Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Niceness ... and Not


Sayeth Ms. Pascal:

"We all live in this weird thing called Hollywood. If we all actually were nice, it wouldn't work."

I don't know if Amy Pascal's quote is candor ... or rationalization.

What I do know is that when you're one of the troops toiling in the trenches, you'll get the fake patina of "nice," but it's only there as thin sugar-coating covering the excrement. You learn ... sometimes slowly ... that top executives talk one way among themselves (with brutal candor), and another way to everyone else.

A former TAG officer told me how he found himself in a creative meeting with one of the Top Dogs of production. A supervisor complained (mildly) about the attitude of a veteran artist on the show. The exec shrugged and said "Fire him!" There was no empathy or weighing of pros and cons, just a quick solution to the supe's off-hand complaint. But this is because with top executives

Niceness is an impediment to efficiency, and anyway, no one [up in the Golden Circle] believes it. Sometimes profanity and meanness come with the candor, but to those on the inside, it's never shocking. It's actually a dog whistle to signal membership in a common culture of wealth, fame and narcissism. ...

I joke to artists laboring in various studios: "If the suits come downstairs to tell you that everything is fine, that nobody has to worry about losing their jobs, start looking for other work, because the layoffs will start soon."

Because everybody not in the Winners Club gets covered with thick, rich manure that the executives tell the rabble is really fine, rich chocolate. Lies to underlings are considered to be a necessary part of running the business, so lies are often plentiful. A couple of years ago, the management of a large studio told staff that everybody's work week would be boosted from forty to forty-five hours, "but nobody's wages are being cut."

When asked about it, I pointed out that everybody's pay was being cut because people were working more hours for the same money as before.

And everybody got it. They were (again) being lied to.

But of course, none of this will come as a surprise to anybody who's been in the biz for ... oh ... six months. If you're one of the worker bees, misinformation is the coin of the realm. And b.s. is the chief nutrient in the studio soil.

Veteran artists and tech directors understand this ... and practice what an Army Air Corps navigator learned in a long-ago war:

"I want someone to tell me," Lieutenant Scheisskopf beseeched them all prayerfully. "If any of it is my fault, I want to be told."

"He wants someone to tell him," Clevinger said.

"He wants everyone to keep still, idiot," Yossarian answered.

"Didn't you hear him," Clevinger argued.

"I heard him," Yossarian replied. "I heard him say very loudly and very distinctly that he wants every one of us to keep our mouths shut if we know what's good for us."

"I won't punish you," Lieutenant Scheisskopf swore.

"He says he won't punish me," said Clevinger.

"He'll castrate you," said Yossarian.

-- Joseph Heller, Catch 22

Unsurprisingly, Amy Pascal is now the former head of Sony Pictures. But it was fun while it lasted.

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