One aspect of the camp was presentations from “industry professionals,” which translated to listening to career extras, infomercial directors, and a guy who’d worked on the sequel to Behind Enemy Lines telling us the secrets of their success. Near the end of the week a rotund, middle aged woman who worked as a commercial videographer came in to speak to us. She was a giggly, fast talking busybody from Texas with the accompanying accent, and true to Texas form she managed to make a good chunk of her presentation be about her love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and her support for President Bush and the War in Iraq.
At one of the rare points when she was somewhat on topic, though, she told the following story:
A few years ago, she’d been short on money after a long spell of unemployment, and on top of all that, her car broke down and needed costly repairs that she just couldn’t afford. She had a family to feed and her husband’s salary alone wasn’t going to cut it. She was seriously considering applying for a job in food service when a career opportunity came up – the Playboy channel was shooting some softcore lesbian porn version of Judge Judy,* and they’d be willing to pay her a good wage to do some of the filming.
*If any of you can find that, by the way, please let me know.
She struggled over whether to accept the offer or not – on the one hand, she really needed the money, but on the other, it was porn, which, unlike the War in Iraq, was unjust and morally reprehensible. Finally, she prayed about it and decided to turn the job down, because God would provide for her. And sure enough, two days later another job with better pay and presumably less scissorfucking came along and she was able to feed her family while preserving her morals.
The lesson we were to take from this was that if any of us moved to Hollywood to start a career, we should never compromise our morals, because, and I quote "...the good Lord will provide no matter what." Then I think she gave us the URL for her church’s website.
At the time, I wrote off what she’d said as much as I wrote off the rest of that stupid camp. That was just some fortuitous coincidence. I thought, silently congratulating myself on using the word ‘fortuitous’ in my inner monologue. If not for that, the only thing the good Lord would’ve provided her would be a couple of social workers taking her kids to a foster home with dinner on the table. Besides, that doesn’t apply to me – this camp has really opened my eyes to how much bullshit the movie industry is. I’m never working in Hollywood.
So anyway, I was working in Hollywood Sunday on a shoot for one of my two internships (hence the lateness of this update). It was a hidden camera prank show shoot, and while the NDA I signed prevents me from giving too many details, the gist of it was that people were coming to a location because they believed they’d been hired for a job, and upon their arrival they were made to do a number of embarrassing and somewhat degrading things under the auspices of on the job training, all of which was recorded on hidden cameras. Then, when the jig was up, the marks signed a release, collected $100 for their troubles, and were sent on their way.
The whole ordeal made me uncomfortable. It’s a down economy right now – money is tight for everyone, myself included, and I’d be pissed if I was told I’d received a job, only to show up for work to be humiliated on camera, told there was no job, and sent on my way with a little cash in my pocket ($100 doesn’t go very far in Los Angeles). I didn’t like the idea of getting people excited that they had a job that didn’t exist, exploiting their desperation for laughs, and then capturing their shock and disappointment on camera when they found out the job wasn’t real.
And I got more uncomfortable in the actual shooting process – after each prank was completed, the crew, myself included, came out to clean up the area and prepare for the next person to be pranked as the most recent victim signed the release forms. I couldn’t bring myself to make eye contact with the victims; they had shocked, vacant expressions on their faces as they processed what had happened and realized that when they got home they’d have to tell their friends and family that, no, the job they’d said they’d received was just an elaborate joke.
Every single person we pranked signed a release afterwards, and I guess you could argue that they don’t deserve sympathy since they were willing to waive their right to sue. I don’t necessarily agree, though – these people were shocked and disoriented, overwhelmed by the things they’d had to do and the realization that they’d been deceived about the job, and peoples’ decision making when they’re in that state isn’t so good.
When The Ex Girlfriend and I broke up, she asked if I was mad at her and I said no, which, at the time, was true. I’d been through such an emotional wringer with her over the previous couple of weeks that all I felt was relief that the roller coaster had stopped and I could get off. Only five days later did I start to realize that certain things she’d done to me could be considered war crimes worthy of UN sanctions. At the time, though, I was so overwhelmed by everything that I didn’t know what I was thinking or feeling.
These people were signing releases because we pressured them to and they were too disoriented to be anything but obliging – also, they could only get $100 if they signed the release. This made me feel horrible, and yesterday I called and quit the internship.
What we were doing was legal, and the people who were running the show that day are not bad people – they have families to support as well, and orchestrating pranks like that is how they make money. Likewise, this prank generated revenue for about 30 people on set who got paid wages for the day’s work.
That being said, tricking and humiliating people isn’t what I came down here to do. I’m not above laughing at other peoples’ misfortune, but generally those other people have done something worthy of ridicule – the only thing the people at this shoot had done was try to find a job. I didn’t like being involved in that.
I should also point out that this was an unpaid position: If I’d been making a living wage to do this sort of thing, I’m pretty sure I’d still be working there, because it’s a down economy and this shoot proved how treacherous looking for a job can be. But with no paycheck in the mix, the only thing I was walking away from was a situation I didn’t want to be involved in.
The woman from filmmaking camp and Rorschach from Watchmen would argue that I should never compromise, but I can’t say that I can make that promise to myself, because I don’t believe that the good Lord will provide for me and I unfortunately cannot eat my own moral fiber.
What I can say is that in a good compromise, both parties have to feel equally screwed – so when I do sell out, it’s going to be for a lot of money.
Truman Capps will be back with Part 2 tomorrow, because that’s how committed he is to timely updates!