Friday, August 7, 2009

New Faces Not to Watch: The True Story About What Really Happens After Film School (Nothing!)

(The article for everybody who pukes when he hears a new/larval twentysomething nepo-jizm case screenwriter/filmmaker say, "It's true, my name got me in the door... but it's my talent that pushed me over the top...")
By Charles Zigman, August 7, 2009

Here I am, graduating from Columbia University's Graduate Department of Film in 1993. And look who's sitting on the extreme left applauding me: It's our guest speaker, Martin Scorsese! Little did I know that two years later, I would begin my lifetime career as a substitute elementary school teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. (Next week, I begin my 13th year as a substitute teacher. Well: Easy come, easy go!) P.S. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

During the past week, I was choking down a cup of Kaffay O'Lay at my local Starbucks. Some very well-appointed ladies in their fifties were sitting at the table next to me (they’re drinking lattes while there husbands are busting their humps at work all day – so, nu?) and I happened to eavesdrop upon their conversation. One of these "ladies-who-almuerzo" was excitingly chirping that her son, age 21, is going to be starting graduate-level film school this coming fall, at New York University. “He is so talented,” the proud lady exclaimed. “He is going to have such a fabulous career." At this point, the other yenta could no longer contain her excitement: She, next, blurted out, “And he’ll have a leg-up in the business – because he’ll have a master’s degree! A master’s degree makes you invaluable!

When I heard this shit, milk came out of my nose. And, yes, I wasn’t even drinking milk.

Broadly speaking, I feel sorry for this broad. She and her husband are about to shell out upwards of $100,000.00 -- including three years of tuition, three years of housing in NYC, and the cost of a student film -- to educate their kid in a business which doesn’t actively solicit people from outside the business. The movie business, as we all know, has always been completely closed, unless, you’re directly related to somebody who’s already important in the business.

I, myself, graduated with my Master of Fine Arts Degree from Columbia University’s Graduate Department of Film sixteen years ago, in 1993, and guess what: For the last thirteen years, I’ve been a substitute elementary school teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, making $23k per year (gross), and that’s probably what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life. All of my friends with whom I graduated also have crappy jobs, jobs which one doesn’t need a master’s degree to get. (I guess two or three people are successful, but those are people who already had "connections" before they went to film school, so they don't count.)

It was at this moment, while the moms were going berserk with near-orgasmic delight, that I decided I should write an article about film school, and that I should call it, “What Really Happens After Film School: Nothing.” But I don’t have to write it, because, as it turns out, one sleepless night ten years ago, I already did! Yes, if this is possible, I'm even smarter than myself!

Here’s l'article. I’ve spent the last week updating it, but I didn't update it too much, because when I wrote it, I think I really caught something in a bottle (my own unmitigated disgust), and I didn’t want to dilute my "original anger" too much, even though, to tell you the truth, I’m probably not as angry as I was when I originally wrote it -- now I'm more circumspect and more resolute: Ten years after having written the first draft of the following article, I now realize that life sucks not just for me, but for everybody, and that nobody ever gets anything he wants in this life, unless you've got some kind of "nepotism" or "connection." My article is called, “NEW FACES NOT TO WATCH."

Here it am, suckas!:

At the beginning of each year, the Los Angeles Times movie section, as well as every movie magazine and entertainment website you can shake a stick at, presents a column which is, invariably, entitled something like, “New Faces to Watch.” Beneath this in-your-face title ("we dare you not to love this talented bunch of newcomers!") is an article about the current crop of hip/new/young filmmakers and performers who are just beginning their exciting careers in the entertainment industry.

Whenever I, a graduate of both Columbia University’s Graduate School of Film and UCLA’s undergraduate film department, read these articles, an involuntary bout of gagging normally ensues, which finishes with some heavy-duty/balls-out projectile puking. Where do these hip/exciting/new/fresh/automatonic faces come from? Is this some kind of annual joke that Calendar and Premiere Online and Cinematical and People and US Weekly are perpetrating on the world? Don't these publications know the movie business is, and always has been, completely closed to new people who aren't directly related to other people who are bigwigs in the business?

