35th Street Assholes

Here is the story of a rude audition, a disrespectful production process and the fallout which the producers encountered.

This was in a secondary market.  The project was an indie TV series to be broadcast on public access and then the most successful episode was to be used to pitch broadcast distributors.

The folks running the production company had no experience with theater, film or television before.  The closest thing they had to what could kindly be called a clue was that one partner was an amateur photographer and one was a super corporate marketing gangbuster.  All four of them quit their corporate jobs to follow their dreams of making a television show.

This being a relatively small town, having done a bit of homework (at least on the technicalities, if not on the zeitgeist), they managed to find out about the Performers Callboard and post a notice.  I sent them my materials.  My résumé’ at the time mentioned that I was co-writing a TV show and a screenplay.

They called me:

“We might have a role for a woman your age.  Come in on Thursday night around 7:00.”

I show up at 7:00.  John, one of the producing partners, asks me,

“I’m about to fire my writers.  Do you want to be the head writer?”

Whoa!  You want to tell me this information without knowing me from a hole in the ground?  With your writers sitting right here in the audition room?  (The producers’ basement) Listening?  Jerry (a playwright I know from AFTRA) is already starting to steam.

“Not really, John; I came here to read for a role.”

“Well, we might have a role for someone your age.  Wait here.”

He sits down next to me and bla bla bla about his life’s dream to make a TV show.

In the meantime, an actor is reading for the lead, and he/John/the supposed director/ is not even watching; he is blabbing to me about his life’s dream and how the writers are screwing it up.

Okay, remember now, this is spec television, and this is a smaller market, where it’s often legit to audition in someone’s basement and there’s often a bit of chaos with the whole process.  The rules are not the same as the L.A. rules; thus, I didn’t walk out immediately (to my own discredit…yeah, I can be stupid in my desperation to be cast.)

While the actor is reading over and over, the writers are calling, “Cut” and then rewriting their lines and asking her to read with the new lines.  Then they consult with each other about which lines to use, while the patient (desperate?) actor waits.  Periodically they stop her and give her line readings.

Oh, yeah, baby, give me line readings!  Especially, Writers! give me line readings.

Now, in a corner of the room, the production manager is putting makeup and funny hats on and posing for glamour shots.  The videographer stops shooting the audition and picks up a still camera to take the glamour shots.

Finally, after 3 hours, the actor says she has to go to a film shoot (well, it’s a good excuse to get out of there at 10:00 at night) and she leaves.  The director then asks all the other actors to sit down with the writers and re-write the scenes.  10:00 at night.

“Michelle will help you.”

“No, I’m here as an actor.”

“We don’t really have a role written for someone your age.  Do you want to write the role?”

“Do you have any funds to pay writers?”

“No, we don’t have any money to pay writers.”

They have purchased pro-sumer cameras, entirely remodeled the basement of their house to become the set, formed a Board of Directors for their company, printed glossies for pitching, and all quit their jobs with adequate resources to support themselves.  Since, through more small-town connections, I have found out each of their approximate financial net worth, I know that the 3 principals are worth about $3 Million each.

“Not even a stipend?  I act for free because I need to work; but I get paid for my writing, and I write for money.”

“No, we are all doing this as one big happy family.  Nobody gets paid.”

I leave.

Weeks later, I get an email from John.

“Are you still interested in writing for our show? I have fired the 3rd set of writers.”

“I’m interested in acting. I will write if you can offer a stipend.”

I should have said,

“No, you cheap fuckhead bastard.”

He did not respond.  No surprise.

‘Oh, oysters,’ said The Carpenter, ‘We’ve had a pleasant run’

‘Shall we be heading home again?’

But answer came there none.

And this was scarcely odd, because they’d eaten every one.

Over the next few months, I begin to hear from other actors how they were roped into writing, promised to be allowed write their own roles; then not cast after working on writing for weeks.

I hear from actors who ~were~ cast saying how they just want to come in and do their work–not be part of the quote happy family unquote and resent being continually asked to do other jobs for the show for free when they know the principals are drawing a salary.

My friend Meredith the actor hears from a few of the maltreated/fired writers; there have been over a dozen, pulled from the very respectable writers’ training school here in town; all have been abused and disrespected.

I hear of one crew member who asked for a meeting to confront this treatment.  One of the principals kept trying to break up this meeting.

“Let’s go upstairs and re-write some of this.  We don’t have time for a meeting.  You can’t tell us bla bla bla.  It’s OUR show.”

So, the upshot was that, about 18 months after this television series started filming, these producers had been complained about and trashed in every professional organization in town: the screenwriters’ guild, the theater actors’ guild, Women in Film, the SAG local, the regional writers’ association, the closest chapter of IFP.  Later I chanced to befriend the husband of one of the producing partners.  He’s a marketing manager at a corporate shoot I was producing.  After knowing him for a few months, I discovered that his wife belonged to the asshole 35th Street gang.  So…the karma continued as, now, the corporate world started to ooze with bad comments on these so-called producers.

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