…you want to leave your ‘boring’ life and try to work in film.

Posted in All, Film & TV, Pop Culture, Work with tags , , , , on June 1, 2011 by oooranje

I mean this as nicely as possible, so bear with me. Most people don’t realize how small the Los Angeles film industry actually is, particularly if you, like everyone else in America, think that your ideas would make good movie material and want to be on the creative end. Worse, the industry today is probably 2-3 times smaller than it was ten-fifteen years ago. As with everything else in America, the money has dried up. And with it have gone the opportunities.

Not for everyone, of course. There are still success stories, though increasingly it’s Herculean feats of patience and resilience than moments of inspiration that ‘make’ a career. Because the truth is, even looking at the list of studio-based production companies, over half of those aren’t in the active production or development business. Attrition, a series of flops, or a lack of dynamic taste has led to the slow retirement of a number of producers, including several legends. Most of the companies listed consist of four, at most five people: the two principals, their assistants, and one junior executive.

What does this mean, practically speaking? It means that, in the sweet spot of the movie industry, there are probably 400 assistant, ‘entry-level’ positions total that might qualify as desirable creative production jobs. That may sound like a lot, but consider: in the present downturn, assistants tend to stay loyal to their producers as much as possible. The industry standard term for promotion in the 90s was 3 years; that’s how long you could expect to have to put in before your company (hopefully) decided to promote you as an assistant. It’s now 5 years. Thus, in any given year, very few of those positions are open. And how many USC/UCLA/NYU grads do you think graduate every year? How many more Texas/Pepperdine/LMU/UNC grads do you think there are dying to get in as well? That’s right, thousands.

Oh, but it gets worse: studio-based production company assistant jobs aren’t actually entry-level. Unless you know someone (get used to that phrase, it’s pretty much the only one that matters in this whole piece), there is about a zero percent chance of getting hired as an assistant off the street. Production companies won’t take that chance. Instead, you’re going to have to put in 18 months+ at an agency or management company before you’re considered ‘qualified’ to answer the phones and run your boss’s schedule. In other words, you’re putting in almost 2 years, most of the time, before the clock even starts running on your 5 years to promotion. And that’s only if you’re lucky enough to get an agency or management company assistant gig in the first place. Increasingly, even getting those tends to be a question of who you know.

As for wannabe writers and directors, to be honest, you’re better off staying where you are. Los Angeles is beyond saturated with men and women aimlessly working day jobs while trying to get their screenplays read by anyone with even a vague connection to the film industry. It’s depressing, but having worked on the other side as a junior executive, I can tell you that there is nothing – nothing – that an executive wants to read less than the desperate screenplay attempt of someone who’s spent the last 3 years living off of ramen and working as porn DVD quality controller. Even if the screenplay is compelling or the writing is acceptable, the writer’s background story is so steeped in failure that it’s hard to take it seriously. You are actually more interesting living in Maine, or Virginia, or Florida, or Illinois, and working what connections you have (who you know!) to get your screenplay read – that way you can be the wunderkind from the backwoods who sprung fully-fledged from Aaron Sorkin’s mind.

Actors, actors, actors. Where do I start? The number of genuinely charismatic, talented individuals I’ve met in LA who have gotten zilch for work is surprising. The truth is that the path to success in acting is arbitrary. It’s completely who you know. And even once you’ve ‘broken’, once you’ve gotten a few roles, your success is dependent on coming across as funny and likable and not too smart, so that producers and directors and studio execs think they can exploit you and bend you to their wills. And I don’t mean that bitterly, but think about it – if I’m putting $50 million behind someone’s face, I better believe they’re going to do what I want them to do. And that’s easiest to believe if they make me feel funny, smart, and powerful.

