Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"I'm Very Proud"

Here’s me, most of, bordering very closely on, all of the time.

I’m in a meeting at CBS, sitting in a conference room featuring a long, wooden table – I’m on one side, about half way down. Also present is an executive from Universal, the studio I am currently working for, there to provide moral support. The rest of the people around the table are CBS, what they call “Suits”, including the CBS president, seated, appropriately, at the head of the table. (The closer your seat designation is to the head of the table, the further up your ranking in the network hierarchy.)

I had just worked my ass off. For some reason – it may have been to save time driving back and forth to and from the network’s offices – I had decided to pitch four series ideas at a single meeting, hoping that one of them would be deemed acceptable – which is probably the real reason I did it – to increase my chances of selling something, thus staving off the possibility of rejection. In retrospect, I’m not sure it was such a brilliant strategy. CBS could have inferred from my actions that I wasn’t in love with any of the ideas, so I brought along four of them, to make up in volume what I lacked in enthusiasm.

It wasn’t true. I loved all four of those ideas. Not a surprise, since I love everything I write. Including this.

(Though sometimes I read stuff over later, and I’m not as enchanted.)

Okay, so I finish the insane undertaking of pitching, in elaborate detail, four series ideas. The president of CBS compliments me on my stamina, and goes on the record as liking three of my ideas. However – and experience has made me used to this – he says this is not the time for final decisions. The standard phrase in these cases is, “Leave it with us…” That’s what they say. They want the opportunity to have an “in house” discussion of what I’ve presented….

“…and we’ll get back to you.” That’s what they always say after, “Leave it with us.”

I then say to the president of CBS: “So you’ll call me?”

The president of CBS stifles a chuckle, indicating, “I don’t call people at your level.” The unspoken word, “Fool!” is implied. He then goes on in words, gesturing to an underling seated a considerable distance down the table:

She’ll call you.”

To which I instantly reply,

“Oh, right. That way, everybody has a job.”

The room immediately goes a little strange. Tension, mixed with embarrassment, mixed with uneasy bleats of covering laughter. I have said the wrong thing. “Wrong” because it’s true.

That’s my M.O. I say true things at inappropriate times. Such behavior makes people uncomfortable. And, as a bonus, it does nothing for me either. Nobody likes a guy who says true things at inappropriate times. They may respect him, but they generally don’t want him around.

Behavior of this nature throws a monkey wrench in the process. It punctures necessary illusions, “necessary” meaning that without those illusions, the smooth operating of the business can not proceed. “We’re all equal in show business. That’s why everyone calls each other by their first names.” It’s nonsense. We’re not all equal in show business. All you have to do to prove that’s not true is to compare the bank accounts, and how close your parking space is to your office building’s front door. Everyone knows we’re not all equal in show business, but most people accept the pretense as a normative quirk of the game we’re in. Most people. But, clearly, not all. Some people can’t let it go. They have to say something.


It’s two weekends ago. Dr. M and I have free passes to a screening of a movie that’s about to open but is not yet out. The movie’s writer/director has had a long string of successes, her target audience – an unusual one in this era – the middle-aged moviegoer. Primarily female. Whose preferred reading is the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog.

We go into the movie…

And I hate it.

I knew I would. I’ve never enjoyed any of this writer/director’s movies. I’m thinking of exploring the reason in a separate post. I’ll only say here that, to me, the writer/director’s movies feel overly superficial, and major in opulence. I have a hard time with movies showcasing characters who have everything, except happiness. (Arthur stands out as a glaring exception.) There’s something about rich people’s problems that just…I don’t care.

So I’m dying in this movie. I’m looking at my watch every ten minutes, except I’m not, because I don’t wear a watch, but if I did, I definitely would be. At one point, I actually ask Dr. M what time it is. A quick calculation reveals it’s only half over. I don’t think I can make it.

By the way, a substantial majority of the screening audience (though not Dr. M) – the majority of them women fifty or over – is eating this movie up. Another example, if I needed one – which I screamingly don’t – of my commercial myopia.

