Saturday, March 14, 2015

This Gun For Hire - Part 4 - And the Band Played On

"Dance Band on the Titanic
Play "Nearer My God To Thee'
The Iceberg's on the Starboard Bow
Won't You Dance With me"
-Harry Chapin, "Dance Band on the Titanic"

Wow, that certainly would have made me feel better.
"Many brave things were done that night, but none were more brave than those done by men playing minute after minute as the ship settled quietly lower and lower in the sea."*
We did not have a band as we hit not an iceberg, but the proverbial fan, but, we did have a meeting that quickly turned into a party, whose purpose, I imagine, was similar: Keep those who are about to go overboard calm.

At this point, all sorts of rumors were flying. Larry Meistrich, the head of Shooting Gallery,  held a large meeting with all employees. Yes, there were financial problems,  he admitted, but not to fear, a Canadian company named Itemus was going to supply a much needed spark.

Itemus ** was a true dotcom - a shell of a company that once actually did something  (ironically, gold mining) but now produced nothing except as a shell to buy up dotcoms.

Larry was very positive about the takeover by Itemus , and though there would likely be cutbacks,  we would survive.

"There is no danger Titanic will sink. The boat is unsinkable and nothing but inconvenience will be suffered by the passengers." - Phillip Franklin, White Star Line Vice-President***

If Larry's optimism seems almost as foolhardy at this point, one must put it in context. From its inception, Shooting Gallery's success was unlikely, as was its rapid growth.  Indie film producers face certain financial death squarely in the eyes all the time. Why should this be any different?***

Except that it was.

The last on-board,  the dotcoms that were living rent-and-everything-else free off Shooting Gallery were the first to be asked to leave. Some other clients decided this was a good time to go on their own.  It seemed to me that the company started looking to shore-up more reliable clients, like the new-but-securely financed NYT Television,  the Old Gray Lady's**** way of dipping here toes into the internet world.

Next, the offices in other cities were closed.

Dave was still thinking. We looked into an ATM for the lobby downstairs, as an extra source of income.

"Wonderful thing wireless, isn't it?"***** - The Lure of Technology

About a year earlier,  I had joined the world of investment, having inherited a tidy but not insignificant sum from a generous aunt. She and my uncle had grown it the old-fashioned way, investing in tried-and-true ExxonMobil. I had just started dabbling in what a gambler uncle of mine used to call "speculating," and had invested a good portion of it out of that silly outdated oil company to two tech companies,  ironically both with ties in Canada.  One of them was JDS Uniphase******, a company I liked from my research,  and one that a longtime investment specialist I knew assured me was a "rising star." Indeed,  less than a few months later, I would find our what that meant, and the inevitable fate of burning stars.

At this point, I checked the market every day, so imagine my terror when I noticed that Itemus had gone from $5 a share to a few pennies a share. It was a feeling I would have, with much greater sickness,  with my own stock soon.

"Do you think the ship is seriously damaged," White Star Chairman J. Bruce Ismay asked Captain Smith. "I'm afraid she is."

The next news from on high was not good. They could guarantee only our next paycheck, and beyond that, nothing could be guaranteed.

It was an odd time for me. I had already agreed to help Jack do the re-shoot for a few days on Town Diary. Since we did not have an office, and I did't actually have somewhere else to go, I stayed on and used the office as my office for the Town Diary re-shoot, while still helping Dave do what we needed to keep the doors open.

Dave saw what might come, and had me get a security guard. We found a company and actually agreed to have them start, which I think they did for a few days, before we realized we had no way to pay them.

"If this is discipline, what would have been disorder?"
-Senator Smith on the evacuation process

Dave was, as usual, correct. While some people took small things, I can remember seeing people from the other building rolling out computers and other large items. Dave stayed even longer than I did - I think he was there when they padlocked the door - and because of his presence, and the respect people had for him, you did not see that outright plundering of supplies from our building. To be fair, I don't know how much of that stuff actually might have belonged to people, and with impending eviction, anything left behind would have been in the hands of the landlord and other creditors.

No sinking is ever pretty. Ours surely was not. I had finally qualified for health insurance a few weeks earlier, and I soon learned the meaning of COBRA.

Shooting Gallery and Gun for Hire were no more, and I was back in the icy waters of freelance indie filmmaking.

*Very good British documentary about the band called "Titanic: The Band Played On." See it if you can.

**Some of these facts about Itemus from Village Voice article linked below.

***To be clear,  I have never had a conversation with Larry about these events. What I offer here is speculation as to his thoughts and motives based on what I do know. 

****An old moniker for The New York Times from when newspapers were in black-and-white only.

*****Captain Arthur Rostron after telling his second officer of the latest known positions of the icebergs

***** *From Wiki. "During the 1990s, JDS Uniphase stock was a high-flyer tech stock investor favorite. Its stock price doubled three times and three stock splits of 2:1 occurred roughly every 90 days during the last half of 1999 through early 2000, making millionaires of many employees who were stock option holders, and further enabling JDS Uniphase to go on an acquisition and merger binge. After the telecom downturn, JDS Uniphase announced in late July 2001 the largest (up to then) write-down of goodwill. Employment soon dropped as part of the Global Realignment Program from nearly 29,000 to approximately 5,300, many of its factories and facilities were closed around the world, and the stock price dropped from $153 per share to less than $2 per share."

DISCLAIMER:The Village Voice did a great article with a lot of research, as did a documentary. All of my articles on this are based from my perspective which, while from the inside, did not include access to interviews or conversations with key ;players like Larry Meistrich, nor was I in on meetings where key financial decisions were made.

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