Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Casting Couch Diaries


Last week, it was David Letterman admitting to multiple “affairs” with members of his staff, including some of his female writers.

This week, Jimmy Kimmel revealed he was sleeping with one of his writers.


Simultaneously, the gossip pages were speculating that “Mad Men” creator Matt Weiner had decided to stop sleeping with one of his writers and she had subsequently left the show.


Now, if one wanted to take this series of events less seriously, you could wonder:

a) Wow, TV writers must really be hot stuff, huh?

b) Have none of these guys heard that old Hollywood Joke -- “Didja hear about the Polish Actress? She slept with the writer!”

c) Is this “people who work together sometimes sleep together” somehow news to anybody?

Look, I’m not condoning the practice of the rich and powerful having sex with people who work for them. And certainly not if they abuse their positions of privilege to seduce people who feel pressured to satisfy their boss’s desires.

But the way the mainstream media has jumped all over this issue and begun rooting out new versions of the story makes me think that before we’re through they’ll be outraged upon learning that Lucy was sleeping with Desi…

John Doyle of the Globe and Mail was among many who used the Letterman story to write an impassioned piece defending the honor of the ladies of our industry. You can find it here. And I gotta say that I don’t disagree with many of the sentiments Mr. Doyle shares in his column.

And as much as Mr. Doyle and I have disagreed on other issues in the past, the one thing I sense is that he is a Gentleman of the old school and chivalrous to a fault. However, when he and others depict my show business workplace as one where the powerful endlessly feed on “the needy and vulnerable”, I feel an obligation to point out that’s there are such things in the world as Free Will and personal morality.

We all draw our own lines in the sand.

There are some things each of us won’t do under any circumstances. What I’m okay with and what you find acceptable may be completely different. There’s no harm done to either of us unless one coerces the other into moving or crossing their line.

My lines are fairly clear. I don’t sleep with anybody I’m working with. Never have. Fairly certain I never will. Down the road a little later, sure. When we’re punching the same time clock – not gonna happen.

In my view it just complicates things for everybody involved, making all of us tiptoe around things that may need to be dealt with head on, both those in the relationship and everybody else we’re working alongside.

In my 35 plus years in show business, I’ve been hit on by male and female producers, casting directors, agents, directors, lead actors and actresses and various members of the crew. The first time I was officially saddled with an Executive Producer credit, I attended a casting session with an elderly director where not one but two of the beautiful ladies auditioning included the scene Sharon Stone is most famous for as part of their presentation.

After the second actress left the room, the director smiled and said, “It’s nice to feel wanted, isn’t it?”. My wife made a far more pragmatic observation, “You poor thing! From now on you’ll never know if they really like you or they just want a job!”

And for most of us, that’s the reality of contemporary show business. The opportunities are there. Some people take advantage. Some use sex to climb the ladder of success. Sometimes some of us are left to wonder, “Did I just get fucked or did I just get fucked?”

Maybe I’m only speaking from my own experience, but most of the women I know in this business have their heads screwed on pretty straight. There aren’t a lot of Damsels in Distress. And if somebody is making them feel “icky”, both the law and the majority of people in their workplace are willing to take their side.

On two occasions, I’ve fired men who worked for me after they refused to discontinue their unwanted advances on women who worked for the company. And sadly, on a couple of others, I’ve lost valued members of my crew because they chose to work for somebody who was less of a heel.

Free will and personal morality.

Yes, I’ve taken angry phone calls from my own bosses when I wouldn’t give them the phone number of an actress who was working for us at 2:00 a.m. or give them her hotel room number so he could “send flowers”.

And I’ve also heard that catch in the voice of an actress when I’ve called late at night because my assistant has gone home and there’s just nobody else around to let her know her call time has changed.

We all know some men in the business try to take advantage.  But it goes the other way too.

One of the worst tongue lashings I ever got was from a female Producer after letting her know her personal “masseuse” was not going on the payroll. Another tried to get me fired upon hearing that the stunningly handsome young man she’d met at the gym was not going to be one of our stunt men.

This depiction of film sets as places where slimy producers give shrinking violets no choice but to surrender their innocence wrongly discredits us all. Somehow the media just don’t want to accept that we’re actual adults and capable of making the tough decisions adults sometimes have to make.

It also doesn’t take into account the nature of most production environments. People work a 12 – 18 hour day with regularity. Sometimes that goes on for months. The people you work with become the only people you see, the only people you interact with and the only ones with whom you share your feelings. That and the pressure of the machine pushes people closer. Sometimes it leads to happy marriages. Sometimes it leads to relationships that never would’ve (or should have) happened under any other circumstances.

There used to be this old Hollywood joke…

Q: Have you ever cheated on your wife?

A: Does Location count?

For me that perfectly captures the reality of production. There’s no other outlet. There’s no escape. Shit happens.

And precious little of it is without full consent from all the parties involved.

I remember a very respectable actress collapsing on the couch in my office after a particularly stressful week had led to one hell of a Friday night party I had missed. “How was the party?” I asked. “Somebody should’ve bought more condoms.” was her tired reply.

The other thing I want to say about all this is that I’m fairly certain that what was going on on “Late Night” and those other shows was fairly well known to most of the people involved and that the vast majority of the men and women working on those shows were not unlike me and had lines in the sand about not sleeping with those they worked for or with.

If Mr. Letterman’s activities or those of Mr. Kimmel or Mr. Weiner had been adversely affecting the show, the interactions of the rest of the staff or were creating a “Toxic” workplace, somebody would have brought it to their attention.

And that wouldn’t have taken extraordinary courage or selflessness. It’s simply the mark of professional.

People who are good at what they do and also have a certain pride of career or character know they’ll get another job. They also know that life’s too short for more than the normal load of bullshit. And they know that they either have to change the corporate culture or leave before any of the stain gets on them.

David Letterman wouldn’t hear any of that from his boss Leslie Moonves, who had a very open affair with one of his employees before leaving his wife for her, and he wouldn’t hear it from Sumner Redstone, who runs the whole damn conglomerate, for identical reasons. But he would have heard it from any number of people he depended on or was closer to than the women who shared his bed.

That would suggest to me that nobody was really being hurt – unless they’d allowed themselves to move their own lines in the sand.

What is news to me, however, is that this apparently doesn’t go on in newspaper offices, around morning talk shows, inside car dealerships, at real estate offices, or banks or hospitals.

Because, take it from me – it is. And as long as the people involved are okay with it, I’m sure the rest of us can get on with our lives.


Cunningham said...

Don't get your honey where you get your money.


BlaineW. said...

There is no difference of course - except these people are celebrities on television and so the entertainment press can carp about them for weeks and sell commercials. They can do it on fucking Etalk Daily and thats Canadian content.