Life in Harvey’s Hollywood

In rapier times.

Just a word of warning: out of necessity, this piece discusses heterosexuality in terms more frank than some people may want to hear in the wake of the horrific revelations about Mr. Weinstein. Also, I might use condescending euphemism or two for the fairer sex, because as a writer I refuse to repeat the word “woman” 700 times. My momma raised me better than that.

During my time as a production assistant, I got a gig on a reality pilot that was never picked up called Chocolate City, a show which aspired to be the black Washingtonian answer to Jersey Shore. Predictably, everyone in the crew was white, apart from a single story producer — those are the people who tell the cast what to say and are essentially the “writers” of reality shows, but the studios still won’t let them join the writers’ guild.

We were not only white, but almost entirely white men. Apart from the cast, the producers were the only women on the set. Granted, they were two women who had worked their asses off for decades at their tiny production company to finally get a real show made, and they had shown a sizzle reel to MTV that got them the pilot. Still, as is the case on so many sets in so many markets, men got most of the calls from the production coordinator, and men were the ones who showed up.

At one point, I was tasked with “Greeking” all the logos in the restaurant where we were shooting—that’s what we call covering up possible copyright or privacy violations with tape, or just covering up parts of text to make it illegible (which makes text look a little like Greek letters). While I was doing so, an issue arose with one of the cast members.

The comely young lady in question, who it is relevant to mention was tremendously well-endowed, had arrived on set wearing a very tight shirt that said “FUCK” in huge letters across her aforementioned, heaving rack. This being a reality show, there was no wardrobe department to provide her with a replacement, and the only other shirt we could find didn’t really fit, so someone casually told me to Greek her original shirt to make it suitable for broadcast. While she was wearing it.

Ashley Judd

On the one hand, I felt my deep-seated need to distinguish myself by living up to my personal standards of professionalism. On the other, the shirt looked like it was vacuum-sealed to her ribcage, and I felt an overwhelming desire to see how much I could get away with in this situation. It wasn’t a task I had psychologically prepared for. I wasn’t a wardrobe person with an established bedside manner, or a sound guy inured to breast contact from years of stringing mics through shirts. I was a PA, an entry-level, non-union grunt. I was some dude off the street as far as these out-of-town producers knew. Uber is more stringent about background checks than the film industry.

She was totally blasé about being subjected to the procedure, which I thought showed a real generosity of spirit on her part, but I was distinctly uncomfortable with my conflicting impulses. I nervously tore off a jagged strip of tape, then tapped it onto her shirt at an off-angle, trying not to apply any pressure whatsoever in the application, lest I feel the softness. The A.D. bitched at me for doing such a shitty-looking job and grabbed the tape to do it himself. I would’ve done better if I wasn’t fighting the will of every fiber of my being, or then again, maybe we could’ve just had a few women on set and avoided the issue entirely?

Later, we were at The Park on 14th, one of black DC’s premiere night spots, owned by Marc Barnes. I’d heard of the place from Bar Rescue, because his daughter Nikki was on the show as a consultant and I had a little bit of a crush. When I found out we’d be filming there, I brought a suit coat to wear with my hoodie and jeans for that “classy douche” look. Nikki Barnes wasn’t there, but the outfit did sorta make me look like a producer…

I was earning $150 for a 14-hour day of work, but for the duration of our time in that club, I may as well have been the fucking mayor of DC. The managers, the bottle girls in crotch-length black dresses, the security staff looming above us like a well-dressed grove of redwoods— all of them were thrilled to be working with me, always smiling, ready and willing to get me anything I wanted. You get used to the public being deferential to you when you work an industry that literally everyone is interested in, but this was something else entirely.

Gwyneth Paltrow

I was the only white guy in this club (but far from the only white person, obviously) and I have never been drowned in the sweet nectar of white privilege like I was that night, before nor since. When I was out on the dance floor getting signatures on appearance releases, I was seeing nothing but friendly faces in the crowd, all of them very easy on the eyes. Hands followed me with Hooters-waitress-esque, affectionate brushes of my shoulders as I waded through the sea of hips and high-contrast smiles. A famous ballplayer’s sister started flirting with me when I got her signature, then floated herself as possible reality talent (and talented she was). I pulled numbers from a woman on the floor and one of the bottle girls. Honestly, it might’ve been one of the better nights of my entire life.

