Balls of Steel: Liar, Liar, Career on Fire

Character matters. I’m not talking about the characters you create for your stories. I mean your character. I’ve written about it before in Balls of Steel: Your Character, Your Career, but this time I want to address those who flat out lie, whether it be little white lies or big, gigantic fibaroos.

Being a liar in Hollywood, while trying to break into the industry, will get you sucked into a black hole of “never to succeed” faster than Marty McFly can travel back in time.

And there’s no time machine to undo the damage. Trust me, I’ve seen the carnage.

I break down the lying into two categories: The Big Fat Lies and The Lazy Lies.

The Big Fat Lies a Writer Tells

The other day I spoke with Babz Bitela, President of Silver Bitela Agency and host of Babz Buzz podcast on Writer Arena, formerly hosted on SimplyScripts. A little backstory here: I met Babz years ago at a pitchfest, while enjoying a Lemon Drop martini at the bar. To this day, she still calls me “Lemon Drop.” At the time, I had no clue she was an agent, nor did I care. Why? Because I was enjoying a drink, trying to relax the night before pitching, and Babz was engaging, real, and a pure joy to speak with. We’ve been friends ever since. As I’ve said many times before, you grow your network by keeping it real.

photo credit by KK Walker

photo credit by KK Walker

Which brings me to the purpose of her call.

Babz had recently had an experience with a screenwriter who grossly lied about himself. It was doozy. Oops, I forgot the disclaimer – he allegedly lied. While this example may be a bit extreme, big, fat lies are becoming more prevalent in the industry. Be warned.

Silver Bitela Agency is a boutique agency without the Beverly Hills address. But don’t assume smaller agencies don’t pay attention to details. Everything they do is on the same level as Beverly Hills agencies; they simply prefer not to live there. While L.A. appears to be a vast sea of faces, it’s a smaller town than you think. The real players all know each other. This is one instance where size does not matter.

One day, Babz gets a call from a manager who claims to have found her via The Writers Guild. Out of courtesy to her fellow rep, she requested his client’s script. It was terrible. But again, out of courtesy, she agrees to consider signing the screenwriter, but wants to speak with him first. Let’s call said screenwriter Darth Vader.

While on the phone with Darth, she can tell he’s using a voice disguiser. But even then, his voice still sounds eerily similar to his manager’s. Red flag number one. She presses on, but he is rigid about notes. Red flag number two.

Next, she is contacted by someone claiming to be Mark Wahlberg, specifically requesting to read a script by a screenwriter named Darth Vader. Wow, what a coincidence! This Darth dude is popular.

Who was really contacting her? You guessed it. The voice-disguising Darth Vader.

Her Spidey senses are going wild now. Queue the legal department. They decide to lay low and see just how far Darth is willing to take them into his Galaxy Far, Far Away from Reality.

Her email inbox pings with an email from Ari Emanual. You know, the uber-famous agent who Entourage’s Ari Gold was fashioned after. “Ari” is supposedly outraged that Darth Vader hasn’t been treated like the King of All Screenwriters.

I suppose if you’re going to lie, you might as well go big or go home.

The legal team at their agency jumps in and officially outs Darth Vader based on his IP address… the same IP address used by the Fictitious Four: The manager, Mark Wahlberg, Ari Emmanuel and Darth Vader. All the correspondences came from one computer in New Jersey.

Not only did they black list Darth at their agency and alert the Writers Guild of his behavior, but when another agency called them a few weeks later, asking if they had ever heard of a writer named Darth Vader, Babz immediately called him out, saving that second agency a ton of money on legal vetting.

Darth went through an amazing amount of effort to get his scripts read. If only he had put that much time and creativity into his writing.

The sting of what occurred still is present in Babz’ voice. “When an agent works as hard as we do, we don’t deserve to be vulnerable like this and have our time wasted. Truth of the matter is, I owe you nothing as an agent. If you can’t base what you’re doing on your own merit, this is not the business for you.”

Amen.

Agencies vet screenwriters, not just with a legal team, but also with other agents. They all talk. They expect you to be honest, because if you aren’t, your lies will be discovered.

