COLUMN: Ironton Native Describes Hollywood Bubble

Updated 39 weeks ago Special to HuntingtonNews.Net
COLUMN: Ironton Native Describes Hollywood Bubble
CBS Extant

Editor's Note: Fisher is the creator of the CBS series, Extent, writes for F/X Network's "The Strain," and formerly for the National Geographic Channel. He is a for winner of the Appalachian Film Festival. Used by Permission.

by Mickey Fisher

The Academy Awards are this weekend and if the Super Bowl was any indication there will be a lot of talk about spoiled Hollywood liberals, living in their little bubble of coastal elitism. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to walk you through a normal day in my personal Hollywood bubble.
 

I live in an apartment complex in Glendale. On my short walk to the parking garage in the morning, I pass any number of my neighbors, who are African-American, Asian, East Indian, Hispanic and Middle-Eastern, some of whom might also be Muslim. I often stop by the office to pick up a package, where I’ll talk to the two guys working there, one of whom is Hispanic and the other is Vietnamese.

From there, I venture out into my neighborhood. Glendale has a massive Armenian population who began coming here a hundred years ago to escape genocide. Out of the population of 200,000 they number about 40%. I stand in line with them in the coffee shops, take my shirts to their cleaners, one of them is the doctor who has been looking after my health for the past year. In front of my grocery store there are tables of old Armenian men hanging out, playing games and berating one another other over coffee. It’s just like the old white guys I used to see in Breedings in Warsaw, Indiana.

“But, those are the normal people, what about the Hollywood types?”

I can tell you based on my experience working on EXTANT. A person who most likely grew up somewhere else in America, say, a small town of ten thousand in southeast Ohio, moves here with a dream. They live in a 500 square foot apartment and drive a twenty year old car with a busted out headlight. They take odd jobs to make ends meet, living on next to nothing, going without health insurance (pre-ACA) and sacrificing for years and years while pursuing this dream. This is the same story for a majority of writers, directors, actors, really anyone who works in the entertainment industry in LA or NYC.

One day, after many thousands of hours dedicated to their craft, they might write a script that gets some attention. (Or years of auditioning, land a role, making low budget shorts, etc.) It gets into the hands of managers, agents, then producers, on to network executives and then their presidents, many of whom also followed the aforementioned path from other places between our two oceans.

If you’re really lucky, a company like CBS takes a leap of faith and decides to spend millions of dollars to produce the series and BOOM! Just like that, hundreds upon hundreds of jobs are created and supported over a two-year period. These are jobs in construction, painting, truck driving, security, electricians, advertising, social media, design, seamstresses, makeup, hair, camera operators, stunt people, set decorators, medics, mechanics, tutors, and more.

The nuts and bolts, day to day part of making film and television is a fairly blue collar job. The people on the crew work twelve hour days, minimum, five days a week. They are some of the hardest working, kindest people you’ll ever meet. They run to the wardrobe trailer to get you a coat because you forgot to bring one on location and the temperature just dropped twenty degrees. Many of them are union members. They have families. They buy houses and put their kids through college by working on the shows you enjoy.

“But, you’re still talking about normal people. What about the stars, the real elites who use their sphere of influence to spout off about stuff I disagree with?”

Ironton Middle School students after the screening of Hidden Figures. 303 students were able to attend. Thanks Mickey Fisher and George Bagnoli!!
Ironton Middle School students after the screening of Hidden Figures. 303 students were able to attend. Thanks Mickey Fisher and George Bagnoli!!

Remember the whole part about moving out here with a dream, living in a small apartment and all that? Many of them followed the same route. Johnny Depp lived in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. George Clooney is from Maysville. Jennifer Lawrence is from Louisville. Jennifer Garner is from Charleston, West Virginia. Hillary Swank and Chris Pratt lived in their cars. They fought and scrapped and scraped by. They faced humbling rejection every day and earned every red cent they made.

When they finally “made it,” the best human beings among them realized they had an opportunity to help make the world a better place. They established charities and used their sphere of influence to bring attention to important causes and provide opportunities.

After working fourteen hour days for months on EXTANT, Halle Berry went to help build houses in another country. A number of agents I work with have raised millions of dollars for autism research. A producer I know works with a children’s museum that encourages and inspires them to create a better future. CBS’s CEO Les Moonves works with a clinic that serves low-income and uninsured patients. Jennifer Lawrence has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to arts programs in Louisville. Jennifer Garner raised half a million dollars for flood relief in West Virginia last year. Ashton Kutcher (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) has helped thousands of victims of human trafficking. Just last week he used his sphere of influence to speak to the Senate on behalf of children who are victims of sexual exploitation.

You may disagree with how a lot of these celebrities feel about President Trump and what is going on in the world right now, but the truth is they are not all that different from you. If you post your political opinions on social media you’re making your voice heard in your own sphere of influence. Nobody tells you to stick to accounting or health care but for some reason people demand that of athletes or actors. They forget that movies are art and art has always been political or message driven.

From Aeschylus to Rod Serling, even the folks who made GOD’S NOT DEAD, storytellers have used various forms to deliver their message.

The actors who speak up on Sunday are, by and large, people who care deeply about this country and the world we’re leaving behind for the next generation, just like you. Sure, they may go on a snarky or self-righteous rant about the President for thirty seconds at the Oscars on Sunday night, but believe me, the rest of the year they are walking the walk. (In the case of Autism Speaks, they literally WALK to raise money for autism research.)

 

The more I think about it, this whole idea of a “bubble” of out of touch, coastal elites is as colossally stupid as thinking everybody in the “flyover states” is a redneck, Bible thumping gun nut who married their cousin.

I love Ironton, Ohio but truthfully, it is no more “real America” than Los Angeles. It isn’t. It isn’t, it isn’t, it isn’t. The Armenians who settled in Glendale are the Scots-Irish immigrants in Appalachia who are the Hispanic population in Santa Ana. They work their fingers to the bone. They love their families. They go to church and pray for one another.

They came here because this is a land of opportunity. They believed in the American dream, that you could, through sheer will and hard work, achieve a measure of success. The people on stage Sunday night have achieved the highest pinnacle of success in their chosen field.

I have rarely missed watching an Oscar ceremony. Since I was a kid, it has inspired me to reach that pinnacle myself. Like tens of thousands of other people across this city, I’ve practiced my speech in my head while in the shower or in traffic. There may be a young person in your sphere or influence who is dreaming about being up there too. If and when they get there, they will hopefully be a blessing to your community as well. They may get to do things like, on a whim, send nearly a thousand Appalachian school kids to a movie that will inspire them in turn. If you teach them that being an “elite” is something to be scorned then you will be doing your part to kill that dream.

I believe the only true bubble is the one we create for ourselves through our biases and ignorance. That has zero to do with your geographic location or what you do for a living.

Lastly, if you’re ever in Glendale, go to Rafi’s Place for an Armenian dinner you will never forget!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Fisher executive produces the NBC pilot Reverie with fellow Extant executive producers, his manager Brooklyn Weaver and Amblin TV’s Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey. Universal TV produces with Amblin.

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