase goods and pay your bills.  You, and only you, are the CEO of your own company.  Which means that you and only you are in charge of the company (or companies) that you choose to keep.

More simply put, what would Steve Jobs do?