My friends and I stare at these articles, bemusedly shaking our heads. Look how fresh and vital all of this new, up-and-coming movie larvae look. Nobody I know looks "fresh" like that! The “real” people I know -- those of us who have been struggling along, trying to get into the historically un-open movie industry for years, well -- we all look like crap! We have soul-killing jobs as temps, waiters, personal assistants, and substitute teachers. (Do you know what it’s like to be a thirteen-year substitute teacher when you’re forty-three years old, making 23k/yr. while you’re watching the friends you grew up with – the ones who chose "safe professions" like law, medicine, and business -- buying their first homes and squirting out little copies of themselves? Hint: It doesn’t feel too great!)

This is what a typical film school student looks like a decade after graduation. This guy is only 35 years old!

When we, the real former film students, and not the silver spoon-cases portrayed in these movie magazines, mail our newly-completed scripts out to producers and literary agents, our material is always summarily rejected out of hand, even when the material is good, and even, ostensibly, when it is "commercial." (I had one producer actually tell me, just a few months ago, “I love your script, but who are you? I only work with known talent.”) So my question is: What are we – and by "we," I mean, my friends and I who are still unable to get anybody to produce our scripts, even sixteen years after having received our MFA degrees in film from highly-priced universities – doing wrong? Are we sucking up to the wrong people? (And: Does anybody ever really "help" anybody else? And: Does one ever really finish "paying one’s dues?" And: If so, when are those "dues" finally "paid off?") I guess the most important thing I want to know is: How can my friends and I be more like those cool/lucky people we read about in those “Fresh New Faces” articles which appear each year?

My personal “odd-yssey” is as long as this article will be long-winded. As I’ve mentioned, I’m forty-three years old, and I’ve been “trying to get into the film industry” (stop laughing!) since I wrote my first feature screenplay at the age of 17, which means that I’ve been sealing my scripts -- I told you to stop laughing, fucknut! -- into 10 x 13 manila envelopes and sending them out to literary agents for the past twenty-six years and, in that entire quarter of a century, not a single agent or producer has ever taken a bite. In terms of my ‘progress,’ I’m sad to say that I am exactly where I was at the age of seventeen, even in spite of the fact that I’ve done all the things you’re supposed to do: I attended both undergraduate and graduate film school; I completed three-years worth of those eighty-hour-a-week unpaid internships for movie producers. (Yes, you heard me right: I said unpaid internships: While slavery was abolished in the south 144 years ago, it has risen again in Hollywood because, apparently, white kids -- including me, back when I was in my twenties -- love being abused and working for no money!) As part of my internships, my job seemed to consist of taking in various producers’ dry cleaning, washing their cars, making deliveries ("Hey, Chuck... on your way home to Hollywood, from our office in Beverly Hills, we need you to drop this script off in Malibu" [producers have a bad sense of direction: Malibu's not on my way home!). In one case, I was even ordered to drive one lady-producer to a sperm bank, but it was all for nothing because, apparently, she was so mean, the choad never took!

Besides doing internships, I also did all of that other stuff that's supposed to help ease your way into the film industry: I volunteered at film festivals, and I even entered scores of those bullshit screenwriting contests that receive ten thousand entries, in which entering is tantamount to throwing your screenplay – and the required $40 entry fee – into a black hole. (I wish I could come up with a scam like that!)

It’s not that people didn't like my screenplays; it's just that, in seventeen years, I have never really been able to get anybody to give any of them more than what is commonly called a “courtesy read” (For whom is a courtesy read a courtesy?!) In the one of the few instances where people did take a liking to my writing – when I was nineteen – my script was actually plaigarized and made into a t.v. movie, scene-for-scene; the movie-of-the-week hack who stole my script is now a prosperous director who directs both Academy Award-winning theatrical features, as well as the occasional Academy Awards broadcast on ABC. Subsequently, I spent five years (ages 25to 30) writing a screenplay for a producer with one prior indie feature under his belt who promised me that my script would be a "director's piece," and that I would be directing it, as well; how nice that, after I finished five years of free work for this guy ("We'll pay you the day we go into production!") and thirteen drafts, including three "page one re-writes" (that means, I started from scratch three times over), the producer brought in another "director" without informing me that he was doing that... and how much even nicer it was that this "director," as well as the producer, put their names on the byline of my script. (But at least they didn't take my name off of the script completely; I received third-billing on my own script.) Anyway, this producer and director burned so many bridges, the project never happened, even though it was set up, for a time, at New Line Entertainment with Brett Ratner -- who never heard of me, even though he owned my script -- set up to executive produce! I also spent six years, when I was between 32 and 38 years old, writing a different script with a friend of mine from undergrad film school at UCLA. When I asked this guy, one of life's consummate dreamers, why it had to take us six years (writing on my own, I usually finish feature length screenplays in only a matter or weeks or, at the very most, a few months), he replied, "We have to go through the process!" Very nice guy, and he kept me going with promises that he would be directing and I would be producing (I was like Lenny in Of Mice and Men: "Tell me 'bout the rabbits, George!"), and he told me how "connected" he was but, ultimately, nothing happened with this script effort. Lots of people get their "big breaks" from people who can help; my "breaks," none of which ever came to any sort of fruition, came from wannabes who couldn't do anything for themselves, much less for me. I wasted about 12 years writing free screenplays for characters like this, under the guise that they would help me and get me a produced credit.

