Thursday, June 30, 2016

"An Unavoidable Obligation"

It happens about once a year.  I get a call from the “Credits Administrator” for the Writers Guild of which I am a member although, owing to permanent unemployment, my dues have shrunk to a percentage of my diminishing worldwide residuals.

Thank God they like Major Dad in Uzbekistan.  Although their devalued currency does little to advance my actual net worth. 

Anyway, the administrator is calling to ask if I am be available to participate in an arbitration proceeding, which is like “Jury Duty”, except everybody’s a writer, although the response to this “Call to Service” is equally enthusiastic.  You hope you have a good reason to say “No”, or a bad reason but you are a good liar.  Unfortunately, I was available, and I am incapable of lying.

“I am going… on a trip… somewhere… tomorrow… or soon.  So I can’t.”

No can do.  They would feel my nose growing right through the telephone.

I say “Yes”.  She says “Thank you.”  We hang up.  I say “Shit!”

Within hours, I am delivered a large brown envelope containing the written material I am required to examine, the Television Credits Manual whose regulations I must assiduously follow during my deliberation, a list of ordered procedural instructions and, as an “appreciation” for my participation, two York peppermint patties. 

They traditionally send M & M’s, but they ran out.

Here’s where it gets stupid.


“Why do they have arbitrations?”

Thank you for asking.  The simple answer is money.  Which is invariably the “Default Answer” in this country.  “When almost ninety percent of the electorate is in favor of background checks for gun purchases, why can’t the Congre…” –  Money!

You see that?  Try it.  It works for everything.  (“What does that hottie see in that doddering billion… Got it!”) 

Here’s why they have arbitrations.  At least one reason.

A writer creates a series.  They are replaced by another writer who moves the project ahead.  (Was I ever replaced?  Yes.)  The show makes it to air.  (That particular one didn’t.  Hah!)  The show runs for five years and sells to syndication for hundreds of millions of dollars. 

How are the subsequent profits divided between the writer who originated the project and the writer who brought it successfully to the “Finish Line”?

The answer lies in the assigned credits, determined, when there’s a disagreement, through arbitration.

The current issue was simpler and, as I said before diving into that indispensible tutorial on arbitration, stupider.

According to the background material I received, I’ll call them “Writer A”, reflecting an ingenious subterfuge used to insure the participant’s anonymity.  (You cannot use actual names in arbitrations because all writers harbor an overt or unconscious hostility towards each other – a serious impediment to the requisite impartiality.)

“Writer A” who had written a short film was contracted to adapt that short film into a “Web Series.”  (I imagine there is money in “Web Series” but I do not know how much.  Probably less than the multi-billion dollar websites that make neither a product nor a profit.  But it’s something.)

Not entirely satisfied by “Writer A’s” adaptation, the “Employer” – a studio or production company – brought in “Writer B” to hopefully take the project to “the next level”. 

Now before the arbitration – and here’s where it gets stupid – it had already been determined that “Writer A” would receive the “Created By” credit for the “Web Series”.  The “Employer” also determined – with the agreement of “Writer A” – that “Writer B” should receive the “Developed By” credit for bringing the series to ultimate fruition. 

What was the purpose of this arbitration?

To determine whether “Writer B” should receive the “Developed By” credit.

Even though there was nobody on the project who was arguing they shouldn’t.

(Imagine a lawsuit in which both sides are in total agreement.)

Why then were we engaging in this process?

Writers Guild by-laws assert that a “Developed By” credit triggers an automatic arbitration.

There are many different kinds of smiles.  The one I displayed when I understood I was participating in an arbitration in which the participants were in indisputable accord was a mixture of bemusement and irritation, saying, 

“I am doing something for no reason.”

And I have to do it fast, do it correctly, and if there is no unanimity, I have to participate in a teleconference with strangers where I will be required to defend my position against writers who believe exactly the opposite.


I am doing something for no reason… and it is making me extremely nervous.

To be continued…

By the way, I am also anonymous in this process. 

Call my “Arbiter Number 3.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

'Closet Crisis"

Have you ever had your clothes mad at you because you took other clothes on your vacation and left them languishing in the drawer at home?

