Tag Archives: hollywood

My Thoughts on Movies I Saw for Free

I wrote this last year but kept delaying posting it because I kept thinking I would watch Lincoln. Since I was starting to write one up for THIS year, I figured, what the heck, I’ll post it a year late.

So, because I work in Hollywood, I get screener DVDs sent to my house of some of the movies that are up for awards every year.  (And if they don’t send DVDs, they often give me downloads or free movie tickets.)  Here are my brief thoughts on a subset of this year’s free movies:

(mild spoilers for Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Hitchcock, Les Miserables, and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)

Silver Linings Playbook:  Well-written, well-directed, well-acted, and their screw-up of the “big move” was one of the best-crafted actions in a movie scene I’ve seen in a long time.  But I have a bone to pick with Silver Linings Playbook, which is . . . how did nobody tell me this was a ROMANCE???  I’m watching, and watching, and watching, and suddenly, BANG, in the last ten minutes, I realize the entire plot structure was a ROMANCE PLOT STRUCTURE!  I thought it was a drama that was going to end unhappily with everyone miserable or dying, dammit.  I felt very duped!

Argo:  First half: Awesome.  And I was rolling on the floor at the (all too true!) portrayal of Hollywood.  Second half?  Eh.  Way too many exactly timed close calls that were Hollywoodized in just for the DRAMA of it.  Plus, I didn’t think any of the hostage characters were very well-developed, which means I couldn’t bring myself to care as much as I wanted to about their eventual escape.  I would have much preferred to see more antics of the producer and the SPX make-up artist.  (Also: The whitewashing, of course, pissed me off.  We’re at a time when Hispanic people are systemically being painted as non-patriotic, non-real Americans, and here was a golden opportunity to show a Latino as an American hero . . . not.)

Hitchcock: The cast was spectacular.  The story of making Psycho was fascinating.  Alas, if only they could have stuck to that story.  The forays into Hitchcock’s strange daydreams/night dreams messed up the pacing and confused what would have been an excellent film otherwise.  (Also: I want to marry Helen Mirren.)

Lincoln: Didn’t watch it at first because they didn’t send a DVD.  Then they sent one and I . . . still didn’t.  Sounded heavy, so we kept procrastinating on watching it.  I’ve heard it’s narratively pretty problematic (i.e. racist), so I’m not too bothered.  Maybe I’ll watch it eventually.

Les Miserables: . . . no comment.  (We tried to watch it with copious amounts of alcohol; we really did.  We started the fast-forwarding about five scenes in and still couldn’t even make it to the halfway point.)

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Expected it to be a bunch of awesome elderly British actors getting up to hijinks, and it was completely as advertised.  I’m generally not a fan of the Exotic Location Teaches White People a Very Important Lesson stories, but I was too busy watching Judi Dench being adorable to worry about it much, and from what I can tell (not being Indian) they did have a diversity of reasonably well-developed Indian characters.  (Also: I tend to like movies that don’t focus on young twenty-somethings.)  Other thoughts: Judi Dench and Maggie Smith are both near eighty, what?, and I desperately wanted Penelope Wilton to whip out a badge and say, “Harriet Jones, former Prime Minister!”  (Yes, we know who you are.)

The Impossible: After reading this review, I refused to watch it, even for free.

On My Constant State of Unemployment

As regular readers know, I work in the film industry.  The particular job I do for film is what’s known as a “day playing” position—I come in only for the days they need me.  Unlike some positions, I’m not a crew member who is on for, say, the whole production period of a movie or the whole season of a TV show.

Which means I live in a constant state of unemployment.

It’s really hard to get film jobs (oh, you should hear us kvetch!  But that’s not what this post is about).  I work as hard to get one film job as I see most people work to get a new 9-5 position.  And once I get a job . . . I’m employed for a day.  Maybe two.  Maybe five, if I’m really lucky.[1]

And then I’m unemployed again.

The lion’s share of what I do is trying to get the next job.  If I didn’t like the actual work so much, I’d throw down the mic and go find something that would pay me with regular checks to be working there for the foreseeable future.  What a utopia!  You get to work and get paid every day!