But all good things must end, and after I hauled all of the gear down from the second floor of the club to the trucks, per my actual job as a glorified coolie, I hopped into the van home. Inside, I found the two female producers looking at me, salty disdain written across their faces. They stared at me for a second, letting the discomfort hang in the air, and then one of them sneered.

“How’s it going, Boss?”

They had 50 years of combined experience grinding it out in the business, and all it took for me to achieve their status was a $200 Joseph A. Bank three-button that my parents bought me on sale, worn over a hoodie in which I’d been doing physical labor for ten hours straight. Between my suit coat, my height, my whiteness, and my ability to talk good, I realized that I appeared to be The Guy. As such, The Guy was treated with as much respect as the actual producers, not to mention being lavished with far more attention from the club’s staff.

Rose McGowan

As we sift through the wreckage of Harvey Weinstein, the ease with which I parleyed maleness into perceived influence with the film industry, and then transmuted that into sexual status without even meaning to, has been much on my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot about all the small ways I was part of the problem. I never had any actual power whatsoever, and I’m usually very self-conscious about making women uncomfortable, but I was still a single dude for the entire time I was in production, and you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Eventually, no matter how delicately we try to handle it, single men are gonna put women in a position where they might squirm in discomfort just a little.

To a certain extent, that’s life, and these are the wages of being living organisms propagated through sexual reproduction. Women don’t help the situation when they lavish great rewards upon guys willing to take a real risk for a shot with them, either. After all, few women I know aspire to a world where they never get hit on by anyone (though I’ve heard plenty say that about the workplace). However, in a freelance environment where there’s no HR or permanent infrastructure of any kind, it’s very easy to get carried away with it. The informal nature of the work is a lot more conducive to skeeziness.

I probably hit on more extras and made moves on more coworkers than I should have, the fact that I was pretty good at it notwithstanding, because it put the other party in a more fraught position than it did myself. I used to stress about potential awkwardness when I saw women I’d hooked up with on my call sheet in the morning, but in retrospect, they were probably far more stressed than me about going back to work with a guy who might be aggressive, or crazy, or most likely objectifying her amongst her male coworkers, whose respect does not come for free.

I didn’t actually play any of them out, but given standard male behavior in these circumstances, I know why they’d be worried. They only ever wanted to fool around a little bit and call it a day, citing a personal policy against having sex with other production people. It’s as if they knew they couldn’t afford to catch a rep in the very small world of film and TV, thus subjecting them to harassment from other guys who want a piece of the ruined woman, and making it harder for them to be taken seriously as professionals.

Mira Sorvino

The only other PA I ever actually slept with was a working-class newcomer to the industry. She never got an education, so in place of having any real sense of self, she lived entirely through her sexuality, to the extent that having a huge ass was her core identity. She proceeded to hook up with an A.D. immediately after me, who felt little compulsion to hide their carrying on from management while on set, but he did lie to her about their future together, and lied about the status of his wife and kids in Los Angeles. Most of those guys cheat on the road. Needless to say, once he rolled out of town, she never got any work again, to my knowledge. Also, it bears mentioning that we had the wrap party for that show at a strip club, given our theme.

My finest hour was probably getting blackout drunk and crashing a wrap party for the season finale of The Amazing Race which I had explicitly been told not to attend, and making an unwanted pass at a coworker. My production coordinator later described the incident to me as “out of line” in professional terms. Some chick in her department had said “she had a crush on me” during the shoot, and my drunk self must’ve had the idea buried in my subconscious like Inception. I have no memory of the incident, as I was led astray by coworkers with much later call times than myself.

I apologized to the offended party in the morning (we had work the next day). She said it wasn’t anything bad and that we were fine, and she sounded sincere, with none of that “hostage reading a statement over the phone” forced vibe. Still, even if it was more of a fault in a social situation, it was still some bullshit she didn’t need to deal with from a colleague, and it was not a good look on my part. If you’re hoping this led to a comeuppance or any real blowback of any kind, I’m gonna have to disappoint you: I got a six-week full-time job from those same producers in New Orleans.

