I recently saw an entertainment industry event advertised, with a touted female TV producer, who had a speech prepared to help the next battalion conquer the towering walls of the industry’s systemic misogyny. Fledgling aspirants would no doubt flock to the event, happy to take away a single nugget that may unlock the gates to a professional paradise and to have some of this indefatigable warrior’s courage rub off on them.
But allow me to interrupt this charming tableau with a dose of brutal reality. In our business, the best performances you see are at such workshops and industry events. Few offerings we produce are more phony baloney.
I knew this heralded woman intimately. Without a nudge from yours truly, her company would have been nothing but a dream. I even named her stinking company for her. It was a TV show I created that allowed her to start her enterprise, secured with a promise of sizable financial rewards that was promptly defiled by a series of betrayals, up to and including legal attempts to hijack the ownership of my show.
Do you think any of this would feature in her talk? A single slide in her PowerPoint, maybe?
Despite over a decade apart from this miserable thief, I recently submitted a bio to an event I would be talking at, only for the woman to call the organisers demanding edits. She took exception to my co-creator claim on another project of hers, which she well knew sprung from our mutual efforts. I yielded least a bemused third party be caught up in our tempest.
Again, did she plan on illuminating attendees of her talk on the benefits of claiming other people’s work, and stepping them through the execution of such a dastardly deed?
The fact is you’re as likely to get an unvarnished history from an entrepreneur as you are an admission that I was in any way responsible for my failed marriages.
This woman started off OK. We were friends. But a change came over her once she went out ‘on her own’. Once in the skin of her new identity as business owner, she started viewing herself as a victim, the only person in the office with everything riding on every frame of every project.
Obsessing in this direction, she could no doubt justify her betrayal of me, and countless others over the years, as canny business practice – a necessity – just what you do to survive. Despite her being a NZGreen supporter at the time we knew each other, and rabbeting on about them incessantly, she fully embraced the Right-wing myth that she was a visionary and benevolent fountain of opportunity and that her many sacrifices should be matched by sacrifices from her staff, financial and otherwise. She made it crystal clear that we were there for her first, the project second, and ourselves a very distant third.
I’d be lying if I told you I don’t suddenly find myself seated on the center-Right whenever I look over one of my own cost reports. And this isn’t about being mugged by reality. A kid with a pocket full of jellybeans is loath to give any away, even if they could happily do without a few. Redistribution is easy as pie as a mental exercise, but strangely rather grueling when you yourself are in full possession of the materials to be redistributed. I’d wage there are more foxhole atheists than Marxist business owners.
And that’s the strange contradiction of our industry specifically: outwardly proudly Left-wing and progressive, inwardly so alarmingly Right wing and dismissive of the contribution of workers that David Seymour is Che fucking Guevara by comparison.
Wouldn’t it be a gust of fresh air if, just once, a business magnate stood on stage and admitted they can be a total piece of shit? At least then, the audience would gain a better understanding of what really takes place in the industry, and if they think they have that sort of behavior in them.
So, industry events? Even Business memoirs? Tread extremely cautiously. Few of us would willingly pen an autobiography where we’re the out-and-out villain, and villainy is somewhere in the rise of every such enterprise. Attend these colossal wastes of time if you must (they often supply interesting finger food) but assume the ghosts of broke, busted, and betrayed creatives are up on stage with the spotlighted luminary, their complaints inaudible over the din of unwarranted praise.