Ever hear that old axiom, never write a letter when you’re angry? Yeah. I’d heard it too. And I wish to hell I’d remembered it.
I was working on a production rewrite. Considering the circumstance and the politics, it was most likely to turn out to be something uncredited. So I was aware of the rules. The usual salve, a healthy paycheck, wasn’t part of the deal because I was doing the work at a discount due to a favor. Something I’d done before.
Then came the pro-forma trade announcement. A front page publicity piece about the picture, featuring quotes from the producers and director. Credit appeared to have been handed out evenly, rightfully mentioning the original screenwriter. After all, and despite my last-minute work—it was her script upon which the movie was built.
Yet there was something about the wording of the article that crossed me up. Maybe if I hadn’t been doing the work at a bargain rate. Or if one of the producers involved had really worked me over in order to get me to grant him the screenwriting favor. Still, nowhere in the piece was my good name even hinted upon.
No matter why. The piece clearly left a paper cut on my ego. The pain of it lingered as more of an annoyance than any kind of impediment. Still, I spend most of my time alone at my computer. Wireless connection. Email always at the ready. So, in order to purge myself, I clicked compose and began tapping out an intrustive missive to the producing pair. From my recollection it was short, punchy, possibly sarcastic, yet without too much venom. I clicked send. I heard a patented whoosh. As the email jetted away into the internet ether, I found myself feeling instantly lighter.
The following day I received a telephone call from my agent. I don’t remember who brought up the slight. Just that it became the subject du jour.
“So what’d you say to piss off Roger Dodger?” he asked.
Who is Roger Dodger? That’s what I’m naming the producer. No particular reason for calling him Roger Dodger other than if I used his real name Roger Dodger might call me. And as you’ll soon discover, that’s not a call I care to receive.
“Maybe he’s pissed about the email I sent,” I replied.
“Well whatever you wrote, he just went off on me. Gave me a shellacking. Said you’re an ungrateful little shit.”
“He said that?”
“I’m killing myself for these guys,” I complained. “Getting paid way less than my rate. You’d think in that trade article they’d had mentioned my name.”
Was I being petty? Damn straight. To read my own words now embarrasses me. But it’s the truth. I was blinded by my anger and ego.
“He said you’re the luckiest SOB on the planet to be working on his movie,” continued my agent.
“I’m the lucky one? Who the hell asked me for the damn favor?”
“I know. He’s being a prick. But you knew he could be a prick. Because he is a prick.”
Oh yes. I knew. I’d even turned a blind eye to his sometimes lousy, dirt-bag, bullying behavior. And now, his high beams were on me because I had the audacity to let him know in an email that I was miffed about… well, in retrospect, not much of anything. Still…
“Screw it. I’m gonna call and get up in his face,” I said.
“Don’t do that,” cautioned my agent. “It’s just gonna make it worse.”
“So what if it does? It’s not gonna get any better if you play shuttle diplomat.”
“Sure it will. That’s part of my job.”
“Not this time,” I insisted. “I’m not here because he asked you to ask me for a favor. I’m here cuz he asked me.”
“Bad idea. Don’t call him.”
“If it’s my mistake, it’s my mistake,” I said. “Let you know what happens.”
With that, I hung up. As a traipsed across the studio lot, I tried to calculate the best time to phone Roger Dodger. I figured he wouldn’t pick up when I called, having his hard-flogged assistant put me off as long as possible just to let me know who was the alpha dog. So if he was going to duck me, why not leave word right then and there? I dialed a familiar string of digits and waited for the sweet tones of his assistant, Layla.
“Roger Dodger’s office,” Layla repeated for the umpteenth thousandth time that day. I wondered how she could sound so cheery when she worked all day every day for the unrepentant bastard.
“It’s the Ungrateful Little Shit calling,” I replied, certain Layla’d know exactly who it was because it was her job to listen in on all calls unless instructed otherwise.
“Hey Doug,” Layla said. “Hang on for Roger.”
Expecting her to return in seconds with the promise that Roger Dodger was way too busy to talk now and would get back to me, I was caught off guard when I heard the click of Roger picking up his phone.
“You are an ungrateful little shit!” he barked.
“Wow. I didn’t think you were going to pick up,” I said, overstating my obvious tack. “But here you are. So I must really rate.”