Maybe it’s the economy. Maybe it’s frustration in how long it takes to get discovered. Whatever it is, the quantities of lies are rising like the floodwaters on the Titanic. And those lying writers are going down… hard.

One of Babz’ clients, Jason Bortz, screenwriter, director, actor and Media Relations for the Tower Theater, explains:

“If you’re a writer, you need to understand that every name you drop is verifiable. Every association to claim to possess is a phone call away. This industry may be huge, but the relationships are intimate—on the average, there are typically two to three degrees of separation between Agencies.  And misrepresentation is not rare; rather, it’s a fact of life. Every A-list agency has a legal department devoted to processing claims of misrepresentation and fraud, and even smaller Agencies have direct connections to the Business Affairs departments of seemingly ‘untouchable’ organizations who rep the biggest names in the industry.”

Babz has seen writers state they’re repped by her when they weren’t. She’s witnessed writers falsely claim talent is attached to their project. That talent merely said they’d be “interested” if a director was attached. Newsflash: that is not an attachment. That is a classic way of blowing off a writer when the talent isn’t interested in the script. It’s just a nice way of saying “no thank you.” One of her clients, who had dealings with someone claiming to work with an Oscar-winning director, after a long time of hard work and back and forth, learned later that all that person did was forge that famous director’s stationery letterhead — the writer, still her client, warned her early on: “Vet everyone.”

Lies like this never go undiscovered. Never. Ever. Ever.

Let’s say a liar gets lucky and manages to sell a script. The sale doesn’t mean squat because a writer’s longevity relies on people wanting to work with him/her. When was the last time you remember saying, “Hey, I’d love to work with that writer… you know, the one who lies all the time and no one trusts.”

I can feel most of you shaking your heads, thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me. I would never be that crazy!”

Think again…

The Lazy Lies of Social Networking

I have spent a lot of time developing my social network. I admit to having far less time than I used to, but still, I try to pop in every day.  On Twitter, I saw writers asking an accomplished writer to send them one of his scripts to read. I decided to privately ask that accomplished writer if they actually sent the script to those who asked. I was curious.

He did, and he added he learned a lot about those writers by doing so.

Why?

Because they never read the script, even though this writer had taken the time to dig through his files and email it to them.

If you proactively ask for someone’s work, then you should read it, write back thanking them, and share your thoughts. Why would a pro want to take the time to send you something, open their souls to you… because all of our work contains a bit of our souls… and then be ignored? Sending that script was a gift. Not reading it is just rude.

In the scope of life, this isn’t a huge faux pas, but it is a peek into a person’s character. Believe me, if this accomplished writer had wanted to read one of these aspiring screenwriters’ scripts, he would have asked, and he would have read it… immediately. That’s the standard this particular writer has, therefore, he assumes others do too.

Some pros really want to discover a new voice. It could be your voice. But if you don’t keep your word, then why would s/he want to reach back and help you? Or if you are someone who constantly takes and never gives, it makes someone think twice before helping, yet one more time.

What if that accomplished writer was pitching a TV show, and he really wanted to bring on unknown talent, possibly yours? Do you think if you disrespected his time, even if you turned out to be a great writer, he’d trust bringing you onto his writing team?

Not so much.

The lazy lies of social media are everywhere, from photoshopped avatar pictures to bios full of bull. In a world of instant gratification, it takes but seconds to impulsively ask for something. If you ask someone to go out of their way for you, to help you learn, then respect their time and efforts. Stand behind your request.

I fundamentally believe in a person’s handshake being equal to a signed contract, and that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Sure, that may sound naïve, but because of those philosophies, I am pretty open to helping people… until they prove me wrong.

Hence why I also have a another motto: The first time (someone hurts me), I’m a victim. The second, I’m a volunteer.

I don’t like to feel used. No one does. Not agents, producers or managers. Believe it or not, they are all people, with hearts and feelings.

I can’t help but think back at those lessons we learn in Kindergarten: Treat others the way you want to be treated. I know Hollywood has a reputation of being cutthroat, but my gut feeling is that rule applies there too. At least it does for the people I want to associate with.

White lies, lazy lies, and big, fat lies… don’t let them be the death of your career and your network. As my teens love to say, check yourself before you wreck yourself.