Fun side fact: I filmed my portion of the Amazing Race in the Old Post Office, immediately before the renovations began to turn it into The Trump Hotel DC. We now resume the parade of victims.

I can definitely say that I’m far better than a lot of other guys in the business, though. I’ve heard any number of horror stories from female coworkers (and a few from male ones) about both bosses and coworkers crossing some major red lines on set, either in word or in deed. Crew members show female PA’s smartphone porn at lockups, or otherwise steer conversations in wildly inappropriate directions, and then call them uptight if they get offended. Asses are surreptitiously grabbed on the regular. The tragically usual shit.

Film crews constantly ping-pong around sets, so it’s easy to get away from people you don’t want to talk to, which men confuse with a low-pressure, non-threatening environment. They don’t often consider the possibility that when her 2nd AD behind camera has been creeping on her, a weird PA at the rear lock-ups won’t stop staring at her, dudes on the grip trucks are casually watching lesbian hentai with the sound on, and a handsy producer is looming over video village, a female PA can run out of safe places to go.

Oh, and it’s probably relevant that I’ve been party to a silent conspiracy to protect a powerful sexual predator. America is on a condemnation spree against everyone who might’ve known any inkling about Harvey, but I assure you all, every person’s first instinct is to protect the king at all costs, and ignore whatever they can. I mean everybody. As Stanley Milgram proved, you most likely aren’t any better. I would still like to have a career in the industry eventually, and I’m so minor in the conspiracy that I don’t really have the standing to be the Hannibal Burress of the particular case, so don’t ask.

While the base, animal nature of humanity provides us with all the male behaviors involved in the problem, and the female behaviors involved in making excuses for it, it’s the culture from the top that orchestrates them. When you see a stream of extras being brought to the star’s trailer, one after the other, on the day that the special casting call went out for “hot party girls,” it bleeds into the overall creep factor of the set. Same goes for the unnecessary hotness of producers’ assistants, as well as the unlimited right of aging movie stars to mack on every cute extra or PA they lay eyes on, while the AD and the producers at video village laugh at the rascally behavior. It sets the tone for the crew members who aren’t paid to be sexually charismatic for a living.

Romola Garai

One glaring inconvenience that we do our best to ignore about our new wave of pop-feminism is that it’s still rooted in a celebrity culture where the most sexually desirable among us command our collective attention. Most pop stars are still the hottest people who can sing or rap really well, not the best singers or rappers (Bey excepted). Young Millennials are lauded as the most inclusive, feminist generation ever, yet 30% of girls ages 15–24 have makeup-slathered Instagram accounts devoted to their tits, and the ones who don’t still have all the same photo editing apps as the Insta-hoes, crippled as they are with anxiety about their aesthetic presentation online.

We all are these days. As primates, our sexuality underlies every part of our existence, try as we may to transcend it. The visual, anthropological nature of media makes that transcendence far more difficult, and the only surefire way to please people is to show them transcendent physical perfection.

Movie stars are the pinnacle of our collective sexual hierarchy. They are so beautiful, so fascinating, so utterly compelling to look at that you are willing to sit there and watch them spout a stream of lies for two hours straight, even though you have to pee the entire time. Anyone who has ever seen a few student films knows how tough it is to watch most normal people try to act for more than six minutes of screen time. The real deal can hold your attention the whole way through, and in the case of actresses, that’s not the product of being #StrongWomen. That’s because they can act while looking really fucking good.

It’s beyond mere beauty, because the world of low-budget horror, action, and porn is littered with disposable hotness that fails to truly engage the camera (as is the President’s sexual history). The genuine article consumes the lens with their raw charisma. They’re beautiful in motion, beautiful in ecstasy, beautiful in anguish. Everything their faces do is goddamn thrilling. George Clooney just sits in the back of a cab at the end of Michael Clayton and stares past the camera for 90 seconds, and it’s seriously enthralling cinema. In this dismal, Instagram-tit-driven world, more than ever, the aesthetic gravity of movie stars is an insanely valuable sexual commodity.

