Hollywood seems to be in a rude mood.
While the town has never been renowned for good manners, there’s a growing consensus that the rudiments of civility are all but disappearing.
“People simply aren’t very nice to one another,” observes Ron Meyer, who presides over Universal Studios. The one time co-head of CAA has long defended the lost art of returning phone calls and responding politely to submissions.
Others, however, are resigned to the status quo. “It’s just nasty out there,” declares the chief TV agent of a major agency. “Every deal feels like the first deal ever made.”
If rudeness has indeed become a way of life, there are plenty of explanations (or cop-outs). Cost-cutting is rampant; fewer people cover more jobs, etc.
And then there’s a broader issue: The obsession for texting and emailing has devastated the simple art of conversation. A curt missive through cyberspace has taken the place of a gracious conversation face-to-face or via telephone.
“Texting and email and posting offer sips of online connection … but they do not substitute for conversation,” argues Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT, who has studied the impact of the phenomenon. The title of her new book itself tells the story: “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other.” Turkle cites one student who admitted, “Someday I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.”
The impact of all this on the entertainment business has been to diminish creative interaction and disrupt deal-making. “I get terse notes on projects, but the era of the nuanced conversation is over,” remarks one accomplished screenwriter.
Of course, Hollywood’s style of doing business has always had its gruff side and memoirs faithfully chronicle the various affronts and rejections experienced along the way. In his new book “Top of the Rock,” Warren Littlefield, former president of NBC Entertainment, describes the fabled Don Ohlmeyer as “a drunk bully, a sober bully but always a bully.” Appointed president of West Coast operations for NBC, Ohlmeyer would stand at the back of the screening room, wearing his “satiny jogging outfits,” and “loudly piss on everything he saw” to the assembled producers and junior executives.
In his new memoir, Frank Langella recounts how he showed up for an audition for John Frankenheimer, a famously rude filmmaker, to discuss the script for “The Horseman” and then pose for a quick photo. By the time the role was offered him a few weeks later, Langella had committed to another project. Trying to be polite, Langella personally phoned the director to apologize, only to listen to a ferocious, invective-laden tirade that ended with the warning, “You’ll never work in this business again.” Frankenheimer even sent him a bill for $6,500 to cover the supposed photo shoot.
Anecdotes about rudeness, real or imagined, swirl around various figures in the industry — producers like Scott Rudin, agents like Esther Newberg, stars like Tommy Lee Jones or Mike Myers. More recently, however, the rants have shifted to the Web — witness the recent shoot-out between Joe Eszterhas and Mel Gibson in which each charged the other with both bias and irresponsibility.
The tyranny of the Web affects not only the making of movies but also the way they are viewed. While some exhibitors ban texting in their theaters, others point out that some young filmgoers go into psychic shock without use of their devices. App-equipped smartphones are so crucial to their existence, they depend on them to select theaters, view trailers and even, through the called app Run Pee, determine the best time for bathroom breaks. (According to Pew Research, some 15% of kids under the age of 11 have their own mobile phones and the same percentage are on Twitter.)
Given all this angst, is show business still a rewarding profession? The answer, of course, is “yes,” provided one comes equipped with appropriate patience, dedication and a thick skin.
Make that a coat of armor.