Saturday, December 23, 2017

Hello, Sixty, My Old Friend

“Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.”
― Oscar WildeThe Picture of Dorian Gray

The hope was that the search for a good quote for turning sixty would offer something unique and clever, so imagine my horror when most that I found online were dull and uninspiring. 

Bad enough that the fear of any artist is that not only is the "spark" gone, but that it will never come again. Never. No spark.

"You are not turning 60. You're just turning 20 for the third time." (Pretty random. Why not 10 for the 6th time? 30 for the 2nd time?)

"Celebrating he 39th anniversary of my 29th Birthday" (More fun with numbers. And, if we want to carry the Jack Benny joke, why not the 21st anniversary of my 39th birthday."

And, the dreaded....

"Keep Calm You're Only Turning 60."

Nothing is more like nails on a chalkboard to me than the misuse of the British Government's poster at the outset of World War II. This one doesn't even rhyme!

Neil's Young's "Old Man"? Not exactly on point.

"You can't be 60 on Sugar Mountain." Switching 60 for 20 doesn't make any more sense than those bad "Keep Calm" quotes.

I could have gone with Neil's "Better to Burn Out than to Fade Away," except I've been there and done that - five years ago when I turned 55! (Neil seems obsessed with age, doesn't he?)

And that's the point.

As my AD of many years once said to me in a cab after a long day, "JB, it's a young man's game." He's in his forties, and I met him when I was in my forties, and I felt old then.

The exuberance of youth is visible everywhere in film, from the emergence of ideas that come from developing minds, to the strength that comes with youth that helps move all that gear and keep you going on long days, to the beauty of youth that is so sought after in front of the camera.

Especially on low budget indies, where budgets do not always allow you to hire seasoned professionals in every position, there are constantly young people coming taking on jobs for the first time.

I've been one of the "old guys" for about the last twenty years now, so sixty is not likely to be much different than they have been.

Yes, the long days feel longer, and the early calls seem to come earlier, but the process is gradual. Monday -the day after my birthday - will not be a Dorian Gray moment. I don't expect to look in the mirror and be shocked that I look older. That happens already on those early mornings.

The blend of young people on set and those of us with a few more years is exciting. It's part of the magic, at least for me.

I try not to be that "get off my lawn" guy, or the guy who keeps telling you how we did it in the old days.

I'm not always successful at those two above, but I like to think I have enough mindfulness to at least see that I'm doing it when it comes up. The most important thing is that I keep on listening. That's important for all of us. Zen mind is Beginner's Mind. Always be the student.

David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross may have offered us the ABCs - Always Be Closing - but, our lesson is to Always Be Listening. Always Be Learning. Somehow, ABLs is not as alliterative.

I've just started prep on a movie where the director/producer is about a year older than me. We have a lot of years between us, but as it's an Ultra Low Budget movie, we will be relying on a lot of younger people to keep it going. He is also a teacher, and a mentor, and I'm really excited and looking forward to the experience. A fire a number of years ago has limited his mobility some, but certainly not his ability. I'll be proud to walk along side him with my cane (which I've used since in my thirties - so that's nothing new).

When John Huston was directing The Dead, his health had deteriorated, and he was in a wheelchair and had the aid of an oxygen tank. Asked if he was embarrassed, given the reputation he had gained as an adventurer in his rugged youth, he said that only vanity would have kept him hidden in his current state.

"I don't like the part of being bound. But I've never discovered an answer to that question of what does freedom really consist (of). If you aren't fettered by one thing, you're fettered by another."
"I'm not hungry or thirsty. I'm not lovelorn. I'm just at the end of a piece of plastic tubing. And we're all hostages in one way or another." 

As for the spark, I had the opportunity to do a page-one rewrite of a script that I was set to direct, until it got postponed.  That was only a month or so ago, and it's some of the best writing I've done in a while. It was done in a short time, and that came with the craft, the experience.

I was on the phone the other day with "The Ex," who regular readers know is a lot wiser than I am. "Well, I turn 60 on Sunday," I told her.

She passed that mark in August.

"Yeah. The thing about turning sixty is it's better once it's over. You spend all this time thinking about it leading up to it, and, then, when it comes, it's not a big deal."

Seems the spark isn't gone with her, either. Many bows, Maureen, for offering me the quote I was looking for.

Wondering what this post will look like when I turn seventy!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I Am Harvey Weinstein

"We all have that Barton Fink feeling but since you're Barton Fink, I'm assuming you have it in spades."
-Jack Lipnick, Barton Fink

I don't know about you, but I've gotten pretty tired of seeing Harvey Weinstein's picture on my news feeds. This is a man who seemed, even before this latest news, to have an ego as bloated as his physical presence.

So, instead of subjecting you to the image once again, I used this image of the wonderful Michael Lerner as studio head Jack Lipnick from Barton Fink.

While I have a feeling that he sees himself as something of the Jack Lipnick, dapper studio head, above, what he really should have understood is that young women likely saw him as the image of Jack Lipnick, below.

