Sunday, April 18, 2010

Forgiveness, Folding Chairs and Ms. Goldberg

Recently, something happened in my show business career that truly pissed me off. For reasons that will soon become apparent, I’m going to stay vague on the details.

Basically, it wasn’t so much what went down, but how it was handled. Happily, there were a couple of other disgruntled parties involved, so soon the emails and texts were flying around like mad. A few backs got stabbed. A couple of characters were assassinated. And lots of pointless, upsetting drama was created. In the end, it all worked out reasonably well and everyone involved consoled themselves by saying those magic words, “It’s just business.”

Show business has never felt much like “business” to me. No matter where you are in the pecking order, from powerful executive to “background extra,” show folk tend to take things very personally. I guess that’s because here in Hollywood, Monday’s powerful executive is only one flop away from being Tuesday’s has-been -- while Wednesday’s background actor can quickly become Friday’s mega-star. In the entertainment industry, such things actually happen, so when shit goes down, we can get a little tense; sometimes causing us to say and do things we later regret.

I wish I could tell you that I, David Dean Bottrell, have always stayed blissfully above the fray, but that would be a big fat lie. A couple of times, in the heat of battle, I’ve behaved like less than a gentleman and in hindsight, there are a few moments in time I wish I could take back.

Like for instance that time I was trapped in a very unhappy collaboration with another writer who I thought was my friend. We were both young – well, we weren’t that young -- but we were inexperienced and our script was getting some heat. Unfortunately when that heat turned into a boil, we ceased to agree on anything and our friendship got scalded to death in the process. Things got ugly and the whole thing culminated with me leaving a long, horrible, expletive-filled message on my collaborator’s voicemail. It felt fantastic at the moment I was doing it. Not so fantastic ten minutes later.

So why did I act like such a butt-hole? Because no matter how much we try to laugh and be philosophical about it, you can only take so many hits in this business before you start to crack a little. Catching a break isn’t easy and when you start to think somebody is fucking with your break, screwing with your carefully-crafted work or in general, derailing a career you’ve starved and bled for, it can easily bring out the “kill or be killed” instinct.

Over time, I’ve gotten pretty good at cleaning up my messes and making amends where needed. Bad moments, if not properly jettisoned, can turn into a part of our history. That phone message still haunts me, mostly because what came out of my mouth that day was deeply personal, really hateful and totally uncalled for. In my defense, the other party involved was not exactly on their best behavior at the time and had for 18 months forced me into an untenable position and then blamed me for everything that had gone wrong as a result. Although, I later appologized face-to-face for my outburst, I was not forgiven. And that made me even madder. The importance of letting go of past grievances arrived for me one day in a very unexpected way.

A movie I had written was in pre-production and I had been invited to a meeting with the director, the producer and star of the film. The star was Whoopi Goldberg; an actor I’d always admired. I'd never had a meeting with a star before and was more than a little nervous about it. When I located the old production building where the meeting was to be held and climbed the dusty metal stairs to the assigned room, I found Ms. Goldberg patiently waiting by herself in the hallway. Apparently, both the director and the producer had been delayed and the room was locked.

I apologized profusely (even thought it wasn’t my fault) and managed to flag down one of those guys with keys on their belt to open the room. Once inside, I discovered it was completely empty except for a stack of folding tables and chairs shoved against the far wall. Again, I apologized to Ms. Goldberg and assured her that if she would just give me a minute, I would set up the room for our meeting. Surprisingly, she offered to help me. “What else am I doing?” she said with a shrug.

Soon, I found myself on my knees beside Whoopi Goldberg; both of us unfolding table legs as if we were doing some low-paying catering job. Gradually, our conversation drifted to the script and she asked me why I had written it. I told her the truth which was that the story was loosely based on my family’s history and my goal had been to write about the subject of forgiveness. As we settled, slightly winded, into our chairs, she nodded, saying that this was exactly what had attracted her to the script. “Until you forgive,” she said slowly, “You’re not really free.” I was stunned by the simplicity and accuracy of the statement. Suddenly, in my eyes, not only was Whoopi Goldberg a fabulous actress, she was also a Saint.

Once we got into production, I would learn that Whoopi was not a saint. She was a human being who had mostly good days, followed by an occasional bad one. But even then, I saw her move through the rough patches with professionalism and no small amount of grace. Grudges were not her style. She practiced what she preached.

In a business where we are constantly tested and forced to compete for even the crappiest of jobs, it’s hard not to harbor some resentments. It’s tough to let go of what was planned (even if it was only planned in our imaginations). Blame is a sloppy thing to fling around. It can often splash back on ourselves; filling us with sharp regrets about some decision we made or project that never came to be. Ms. Goldberg was right in recognizing how simple the equation is. Forgiveness for the lost job, the bad boss, the “not-so-talented-but-more-successful” peer and most importantly -- forgiveness for ourselves is the key to achieving any kind of real success; personal or professional. If you can lay down the stone, you’re hands (and heart) are at last free to create. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"A few backs got stabbed. A couple of characters were assassinated."

So loved that (above) and all of this (below):

“Until you forgive,” she said slowly, “You’re not really free.”

And all the Whoopi story. So vivid and fair - and real! Bravo!