Angelina Jolie

However, until their name becomes a product with inherent value to the public, actors who have “it” need powerful media executives to monetize that commodity, thus making them stars. While most execs have a genuine, honest commitment to platonically earning a shitload of money off their stars, powerful media executives are also human beings, and they want to fuck Margot Robbie as badly as the rest of us. Unlike us, moguls are in a position of great power over actors, and if they’re given as much power as Harvey Weinstein, that power has a dogged tendency to corrupt.

The root of his power imbalance with actresses was not just money, but time. For reasons that we’ll just say are cultural, because the truth is too depressing to contemplate at the moment, female stars have a limited window of earning power. It’s for the same reason we were cool with Lebron going into the NBA right out of high school, that we’re all basically cool with our most beautiful 17 year-olds becoming sex symbols and dating 30ish actors and athletes. We all already know they’re competing at an elite level, so we have no right to hold them back from making the money they can while they can, let alone to force Chloë Moretz to waste her time playing against 19 year-old scrubs when she could be going toe-to-toe with Jake Gyllenhaal.

However, that limited timeframe means that actresses have to charge into an ultra-competitive, overwhelming environment at a young, impressionable age, before a woman really learns how to handle herself and the world she lives in. Revenant ex-hot chicks haunt every corner of Los Angeles, providing a constant reminder of the cruel ticking away of a starlet’s few short years of eligibility. Aspiring actresses know they have no time to waste, let alone to spend years building a professional support network that could ever hope to protect them from Harvey Weinstein.

I don’t want to really talk about him, mainly because we don’t know the extent of it yet, and I don’t want to say anything that trivializes any part of the situation, if and when reporters or police discover his private-island-fortress-child-sex-dungeon. I fear we have not even begun to plumb the depths of his sexual monstrosity, let alone counted the final number of victims. I do, however, have some ideas about how the wider culture of Hollywood can use this depraved carnival of Lovecraftian horror as an opportunity for change.

Kate Beckinsale. The doctor who did her nose job deserves the Nobel Prize in Medicine

1) Hire More Women At All Levels of Production

I didn’t really think of this one, to be fair. The idea has been kicked around for some time.

Women have a civilizing influence on men in any workplace, which men can admittedly resent. We don’t like having our men’s spaces pushed underground, forcing us to mind what we say or do all the time. However, in terms of women’s ability to function professionally, there’s a big difference between a workplace where male coworkers only feel safe having hushed, clandestine one-on-one conversations about girls they’re scheming on, versus one where all the boys feel comfortable gathering for big ol’ pussy-talking pow-wows while they’re on the clock. It’s the same difference as a workplace where a fella waits to the end of the workday to politely ask you out for a drink, and one where a fella feels safe going from innocent flirtation to texting unsolicited dick pics in the space of 30 minutes, when you have nine hours of shooting left for the day.

The thing that makes that difference is the presence of women on set. Women need to be present in all areas, both on the creative side and the production side, in order to foster an overall culture that compels men to keep it civil (and because they’re human beings who deserve the same opportunities as men and all that gay shit). There’s a few grip and electric jobs most women can’t really handle, but they all have the lower body strength to push a cart. Everyone in the world is interested in the movies, and there are a lot of women willing to do the work, if existing members of the industry were willing to train them and incorporate them into the culture.

Furthermore, with female execs at high levels, all those women who are willing to use sex to get ahead will find no purchase among a mixed-gender crowd, where most of the women don’t want them and the men are under professional pressure from their female peers to keep it in their pants. If you limit the advantage of playing the sick little game that got us to this point, fewer people will play it, and a meritocracy will form. That might be wildly idealistic, and I have no doubt the lesser angels of our nature will creep through any new regime, but we can mitigate the problem at least.

Above all else, women need to know they have support of women above the line, if and when any misconduct occurs, which is why it’s so important to have female directors, DP’s, and producers. Black folks were deprived of the right to vote because Whitey knew they’d have no political power without their own elected officials. Women on set, a similarly vulnerable and targeted population, need to be guaranteed similar representation in the leadership of a project, which brings me to my next point.

