Do I have the right to criticize?
Hell, no. But here are a few guidelines I like to follow, and they're uncommonly helpful during the holidays:
The Painless Diet Upgrader, Best Life/Men's Health
Albert Kim has a nice blog post at HuffPo about how newspaper and magazine writers don't even get the benefit of residuals or the chance to strike like our Hollywood colleagues. One of his reasons are that journalists are notoriously hard to organize. I can't believe that when they make so little in comparison to what TV writers make, and when they're so undervalued. It's not that we're hard to unionize. It's that we don't have a powerful union to join. As Kim states, we currently have to sign over all of our rights to stories now, and many versions of our stories run in different publications owned by the parent companies. And yes, you can try to opt out of such an agreement, but it would never work unless you were Christopher Hitchens. And this is the portion of the story that Kim doesn't get. The reason is that magazines and newspapers don't value the work of their writers enough to care. Writers are a dime a dozen, even at the upper echelon. Especially freelancers. Especially now that magazines care more and more about visuals and chopped up tiny nuggets of text (thanks, Maxim). Anyway, supply outweighs demand, and since our articles don't make the magazines as much money as TV shows make a network (not even close), they don't have to pay us much to begin with--plus, the magazines seem to believe (funnily) that they can rewrite better anything we submit. So we're just sort of there out of respect--that's our gift from the media universe: we're preserved like endangered species, looked upon almost as artists who should be lucky we have Medici-like benefactors. Should we get residuals, especially if our articles are reprinted? Absolutely. But how about acknowledging the fact that we don't have one strong union representing our group who could make that happen. The National Writers Union, of which I am a member, does not seem organized or powerful enough to sway freelance journalists over to the member desks--perhaps because they let anyone who's written anything join. And the WGA doesn't let us in. Which is nonsense, considering we provide much of the content that leads to their content (remember "In Cold Blood" or how about "The Fast and the Furious"). Plus, so much of our content is devoted to promoting or "covering" their content for a national audience. We make Guild writers the big money they still aren't happy with. Plus, we write lots of literary non-fiction that's a lot more artistic than Guild-written dramedies. And don't tell me screenwriters don't read something in the newspaper and turn it into a script without paying the author of the article. I've been told on more than one occasion not to write certain stories that intrigue me in national outlets for fear of idea-poaching by a Hollywood scribe or producer. Nevermind the idea-poaching that has happened to me at our finest magazines. Sure, we need to rise up and change the business model, and refuse all magazines content until they stop as Jonathan Tasini has said this "plantation" business model wherein we just beg for the right to be screwed by the big media companies. Wherein if we don't beg to be screwed (I mean, assigned!), we don't eat. But that won't happen without the WGA letting us in. Instead we stand in Hollywood cafes as cheeky Guild writers--who we support!--kid around about their latest YouTube videos and the fact that soon enough this will all be over and they'll start collecting their already etched-in-stone residual checks--if only for reruns and such. What the Guild needs to do is to recognize that there's worth in unionizing the people who create printed and digital text media beyond just buying the rights to hit novels they want to adapt. If they included freelance writers, their dues profits would rise, and we would have access to some great health insurance and solidarity. At the same time, we'd have some protection against the big media companies for whom we have to lay down every time we're offered a story. Perhaps magazines wouldn't steal our pitches anymore. Perhaps we'd be able to establish some fair working rules--such as getting paid for extensive rewrites. But the Guild, as far as I can tell from my stance in LA, is simply not that kind of union. It cares more about supporting its $1 million and even $200,000 a year TV writers than its $50,000 a year TV writer (who thanks his lucky stars he hasn't yet been kicked out due to a lack of work). So why should it want to open its doors to the latter's group of bastard cousins--freelance print and online media writers who kill themselves to crack six figures? Being able to write a long series of complex, textual paragraphs that tell a story linearly--a talent that eludes too many screenwriters without the help of their directors--is far too esoteric a gift to entice Guild higher-ups to want us. Instead, we'll just keep working for hire and providing you with the ideas you need to create the next lame sitcom or digital download. You know, the one for which you'll probably start collectings residuals in two months when you look back on the strike as a hoot and go back to your $200,000 job while your boss still feels discontented with his eight figures. After all, how *is* he going to buy a yacht to compete with Paul Allen? [via HuffPo]
p.s. The Shallot supports the writers. Especially the WGA writers who haven't been on a series in a while. But this point needs to be made, alas.
p.p.s. This isn't an anti-editor post. Most editors I know just follow the rules and end up quitting their jobs eventually to freelance. So get on the train even if you're afraid of upsetting the balance. The climate of fear should stop. We're needed.