I’m not saying, y’know, that good 9-5ers are easy to get—I know they aren’t!—but at least if all goes well you only have to get hired once.

So for anyone thinking about moving out to Hollywood (or, heck, this probably holds true for a variety of other freelancing careers as well; do all y’all writers and photographers go through this, too?), keep this in mind.  Even if you make your living at it—I do—you still may be for all practical purposes living your life in a constant state of unemployment.  If the idea of spending every day looking for work doesn’t intimidate you, then come on down!

Ah, the glamor of Hollywood.

  1. I dream of getting those rare three-week gigs.  What a gold mine.

Hollywood: Small World, Large Family

Hollywood is an odd place.

We work intensely together on a project for weeks.  We then part ways and no longer see each other.

We friend each other on Facebook until we have thousands of friends, sometimes with no idea anymore who they all are.

Sometimes we’ll call someone offering a job or asking for advice whom we haven’t seen in a year, two years, three years, more.  It’s familiar and friendly.

We see each other at the next job, the next interview, the next industry event.  We embrace warmly.  Sometimes we need to remind each other of our names.  Sometimes it’s after we hug.

Often we get hired by the same people we hired to work for us a few months before, and then a few months later the roles reverse again.

We say film is a small world, but it’s a bigger one than most people have within their workplaces.  It’s like having a sprawling, ever-growing extended family of a few thousand people.

And yes, a few thousand people may be a lot to keep up with, but when we start the next project and it’s all people we know . . . well, it feels like an intimate bubble, our conclave of folk just crazy enough to choose to keep going at this life.

Something Very Cool Happened Today. Or, Good People Exist! I Have Proof!

Okay, this is wild.

I was on set today, and we were doing a purse-snatching scene.  The actors were great at it, and were both terribly cheerful and friendly people—in fact, the whole day we were giving the lead actor a hard time (“Why do you keep stealing her purse every single take?  You’re such a bad person!”) and he took it in very good humor!

The very last take for that scene, the director wanted a wide shot, so the whole camera crew went across the street.  The scene went exactly as planned—the lead actor started to steal the actress’s purse, she “noticed” and tried to grab it back, they tussled, he shoved her into the wall, and then he grabbed the purse and ran down the street as lots of extras playing pedestrians stared in horror.

And then a guy about half the lead actor’s size came racing down the street, the folders he was carrying flying out of this hands as he leapt onto our lead actor’s back crying, “Don’t you dare!”

He was so much slighter in build than our lead that when he jumped on him it almost looked like a bear hug, and for a good five seconds I thought he was one of the extras giving our star a hard time again about being such a purse-snatching thief.  And then realization crystallized, and I leapt forward crying, “It’s a movie!  We’re filming a movie!”

The poor guy just stared at me for a second, not letting go his tight hold around our lead, and then he got down off our actor.  By then other crew were moving in to confirm that yes, yes, this was a movie!

Our lead actor was unhurt, fortunately.  We helped our Good Samaritan retrieve his scattered belongings; he kept apologizing with diffident embarrassment.  We, on the other hand, assured him that he was a really, really, really good guy, and that we were glad he existed in the world, and that we thought he was the most excellent of excellent human beings to run after a guy (and one twice his size!) whom he’d seen just snatch a woman’s purse.

Castle Reaches 100 Episodes

I just watched the 100th episode of Castle, which was quite fun.

I’m so glad this show has reached 100 episodes.  Not only do I watch and enjoy it, but I know a bunch of people who work on it, and it’s such a great group of people—I just want their show to keep going and going forever.  Cheers to the cast and crew!

(Plus, y’know, it films here in LA, and I’m fully in favor of all shows that film in LA succeeding madly and all shows that choose to film elsewhere dying horrible deaths.  ‘Cause then natural selection would bring the film industry back to LA.)

Monopolies and Powerlessness

For the work I do in Hollywood, there is a certain industry directory I have to be in (“have to” meaning, “massively professionally hindered if I refuse”).  It’s a terribly run service, but the fact that everyone uses it means everyone must use it.

