Evil Gal Productions

Mere Smith
is a recovering Southerner,
longtime TV writer,
author and blogger.
February 3rd, 2011 by Mere Smith

First Meeting, Female Suits

So I went to my first meeting of Pilot Season, and lo…

…it didn’t suck.

Cause enough for celebration, in my opinion.

This meeting involved watching a rough cut of the pilot itself, then talking to the EP — a very nice man (seriously, he was scientifically, objectively nice; leading to my suspicion that he might be an alien lifeform, because how often does the Industry produce someone nice?) — alone, thank God.

I say “alone, thank God,” ’cause there’s nothing worse than being crammed in a conference room with a gaggle of people (EPs, Co-EPs, Supervising Producers, Consulting Producers, Suits — even assistants sometimes) all judging you simultaneously; you come out of the meeting feeling like you’ve just barely escaped being thrown on the bonfire the Inquisition’s set up in the visitors’ parking lot.

Not that these people are evil — for the most part (for the large most part), they’re not.  Not at all.  But it seems the more people you gather together, the more they shed their inhibitions about revealing their potential evility.

For example, a half-dozen years ago, I once had a meeting where eight — no shit, eight — people were sitting around a table staring at me, at which point I suddenly felt like Joan of Arc, but without the reassuring faith in my own righteousness and/or delusions (personal confidence flies right out the window when the fourth person is added; I’m sure there’s some sort of Janisian/Newtonian socio-mathematical equation about this kind of groupthink).  And as the person under scrutiny, you have no idea where to look, to whom you should address most of your conversation — so you end up appearing like a deranged bobblehead doll, trying to make eye contact with and speak to everyone in the room while still remaining aware of who the Lord High Executioner is.

Sitting in a room with eight people feels almost exactly like being tried by a jury of your peers, except these peers have no reason for nor expectation of assuming you’re innocent before being proven guilty.  Pure-as-driven-snow innocent means you might get the job.  Anything remotely short of innocent — any shred of circumstantial evidence that may point to your being… uh, say, less than pure-as-driven-snow — excludes you from contention.

And though I’m as “driven” as the next Type-A personality — “snow”?  Not so much.

Out of eight people, over the course of an hour, I guarantee you I offended at least four of them.  Not out of malice, mind you, nor out of ignorance — but simply by being myself.  Hello, circumstantial evidence.  Goodbye, job.

(Sidenote: this show is still on the air on cable.  And I can say without reservation or sour-grapehood that I think it sucks bland balls.  I’ve never managed to get through more than five minutes of an episode without going, “Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” and changing the channel — and thanking my lucky stars for those eight people in the conference room.)

As I’ve said at least a hundred times since I reached Hollywood, I am not Jell-O.

I’m an acquired taste.

Like arsenic.

Take arsenic in small enough doses every day, and you increase your resistance.  Unless, of course, your immune system (aka, your sense of humor) is already kaput, in which case you’ll probably drop dead immediately.  Dropping dead, in this sense, means tuning me out completely after the first “fuck” or “shit” or Jesus-joke — and considering I can rarely exist an entire 60 minutes without a “fuck” or a “shit” or a Jesus-joke, I’m nearly always doomed.  Actually, I’m the one who metaphorically drops dead, as people begin to sit back in their chairs, cross their arms against their chests, avert their eyes, and all the other body language that limns disgust and rejection.  After a dozen years in town and God knows how many meetings, I’ve seen this scenario play out so much, I often have to stifle the urge to just quit trying — to stand up and say, “You know what?  I already know I’m not getting this job, so why don’t I save us both the time and effort at being polite — or as polite as I can fake it, anyway — and I’ll motor on outta here?  Whaddaya say?”

No doubt that would startle the poop out of everybody in the room — but unfortunately, barring so-rare-as-to-be-quantum-anomalies cases, blunt honesty is simply not a quality that gets you very far in the world of TV.  And the world of TV is so very, very, very small, I’m sure that after as little as a week, every producer and agent in town would know me as “That Hostile Crazy Girl Who Just Up And Walked Out Of A Meeting.”  Of course, I wouldn’t be feeling hostile whilst saying, “Why don’t I just motor?” — on the contrary, I’d be feeling as if this were rather gracious and thoughtful of me — but it would be perceived as hostile and crazy, since there are more unspoken protocols in this business than in the royal court of early 18th century Versailles.