While I was a student at UCLA’s Undergraduate Motion Picture-Television School, I often came across my wild-eyed classmates creating, for their major class projects, letterboxed science fiction and action shorts, along the lines of stuff they had seen on late night cable t.v. the previous night; I didn’t have anything in common with these poor souls, as my own writing always tended – and tends – more toward “personal” expression (don’t laugh!). After I graduated with my BA from UCLA, and because I must be some kind of a masochist, I moved to New York and began attending graduate film school at Columbia University. My bizarre rationale at the time, was that if a BA in film school would get me noticed in the biz, then an MFA would be – even better! After doing these unpaid internships that didn't lead anywhere, I thought that an MFA might be a better way of getting into the movie industry than just working in a mailroom at an agency; I thought that earning a master's degree would be better than "working my way up," but I guess I was wrong.

My Columbia University Years did have some good things about them: All of the people I met at Columbia University's Graduate Department of Film were interesting and we have all become very close-knit over the years, united by the fact that we were all duped into thinking that film school would help us to achieve brilliant careers. Columbia University students, as opposed to the UCLA students whom I had observed, seemed to have interesting things to “say” with their student shorts. All of us thought we would change the world with our films one day. But today, sixteen years after graduating from Columbia University’s Graduate Department of Film with my MFA diploma (read: toilet paper; actually, it’s not fair to compare my diploma to toilet paper, because toilet paper is useful), I am, as I said, a substitute elementary school teacher, and I will continue to be one, for life. My Columbia friends and I will be paying off our film school loans for the rest of our lives and, in that respect, and in that respect only, film school can best be described as “the gift that keeps on giving.” (Having to pay off your film school degree when you can't get into the film business is the same thing as those backwards countries where they kill you, and then they make your family pay for the bullet.)

This is where ex-film school students sleep. We don't have the luxury of having "homes," like people who went to other professional schools do. Ex-film school students are lucky when it's not raining.

Sometimes I think I’ll just start calling myself Charles Scorsese… or Charles Coppola… or Charles Spielberg… just so I’ll be able to “get in to the movie business.” My personal family tree is completely bereft of nepotism – and nepotism, of course, is the coin of the realm in Hollywood, especially if one wants to “get in,” in a “non-underling” position. Yup, there aren’t any movie industry bigwigs in my own family: My father is a very successful building contractor here in Los Angeles and, interestingly, he has stopped doing construction for most movie business people because, historically, show-folk are the only people who won’t pay for their finished work, or else, they try to get out of paying for it. When I was a little kid, I remember that my dad once compared flighty movie people to “circus people.” I have spent the last two decades learning that this is, in fact, true. When I moved back to my hometown of Los Angeles from New York, in 1993, after having finished up at Columbia U., I was ready to take on the world. I had my student short under my arm – the short master’s thesis film which I had directed – and my will to succeed. The first thing I tried to do, was to try and get any kind of "grunt" job in the hip-but-tawdry movie industry while I was waiting for someone to buy my scripts. I found out that having a master’s degree was threatening to all of the producers and directors and executives who read my resume, and I learned, as you can tell from how "dumbed-down" all of today’s movies are, that Hollywood definitely has a major anti-education bias. (“I never went to film school to get where I got today,” I heard, more than once, from different bloated, self-satisfied producers whom I was trying to get to hire me for day-jobs as their assistants – jobs which, I guess, I didn’t really want, anyway.) Snotty comments of this nature were made not just to me, but to everybody I know. I was told by innumerable producers, over the course of innumerable job interviews, that if I wanted to “make it in Hollywood,” the first thing I needed to do, would be to remove the MFA degree from my resume. (I have met other wannabes along my journey – people in the same sinking boat that I am in – people who have, with pathetic glee, pointed out to me that they have five and, sometimes, even ten different versions of their resumes – different resumes for each kind of showbiz employment opportunity which they might be offered. Hearing that nonsense gives me tachycardia: Why the fuck would I dumb-down my own curriculum vitae, removing my accomplishments, each of which has been hard won, just to make some neurotic, undereducated, film-hating/prestige-loving, pansexual, twelve-stepping, greedy, living-beyond-his-means, leasing-everything-he-or-she-has, Hollywood executive types feel better about their own pathetic paucity of formal education?

