First, a confession. My life plan is to be a hyphenate: writer-director-producer. Yes, that old Hollywood cliché “what I really want to do is direct” applies to me. You might be wondering, “How’s that coming along, then?” Or, if you’re a fellow Buddhist, you might ask, “What action are you taking? What causes are you making?” (Not that you’d necessarily ask in rhyme…)
My producing partner and I have a few scripts, including one that we consider particularly “shovel-ready”-meaning, if we had the financing lined up, we could go into production without further ado. So we’re working on that. Production, like life, turns out to be all about making connections. You never know who’s going to be your angel…not just in terms of financing, but who’s going to be one of the shoten zenjin that gets your production off the ground, makes it run smoothly, makes it result in a movie that people actually want to see.
You can read more about shoten zenjin here: http://www.gakkaionline.net/Imagery/SZ.html . The common translation is “life’s protective forces”, and sometimes even what appears negative and detrimental can end up being a force for the positive in your life. Many of Nichiren Daishonin’s writings refer to the “ten demon daughters” who appear on the Gohonzon; in their unenlightened aspect, they are “evil demons that sap the lives of people throughout the major world system” (The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon), but they have also pledged to “shield and guard those who accept and uphold the mere name of the Lotus Sutra” (The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind).
Which leads up to what was, until late yesterday evening, my most recent job. Not that I’ve been officially called by anyone from the production office. But that meeting that I was supposed to be attending this morning at 9 AM? Didn’t go. The one at 12:30 PM? Not that one either. So what happened?
The whole thing was hinky from the beginning. Not the “is it going to happen” or the “when’s my start date” part…that’s fairly typical in the spinning-plates world of film production. So many aspects have to come together before the “magic” can begin to happen. If it’s not a money or script issue, it’s usually a casting issue. You might be able to make some compromises when it comes to hiring crew, but no one wants to cast a movie with just any actors. It’s that old chemistry thing. Sometimes the financing even hinges upon who’s cast.
In this case, the financing appeared to be in place, the script was undergoing some revisions but was essentially complete, and the casting was in progress. The production wasn’t union yet, but it was going to be. The stars, it seemed, were aligning. I had just finished a job on Thursday and was looking forward to a little recovery time when I got the call to be ready to go to work…maybe tomorrow. Or Monday.
I was relieved when I wasn’t asked to start on Friday. That was my day to not set the alarm. To catch up on…my life. Because when I’m on a job, I devote myself mind, body, and soul. I am dedicated to the success of the project. My own life goes into “routine maintenance” mode. I put all my personal projects aside so that I can concentrate on doing the job for which I’ve been hired. Which means that the clutter accumulates, the laundry piles up, the garden gets neglected, and no writing gets done. Oh, and there’s the sleep deprivation-almost forgot about that.
On Tuesday, I started work. I wasn’t supposed to…because I’m a woman, and the producer (a woman!) doesn’t like having women on set…they’re “a distraction”. Yes. For reals. That’s like busting through a glass ceiling, then immediately having the glass replaced with shatterproof, triple-strength material. Like climbing to the top of the ladder and stepping on the hands of the next person on her way up, then kicking the ladder out from under her. But the man I’ve been working with for twenty years said he wouldn’t do the job without me, and she really wanted him, so…I was hired, with the proviso that I was never to appear on set.
The hinky continued when I found out there was already someone on the job, someone not in the union, and who had been deemed in over his head…by whom, I wasn’t sure. When we met, he told me that he hadn’t been paid for three weeks(!), that he felt unappreciated and disrespected. He told me of wee-hours texts and phone calls from the producer. He told me of other people on the production who’d worked for weeks, then not had their phone calls returned. After hearing all this, I asked him if he really thought the movie was going to be made at all. He said he hoped so…if only for the months of work he’d put into it. I agreed with him that the situation was unfair, assuring him that we were not there to replace him, and that we very much wanted to work with him. I then proceeded to do the job I’d been hired for. I also prayed that he would be treated fairly, and for the success of the production.