So what’s the best way to break into Hollywood? Make a really good, strong, short film – producers and execs have ADD, just like everyone else, so don’t go too far above 5 minutes – and put it on youtube. I’m serious. For an exec, sitting in front of his computer in his office for 11 hours a day, youtube videos are the ultimate candy, and the ultimate currency. Finding a really good new director on youtube and sending him out to everyone you know is one of the great highlights of an otherwise incredibly unglamorous, demeaning – and surprisingly low-paid job. And yes, it may be a bit expensive to put together the money to make a film and finish it and polish the soundtrack and add visual effects, but guess what? It’s still cheaper than spending a year unemployed in LA, praying for that break.

…you’re Duke.

Posted in All, Faux Elitism, Sports, Stupid Trends with tags , , , , , , , on March 28, 2011 by oooranje

A lot has been said about this particular topic, especially lately, and I could write volumes about it. The fact is, all of the various basic accusations are true: does Coach K get special treatment? Absolutely. Is there a tinge of racism to his recruiting? Yes, although the media shares part of the blame there for lionizing his teams beyond their ability year in and year out. And finally, are Duke fans utterly delusional elitists grasping at straws to explain their special treatment? Yes, yes they are.

First, for the favoritism shown Duke’s defense by referees: any Malcolm Gladwell reader can point out the snowball effect that the myth of Duke’s ‘hard work’ and ‘hustle’ has in terms of the calls they get on the court. Referees convinced that Duke has a lock on how to play defensive basketball are infinitely more likely to call borderline charge calls in their favor, and routinely do. Duke players are almost as notorious for flopping as they are for reaching in and hacking; as Wake Forest Coach Bob Staak once put it: “Oh yeah, Duke plays great F’ing defense. Five guys fouling all the time.” Duke plays a kind of high-energy, high-contact defense that should put them in the double bonus by the ten-minute mark (and does do so for other teams), but instead get lauded for their effort. For evidence of what happens when refs do call fouls against Duke appropriately, one need look no farther than their game against Maryland on February 12, 2005: all five starters fouled out, and they lost to an inferior squad in overtime.

Coach K is an unapologetic, self-aggrandizing control freak, and it shows in every part of his coaching strategy, from recruitment on up. The racism Jalen Rose identified in the Fab Five documentary is, in my opinion, not necessarily outright bigotry so much as Coach K’s unwillingness to recruit anyone he doesn’t think he can control (perhaps he was burned by Luol Deng’s early departure, who knows?). As a result, he tends to recruit smaller, less talented athletes, because he knows they know they need him and his system, and won’t depart early for the draft. While I would argue this doesn’t have to exclude inner-city African Americans, clearly, in Coach K’s mind, it does.

Make no mistake, when I say ‘less talented’, I don’t mean these are scrubs – they are still All-Americans. K wanted Harrison Barnes as bad as anyone else, among others. But by recruiting athletes who are not head and shoulders better than everyone around them, Krzyzewski places the onus of the discussion on his ‘superior coaching intellect’. According to K, the story should consistently be that his five, B-list athletes (to use a Hollywood term) can beat teams with 6 or 7 All-Americans on their roster, and that the brunt of the difference is made up by his unparalleled coaching. Nor is he gracious about letting others point this out: he repeatedly goes out of his way to point out that his team of hardworking underdogs are going up against lottery picks in every game. It’s a strangely passive-aggressive way of pumping yourself up, much like K’s yearly flirtation with the LA Lakers: clearly, in Krzyzewski’s mind, he is the only thing standing between Duke and basketball oblivion. He may actually be right, but not because his coaching strategy makes diamonds out of coal. What K brings to Duke is the myth of Duke as the great White hustlers, and the favoritism comes with it. Without K, that disappears, and they become another 16-13 team in the middle of the ACC pack.