In particular, I recently found one of the service’s billing policies to be disingenuous bordering on fraudulent.  Which, you know, made me mad.  So I wrote a strongly worded letter to them telling them so.

I hit “send” on the email, and immediately felt a frisson of apprehension.  Because this particular directory?  I need them way more than they need me.  I may be a paying customer, but them dropping me from their service would be a far worse outcome for me than me leaving the service would be for them.  Other directories exist, but the fact that it’s an industry standard gives this one a de facto monopoly.

So I started to get a little bit nervous about having sent that letter, and that got me even angrier.  Because I shouldn’t feel like I can’t complain about terrible-bordering-on-fraudulent billing practices.  I shouldn’t feel like I can’t speak up when a service I am paying for makes me unhappy.  It’s bad enough that I have to pay money to a service I don’t like because of the other people who use it rather than because the service itself is well-run, that I have to accept an absolutely frustrating user experience and a badly put together system—but to feel powerless on top of it, to feel like there’s any reason I can’t or shouldn’t speak up, is awful.

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Diversity, Representation, and Selling Out

There’s an article over at io9 about “selling out,” and where the line should be between art and business.

By a few sentences into it, I was, of course, thinking of the social justice aspects of “selling out” and making character choices with regard to perceived marketability.  The article addresses it with one paragraph:

And of course, if you have a story that’s absolutely about a gay character or a person of color, and the publisher says they can move 1000 more copies if you make them straight or white, then you’re faced with the possibility of putting your name on something that’s less authentic or less true to what you set out to create. And if you go along with that, again you may have lost some of what originally made the story live and breathe, in your head.

Honestly, I don’t think this paragraph goes far enough.  Because, in my observation, there’s a pervasive attitude in fiction writing that if you have a gay main character, or a black main character, or anything other than a straight white cis Western able-bodied neurotypical male main character (and when I say “main character,” I mean the main character, not a main character), then you’re somehow making a statement.  That you need a “reason” to give your protagonist any other background.  That your book will become an “issue book,” that it should be shelved with LGBT lit or African-American lit even if these aspects are small parts of the characters as people.  It’s not only publishers asking people who write QUILTBAG/POC/female/etc. characters to change things—it’s authors feeling like writing such a character in the first place puts a book in a niche and makes it less marketable.

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Fighting Self-Handicapping: Success Is Nonlinear

After mentioning self-handicapping in a post about cognitive biases a couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with someone about it, and we shared our angst about how easy it can be to self-sabotage.  How difficult it can be to make sure we truly keep “doing our best.”

Self-sabotage is tempting, because doing our best is scaryReally scary.  Because what if our best truly isn’t good enough?  What if we do our best and we still fail?  Then doesn’t that mean we’ve failed?  Whereas if we don’t do our best, we can always tell ourselves that if we had tried a little harder . . . well, maybe we could have succeeded.  It wasn’t that we weren’t good enough, we assure ourselves.  We just didn’t try quite hard enough.

The problem with this mindset is that, other than a few very specific goals (such as maybe, say, professional baseball), success is entirely nonlinear.

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Prosopagnosia: A Tale of Someone with Face Blindness

Prosopagnosia, or “face blindness,” is the inability of a person’s brain to recognize faces.

I have it.

I’ve known about prosopagnosia for some time, and figured I had a mild form of it.  Some people can’t recognize any faces at all, even of their friends and family, but I’m not that bad, so I figured even if I did qualify clinically, it was barely worth mentioning.  Just a little bad with faces, y’know.

And then I took this test.  The average score is 85%.

I got a 23%.

(And that was generous.  I gave myself a pass on not knowing a few people I probably should have known if I weren’t, you know, face blind.  I probably should have scored somewhere in the teens.)

I was stunned.  I had no idea I was this lost compared to everyone else.  No idea I was compensating so much.  On the test I missed identifying actors whose television shows I’ve seen every episode of.  Looking at the faces alone, without being able to see hair or clothes or personality, I felt lost; I couldn’t fathom how anyone could get close to an 85%.

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