“I look at you and I think: middle management.”
That was that was the insult a friend of mine received. It was perfect. After all, no one in America aspires to be a middle manager. Why would you? Middle man – the title alone speaks of failure. You couldn’t make it to the top so now you manage the work of other people. You spend eight hours in a cubicle and write TPS reports.
Middle men are also replaceable, the type of jobs that get supplanted by technology. Instead of going to Sears and talking to a middle man, you just order what you want from Amazon.
In his short story collection, Middle Men, Jim Gavin explores the world of men stuck somewhere between their dreams and reality. Appropriate for a book on purgatory, these stories are primarily set in Los Angeles. The sun-blasted landscape of the city looms large in Middle Men. Characters escape to the freeway or Del Taco to ease their troubles.
In an interview at the end of the book, Gavin explains that Middle Men is about mastery. It’s about growing up, learning a trade and accepting your fate in a very uncertain economy. The men in the book start out young dreamers – they’re slackers and standup comics and aspiring screenwriters – and end up grizzled vets grimly hanging on to their piece of the American dream.
There are a couple of great short stories in the book – Illuminati and Elephant Doors – that perfectly describe the entertainment business in Hollywood, stripping away the glamor and revealing an industry in which very few find success. As a failed screenwriter in the book says, “Nothing always happens. The literature of Hollywood is depressingly consistent on this point.” Middle Men should be required reading for anyone seeking fame in LA.
You root for the men in Middle Men, trying to make it in a strangled economy with few opportunities. You believe in them. They’re trying. They haven’t given up the idea that they can be better. And that America can too.
Contemporary movies have a depressing sameness about them, a core set of assumptions that are never challenged:
- Making money is evil
- Lawyers are the most important of professions
- Criminals are always unjustly accused
This homogeneity is boring. Being an artist is about questioning age-old assumptions and coming up with something new. Rather than “speaking truth to power,” Hollywood films reflect the narrow mindset of the Malibu class.
With cheap cameras, the Internet and social media, we have a chance to change all that, and bring true diversity – diversity of thought – to a staid industry.
The Filmmakers Workshop is a free, three-day workshop in August for young filmmakers interested in freedom. Through a sequence of panels, work sessions, and discussion groups, faculty will share their accumulated experience and industry know-how with students. Sessions feature such topics as How to Pitch Your Idea, How to Land a Job on a TV Writing Staff, and How to Fund an Independent Film.
I attended an earlier version of this workshop several years ago. The program is not political but focused on the standard stuff of film/TV workshops – writing a script, pitching to producers, working in television. The attendees were primarily libertarians – people who felt that government had come to dominate too much of American life. A lot of them came from Washington and some of them even worked in government. They (like me) were familiar with the maddening waste and inefficiency of the federal bureaucracy.
The Filmmakers Workshop is a great opportunity for someone who has made a short film or written a script to get an introduction to filmmaking in LA. And unlike other workshops, it’s free. Apply by June 14.
Check out my article, Lessons from The West Wing, in the Austin-based literary journal, Black Heart Magazine. It’s about a trip I took to the set of The West Wing during its final season of filming. I got to go for winning the Film DC Screenwriting Competition for my feature-length script, Mount Pleasant.
While behind the scenes of this iconic TV series, I learned that the entertainment world isn’t so glamorous. On the other side of the bright lights, it’s a business like any other.
Andrew Klavan has an interesting article in the Washington Post called 5 Myths About Those Tinseltown Liberals.
I listened to Klavan speak a couple months ago at a conference. He’s a very good speaker and an excellent writer. While he’s the author of the mysteries True Crime and Empire of Lies, he’s perhaps best known as the author the controversial, sure-to-enrage op-ed examining the similarities between George Bush and Batman. Continue reading “Contemporary Hollywood Storytelling”