“You shouldn’t after that letter you wrote!” he continued. “I should cut you out of my business after that stunt.”
“It wasn’t a stunt,” I deadpanned. “It was an email.”
“You know I don’t read email,” said Roger Dodger. “My assistant either prints them out of reads them to me.”
“Are we really arguing about this?”
“You copied (the other producer) didn’t you?”
“’Course I did. Because it was addressed to both of you.”
“Have you heard from him?”
“I have. He apologized. You didn’t.”
“Well, I sure as hell am not going to apologize!”
Unprepared to raise my voice in the public air, I insisted Roger hang on a minute whilst I searched for a quieter spot. Two turns and an open door later, I found myself on a cavernous, yet empty soundstage. What better place to test the top volume from my fat pie hole than where they shot countless episodes of Star Trek?
“Okay,” I began loudly. “Let me begin with my apology. You know that sage old saying that recommends you should never send a letter when you’re angry? Well, I didn’t heed that advice and now, here we are.”
“You didn’t have to copy—“
“I’m not done,” I interjected, knowing if Roger Dodger got rolling into his own rant he wouldn’t know how to find the brake until I’d hung up on him. “First of all, I’m on this job because you called me and practically begged me to work on this movie?”
“What does that have to do—“
I interrupted again, citing the day of the week, date, where I was and which direction I was facing into continuous gusts of Santa Ana winds when Roger Dodger begged his favor.
“And once I said yes,” I continued, “who asked me into his office to explain the budget issues and asked me please to take the lousy pittance this job pays?”
“You’re working with top talent on this movie,” countered Roger Dodger. “I’d think that’s payment enough.”
“Not when I have to put up with ass-hats like you,” I slammed him. “I’m here because you asked me for a favor. So for you to characterize me as ‘ungrateful’ is way out of line. And if you can’t see that your head is parked way too far up your rectal canal.”
Now, did I really say “rectal canal?” Probably not. I’m not as verbally cogent on the fly. Which is why I’m a writer and not a radio talk show host.
That said, I must’ve walked ten to fifteen clockwise revolutions around that empty soundstage, taking account of my own actions with that angry email as a way of driving a deeper wedge into Roger Dodger’s argument that I’m both the luckiest SOB on earth and an ungrateful little shit.
“Now, I am a lucky SOB,” I reversed. “Not because I’m on your movie, but because I’m married to a wonderful woman and have two great kids who miss me like hell when I’m working these kind of jobs. And you’re a lucky SOB because you’ve got people like me willing to do favors for pricks like you!”
“You’re right,” was what Roger Dodger eventually said. “And I’m sorry, okay?
“Accepted,” I auto-countered, not quite processing just what happened. “So we’re good then?”
“Yeah. We’re good.”
“So I’m no longer an ungrateful little shit?”
“You’re a little shit but you’re not ungrateful. I’m ungrateful. Now if you’re done yelling at me can we both get back to work?”
“Gladly,” I finished. And that, I thought, was that.
I don’t know just how many hours rolled by after that phone call with Roger Dodger, but it was dark and I was on my way home when my cell phone rang. Caller ID told it was Roger Dodger’s office.
“No longer an ungrateful shit, here,” I answered.
“Doug, it’s Layla,” she said. “Roger’s gone for the day.”
“Okay,” I said, slightly confused. I didn’t recall having left word for him since we finished our angry–
“I just wanted to call and tell you that I was listening in on your call with him.”
“Sorry,” I instantly apologized.
“Oh. No worries,” she said. “I just wanted to tell you that in all my time on his desk, I’ve never heard anybody brave enough to talk to him that way. He’s the one who, you know, usually dominates.”
“Well, I suppose we all have our moments. And I wouldn’t call it ‘brave.’”
“Really, Doug,” she said. “I’ve never heard him apologize to anybody. Ever.”
“Aren’t I the lucky one.”
“Just thought you should know.”
“I mean, you should’ve seen him after I read him your email. I thought he was gonna blow. But you got him… Well. I just wanted you to know from me that it was awesome.”
“Appreciate it,” I said. “But I had no business writing that email.”
“But you did.”
Yes, I did. And it was dumb and over something demonstrably petty. Sure, I stood up to a bully. But I was still wrong to send that email.
“Thanks, Layla,” I eventually said.
“No,” said Layla. “I needed that. So thank you.”