Recently, somewhere in Hollywood, somebody got taken for a ride (no surprise).
They got so upset about it that they decided to start an organization dedicated to bringing film industry scammers to justice; hanging them out to dry where everyone could see them and be warned about them by listing their names, and businesses, and misdeeds.
Is this a bad thing? Maybe, maybe not. Posting the names of known scammers could be helpful, I suppose, if they’ve been found guilty of a crime. But what makes a scam? Sometimes, indie filmmakers are just dumb (would naive be nicer?) and don’t do their due diligence on people who just don’t have the resources or expertise to do what they promise to do. Or sometimes well meaning producers just aren’t able to finish their project, so that “credit and copy” never make it to all those folks who volunteered their time. That’s not a scam.
Now in this case, it indeed looks like a scam. The guy is allegedly pitching himself as representing companies he’s not associated with (though he was once). And he is allegedly representing that he has connections that he apparently does not. But as near as I can tell, the guy has NOT been charged with or convicted of any crime.
Nevertheless, the site invites people to post their own stories about being scammed, and has posted claims from victims alleging that the scammer “apparently own a company called Central Films (Central Film Company) and has an office at the Lot studios in West Hollywood, California”. This claim isn’t true — Central Film Company was also a victim of this scammer and has severed all ties with him — but it’s getting repeated elsewhere and Central Film Company has now had to defend itself against this on numerous websites. In this case the site is apparently hurting innocent victims in its fervor to play scam cop.
That alone should be enough to bug me. But here’s what bugs me.
The site is called The Hollywood Blacklist.
What the hell? Are you old enough to know that the “hollywood blacklist” was a dark and evil period in the history of the U.S.? No? Let me educate you, son.
Once upon a long time ago, Hollywood (and the U.S. Government) went through a rabbit hole of paranoia and wound up in a witch hunt called The Hollywood Blacklist. It was an institutionalized unAmerican effort hinged on fear, racism and nationalism that destroyed careers, lives and relationships.
“The Hollywood blacklist—more precisely the entertainment industry blacklist, into which it expanded—was the mid-twentieth-century list of screenwriters, actors, directors, musicians, and other U.S. entertainment professionals who were denied employment in the field because of their political beliefs or associations, real or suspected. Artists were barred from work on the basis of their alleged membership in or sympathy toward the American Communist Party, involvement in liberal or humanitarian political causes that enforcers of the blacklist associated with communism, and/or refusal to assist federal investigations into Communist Party activities…”
I’m happy to say that by and large we’ve thankfully left this black mark of American history in the past (efforts of delusionals like Michele Bachmann notwithstanding).
So the idea of anyone resurrecting this term, from WITHIN THE INDUSTRY in particular, for a new site that seeks to “warn” people about the “misdeeds” or “omissions” or very possibly “innocent failures” of others within the industry based even in part on unverified or uncorroborated hearsay really irks me.
Now look. I get it. The Hollywood film industry is infamous for being filled with nefarious characters prepared to steal your script (unscrupulous producers), steal your money (unscrupulous distributors), steal your virginity (unscrupulous agents) or steal your soul (unscrupulous culture).
And the indie filmmaking community has perhaps more than its fair share of scammers, looking to trade on the hopes and dreams of every small timer with a handicam who thinks if he can just find the right person to fund, produce or distribute his unique vision he’ll be the next Spielberg/Coppola/Coen.
So we ought to watch out for each other, sure. But we also have to watch out for ourselves. You have to be vigilant. You have to be smart. You have to educate yourself.
In the end, although this whole thing seems well intentioned, I’m not certain I like the unverifiable nature of the site, or the apparent visceral vengeance that seems to drive it. That seems like an irresponsible place to be coming from when doing this kind of thinig.
If they don’t start taking more care in what they do, I hope they at least change the name. That’s a period in Hollywood and U.S. history that I for one don’t need to have revisited.