My movie was being released in about four months. That meant the new trailer for the film was landing in theaters, attached to the studio’s most recent release. Now because this was before previews and scene snippets were available on the Internet, iPhone, Android, Twitter, Facebook, and Google Glass, the only way to view my two-minute trailer was on DVD, videotape, or in the theater itself. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to see trailers on the big screen. Along with the anticipation for the movie about to unspool in front of me, there’s that wonderful tease of the coming attractions moments before the feature begins.
“Hey Doug,” said the studio exec over the phone. “Whatcha doin’ this weekend?”
“No big plans,” I said.
“Well, Saturday night,” he said. “You should go see the new trailer.”
“It’s up this weekend?”
“In selected theaters. But you gotta see it in front of a full house. Plays like gangbusters.”
I don’t recall which movies the trailer was playing with, but the exec strongly recommended I go to the sold-out eight o’clock show at City Walk, Universal Studios’ hilltop destination for franchise foods and all things retail—with enough dazzling lights to make Las Vegas wonder who stole its neon mojo.
With that bit of advice, the War Department and I planned a date night that included dinner and a trailer, not necessarily in that order.
I paid for the premium Universal City parking, but didn’t bother trying to get my ticket validated at the box office. Why? Because we weren’t planning to see the movie—only to stand at the rear of the auditorium, view the trailer and beat our feet back to the parking lot. Exhibitors in Los Angeles and New York usually extended this courtesy to filmmakers so they could view their trailers in front of a live audience. All I had to do was kindly identify myself to the theater manager and name the trailer I intended to watch and which movie it was playing in front of. Simple. A pleasant little showbiz perk.
I went on to name the distribution exec at the studio who’d recommended this particular venue and show time for my viewing pleasure.
“Your name again?” asked the manager.
“And your position with the studio?”
“I’m the writer.”
“What kind of writer?”
“Screenwriter,” I told him. “I wrote the movie.”
“Do you have a business card?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t.”
“You don’t have a business card?”
“’Fraid not,” I said. “I’m a writer. We don’t usually carry business cards.”
“So without a business card,” he asked, “How do I know you’re who you say you are?”
Fair question, I thought. I could be somebody trying to scam his way into a free show. The adult equivalent of the juvenile delinquent who sneaks into shows through an unlocked fire exit.
I removed my wallet and showed the manager my driver’s license.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s your name and picture. But it’s not a business card.”
“Why do you need a business card?”
“To show my boss that I let you in without paying.”
“We’re not looking to watch the movie. Just the trailer. We’ll stand in the back. Watch. And before the movie starts we’re gone.”
“Still can’t let you in without a business card.”
“Because otherwise you don’t know that I’m the writer.”
“How’s this?” I offered. “Here’s my Writers’ Guild card. Same name as my driver’s license.”
“Still doesn’t say you wrote the movie.”
“They both identify me as Doug Richardson,” I argued. “Now, just twenty-paces behind you is the one-sheet for my movie.”
“Movie poster. It’s right behind you. And it has my name on it. Same name as my driver’s license.”
To read the look on the manager’s face, it was as if I’d just thrown at him some algebraic jujitsu. Like I was some quick change artist whom he was trying to catch.
“Sorry,” he finally replied. “Can’t let you in without a business card.”
“I don’t have a business card.”
“You said that already.”
“All you gotta do is walk twenty paces and look at the movie poster. Screenplay by. There’s my name.”
“Can’t do that.”
“What? Walk over to the movie poster?”
“Let you in without a–“
“Business card. Yes. You said that. And I told you writers don’t carry business cards.”
“Why?” I said aloud, briefly thrown by his question. “Because there’s no need. We have agents and managers. Are you saying my agent should’ve called ahead?”
“Without a business card, I can’t do anything.”
I looked at my watch. It was eight o’clock. Showtime, and I was still stuck behind a velvet rope.