And while I’m ranting senselessly away, I have to add that some of these producers I met, when trying to get a "regular day job in the entertainment biz," are like caricatures of producers, only they don’t know that they are exhibiting caricatured behavior, and they’re not “in on the joke:” When I was in my early twenties, as I have already mentioned, I endured those crappy, unpaid internships, making script deliveries at two o’ clock in the morning because I deluded myself into thinking that this kind of serfdom/manumission on my part would one day help me be successful in the movie biz, but I couldn’t have been more wrong: I found out that doing whatever insipid errands egomaniacal movie producers tell you to do (another good errand I did, was: taking a producer's three-year-old grandkids to Beverly Hills "baby gym") just makes you a doormat/scullery maid whom they will never be able to take seriously and, conversely, putting your foot down – getting a pair of “training balls” as it were, and telling them that you won’t do their menial, taking-in-the-dry cleaning b.s. will get you fired, plus vite. (One lady producer I worked for almost thrashed me within an inch of my life because, during her meeting with a director, I went into her office to ask her a question, and she actually called me “stupid,” because I walked behind her "closed door" -- even though she had asked me to interrupt her meeting and bring her something only a moment before! Another producer for whom I selflessly toiled, for no pay, used me to re-outline all of the projects he had in the pipeline, promising me an "associate producer credit” on a “future project.” (Promise of the elusive “associate producer credit” is The Big Lie producers tell interns and other underlings to get them to do all the lame, “gofer” stuff.) While this particular producer, a slick Israeli guy in a long black coat who, apparently -- in his mind, anyway -- had been pretty high up in the Mossad years before, was friendly to me while I was doing the free re-outlining on his scripts (he even showed me how to break "The Club" off somebody's steering wheel, by spraying it with Freon!), the second I was done, the mood around the office changed: The second I was finished giving this guy the free writing he wanted, I was history, and the guy quickly brought in another fresh-faced kid to brain-pick.

Just had another good brain-fart: It’s not just nepotism that’ll get you into the movie business in a creative, non-slave position. One can also get into the movie business and make a feature film of one’s own by dating/marrying/fucking/sucking someone with an important movie job, even if you don’t really love them – I know more than a few people who have done that. Or, I guess, one can “get in” by being obnoxious, like the guy with the huge chin and acromegaly face who makes those horrible three-hour “post-modern” action movies where all of the actors talk to each other about their favorite sit-coms while they’re "whacking" their victoms; in the film business, more than anywhere else, it’s “the squeaky wheel who gets the grease.” Well, it’s too bad for me, then. I’m a “nice, quiet wheel” and I was raised to be a gentleman, as old-fashioned as that notion may seem. I’m also, as you’ve noticed, by reading what you've read so far, an incredibly passive-aggressive gentleman. But, you know what: When you’ve got nothing, brother -- or, I guess, "bro-ham" as they now say it in all of these horrible "bro-mances;" Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson would never get caught starring in a "bromance!" -- you’ve got nothing to lose!

So, okay: If you can’t get a job after film school, should you still go to film school? In spite of everything I’ve just said, I think: Yes. You should absolutely go to film school. But here's the qualifier: Just use film school for other things that you couldn't get if you weren't in film school, and don’t ever expect anything after you graduate. What I mean by that, is that if you go to film school just for the sake of having fun, it’s incredibly worth it. I mean, where else do you get to watch movies all day on the big screen and talk about them, while fucking and sucking on all the hot/bohemian grad school art-quim you can choke down? And here's a word about the hot sex you get in film school: All film school students are in the same boat, in the sense that nobody is famous yet, and everybody's on the same level -- everybody's a student, so in film school, everybody "fucks on faith," the idea being that, one of these days, somebody you fuck while you're in film school might turn out to be famous, and then maybe, just maybe, if you fuck her well enough, that person might get you a job. Another good thing about film school is that you might get to meet and work with one or two legends in the movie business, like I did. This won't help you get in to he movie business, but it’s a whale of a lotta fun:

Here's a former film school student having dinner. "Hey, Kurosawa, how's the soup?!"