Lea Seydoux

2) Make All Female Leads Producers

Female movie stars have long used their status and box office power to demand producer credit. It’s a way to assert creative control over the projects they’re involved with, and more importantly, to be taken seriously and respected by everyone involved. Far too many actresses started out by being taken advantage of and pushed around, and they demand the sort of autonomy that could have stopped tyrannical directors and lecherous producers when they were coming up.

I think that every lead actress should receive producer credit on every project as a matter of standard industry practice, no matter how small the role is, no matter how new they are to the business. Every actress who is being paid to employ her sexuality and her image in a highly lucrative commercial enterprise shouldn’t only have creative input into how she is shot and represented, but the power to say “no” without being written off as a diva actress who needs to be talked down by real adults. As audiences, we might have fewer tonally jarring rape scenes shoved down our throats if actresses were allowed to voice their feelings about troubling sexual politics when they feel something amiss.

Weinstein lured women to hotel “meetings” and if he was successful in his game, they’d be sent the papers and show up on set. That’s harder for scumbags to pull off when they know they’ll see that actress in pre-production meetings, asserting authority over herself and her career, and operating on an equal footing with other players to whom she could blab about her mistreatment.

Before anyone can lodge the obvious complaint, let me say that there have been many great films that have carried the weight of useless producers doing little besides occupying a chair, so it’s an acceptable sacrifice for productions to have to suffer the occasional, vapid actress-producer whose intellectually unadorned hotness is of little use to anyone.

[Also, once female execs are the norm, future nightclub staff might correctly assume that middle-aged women are more senior on a project than a 26 year-old in a cheap suit jacket. Just a thought.]

Finally, going back to athletes: actresses have a limited time to make the big bucks, so they deserve the bigger check and the points that come with it, before they turn 34 and the only job they can get is playing some fat guy’s wife on TV — that’s changing a bit with the talent and creative energy going into serial TV and streaming, but actresses are still getting those relatively lower-paying gigs after they’re unceremoniously retired from movie posters. Male actors the same age will still have their sexually-marketable rugged handsomeness long after the world has forgotten the contemporaneous crop of It Girls. This is a gendered problem with a gendered solution.

Eva Green

3) Enforce Standards of Behavior from the Top Down

In this age of faux-equality, it’s easy for social borders to blur. While PA’s and other crew are powerless next to the famous people they work around, to the point that they aren’t even allowed to make eye contact with certain actors and producers unless addressed, those people have the right to talk to below-the-line folks as much as they want. When you’re all standing around waiting to do shit all day, people are interested in people, and the nobles have a tendency to strike up conversations with the peasantry.

However, those ruggedly handsome, aging actors I mentioned have a tendency to strike up most of those conversations with cute young things, making their ulterior motives known, even when those cute young things are avowedly heterosexual men. People like talking to famous people, and will continue to do so even after those famous people start making them uncomfortable by getting inappropriately sexual with the conversation.

There are people in the business who could curb that behavior, but the boys-will-be-boys attitude of directors and producers towards their stars is a constant, and that needs to change. The fact that many members of the public want to starfuck somebody doesn’t mean that lines can’t be drawn around stars, with the professional expectation that actors won’t cross them. There’s likely no stopping actors from dogging around, but they can wait to covertly ask prospective groupies out. They don’t get to lay groundwork while on the job, or put pressure on extras making eighty bucks for ten hours.

It will be difficult to enforce, because people enjoy participating in the problem. Amy Poehler once told me I should get a job on Broad City because I would endure constant sexual harassment from Abbi and Ilana, and I don’t think my day has ever been so thoroughly made. But firm boundaries will stop the most caddish behavior, and they’ll save productions money by avoiding lawsuits from 17 year-old extras.

And maybe, just maybe, when the upper echelons of the industry are full of women and men who came up in that reformed culture, someone will have the balls to stop the next Harvey Weinstein.

Rosanna Arquette

4) This isn’t strictly on theme, but maybe do something about the hours, pay, labor issues, and lethal workplace accidents?

I’m kidding. I know there’s no chance of this happening.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store