Duke fans are absolutely insane about how their team has ‘fundamentals’ and ‘does it right.’ Over and over again, Duke haters are confronted with that line, almost verbatim, the idea that the nation loathes Duke because Duke is the only team that actually plays real, hustle basketball. Which of course is an utter lie; if Duke fans legitimately cheered for someone who ‘does it right’, ‘cares about fundamentals’ and plays hard, they would have been Tyler Hansbrough fans. Never has there been a clearer case of someone with limited talent and ability who worked his ass off to overcome that. And yet they howled against him, denigrated his performances, and finally, threw an elbow at him (a clearly intentional assault that Coach K later explained away by saying he shouldn’t have been on the floor), and therein lies the nuance of Duke’s outlook: it’s not racism per se, it’s elitism, and it’s phoney elitism. It is perhaps no surprise that a student body brought together primarily by their failure to get into Harvard and Princeton would spend the rest of their time at college desperately trying to prove they are better than the rest of the world, and, more specifically, better than their in-state, public-school rivals down the road.

Tyler Hansbrough, and the Carolina class that won the 2009 NCAA Championship with him, were hated above all because they exposed Duke for the self-satisfied, self-anointed blowhards that they are. Starting with the Senior Night game at Duke in 2006, their hard work made a mockery of the self-involved Duke Seniors, none more so than JJ Reddick. Reddick was supposed to be the white, blue-collar hero of that game, of that season, and of that decade. And then Tyler came along, and shot that 3 at the top of the key with the shot clock winding down, and the horrible reality came suddenly into focus: there were blue-collar, hard-working heroes who did it right and hustled on the floor, but they were Carolina Blue. Not, as it were, Royal Blue.

Duke continues to be the most overrated, mollycoddled team in college basketball. They are not the only ones to get preferential treatment, but they are among the worst. Why? Because elevating Duke, and praising them for ‘doing it right’ is insulting to every college basketball fan and player who has ever hustled, played good defense, or been a good sportsman. It is an outright lie, and if the basketball establishment were ever to admit that, Duke would fade from the firmament, with or without Coach K.

…you think the fact that you like Star Wars makes you a nerd.

Posted in All, Faux Elitism, Film & TV, Illiterate, Pop Culture, Stupid Trends with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2011 by oooranje

Once upon a time, being a ‘nerd’ was a bad thing. It meant wedgies, social exile, a dearth of party invites, and endless jokes about your intact virginity. Then, a funny thing happened. A couple self-avowed, undeniable nerds founded software companies, most notably Microsoft, and became extremely, extremely rich. So rich, in fact, that they passed the Justin Timberlake/Social Network test for ‘what’s cool’, several times over.

Suddenly, being a nerd became cool.

The trend then continued in film when comic books, long the province of acne-faced, minutiae-obsessed diehards, became the primary mine of blockbuster films. Cue pandemonium at Comic-Con, cue the Big Bang Theory, cue Gleeks and their absurd demands to be included under the nerd/geek banner (There is no world in which Glee belongs at Comic-Con in any form. Sorry).

And then the world writ large suddenly decided that the entrance requirements for nerd status had become significantly relaxed even as the social desirability of being a nerd increased. Any preference for anything vaguely brainy, scientific, or otherworldly was sufficient, never mind how spurious, ungrounded, or outright idiotic it was. Never mind that the movies now being used as evidence for nerd-dom were historically and continue to be giant, massive blockbusters. Anyone with a remotely snarky Star Wars t-shirt is now, apparently, a long-suffering nerd. Nerds unite!

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t make fun of people for decades for being passionate about their preferences in life, then claim to have been one of them all along when it apparently becomes cool to be in the club.

Moreover, being a nerd requires a certain amount of taste and specialization. Star Wars, Star Trek, and Avatar were all massive, four-quadrant movies. They were made to appeal to everyone. Liking something that everyone else likes does not make you a nerd. It doesn’t even set you apart. Being a nerd means having strange, varied, and even unpopular taste. That means Firefly, that means Cowboy Bebop, that means World of Warcraft and a dozen other things you’ve never heard of. Why? Because you’re not a nerd.

…you don’t think the Associates belong at the ODI World Cup.