If you cannot conceive of such a happenstance, the following anecdote may not be for you.  If this phenomenon, however, resonates with personal experience, you may have no need to hear about it again.


I am writing for nobody.

(It is possible that I have been doing this all along and I just didn’t know about it.  But I’d prefer to believe that I haven’t because… Geez!  And also because I want today to be special.)

It is now almost a month since our trip to New York and Toronto.  And yet, I walk into our clothes closet and my reception in there remains demonstrably hostile. 

Who knew haberdashery could harbor a grievance?  As the late, great Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia famously said, after putting the wrong guy in the White House,

“Get over it.”

I tell you, it is not easy to go in there.  Who wants to get booed in their own clothes closet?

And it is not just the t-shirts.  My sports socks are mad at me as well.  My shirts and slacks, on the other hand, appear blithely oblivious.  Maybe that’s because they’re suspended freely on hangers, rather than cooped up in dark and stuffy dresser drawers.  If I can read clothes – and I apparently can – they seem relieved to have missed the trip East.

LONG-SLEEVED SPORTS SHIRT:  “Five-and-a-half hours in a suitcase?  No thank you.”

Let’s get real here.  (Or as real as you can get when you are talking about wardrobe with feelings.)  You can’t pack everything.  A nine-day excursion requires nine t-shirts and nine pairs of socks.  You simply have to make a choice as to which ones.

That’s a reasonable argument, isn’t it?  So why are they buying it?

A REJECTED T-SHIRT:  “We understand the “nine-and-nine” situation.  The question is, the selection process.  Who made the cut, and why I was left behind?  Was it because I’m an ‘El Salvador’ t-shirt?”

I took a “Habana” t-shirt.

“We are not all the same!

I could say I picked the first nine t-shirts in the drawer.  But I would be lying.  There was a selection process.  But it was an unconscious one.  (Therefore, I am entirely not to blame.) 

I pick up an armload of t-shirts, I arrange them carefully in my suitcase, I return to the closet for more t-shirts, suddenly I spot a “superior” candidate,  and I exchange it for a t-shirt that was already packed – a t-shirt I was sure I heard singing “Start spreadin’ the news…”

What exactly goes into these decisions?  Why did I choose my “Arizona Spring Training” t-shirt over my “CafĂ© Gulistan” Kurdish cuisine t-shirt.  Why did I pack my “Willie Nelson” t-shirt, leaving my “Oink’s Ice Cream and Yogurt” t-shirt behind – with all the other unselected t-shirts – while I was gone?

I swear to you.  I have no idea.

It is even harder to explain to the sports socks.

There I am, poring over a dozen-and-a half-pairs of sports socks, assiduously picking nine balled-up pairs of sports socks instead of nine other ball-up pairs of sports socks…

… that are exactly the same!

I have to be honest here. 

Those sports socks have a legitimate complaint. 

It’s true, I could not – I had no need to – pack them all.  But when they are indistinguishable pairs of sports socks, what exactly is going on?

Whatever the process, I am now persona non grata in my own clothes closet. 

Hopefully, time will eventually alleviate these ruffled feathers.  There will be other trips.  In August when we visit our log cabin in Indiana, I can compensatorily “balance the books”.

I don’t know about the sports socks; it’s not like they have distinguishing numbers on them; I may end up taking the same pairs.  But the t–shirts have logos on them.  I can easily make amends.  Although I can already hear the griping.

“Michigan City is hardly ‘The Big Apple.’  It’s not even Toront…”

Hey, I am trying, okay?  Remember, there is always the “Giveaway Pile.” And if they are wearing my castoffs, those guys are not goin’ anywhere!


It has come to this.

I am threatening clothing.

Well, what can I tell you?

They started it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Answering A Question (Like I Said I Would)"

Because I am nothing if not true to my word.  A lot of the time.

Not long ago after publishing my post entitled “Three ‘Fiddlers’”, a “Regular Reader” who goes internetically by JED inquired:

“Is it fair to ask how you rate the movie compared to these {theatrical “Three ‘Fiddlers’”} or is that not a fair question?”

First of all, anyone who uses the word “fair” twice in one sentence is okay in my books.  As an inveterate “Fairist”, I am always looking for likeminded compadres to offset the unquestioning ideologues who… you know, this sentence can only get me in trouble, so I will curtail its completion and just say,

“Good on ya, JED.”  (And also I’m out here, and I’m with ya.)