My fondest memory of residing in New York for three years and being a student in Columbia University’s Graduate Department of Film, besides the fun-filled sexual encounters, is that I was able to co-write my master’s thesis short, a twenty-five minute film which I directed, with the late, great counterculture guru Terry Southern, the reclusive genius-scribe behind Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider, who was my writing instructor and thesis advisor. I thought that collaborating with this acknowledged “great master” would definitely help me to get “my break in Hollywood” especially in view of the fact that Southern hadn’t worked on a screenplay in more than twenty-six years at the point during which we worked together, and people were wondering "if he'd ever write again." Instead, when I returned to L.A. after graduating from film school, and asked agents and producers if they wanted to watch my student film, gleefully announcing to them that I had co-written it with a legendary writer, the younger agents just asked, “Who’s Terry Southern?” and the older ones just shook their heads: “Oh, Terry Southern? You wrote something with that old guy? [AUTHOR'S NOTE: Ageism is more rampant than ever in Hollywood. As I heard somebody say while I was touching up this article prior to posting it, in today's 2009 Hollywood, "forty is the new dead."] Is he even still around?" And not a single agent of producer would even watch my film. (Well, shee-it, there’s thirty thousand bucks of my dad’s money down the drain. Sorry, papi!)

What I regret that I didn’t see coming is that, in 1992, while I was shooting the short film which became my thesis project, the whole concept of people using short films as “calling cards” to get into the movie business was on its way out (it's back again now, in 2009), because instead of making shorts, people, at that time, had begun to, instead, make low-budget features, such as Kevin Smith’s Clerks, as calling cards, but I couldn’t afford to make a feature then, just as I can't afford to make one now.

I should have known while I was making my short film that I nobody would watch it, because when I was interviewing sound editors to cut the soundtrack for my film, one girl turned up her nose and told me, “I would never work in the short film ghetto.” Of course, now, sixteen years later, in 2009, as I've just mentioned, short films have made a comeback, due to the fact that one can now make them cheaply on video and show them on YouTube. I was in the right place at the wrong time -- which is a very common thing in my life.

Truth be known, and as you've already guessed, I’m secretly jealous of those people I like to make fun of, the ones who get to make independent features. There will never be any way I can afford to make my own independent feature. I have no rich uncle to give me money, like most of the dilettantes out there who don’t have to substitute teach, as I do, to pay the rent. And getting investors is not as easy as everybody makes it seem at those lame, $500-tutition “How-to-Get-into-Showbiz” seminars where everybody walks around in their sunglasses and talks about “their projects” while woofing down the obligatory lunch of dry chicken. My curse (and my joy) is that I have been raised to be so pragmatic about money, that I would worry about not being able to pay investors back, even though most other young(ish) artists don’t seem to let a triviality like “being responsible with money” bother them all that much -- you kind of have to be a bit arrogant and sociopathic to be in the movie business, which I am not (or: "which I am not in the approved way," since I am a kind of arrogant sociopath -- I'm so arrogant and sociopathic, that I don't want anybody getting near me.) Wish I was more sociopathic in the correct, prescribed way, and that I didn’t care about stuff like paying investors back. Well, as Frank Norris wrote, “such is life for McTeague…”

Film school graduates don't "do lunch." They have to find it, in dumpsters.

Still, in spite of my bitching and moaning (I always hate when other people bitch and moan – and now I’m doing it! Sorry!), if I had to “do it over,” I would, as I have already said, go to film school again – not only because I got to work Terry Southern and get some good quim, but also because I learned about one hundred-percent more about movies than I knew before I went to film school, even though neither UCLA's undergraduate film school (now it's called T.F.T [Theater Film and Television]; it used to be called M.P.T.V. [Motion Picture Television], but they may as well call it B.U.L.L.S.H.I.T., for all the good it does) nor Columbia University's Graduate Film School did anything to help me or my friends after we graduated: If you go to law school or medical school, they help to “place” you in a job after you graduate, but after film school is over, you’re on your own forever, bucko. Weirdly, although Columbia’s ex-Chairperson has never helped a student to get a job, she is always there to take credit on the ultra-mega-rare occasion that one of her graduates has actually made a feature film.