Posted in All, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2011 by oooranje

Lately there has been a significant uproar because the Cricket ODI World Cup organizers have decided, after two appalling opening results, that the Associates should no longer be part of the Cricket World Cup. The reasons seem pressing and unquestionable: it is embarrassing for both sides when the differences in playing ability are so marked as to make the games feel pointless and laughable. Kenya vs. New Zealand, in particular, is emblematic of this disease. It is sad but true that the latter team, a full ICC Member, is eons superior to the former team, a qualified Associate, and this showed clearly on the cricket pitch. Clearly, this day was a debacle for cricket everywhere and should never be repeated, right?

Wrong. Consider the basic assumption that goes into the logic for excluding Associates from the ODI World Cup going forwards: that it is unseemly and demoralizing for the Associates in question for them to be so completely beaten on the international stage, and that it is, in effect, better for everyone if they are kept from such defeats. Compare this to the reality of College Basketball’s March Madness, where teams clearly hailing from lesser funding, fewer scholarship players, and less competitive leagues go up against the titans of the sport: yes, the 16-seeds are routinely obliterated, yes 20- and 30-point margins, crushing victories without question, are common and a part of the equation. But anyone who has ever seen the faces of the ‘minnows’ of college basketball – Canisius and Coppin State and Mississippi Valley State – as they enter the arena for that hopeless game, anyone who has watched them win their qualifying championship with the full awareness that they are little more than cannon fodder for the big boys, anyone who has watched them play and give everything on the court just to keep the margin low, and seen them lose with grace and even joy, that person knows how untrue the ICC’s assumption is. The truth is that, even for minnows, even for the weakest team in the tournament, there is more respect given for being on the same field and playing on an even level with the greats, even if that means a crushing defeat, than there is in winning their lower division, year in and year out, never having the opportunity to really test their limits. Even more importantly, consider the impact that a single, Cinderella-type upset has on the sport: when George Mason went on its run in 2006, the entire event became charged, tinged with magic; those whose teams had long fallen by the wayside found a common underdog to cheer for, and ratings went through the roof.

Moreover, at a time when cricket has much deeper problems in terms of finding its place in the sporting world at large, when the Olympics has just accepted the short, Twenty20 format as a trial sport and thus opened the floodgates to worldwide cricket participation, it stands to reason that limiting the participation of teams that have consistently shown their class in the shorter format is tantamount to cutting the older, one-day game off at the legs. Top-flight, elite-level cricket is not harmed by the inclusion of some weaker teams – yes, New Zealand trounced Kenya, and others will likely do the same, but the same New Zealand team will also have to play Australia next, and Sri Lanka and Pakistan as well. Excellent, Members-only cricket will also be played at this World Cup, have no fear of that.

More to the point, not all Associates have proven themselves incapable of playing with Members: It took England 49 overs and 294 runs to beat the Netherlands, in what stands out as perhaps the most gripping match of the Cup so far. When that same Netherlands team did actually beat England at Lord’s two Twenty20 World Cups ago, it galvanized the world of Associates cricket, breathing new life into their play and opening up the real possibility of upward mobility in the cricket world. More than that, the shocking upset drew eyes to the sport that would never have watched it otherwise, mine included.

And yet, now, the ICC in their wisdom have ordained that neither the morale of the Associates, nor the health of the ODI game, nor the potential excitement of fans worldwide, is more important than keeping the scorelines tight, and the social calendar for full Members even tighter. This is elitism, make no mistake, and it runs the risk of seriously harming the game. It should not be allowed to continue.

…you’re a ‘gypsy.’

Posted in All, Fashion with tags , , , , , on February 9, 2011 by oooranje

First off, let’s be clear: in most European countries, the very term ‘gypsy’ is considered a racial slur. Traditionally it is used to refer to the semi-itinerant, semi-nomadic Roma people (who give their name to the country of Romania), but it has a derogatory context as the settled, city-dwelling Europeans have for hundreds of years turned nothing but distrust and malice towards those who did not adhere to their style of civilization. So to begin with, you probably should not be using that term.