“I’ve shown you my driver’s license,” I said. “My WGA card. My name is over there on the poster. And you’re not gonna let me in to see the trailer of my movie?”
“Not without something to show my boss.”
“And where’s your boss?”
“I’m in charge tonight,” said the manager. “He won’t be back in ‘til tomorrow morning.”
“Right,” I said, finally giving in to retreat. That and the War Department was tugging on my arm to give up the fight. She’d probably read the writing on the wall with the man’s visual body cues. Short and tight haircut. Perfectly pressed pants and shirt. Overly officious posture.
I burned all the way back to the car and through our meal. Finally, we saw the trailer in front of a ten o’clock show at our neighborhood movie house where all that was required of me was a polite handshake and a promise to keep to the back of the theater. The trailer was impressive, playing well enough for a house half full. We drove home and wound down for the night.
Then I woke up chewing nails. Still pissed that I’d been rebuffed by the officious night manager movie twit because I didn’t carry a business card identifing me as the writer of the movie. At the War Department’s über-wise suggestion, I composed a letter to the exhibitor who ran the theater chain. With her able tutelage, I bled the missive of emotion and left my recounting of the previous evening’s stalemate to just matter and fact. I came. I was polite. I didn’t have a business card. I was turned away. The envelope was sealed, stamped, and upon its mailing, I found relief from my anger. It was behind me. End of story. Moving on.
Three days later my phone rang. It was some VP of blah blah blah from the exhibitor’s main office. She was breathless in her apology.
“Mr. Richardson,” she began. “I just read your letter. We are so terribly sorry for the inconvenience.”
“Appreciate it,” I said. “But it’s behind us. I just wanted you to know what happened.”
“If there’s anything we can do…”
“No. I’m good,” I said. “Seriously.”
“Free movie tickets?” she offered. “Use of one of our theaters for a private screening? We really want you to know how badly we feel.”
“I’m good,” I repeated. “And I truly appreciate your call.”
“Nothing more we can do?”
“Thank you. But no.”
“Alright, sir,” she said. “Oh. And one other thing. The manager with whom you had your altercation?”
“Can’t really call it an altercation,” I corrected.
“Well,” she said. “He’s been dismissed.”
“Dismissed?” I asked. “As in fired?”
“Yes,” she said. “We can’t have him treating motion picture professionals like yourself the way he did.”
“We found his behavior unacceptable.”
“Yeah, but…” I wanted to choose my words carefully. “My letter was more about your policy of needing to see a business card. My feeling was that he was just a bit too intractable in his interpretation of the rule.”
“Well, you should be happy to know that he’s no longer a problem.”
“I’m sorry. But I don’t recall suggesting in my letter that you fire him.”
“Oh, no,” she explained. “Your letter was more than polite. We just thought you should know that he doesn’t reflect how we treat filmmakers. Without you–”
“Get it. And, like I said, appreciate it. Just a bit thrown to hear the man was let go.”
“It’s for the best,” she said. “For all of us. Are you certain you wouldn’t like some free movie tickets?”
I’ve often told my children that it is my hope that one day they are fired from a job. That getting sacked is a valuable life moment and certain character builder. Sure, it’s a sometimes devastating obstacle but it’s one which they can learn and grow from. Lord knows, their dad has been fired a number of times. Such is the nature of my job. And every time it’s both a painful and self-teachable moment that further prepares one for a future where they may have to let somebody go.
Yet I must admit that I’m still a bit haunted by that over-officious boob who refused me because I didn’t carry a business card. So what? But I still had to complain. And thusly, he was removed from his post. I pray he was able to make the best of it.
- More Behind the Lines with DR articles by Doug Richardson
- Primetime: What Kind of Business Cards Should Writers Have?
- Balls of Steel: Dear New Screenwriter
- Primetime: Getting Your First Job in Hollywood
- Mapping the Journey for Professional Screenwriters: An Interview with Diane Drake
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