Weinstein is sixty-five. I will be sixty next week. With all the time he spent around great scripts and great writers and great thought, he seems surprisingly lacking in some basic understanding of the laws of attraction, not to mention basic laws of decency.

I love the movie Atlantic City. For those who don't remember it, an elder Burt Lancaster plays a former mob guy who meets up with a young Susan Sarandon. While I wouldn't say they fall in love, they definitely have a relationship.

I remember discussing the film with a young actress friend. I told her how I could definitely see it, despite their age difference. After all, he was so charming. So dashing.

"Ew," she said. "And so old." She wasn't buying it.

Hollywood didn't start having a woman problem with Harvey Weinstein. Older actors regularly were paired with young starlets in movies, and we were all made to believe that was normal.

It's not.

Right after the scandal broke, Lisa Bloom, an  attorney who was representing him, said, in defending him, that he was "an old dinosaur learning new ways." Translation: everyone used to do this. Translation: this used to be the norm.

While that may certainly be true, it is not an excuse. Not even close.

From everything I've ever read, and from the experiences of some people I know who have met him, he was far from a decent person in the rest of his life, even if you don't consider his treatment of women.

The accounts of what Weinstein did were appalling, from sexual harassment all the way to rape. It's easy for anyone with any decency to see how wrong he was.

One of his accusers, Lauren O'Conner described sexual harassment succinctly:

"I am a 28-year old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64 year old, world famous man, and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein 10."
This blog is not about people who's power-ranking is 10. Mine is certainly not. We all know enough about Harvey. Let's talk about us. Let's talk about low budget indies.

As regular readers know, I got my start as a stage manager, with a wonderful woman named Nancy. She was a short powerhouse, and no one ever doubted who was in charge when she was around.

I also worked for a political research firm with a boss named Barbara K (name withheld because she is a big exec now). When we were going to a meeting one day, I opened the door for her as we got into a cab.

"You first," she said. "Men only open doors so women have to slide over."

When a co-worker and I were in her office being called out on mistakes we had made, my co-worker, a young woman began to cry. Barbara's reaction?

"I can cry, too, Maria." It seemed harsh to me at the time. I later looked back at it as a lesson to a younger woman. Don't play the "girl" card unless you want to be treated as one.

Both these women were strong, and as kind and as good a friend and a boss as anyone could hope to find.

So, when I got into the film business, I had no problem respecting the women who worked for me. That, and my dad was a true gentleman. You just did not mistreat women.

I remember being 1st AD on a show in the late 80s. My second was a woman. One day, she came up to me and told me of a male PA who had disrespected her.

I could fire him, I told her, or tell him to shut up and listen to you. All that would do would be to reinforce that I, a male, was in charge. Another option would be for you to put him in his place. Then, he has to respect you, and if comes to me complaining, I will have your back 100%. She did, and it worked.

Over the years I have seen so many forms of disrespect on set. Some of it, honestly, is just the basic disrespect that goes on with a crew, the jokes, the ribbing. Intent means a lot. Some of it is outright disrespect, and, sadly, some of it falls somewhere in between.

In the 35MM days, the ACs would carry heavy mag cases. I mean, mag cases I could not carry very far. I watched on one particular exterior as a diminutive female AC I knew carried two cases at a time up and down hill. Still, producers would question me as to whether a female could be a grip, or an electric. This, from men who often not much stronger than me.

I can honestly say that I've never failed to hire a woman because she was a woman - for any position on a film. I once had an (almost) all-female G&E crew. (The gaffer on that shoot - now a very talented and very successful DP, always reminds me when I tell this story that one of our Best Boys was male).

I had a male First AD on a shoot I was producing constantly comment on his 2nd AD's breasts. That one, I had to deal with myself.

Film crews on features over a long-haul are like family - for better or worse. You don't see anyone else, at least not while you're fully awake. Flirting is natural. Dates? All the time. Hookups? Absolutely. I can name a number of G&E guys who regularly dated female crew, often, as it worked out, Hair or Makeup. If that sounds cliche, it's what I saw.

We are all, hopefully, adults. We should know when flirting is mutual, and when it is not appreciated. That does not mean we always do.

I have dated crew people over years. I have dated assistants, but they were my assistants before we were on the shoot, and they were always good at their job.

There were times that I also went out of my way not to be social with women on set, such as actresses. There was a stunning young actress on set who had to do many difficult partial nude scenes, and with a director who was incredibly disrespectful and flirty with her. When she first came up to me at lunch just to chat, I avoided anything but professional conversation. Man, I thought, anything else, and I will look just like the jerk director and his co-producer, who were like over-sexed teenagers.

I mentioned age before, and that is also a factor. At that time, I was about twenty years older than her. I continue to be much older than many of the women I work with, and like to be mentor to both male and female co-workers. It's really hard to do that when your relationship is "complicated."

There was one production person who I worked with who I was attracted to. She was much younger. We had done some things socially - a show, dinner, etc. After one lunch, I told her honestly: I am attracted to you, but I'd like to work with you, and given our age difference, I think that would not only get awkward but reflect badly on her. People would get the wrong impression. After that, we remained friends but there was no more dating.