Finally, I decide to escape to the lobby and get some popcorn. I’m hoping they’ll be all out, and I’ll have to wait there, while they pop up a fresh batch.

I’m out of luck. They’ve got plenty.

As the Guy Behind The Counter scoops popcorn into a bag, a woman materializes, seemingly out of nowhere. Passing, on her way out the door, she asks me, “How’s the movie playing?” I am completely caught off guard by her speaking to me. My initial reaction is,


She asks me again. “How’s the movie playing?”

From the word “playing” in her question, “How’s the movie playing?”, I infer that the woman’s a show biz insider, possibly a studio executive attached to the film.

As a result of the inference that she’s somehow connected to the picture, I, uncharacteristically, opt for diplomacy. I do not reply,

“I came out to buy popcorn. And I don’t even want popcorn.”


“I asked my wife if she minded if I waited in the car.”


“I’m thinking of returning to the hospital and asking them to reverse my surgery.”

Instead, my response to the woman’s asking, “How’s the movie playing?” is,

“Pretty good.”

Which it was. No, it wasn’t. It was actually “playing” beautifully. The assessment dropped down to “pretty good” when I factored in my “I hate it!” response.

The woman seems satisfied with my “pretty good” report and quickly exits the building. I then turn to the Guy Behind The Counter.

“Do you know who that was?” I inquire.

“The director,” he replies.

I am completely taken aback. I had spoken to the movie’s director at a screening of her movie. It was clearly an inappropriate time to level her with the truth. And yet, to my shock, amazement and surprise

I didn’t do it.

It could be I’ve turned the corner. More likely, it was a fluke.

If she’d have asked me, “How are you enjoying the movie?”, things might have gone radically differently. To “How are you enjoying the movie?”, I might have blurted something in the order of, “I want my money back. And I didn’t even pay to get in.”

That caveat notwithstanding, the fact remains that I went head-to-head with a person of authority and I didn’t say anything wrong. And for that unexpected display of inadvertent maturity, I feel





Max Clarke said...

You did well, Earl, pretty good.

There was an episode of Cheers which was the antithesis of saying the right thing to somebody in power.

Rebecca Howe is summoned to meet the new president of the corporation that owns Cheers.On the elevator ride, a short man asks her out, but she makes fun of his small stature. Rebecca asks about the date, will his mother be driving them? Who will cut his food for him?

When she shows up at the office, the corporation president is the little man, Martin Teal. The episode was Executive Sweet.

Joey C said...

I am completely with you on the subject of movies about rich people and their problems with being rich ... as if to say, "See, we're just like you!" But you're not.

Nearly all of my friends just adore "Sex and the City." Me, I just can't relate -- I'm a still-single male from the sticks who works two jobs and does the best he can to keep a roof over my head and the car paid for. I can't relate to some nonsense about four attractive women who seem never to work, eat out all the time and never gain weight, have more sex than the ladies at The Bunny Ranch, and still complain, complain, complain.

I don't feel so alone any more, now.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Anonymous said...

Could it have been Nora Ephron?

YEKIMI said...

Sex in the City never did anything for me either. Everytime I look at Sarah Jessica Parker, all I can imagine making love to her is Barbaro or Secretariat or some other Kentucky Derby equine winner. There's gotta be some horse genetics somewhere in her DNA to look like that.

MikeThe Blogger said...

"I am completely taken aback. I had spoken to the movie’s director at a screening of her movie. It was clearly an inappropriate time to level her with the truth." Wasn't this a scene in Yes, Dear where Jimmy Hughes meets Kevin Smith in the men's room at the screening of one of his films...

Brian Scully said...

Once, I got to pitch to a network president, instead of the head of comedy person like I usually got... Anyway, my "icebreaker" was "Wow, I've never met the President of a network when he still had the job."

No sale.

Annette said...

Hi Earl. Annette Nuno here. I was a Writer's Asst. on Kristin. I'd like to get ahold of you. I probably shouldn't leave my e-mail address here, but here goes nothing. Hope to here from you. Oh, by the way, I'm proud of you for not telling the whole truth to the woman who turned out to be the director.