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10 thoughts on “Balls of Steel: Liar, Liar, Career on Fire

  1. Babz

    Excellent points all. When I first started in this business the best place was to begin at the beginning; small agency, small outreach. That’s changed; small agency, big outreach, but I can’t pick up the phone and get a straight answer out of Playtone when I want one. Why? They don’t know me. That’s the rub; we are dealing with emails and letters rarely face to face. If I had a sit down at Playtone, they may not take pitches from me still (which would be a shame) but they’d know I’m not lying about the CLIENT I rep and that writer’s particular skill set. It also speaks to how nice people are; the nice ones who are respectful of my time get it. And that was what was so hard, because I had to stay on the high road while legal did it’s dance when I wanted to say “ummm, er uhhh, ya know what–take a hike.” Can’t do it. I have been told off ONCE by a prod in this business and I still take the high road; why? Never know if we will need each other in the future. And when you season crow, it doesn’t taste that bad. I did this interview because I wanted folks to know, my door is still open to that unproduced writer. But if you are going to pitch me, do it right. Let the work stand on its own merits. Thanks all for the kind comments. Babz

  2. donag

    Like you, Jeanne, and just about everyone else I know, says, “I hate lies.” But, truth be told, everyone lies. No exception. Why? Just about everyone knows the answer to that question as well: Because it ‘may’ benefit them in some way, it is worth the risk. What every story reveals in this thread, including yours, is the liar is saying, “Hey, look at me. I’m here, SEE me.” It may be and probably is pathetic, but it IS a cry for recognition. And, everyone of us needs outside recognition at some vital points in our life.

    Don’t misunderstand, I don’t condone lying, but again complaining about it when it is universal is like preaching to the choir. It’s the ‘nice’ thing to do and one will get a clap on the back endorsement, but it is disingenuous if the one doing the preaching is not without sin before s/he flings the first stone. I suggest that may be the case with the Hollywood ‘insiders’ complaint about lies and liars. Deceit is a nuisance obstacle in the path going up and coming down the mountain.

  3. DelaynaMichelle

    That is so crazy! Great article, Jeanne! I can’t believe people would damage their credibility like that. Do you think any of those people sending you their own stories of liars would have any interest in submitting them to my Poor EXcuses website (www.poorexcuses.com)? Always love reading your Balls of Steel articles!

  4. bentguy

    Jeanne, a strong piece, written with force and clarity. Sleaze will surface, as you definitively suggest. Good to see you explore the sense of “lazy lies” too, because it’s easy for all of us to decry the total scammers, but be tempted to say “Oh, what the hell, I can exaggerate a bit” on our own accomplishments or influence.

    Thanks for underlining the value of simple and clear ethics.

  5. Leona Heraty

    Jeanne, thanks for yet another illuminating article.

    Yes, I agree with you 100%…character counts! We must be honest in all our dealings with people in our life, including those we want to work with in Hollywood. The bottom line is that we should always treat others the way we want to be treated, and there are no exceptions to this rule.

    Your story about the screenwriter who used 4 different aliases to try to fool Babz Bitela is amazing! It reminds me of when I was in high school years ago, and I had a part-time job at a grocery store, where many of my friends worked too. There was a guy who worked there, I’ll call him “Fred,” who also went to the same high school where my co-worker and best friend went (I went to a different high school).

    Anyway, Fred was known by everyone at our store as a tall tale teller and possible liar too! He kept lying, saying, “My fiance, Beth, and I are getting married after we graduate from high school.” My best friend knew this was a lie, so one day, having enough of his bragging, she asked Beth if she was in fact engaged to Fred. Beth replied, “Hell no! I don’t even like that guy and I’m definitely not dating him!” So, my friend confronted Fred and told him that Beth denied being engaged to him, and even dating him. All Fred could do was turn bright red, mutter something and shuffle away! Ha! Ha! :-)

    As you stated above, honesty is truly the best policy, and we have to give as much as we receive. To have a friend, we must first be a friend. I believe the professionals in Hollywood with whom we form business relationships should be treated with as much importance and respect as we would treat a dear friend.

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