The most ironic thing about the whole film school experience, I think, is that all of us graduates will be paying off thousands of dollars worth of student loans for the rest of our lives, even though we will never be hired to write and direct our own movies. So in that way, film school has definitely been “the gift that keeps on giving.” And even though I learned a lot in film school, I also continue to feel like it's a pretty fraudulent enterprise, to the extent that film schools are bilking people out of their parents’ hard-earned money by playing on the romance of getting into what has essentially always been a “closed" business.

Besides substitute teaching, I have spent the last sixteen years since I graduated from film school, meeting every shady “fringe” type of person on the extreme periphery of the film industry – people who seem to be right out of Get Shorty. What’s amazing about Los Angeles, is that everybody thinks he or she is a producer, and I always wonder, on that same level: How come nobody just happens to “think” he’s a surgeon or a lawyer or an architect? (“I have three surgeries in the pipeline and one in development.”) A few times a year, I'll still get calls from these putative “producer” types who call me and ask me to write scripts for them for free, and they always proceed to tell me how honored I will be to work with them for no remuneration! Why would anybody expect anybody else to work for free – not just in movies, but in any profession? For a few years, I’m ashamed to say, I was flattered by the fact that people wanted me to write for them at all, paycheck or no, but after getting burned a couple of times – the paycheck never comes, the movie doesn’t get made and, more often than not, the producer actually “disappears” – I’ve learned my lesson. Now, when the would-be “producers” call me and ask me to write scripts for them, and I tell them that they have to pay me some money up front – just a couple of hundred dollars, as a token of the fact that the deal is on-the-level and real – the conversation is always, instantaneously, over. If they don't have two hundred bucks to pay me at the beginning of the project, why would they eve pay me a big chunka change on the day the movie goes into production, as they are always promising to do?

Film school graduates don't get wives and careers like medical school and law school graduates do. But we do get to jerk off like monkeys, sometimes upwards of 20 times a day. This film school grad jerked it so much, the government gave him a wheelchair.

So we – my ever-hopeful friends and I – will all continue to plug away. (Even Sisyphus probably got his rock up to the top of his hill, but, sadly – we will not.) As listless and dejected as I always feel now (at 43 I’m physically heavier than I was during my kind-of handsome film school days, and my hair, at this point in my life, would rather be in the shower drain than on my head; women, so blissfully prevalent in my 20s, have now mostly deserted me for the “professional” doctor/lawyer types who can take care of them -- sigh-a-roony -- and help them pound out the puppies, while I continue to live hand-to-mouth and hand-to-my-genitalia, watching internet porn, napping, and eating fast-food all the livelong day). And yet, in spite of how depressing post-film school world is and how hopeful it is, guess what: I will continue to make my furtive little attempts at getting into the closed film industry for the rest of my life. Yes, it's true: I’ll keep on writing the screenplays, sealing them into the 10 x 13 envelopes, sending them out, and getting the “rejection” letters. And why will I keep doing this: I'll do it because I can’t think of anything else to do. If I have to be a substitute teacher for another thirty or forty years while I’m writing my crappy, unproducable screenplays, then so be it, that's exactly what I will do. And substitute teaching isn't the worst thing in the world because kids, at least, are nice and not back-stabbing and hateful and paranoid and freakishly competitive and threatened by others, unlike every “adult” I have ever come across in my years of trying to break into the closed film industry. (Sometimes, to get through the bad days, I tell myself that even though I’ll never be able to afford to have a family and children of my own, it’s okay, because, as a substitute teacher, I have all the kids in Los Angeles, and that’s a great gift which many people – people who are more successful than I am – will never be able to experience. So I guess that, in this one particular respect, I’m lucky… or, at least, I can try and convince myself that I’m lucky, right?)

