Saturday, March 17, 2007

Fired Up

There's a layoff I got over the phone while I was visiting my in-laws in Florida, for a videogame development and licensing company pulling up stakes back in San Francisco. Earlier, when I was in Austin, TX in 1985 I had one of those, "You don't really seem to want to be here," conversations with one of the three partners at the ice cream parlor from which I was being fired by, I had to admit to myself, mutual consent.

The fact is that if you're young enough, getting fired is often the best thing that can ever happen to you. It all just depends on what you decide you want to do next, how much you put into getting it, and the market conditions at the time.

So many people I know got fired and got successful because of it. From a rinky-dink internally political foundation in NYC to the MacArthur Foundation. From an overextended special effects house to one managed successfully. From a division to a network. From a small money-management firm to a mammoth one.

This morning I got to enjoy a screening and q & a with Annabel Gurwitch and her funny, sympathetic independent film, Fired! Annabel is a talented actress, writer and now producer as well, and I am fortunate to know her as a friend through her husband and my old Albany buddy, Jeff Kahn, a talented television writer and essayist himself. The initiating incident of Fired! is her hiring and subsequent firing by Woody Allen, for a play he wrote and directed several years ago in New York. Annabel was, of course, thrilled to be chosen, all the deeper her humiliation, reenacted with an anonymous stand-in for Woody (shot mainly from the back) who couldn't have done a better impersonation. "You look retarded," Woody tells/told her. Smooth.

Annabel managed to turn her devastation into lemonade, and with her plucky screen presence explores the phenomenon of being fired through interviews with comedian friends like Tim Allen, Jeff Garlin, Anne Meara, David Cross, Sara Silverman -- lots of great stories about jobs before acting as well as getting fired from movies and TV shows -- as well as non-Hollywood explorations including firing counseling, Michigan auto worker layoffs, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich (under Clinton), and the White House chef fired by El Presidente W. himself when he came in.

While the movie is a proudly low-budget affair, it has some theatrical distribution in a few U.S. cities and nice slots coming up on Showtime. Annabel also wrote/edited a companion book collecting even more firing tales, including lots more creative Hollywood people who have battled inane jobs and jerkish managers, some even still. The DVD comes out in a few months, replete with extra footage.

If you've ever been laid off, downsized or simply shit-canned, you're going to forgive yourself a lot more after watching the movie. It moves briskly and opens up audience laughter with all the clever takes on man-against-"The Man" throughout. The style is in the vein of The Aristocrats, but the subject matter is a lot less inside. When you see Annabel interviewing the UAW union guys in Lansing, you certainly feel for them.

I'm guessing that at least 75% of American workers have been cut from a job sometime in their life, so none of us are alone, unless we just stayed in bed and never bothered looking for a job ever again. That's resonance for you.

And while I certainly know a tiny handful of people who have never left a positon except by their own choice...they just don't have the good stories.


swainchampagne said...

You seriously should have give her my number when she was making it. I've got some funny ones as you would imagine.

Can't wait to see it!

swainchampagne said...

I'll just tell you this one. I worked for two years doing graphics work for a liquor distributor. Nicely paid, happy, loved my job. They hired this nasty woman, Gina, as the sales manager. She started doing my job producing point of sale materials without ever asking me if I needed help, etc. She was just evil, basically. (I could go on another time) I tried to speak with my boss over a two week period about but he was "busy". So I cleaned up my office, tidied up the computer files and put everything in order to leave things in tip-top shape. Up to this woman's arrival, the job was cake. So why wouldn't I leave it perfect for the new guy?
Well, monday comes. I walk strait into the bosses office to give my notice and do so in the nicest, Southern way and he sits there dumfounded. Then he asks me if I need anything because he's taken my computer out of my office! He was planning on firing me! And unfortunately I beat him to the punch and didn't get any unemployment or a letter of recommendation...
The upside is that I moved and finished college and graduated from Berkeley last May!

Anonymous said...

When I was at IBM, one of the mgrs was trying to fire one of his guys for quite a while (it wasn't easy in those days). They hated each other and both took every opportunity they could to antagonize the other.

When the mgr was finally able to can the guy, he had his desk taken out into the parking lot and set on fire.

Yes, this is true.

Another story: a very good friend of mine is a turnaround artist. He was between gigs and his recently ex-wife set him up with her company, a small software outfit that was in the process of dressing themselves up for a possible takeover. My friend was given complete authority to do anything he felt would make the company more attractive to potential suitors.

The first thing he did was fire his ex-wife.


Mark Netter said...

I didn't know Annabel when she was making the film, but you can always post your firing stories to her site. These are all great stories. Like I said, the movie makes you bring them out of the woodwork!

swainchampagne said...

OK, that IBM story is HILARIOUS!