The answers are difficult, and the answers are easy. There are lines, and, again, as adults, we should know what they are.

I titled this article "I am Harvey Weinstein," so if you thought I was going to leave it with me as a hero of some sort, well, you haven't read many of my posts.

There are habits I have that I inherited from that very respectful father that I need to work harder to change. One is language. My Dad would often refer to a woman in talking with her as "dear" or other terms of endearment. Now, I should point out that while my dad could be a flirt, he would use these terms with a 5-year old girl or a 90 year old woman. They were meant to flatter, and was not about hitting on them.

That's fine to say for a male. However, in the workplace, they are inappropriate, and worse, can denote condescension, even when that is not the meaning. I know I've been guilty of that way too often.

I also realize commenting on this can be a minefield for a male, no less a producer. I've read many, many too many self-righteous columns by men about this problem. That said, this whole business has made me reflect, and should make others do so as well. If that conversation is difficult, it is an important one to have.

My belief in this matter is the same as it is about life. I can only see this from my biased perspective. I am an almost sixty year old straight, White, CIS male. I don't know what it's like to grow up Black, or gay, or trans, or, for that matter, female, and I shouldn't pretend to do so.  I also should not and will not make believe I can speak for them.

We like to think ourselves open-minded, but we need to confront our biases. I think back to my Atlantic City analogy earlier in the post. What I found charming, a woman found creepy. How many other times, that I am not recalling now, have I, unintentionally, given the wrong signal? Handled a situation indelicately? Made a comment that I thought was a compliment that made a woman uncomfortable?

I'm sure the answer is: more often than I would like to admit.

Just the way the death of Sarah Jones made me think even harder about how late I let a PA work without proper turnaround, or if there was any danger in a given situation; all I can say is that I will be more conscious of how I address women; how I deal with them; am I giving them an even chance in hiring.

We are right to condemn. We are right to throw stones when stones need to be thrown, but we also need to tend to those glass houses we live in.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Vowing the Un-vowable

Sentient beings are numberless. I vow to save them.
Desires are inexhaustible. I vow to put an end to them.
The Dharmas are boundless. I vow to master them.
The Buddha Way is unattainable. I vow to attain it.
                               -The Four Great Bodhisattva Vows

Vows are a solemn promise. Solemn. That's pretty serious.

In most spiritual traditions, these solemn promises are not only promises to do something, but promises to stop doing other things. Acknowledgement that we have done something that causes harm, and that we will stop doing that.


Yom Kippur. Ashamnu. Catholics. Confession.

So, here I vow to get back to get back to attending to this blog. To keep telling the story. 

Let's start with old-school (as in my Catholic upbringing) confession.

Forgive me, readers, for I have transgressed. It has been eleven months since my last blog post.

Now, I have made this vow before, and this is the thing about vows. Even most of the world's great spiritual traditions acknowledge that when we make these vows to change, we will, at times, fail. Look at the wording of the the Ashamnu, or the Bodhisattva vows above, and we see they clearly acknowledge the daunting nature of the task at hand.

Writing is one of my great joys, and also, as with most writers, one of my great causes of suffering. Because I respect the written word so much, I find myself overly critical of my own writing. I've addressed this in these pages before, as have countless writers over the years.

It isn't writer's block or, more precisely, it is not a block on writing, or wanting to write, but rather, the ability - the need - to write well.

I can suggest so many reasons for the block. The feeling post-Trump election that nothing mattered. The sense that I was so far behind in the timeline that I'd never catch up; and, if I am truly honest with myself, the dread that no one really cared.

What was missing was the inspiration, to write and craft posts that honor the craft - or at least these pages.

That inspiration came from an unexpected place - the "#me too" movement that came to light in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein shame. It was an flurry that became an avalanche, and it moved me to start drafting a "I Am Harvey Weinstein" post.

That will come.

Tragedy affects different people differently. As an elder (over 40 would be an elder in this business -and I'm way past that) I get introspective when these things come to light. I did with the #safetyforsarah. It did with the election of a proud bigot. It did again with the Weinstein incident, as it made me look at the issue of treatment of women on a more micro level on the smaller indie films that I and other men are need to investigate.

However, I needed to do this first, and then a few other posts in order to "catch up." Oh, I will get back to the short film where I met my spiritual "kids," but first I need to get things in perspective. I needed to get this post done. Then, one that catches readers up on the last year since my Casey Affleck post. How ironic, that the #metoo movement inspired me to post again, given Casey's reported history of abusing the women he worked along side.

But, so it is.

Ironies abound. That, in adding Weinstein to the "labels" for this post, I noticed that the name of one of the most powerful and influential figures in indie films had never before come up in a blog about indie film.  While I doubt Harvey would care about me, I like to think that he is in some way disappointed that his influence does not permeate all corners of the indie film industry.

The blog is back I vow to keep it. I offer three bows, in the pictures above, albeit from different spiritual traditions.*

Feel free to hold my feet to the fire.

*Any look at different spiritual traditions around the world will reveal how many more similarities there are than not. Different paths to the same place.