And, fuck it, maybe I’m just not meant to get into the movie business – and maybe it isn’t even a complete loss; I mean, the kind of movies I grew up liking, when I was a kid growing up in the seventies (everything was so realistic and documentary-like back then) – well, they don’t even make movies like those anymore. Now all we get, are either these big, noisy, overproduced blockbusters with robots or sarcastic CGI barnyard animals who have Brooklyn accents, films where you need about a thousand Advils after they’re over, or else you get these rancid “faux independent films” made by studios, these whiny, talky, cutesy things about “hip” people who are actually totally un-hip. (Actual independent films are not shown in multiplexes, because movie studios, in an effort to keep the little guys out won’t book their films in a movie house that’s showing real independents. [Read the great book Down and Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind for more 411 about this!)

You might think from what I’ve written that I enjoy griping, whining, suffering, and playing the victim and, to a certain extent, you're right. Suffering and griping and whining and feeling victimized are not the purest of emotions, but they are the only things that we – the film school graduates of the world – have got. These are four emotions which truly belong to us, emotions which nobody can take away, emotions which no man, or no screaming producer-lady who throws staplers at us and calls us “stupid” when we walk into her closed-door meeting, even though she just told us five minutes earlier to please walk into her meeting and bring her something, can ever hope to tear asunder.

Suffering can be fun when it’s all you know. Speaking for myself, and for myself alone, may I please say this: “My sour grapes are sometimes sweet.”

When these goofy on-line movie publications publish these humiliating (to me) “Fresh Face” articles each year, it just makes my friends and I feel really badly about ourselves, and I want to end this piece by saying that yesterday, I got to feel badly about myself for a whole new reason: Yesterday, I received an envelope in the mail from UCLA’s Film and TV Alumni Association, with a small donation envelope inside, and I've received similar mail from Columbia University's Graduate Department of Film in the past. The letter from UCLA actually said something along the lines of, “Now that you’re prospering in your film career [!], would you like to give something back to UCLA’s Film Department by helping the next generation of young student filmmakers?” (Did UCLA's Film Department skip a generation? Why did they not help my generation, the people who have never been able to get into the movie business in the first place?)

Well, you know what? There is, now that I think about it, something that I would like to “give back” to all film schools and all university "film study" (faux degree) programs:

The middle finger.

Copyright 2009 by Charles L. Zigman. All Rights Reserved.

PS: Just because I couldn't get into the movie business -- it dont mean I couldn't get inna book bidness! Check out, and read my new book

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Happy Birthday to Elisa Evans, The Comedy World's Best-Kept Secret

This is Elisa Evans, American Humorist. If you know what's good for you, you'll start knowing her right now.

Usually, I use this blogsite, on the rare occasion that I actually add something to it, to put up random articles/interviews/stories which I've written. But today, I have decided to crawl out from under my rock of insane self-absorption and shift the focus over to another person -- namely, to my friend, Elisa Evans, whose birthday happens to be today, August 7th. (Happy Birthday, Elisa!)

Elisa is, basically, the entertainment world's best-kept secret. She's a great actor and writer, and she's "the comedian's comedian." Honestly, I can't figure out why she's not on t.v. every week, because she's about ten million times funnier than any of the people on "Saturday Night Live," "MAD TV," or "Hannity." I'm not Elisa's manager or agent, and she doesn't owe me any money. I'm just her friend and I decided that, because I have my own blogsite, it falls upon me to introduce you to her, if you don't know her already. And shame on you if you don't.

Here is Elisa in two sketches of her own devising, and she is both the writer and the star. If you want to see more of Elisa's work, you can go to her website,, or you can visit her blogsite,, or you can loiter around on her YouTube page. (Or: Because she's friendly, you could probably go to her house, as well, but I wouldn't advise it.)

First, let's enjoy Elisa in one of her six already-completed sketches (you can see the other ones on YouTube) in which she plays "ESTHER RANDOLPH, PSYCHIC:"

"Esther Randolph, Psychic: Aries" is Written by Elisa Evans, Directed and Edited by Joshua Taback, Photographed by Dave Ramos, and the Music is by Paul Oehlers.

And now, let's laugh it up with Elisa, in "THE SCHNEGEES FAMILY INTERVENTION:"

"The Schnegees: Family Intervention" is Written by Elisa Evans. It stars
Giselle Anthony (, Junko Goda, Joshua Taback, and Philip Newby. It's Directed by Dyer Evans, Photographed by Dave Ramos, and Edited by Josh Taback.

See? I told you. Elisa Evans is Utterly Brilliant.

Happy Birthday, Elisa!