Secondly, the sense in which you’re using the term is debatably even worse: it is the self-aware, shoulder-shrugging excuse of the habitually and unapologetically irresponsible. You can’t be on time, because you’re a ‘gypsy.’ You can’t be tied down in a relationship, because you’re a ‘gypsy.’ You can’t hold a steady job or take your studies seriously or wash your clothes because, well, you get the point. In other words, being a ‘gypsy’ accounts for all, or nearly all, of your bad traits. There’s a word for this: it’s called racism. You couldn’t do this with any other ethnic term and get away with it. Just because you’re not aware (or, again, too willfully irresponsible) to realize you’re referring to a real people when you use the term doesn’t change the fact that you are being offensive and racist. Never mind that the argument that you act a certain way because you are a certain type of person that acts that way is circular reasoning and idiotic.

The fact that you don’t want to take responsibility for your actions is sad. The fact that you’re aware of this and think you can excuse it with a racial slur is even worse. Either way, being a ‘gypsy’ doesn’t make you clever, or loveable, or interesting. It makes you a racist idiot.

…you wear leggings as pants.

Posted in All, Fashion, Stupid Trends with tags , , , , on January 20, 2011 by oooranje

Best-Case scenario?

I don’t consider myself a fashion authority, and I do make allowances for the fact that things beyond my taste can still be fashionable before being scathing about them, but the tights-as-pants trend, especially black tights, has got to be the dumbest thing to hit the streets in years. Yes, I know, I’m a year behind on this. But girls keep wearing this glorified stripperwear and I keep having to avert my eyes from ineffectively-covered bumps, bulges, and cottage cheese.

I’m not saying they can’t look good on anyone, but let’s be honest, if you look like a model, you can pull almost anything off. At that point it’s not so much fashion as what coat of paint your exquisite frame is wearing today. No, the problem is that for the general populace, leggings-as-pants aren’t slimming, aren’t flattering, they’re just obscene and disgusting.

Even if you do have the physique to pull this off, how lazy are you? It was one thing when it was black tights under that skirt that was really a few inches too short for your standards, because then the leggings were a tease, an excuse to be a little slutty without actually giving anything away. But wearing the leggings on their own is one step above wearing a onesy – just because they’re snug to your legs doesn’t make them not pyjamas and/or sweatpants.

Ultimately, even in the best of all worlds, leggings as pants have the opposite effect from how they seem to be intended. Far from making their wearer look sleek, well-toned and sexy, they actually accent flaws while leaving nothing to the imagination. In other words, no matter who you are, no matter what you look like or how they make you feel, they will make you look ugly, slutty – and common.

…you never say anything nice about anyone.

Posted in All, Inconsiderate & Rude with tags , , on January 10, 2011 by oooranje

Written with heavy irony, this one is self-explanatory. It’s all too easy to be critical, all too easy to disagree with the people around you, and even to make fun of them for holding dissimilar opinions, whether they can help it or not. Moreover, in present-day Twitter/Facebook society, critique, vocal and public critique, isn’t limited to the professionals any more: everyone comments, publicly and in print, on everyone else, which means, in a very unfortunate sense, that everyone truly is a critic.

Which is all well and good, critics are supposed to like things as much as they dislike them, but the reality is it’s always going to be easier to sound educated, intelligent, and thoughtful when disagreeing, especially when disagreeing with grand and vehement hyperbole. Hating people, or more simply just tearing them down, is in fact the easiest (and laziest) form of social interaction.

Much more difficult is finding and highlighting things you actually support and enjoy. Because nothing feels like a success when you’re in the middle of it, and everything feels like a giant, unhappy waste of time. So when someone takes the time to point at something someone else has done, and applauds, or encourages, it may make all the difference.

Not that this has changed my tune at all; there is still such a thing as liking something blindly and idiotically; supporting something without merit is nearly as bad as griping about something truly worthwhile. The trick, as with almost everything, is knowing the difference.

But in the interim, live, love, and occasionally reconsider your tastes, because never liking anything doesn’t make you special, just miserable.