How I Wound Up on The Black List

I’ve worked since 1985 in the Hollywood movie and TV industry. I started from scratch building miniatures that we shot against blue screen with motion-controlled robotic cameras. My first James Cameron movie was “The Abyss” and by the second, “Terminator II,” I was supervising. I continued on through the late ’80s and early ’90s handling on-set special effects, meanwhile producing and directing films and commercials on the side.

At one point I deviated into movie marketing and started a company that designed movie posters. Working on the computer brought me full circle back into effects work as it transitioned to digital visual effects. I worked for a couple small companies for a few months until each movie was completed and then started with a mid-sized company that had started to consistently win bids for larger studio pictures . It was a less stressful position than being on set with so many egos and at only 40 hours a week instead of 70, it was much more like a regular job.

On my first day I was assigned to a workstation in a small room with one other artist. I sat behind someone I’ll call Carl, a Compositor, who married together different elements into one shot. The first thing that people find unusual about visual effects work is that there is a lot of sitting around and waiting for shots to preview and render on the computer. So, artists spend a lot of time conversing with each other and surfing the net. Carl had just downloaded Paris Hilton’s sex video and was going on about how much she liked sex. This didn’t bother me especially in an era when we had to hear about the creative uses our former President had for cigars.

The tough part came later, when I was moved to a larger room with a few more artists. It immediately became apparent I would have to sit and listen to virtually everyone bash President Bush all day long. If he had saved kittens from a burning building, they still would have found fault with him. Everyday, eight hours a day, five days a week, I had to listen to every vitriolic hater spew his or her venom. To them America was a great force evil in the world. My only sanctuary was to put on the headphones and listen to music or conservative talk radio. But, you can only do that for so long before your ears begin to hurt and you need human contact again.

Into about my third year at the company, having just a short time off before a new movie was underway, I was brought in again and stationed with Jake. Jake was Leftist in his ideology, but not liberal. I’ve come to realize that liberals are dominated by their emotions. He could at least use some forms of reasoning skills and he never got bent out of shape accept once. After having spent the morning berating the aerospace industry for aiding the military, he sat down with a meal he prepared the night before, just having microwaved it in the company’s kitchenette. I asked him how he felt about the microwave, since it had been developed for military use by one of the aerospace companies he so despised. His response? “F$%# you!” I merely chucked to myself.

But then, enter Daryl, hotshot Compositor who politically saw eye to eye with Jake. It wasn’t even a day before Daryl was hating on conservatives on every issue and non-issue. After listening to him go on and on about “them,” I quietly asked him, “which ones, and specifically what did they do wrong?” He couldn’t name anyone, so I pointed out, if there were so many of them doing so much wrong it shouldn’t be so hard to verbalize it. Daryl launched instantly into a tirade with veins bulging from his forehead and fist pounding on the desktop. I literally thought I was going to get a fist into the back of my skull. He gets up abruptly. “That’s it!” he declares loudly. “I not going to sit in here and listen to this!” He gathers up his belongings and goes to work in another room. I’m of course shocked. All’s I did was quietly ask a question after hours of listening to his rant. Undoubtedly he had to somehow justify to management why it was imperative he work in a different room instead.

I did find a few other guys in the company, working in the 3D department that were also conservatives trying to keep their heads down. But unfortunately for me, this company wanted to keep the departments separate. But there was one 3D artist that leaned more to the left than to the right. He was fascinated with conspiracy theories. He was convinced that the contrails jets leave behind in the sky were chemical experiments the government was perpetrating on the people. He also was sure that terrorists never flew a jet into the Pentagon. Apparently the Bush Administration had pulled of an incredible hoax. Working in the industry where we create illusions for movies and TV, he was convinced this is what had been done to news footage of the crash site and surveillance camera footage that had caught the jet on video. But don’t ask what happened to the hundreds of people on the actual flight.

I began to see patterns in people where no amount of common sense and reasoning could overcome the hate they had for conservatives, Jews, Christians, and Israel. Whenever asked what personal offense they had suffered at the hands of one of us evil conservatives and how we had taken away all their rights, not a single example could be sited. It was always some feeling they imagined in their heads. Keep in mind these were not fringe loners, but men and women that had spouses and families, ranging in ages from 20s to early 40s.

