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.


Emilio Mejia said...

What a wonderful post! It touched on the topic in a very direct way without the pandering or "white-knighting" that I've seen a lot of others do. This part resonated in particular:

"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."

I've found a type of ally that women often appreciate is to be someone that knows when to shut up and just have their back without trying to "fix" or defend them.

Thanks for the whole of this post though. Our industry has been thrown into such a direct spotlight when it comes to this issue, and I hope we will also be watched as we remedy it.

JB Bruno said...

Emilio. Thanks for the kind words. The "White Knighting" is exactly what I was trying to avoid.

We can't fix problems that we do not honestly own-up to, or suggest it's just someone else. There are obviously levels of egregious and likely criminal conduct that, hopefully, is not as widespread, but I really hope that we look deeper and see how the harm we do to women, and to others who are disenfranchised, is often death by a thousand cuts, and that we are responsible for some of those cuts.

As i suggested in the article, I know many strong women who do not need me to speak for them, just for me to support them when they speak for themselves.

Thanks for taking the time to comment.