I shall answer JED’s question, embellishing it with answers to questions I was not asked to fill things out, thereby allowing me to believe that I did a decent day’s work.  (Where does it say a person cannot service his readership while simultaneously fostering encouraging feelings of self-worth?)

Let me start with a general prejudice.

With the exception of Singin’ in the Rain (made directly for the screen) and The
Music Man and Chicago… I better stop before my exceptions torpedo my argument… although I am a longstanding stage musical enthusiast, I am not a big fan of movie musicals.

I have never seen a cinematic adaptation of a musical that was as absorbing and exhilarating as its corresponding counterpart on the stage.  For one thing, after a major production number finishes with a crescendoing flourish, rather than the thunderous applause of the theater, there is, in movies…

Deadening silence.

Turning an energizing moment into an anti-climactical letdown.

“With a capital ‘T’
That rhymes with ‘P’
And that stands for


The other thing is, the theater is… what’s the appropriate word here?... oh yeah…  


Hyper-verbal.  Over-the-top.  Larger than life. *  (* Except for the size of the actors.)

Movies, by their technological imperative, are more real – in movie musicals, not necessarily to positive effect.


West Side Story – The Movie.

The creative auspices decided in their wisdom that, rather than performing on appropriately designed soundstages, the “Sharks” and the “Jets” should execute their majestic leaps and pirouettes on the graffitied “Mean Streets” of Manhattan.

I can imagine legitimate gang members watching incredulously from the sidelines going:

“We’d nevah do that.”

It was an understandable decision.  “Movies are real.  Let ‘em dance in a real place.”  (Forgetting that real gang members do not dance balletically on the street.  Even in alleys.)

To me, it looked ridiculous.  What came to mind were “delinquents” executing similar choreography never making it back to their clubhouse in one piece.

(Note:  The West Side Story movie won 10 Academy Awards.  So there were apparently people who disagreed with me.)

A similar complaint applies to transfering of Fiddler on the Roof to the big screen.

Beginning with the decision, in the name of “cinematic reality”, to reject Fiddler’s original star, Tony Award-winning Zero Mostel considered to be too “big” (Read:  “theatrical”) for the movie in favor of Israeli actor Topol, adjudged to be more Eastern European-sounding and therefore closer to what the “real Tevye” (a fictional character) would actually have been like. 

Stifling virtually every joke and comedic opportunity in the process.

This determinational rationale was revealed by Fiddler’s director Norman Jewison in a documentary about the movie.  Interesting Side Note:  Norman Jewison is not Jewish.  (Although he is Canadian.)  Demonstrating that you don’t have to be Jewish to make terrible errors in casting.

What was the mistake?

Trading “breathtakingly hilarious” for “tedious and dull.”  In an effort to make things “truer to life.”  (Which may be accurate.  Life is regularly tedious and dull.)

But that’s the movies.  That’s what they do.

Triggering the question:

“Who said musicals had to be real?” 

(Or animated features, for that matter.  There is no way today Mickey Mouse would have four fingers.  Minus some agonizing “backstory” on how the missing digit was tragically lost.)

Summing Up:

But not before throwing this in because I want to and may not receive the opportunity again.  Two years before, in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, and then a second time in Fiddler on the Roof, the once blacklisted Mr. Mostel was asked if he’d be willing to work with director Jerome Robbins who had “named names” during the McCarthy hearings on “Un-American Activities”, to which the assenting Zero replied, “We on the ‘Left’ do not blacklist.”  (It probably helped that Jerome Robbins was a theatrical genius and the previewing Forum was in terrible trouble.)

Okay, now summing up.

Movie musicals have a propensity for “real”, at the excessive cost of wonder and enchantment.  The Fiddler movie fell particular victim to that liability.  Possibly an inevitability, because it’s a movie.  If they wanted “real”, they should have focused on the verisimilitude of the wardrobe, and retained Zero. 

Costumes rarely obliterate laughter.  Bad casting can.

On the other hand, you might want to check out Chicago.

That one, sez this prejudiced reporter,

Is right on the money.