The final incident that sealed my fate of being blacklisted developed from a book that was being passed around the company by Lezlie. Lezlie was very excited about this book as she thought it was the Holy Grail of evidence that somehow unraveled the entire integrity of the Bible and its values. It did not. In fact, it not only claimed the Dead Sea Scrolls where discovered in 1950 (actually 1947) , but that also they proved entire parts of the Bible had been corrupted, when just the opposite, they confirmed it was uncorrupted. Those eager to hate will believe anything. Funny how Christians can put up with this, but if someone parades around a disparaging remark or depiction of the Quran, they are likely to have their heads cut off and their whole country set ablaze.

Most of the guys had a special affinity for Lezlie. She was here on a work visa from another country and was skilled at flirting with men. She could get them to do just about anything, but I was immune to her. Something didn’t sit right with me about her and I think she sensed I felt this way about her. I didn’t like the fact she spent so much time doing everything but working, but that wasn’t my place to say and the management wasn’t keen enough to recognize it. Hollywood is saturated with all kinds of people responsible for movies costing $100 million when they could accomplish the same for half that, but that’s a whole other blog in itself.

I decided to try to find common ground with her. I asked her if she had ever read C.S. Lewis. She replied, “Yes, until he started writing like a religious zealot,” to which I asked her where she got her values. She replied that she decided for herself based on a number of belief systems and points of view and chiefly her heart. I pointed out to her that at least we can agree that something like murder is wrong. I asked her, “you believe that, right?” She hesitated and I could see immediately that I’ve struck a chord, but I’m bewildered as to why. She became very defensive. I pressed her a little harder to say “murder is wrong.” She wouldn’t say it. She then burst into tears and left the room.

I asked to meet with the General Manager the next business day. I told him I wanted to bring to light what had happen and that it was not my intentions to cause an incident. I didn’t bother to lay out my case of everything I had to endure over the years in a hostile work environment. I tried to keep it friendly. He responded that one of his department heads had overheard the conversation and I’m lucky Lezlie did not file a grievance. Actually, he only heard the last part of the conversation, and apparently I would go around provoking fights out of thin air for no reason. The General Manager pointed out to me that his company is a vary tame place compared to a larger company he named as if it somehow justifies the years of hostility I had to put up with.

Three weeks later, after I had finished compositing all the shots that had previously been given to me, he told me there was no more work and I was being laid off along with some others. After working at this company over a three year period, I was never called back again. As I was called into interviews at other companies, I would see many of the other other Compositors working at these places. Maybe it was my imagination, but there always seemed to be some sneering and comments under breath to others upon seeing me. Out of dozens of visual effects companies I was well qualified to work at, none would hire me except one. There I spent another period of three years, and by the grace of God, didn’t have to listen to the hatred until….

Years later, flash forward. I’ve formed my own production company and hear through the grapevine that the spouse of someone I loved working with had suddenly died. I attended the funeral on a Hollywood sound stage. To honor his spirit, his friends and family were encouraged to get up on the stage and reflect on all the humor and smiles he brought to everyone. One of his relatives an amateur comedian, did a long shtick. Part of his monologue is how funny it was that at one point, the deceased was once mistaken for being a conservative.

On another occasion I attended one of my best friend’s birthdays at his house. He’s married to his boss’s sister. Kelly, the boss, was in her 40s and armed with a Master’s degree. She’s in charge of the research library at one of the major studios. I’d met her several times and she’d always been invited to my parties. On that particular night, I was wandering from room to room, catching bits and pieces of conversations, when I saw Kelly squared off with a young man in “conversation.” I edged closer to hear his side of the conversation as he spoke softly: “I’m not a victim. I don’t need the Democrats to take care of me. I can take care of myself.” This infuriated Kelly. The same telltale signs that I had experienced at the visual effects company manifested in her – red face, bulging veins, spit flying with ever new word. Her rage was such as if he had murdered her child. Dead silence came to the rest of the party and whispers abounded that someone might have to call the police. The rest of the evening was uneasy. My birthday friend was embarrassed knowing friends like me have to put up with this hatred.

As a member of the media, my advice to politicians out there is simple: Nice guys finish last. It’s OK to get angry. You’ve got to decide now which instinct you are going to respond with: your fight or flight response. I am deep behind enemy lines and know the enemy well. They hate everything you and I stand for. They have already destroyed Hollywood. Most of the jobs here have left and gone to more business friendly states and countries. There’s no shame in exposing the lies, distortions, half-truths, and deceptions of the Democrats. You need to wield your weapons as skillfully as they do theirs. Time for you to quiet being the underdog and become the hero. You can’t stay being Peter Parker when all is crumbling around you.

Over and out from Hollywood.

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