But there was more drama to come…at first, our colleague said he accepted what had happened. Then he decided to quit, a decision that he said he hadn’t reached lightly. He told me how important it was to him to be true to himself; to continue was too damaging to his health and to his self-respect. And he’d been offered another job. To make the transition smooth, he offered to stay until start of filming. He didn’t want the producer to know until he was ready to tell her. That was understandable (remember the wee-hours texting?), but put us in an awkward position. We agreed to keep it to ourselves until the end of the week, to give him time to think about it…meanwhile, we kept on with the job.
When he started telling other people he was leaving, the producer had to be told. As expected, she was not happy. More wee-hours texting and phone calls. He decided to stay, as long as his conditions were met. He would accept being subordinate, but he was to be paid as originally agreed. He was to go to the office that afternoon to hash out the details…
…and that was my last day of work, as I found out late in the evening as I was getting ready to go home and upload the latest scouting photos. What happened? I can only surmise, and it doesn’t really matter. I haven’t come to praise this production or to bury it. My choice boiled down to whether I would harbor resentment over this bizarre episode, or whether I’d “be the Buddha” and find/create value from it.
It’s easy to want the best for those we care about, that we like, who have treated us well. But that’s usually not our first response to those who have done us wrong. It can be a challenge not to feel resentment, and to want them to suffer. However, this does nothing to remedy the situation. Responding in kind actually exacerbates it, because instead of elevating their life condition, we lower ours. Any kind of negative emotion corrodes the soul of the person harboring it. It’s like swallowing poison and expecting your enemy to die.
I was determined to find value in what had happened. Redemption, if you will. How was I to do that? I began with a sincere prayer for the happiness of the people involved (squashing that indignant little inner voice that said “they don’t deserve to be happy!”). The wonderful effect of taking this approach is that it’s virtually impossible to hold onto resentment for long. I can’t simultaneously wish someone well and hope for their destruction. As I chanted, I felt any lingering rancor fade away. My karma, at least, was getting an upgrade…
As a fellow Buddhist pointed out recently, taking this view doesn’t mean that we’re doormats. We don’t have to go looking for difficult situations or for people to mistreat us. And when we do encounter them, we don’t roll over whimpering “Yes! Hurts so good! Hit me again!” What’s important is that we bring forth our highest self (Buddhahood) and transform what has all the appearance of evil into something that is good. What that entails is digging as deeply as is necessary to awaken our sense of appreciation (admittedly, not the first thing that comes to mind!), while simultaneously addressing any wrong that has been done. This is not always easy. It’s much simpler just to get angry, or wail “why is this happening to me?”
Self-reflection is a must: not in a “where did I go wrong” way, but more “what is my part in this? What am I meant to change, or to learn?” I thought about it, and I came up with a few things. I didn’t feel as though I had done anything “wrong”, except perhaps taking the job in the first place, so I concentrated on what I had gained (aside from a few days’ pay, which I have not yet received). My biggest benefit was having the opportunity to work with the production designer, whom I had met years ago at my partner’s wedding but never got the chance to know. He’s making the transition to producing, and had been speaking with my partner about the two of them working together. Because of the admiration and respect that developed between us, he’s interested in working with me as well. This in itself made my experience worthwhile, and is a reason for appreciation. (Plus the three of us definitely picked up some tips on how not to be a good producer!)
Another thing I learned, or was reminded of, was to trust my instincts. I had a bad feeling about the job for so many reasons, and it was not unfounded. In retrospect, it’s surprising that it didn’t blow up sooner. Once again I realized how much I’ve come to value trust and integrity. And I was reminded that when it comes to revealing character, actions speak so much louder than all the seemingly heartfelt utterances in the world.
Valuable as these lessons are, though, I’m still expecting to get paid.
***Update: They paid me. I saw the producer, who did not acknowledge my existence. The accountant who gave me the money was someone with whom I’d had a hellish work experience years ago, but he was all smiles and love!