These are protocols you only learn as you fuck them up along the way, such as, “Even if you’re being sliced to death by a kamillion paper cuts talking to these folks, suck it up and stick it out and say, ‘Thank you for the lovely lacerations,’ at the end of the meeting.”

Believe me, I’ve already got a reputation for attitude (it’s the whole non-kowtowing thing); cutting a meeting short would spell D-E-A-T-H for my career.  Also, my manager would probably try to have me committed.  Or killed.  For my own good, of course.

That’s why the line I walk is so precariously slim.

I have an innate loathing for pretending to be someone I’m not, but at the same time, if I release my personality full-throttle at the beginning, it’s very unlikely I’ll be hired.  Ever again.  By anyone.  Even those people who put flyers under your windshield wipers while you’re in CVS.

And to top it off, today I have a meeting with two Suits who work for the network launching the pilot I watched.

Normally, this would not faze me, except for the fact that both these Suits are women.

One part of me smiles and says, “You go, girls!  Way to make it in a man’s world!”

The other part of me groans and goes, “Oh, fuck.  Supercraptastic.”

‘Cause in this traditionally male-run business, my — shall we say — piquant personality is more often readily accepted by men.  Throughout my stint in Hollywood, I’ve been raised with the boys, so to speak — out of necessity, considering I’ve only ever been on three staffs that had other women on them.  It’s more in my nature to be a rough-and-tumbler, a master of the grosser-than-gross joke, a knock-me-down-I’ll-knock-you-down-twice kinda Evil Gal — honestly, it meshes with my sense of self more easily than trying to be a pantyhosed, face-painted corporate girl.

Yet female Suits who reach powerful positions in this business — it is my belief, anyway — are not there because they’re tomboys like me.  They’re there because they’re above all the puerile shit; they’re grown-ups — because they have to be, in order to succeed.  For some reason, women only get a pass in this Industry (if they get a pass at all) when they’re bottom-liners, when they can prove they’re smarter than the boys — not that they can get down in the mud with them.

Me, however?  I’m no bottom-liner.  I’m no paint-jobbed grown-up.  I’m a twisted kid, an outside-the-tacklebox chick, a guy’s guy who just happens to be missing a dick.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love a love-triangle, get all goosebumpy when the male lead is a former underwear model, and I’ll spend hours in the editing room making sure the giggly girltalk doesn’t morph into some ridiculous version of a guy’s idea of giggly girltalk (Christ Jesus, if they had any idea how raw real girltalk can get…), but something about female Suits intimidates the shit out of me.

I feel like I have to be more guarded when meeting a female Suit than when meeting a male one.  With a few memorable exceptions (that I can count on one hand), I find myself watching my language more, thinking more about my appearance, trying even harder not to offend (I often feel like a Tourette’s patient trying to stuff her tics)… which, I fully admit, means I am even less myself than I am in a roomful of guys.  Maybe this is reverse sexism — thinking that I have to alter my personality even more when I’m in a room with a woman.

And to put it plainly, that fucking sucks!

But again, it comes down to the Versailles protocols.  Over several, several years I’ve discovered that in a roomful of women, trying to be the same person I am with men produces a reaction that is — almost universally across the board — more unfavorable than it would be were I an actual guy.

Now, I don’t know if these women think I’m fronting, trying to “man up,” trying to be someone I’m not (Lord, the irony), but when I can occasionally tone myself down to intelligent-but-somewhat-meekish, suddenly they seem to approve of me more.

It could simply be a dislike for women who act and speak like men — I don’t deny I’m no Susie Homemaker — I once burnt to cinders a frozen pizza (and nearly the whole house) by leaving the cardboard stuck to the bottom of the dough — and honestly, how hard is it to bake a frozen pizza? —  but I’m closer to Lisbeth Salander than I am to Carrie Bradshaw, and I wouldn’t know a Manolo Blahnik if someone kicked me in the ass with one.

Even the poor Finance rarely sees me in anything other than sweatpants and ratty T-shirts with no bra.  (Though on second thought, maybe the no-bra thing compensates a little.)  I hate bras.  They’re like tiny little torture-cages for your tits.  Maybe if guys were forced to wear underwire scrote-bras, they’d stop bitching about neckties.)

Anyway, now that I’ve vented a bit of my fear, perhaps I’ll be able to walk in there with my Tourette’s stuffed down and wearing mascara.  Wish me luck.

I’m still not shaving my fucking legs, though.

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