Posted on November 16, 2007 at 06:56 AM | Permalink
I think it was John Stewart (did you know his real last name: Leibowitz?) speaking to a supermodel years ago on MTV when I first heard the joke. The model discussed her ethnic background: she had "a little Native American in her," some Indian, some Scottish, some Brazilian. Stewart then asked her if she had a little Jew in her. The model said no. Stewart countered: Would you like to?
It was a funny moment, and it was a joke that Stewart could make, being Jewish, or at least of Jewish heritage. I, too, am Jewish in that it's my cultural makeup. I'm agnostic but still identify as a Jew because it's a culture even if it's not one specific race. (Plus, I'm wholly Ashkenazi, and we have our own genetic diseases, which I consider a rule for determining whether or not you belong to a race or ethnicity. If you're at risk for something that can kill you because of inbreeding that led to you having one cultural makeup, well, welcome to the "having a race" club. Or something.)
But I digress. Recently, while writing a story about direct e-mail publicity and marketing, I took notice of an e-mail I frequently receive from a PR firm representing Nextbook.org, a great magazine concerning Jewish culture. I respect this publication but don't know how they found my address. Perhaps it's because I'm a writer or blogger, and they just have a good PR team that looks for coverage under many stones (including blogs where the writer might post schmaltz recipes). That's probably the case. But I also have Jewish friends who receive notices from synagogues when they move to new cities. How do congregations know when new Jews move to town? Odd.
As for Jew-on-Jew humor, I'm usually in favor of it, especially from purveyors who share a somewhat common sense of gravitas: Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, even Sacha Baron Cohen (who definitely isn't anti-Semitic by acting as an anti-Semite and showing scenes of people in America offering glimpses of their fucked-up social views). I have never felt that these jokes about Jewish life are anti-Semitic, though some of the more conservative Jews definitely get cranky about them. In fact, I make fun of what being Jewish in 2007 can be like, too--for instance, needing to eat salted cured meat on a regular basis because my body chemistry requires it to produce a specific kind of irony-fuel. Or the fact that I'm glad I didn't marry another Ashkenazi, so my children might actually have good musculature. You get my point.
One team of writers and directors who cross the line in my opinion, however, have a new biopic-spoof movie coming out soon about a Johnny Cash-like character. I'm not allowed to discuss the film before its release, so say the PR people. But I have to say something without mentioning it, and I'm sure you'll put the pieces together.
Posted on November 15, 2007 at 09:13 AM | Permalink
So, the main subject of this story, submitted to the Sun before this weekend, offered similar quotes to another paper that got the scoop over the smaller kids yesterday (the result? some fast omissions by a great editor -- this isn't a unique problem). Still, I think the story's worth reading if you're interested in films about borderline writers and their brethren--though I won't blame you if you're not!
Noah Baumbach On Family Island, New York Sun, 11/12/07
Posted on November 12, 2007 at 01:52 PM | Permalink
There's a correction in today's New York Times about our wildfire wedding, so I thought I'd explain. The original Styles section piece had listed the wedding as set to happen on the wrong day. In this case, the date was important, not just because it was our wedding, but because it was on Oct. 21, not Oct. 20, that wildfires burned Malibu, which is where we had assembled for what was supposed to be a tiny family ceremony by the sea.
We had arrived at our hotel just after noon the Saturday before, and enjoyed a lovely day at the ocean (only dodging a few randy dolphins), later celebrating with an anti-rehearsal seafood dinner. But later, after a post-meal party on our deck, we began to smell something like autumn leaves ablaze. I recalled that earlier I had pointed out deer running down the hills south of Pepperdine University, near Serra Retreat. But we had just continued our merrymaking. Wildlife abounds in Malibu, and not just on PCH in Ferraris.
Nature had other plans, though. Throughout the night, the wind gusted, palms fell. At four a.m., I awoke to discover a power outage. Waves crashed violently in front of our deck (the sound was not the type on my meditation download), and Lina and I ran out to the hotel patio. Lina's Italian father, a native of Abruzzo's mountains and that guy who can smell snow three days before a blizzard, was outside watching the hills. Tarry smoke billowed out from the canyon. At first it had seemed like a small, contained fire happening a good 15 miles south of the beach where we would have the ceremony. I knew then that I'd become a Californian--or simply a New Yorker who had been in my hometown for 9/11--because I wasn't even miffed. This wasn't the end of the world, and our wedding would go on. A huge fire had nearly decimated Griffith Park, just behind our home, earlier that year, and I had since become a card-carrying fan of LA's firefighters.
Then, as the sun rose, I took my mother and Lina's father for a ride down the highway in search of necessities (coffee). The AM radio stations relayed that PCH was closed north of Topanga and south of Kanan, stranding us. The fires spread on account of the shifting winds, and that meant our officiant and photographer would not be able to meet us. Then we learned that our seaside restaurant had closed, and we discovered that everyone's cellphones had died in the night, searching for signals like singles looking for love in the room next door. Landline phone and Internet (dependent on actual electric power) was down, and we had no way of contacting anyone, or plans for an alternate site. (The worst we could have imagined during our wedding-planning process was rain, and we had just figured some sprinkling would land us back at our hotel.)
Meanwhile, debris shot through the air, and people coughed like career smokers. The fire closest to us raged more intensely (note: this was the Canyon Fire that would be immortalized in the L.A. Times and on the cover of the New Yorker magazine very soon; the fire that burnt a church on Malibu Canyon Road down to the ground). We had to make quick decisions. We'd had a tough year--medical stuff, alas--and I wasn't about to let the disaster ruin our day. But I had no way of even accessing the phone number for our officiant. Until Seth, my brother, reminded me that I had a cellphone car-charger in the car--and that we could drive a few miles and perhaps find a signal that hadn't been deleted by the closest downed Verizon tower.
Fortunately, we had enough access to send off a few texts, but not enough to log into mobile e-mail. Luckily, Seth's friend, Anthony, a N.Y. musician, was home from the opera that day, and we finally found a strong enough signal for a voice call, which we then used to ask Anthony to access my Gmail account, where I had stored and tagged every piece of wedding info. (Yes, Google, and the way I used Gmail as a mobile hard drive, pre-cloud, tagging each note with virtual labels, probably saved my wedding.)
Then it was just a matter of calling the officiant, Judge Fried, and our photog, Michael, and asking them to stay tuned. I decided that we would have to leave Malibu despite Lina's despair about the death of our beach wedding. Maybe we could marry at a scenic outpost on Mulholland Drive sans flashbacks to the David Lynch movie? Maybe we could use a beach in Santa Monica? (Better.) At that point Judge Fried got back to us and offered some amazing news: His private Hollywood Hills tennis club would let us use their skyline veranda with fantastic mountaintop views. Quickly, I assembled everyone on the patio and directed them to a Los Feliz motel. We packed, frantically. In 30 minutes, we were on our way, but not before I noticed that in the rush to find a pen to write down all this pertinent new info, I had sliced my finger. My left ring finger. In three parts. On a razor. On my wedding day.
So we zoomed to a hospital, perhaps the best ER I've visited--Santa Monica UCLA, where we found some sympathetic triage staffers who couldn't believe our tale and wanted to help lest they have to mop up more bridal tears. I was stitched up and back on the road to our place within an hour. And the drive was useful: I needed to call every restaurant in town--to ask for a last-minute 20-person reservation. In LA. I eventually struck gold with one of our Silver Lake haunts. (I would mention their name, but they've asked me not to share as they can't usually accommodate requests like this.)
We had an hour to ready ourselves. Brothers, cousins, and parents pitched in. Our group bonded in new, especially firey ways. Soon, we arrived at the club, early enough for some oh-so-warm pictures. The site was as exciting as promised--we just chose to ignore the other tremendous fire north towards the Valley. And all the smoke and helicopters.
Before we knew it, our generous new friend, Judge Fried, helped us through our ceremony. Which went swimmingly--including some gorgeous ad-libbed vows courtesy of an even more-gorgeous Lina as well as the Judge's sweet comments about our persevering spirits and coolness under pressure. I didn't mind that I had to wear my ring on the right hand as the mangled proper left digit throbbed; I was proud of us, and exhausted.
Most important, everyone was safe and thankful that we had found such good fortune in so many people and places on a day that could have spelled actual disaster for us. Only later the next day did we realize how damaging the California fires had been. By then, however, we were happily married, and on to an airline mix-up abroad.
P.S. Yes, we relayed this info to the Times, and that's why they ran the correction. They even kindly offered to run a Vows feature about the experience, but after some careful consideration, we declined. I think we have all had--and I speak for Shallot readers as well this couple and our families--enough wedding horror-storytelling. At least for 2007.
Posted on November 04, 2007 at 05:06 AM | Permalink
See today's short L.A. Times piece about young British actor, Jamie Campbell Bower -- currently riding the Young Hollywood publicity machine with uncommon verve. With a role in Tim Burton's forthcoming film version of the Sondheim musical, starring Johnny Depp, Bower sings and acts with the kind of talent most young Hollywood actors can't imagine. And in the course of reporting a larger story about the production of the film, I happened to catch a quick breakfast with the guy. The film, as I'm learning, was really a culmination of passions for many important people, even if it just looks like a Christmas-release horror-entertainment. And it certainly deals with material that more mainstream moviegoers would love if only they knew Sondheim. But I'll leave my commentary there. The big story runs in December. Click for more to read today's piece in text form below.
Posted on November 04, 2007 at 02:38 AM | Permalink