Monday, April 08, 2024


When I was working at Federal-Mogul (later re-named DR1V after they were aquired by Tenneco -- the reason I left the company), I worked quite a bit on all of the brand websites for things like Wagner Brakes, Fel-Pro gaskets, Champion Sparkplugs, etc. My boss, Jessica, really liked the idea of each of these brands having a "Merch(andise) Store". I didn't necessarily see the point of that for most of the brands but helped get them built out anyway. I always felt that of all of the brands under the Federal-Mogul banner, Champion was the most recognizable. This was proven out when I saw an on-set photo from Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood where Brad Pitt was wearing a Champion t-shirt. I saved out the photo and sent it over to my boss as well as our social media manager.

"I don't know if they needed to get permission for this but I think it's a great opportunity for us to sell some Champion t-shirts!" I wrote to them along with details of the film and its release date. I figured they would take this information and run with it -- coming up with potential tie-ins, a social media calendar, and more. Instead, they did nothing.

I left the company shortly after that (and a few months before the July 26, 2019 release date). I kept tabs on my co-workers for a few weeks after I left (as one is wont to do). I went out to dinner with one of the guys who took over my position and I asked him for an update about the Champion Merch Store. Did they ever do anything to capitalize on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? No. Nothing. They didn't even order extras. The style of the shirt worn by Pitt "mysteriously" sold out by August, 2019 and was never re-stocked.

I don't know when the Merch Store went away but it's not on the Champion website -- which is riddled with broken links and hasn't had its copyright updated since 2022. Looks like all of my hard work wasn't appreciated despite almost literally gift-wrapping a great idea for them. More reasons that I left.

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Sick of It

I don't have anything against Karina Longworth or her podcast, You Must Remember This. I've listened to a few dozen hours of the show and apart from Longworth's delivery and over-ennunciation, I think it's a very well-researched and produced show. Am I jealous that Longworth has a staff to do the production and some of the research? Not really. Do I think she got anywhere due to her husband, Rian Johnson? Absolutely not. She's doing something right and I just wish I knew it was.

I spotlight Longworth because You Must Remember This consistently lands on lists of the best movie podcasts available. What prompted me to write this piece is that I recently read The Best New Podcasts of 2024 (so far) by Nicholas Quah from Vulture / New York magazine. Since 2015, Quah has consistently put You Must Remember This on "Best of" lists and that's his perogative. He apparently loves the show, writing about it at least 9 times over the last 9 years (potentially a lot more as not every plug is on Vulture nor is every piece on Vulture tagged "You Must Remember This"). This latest listicle stuck in my craw, however, as the episode Quah named to his "Best Podcast of 2024 (so far)" is "The Hard Hollywood Life of Kim Novak — 10th anniversary restoration" which was a "restoration" of the first episode of You Must Remember This. So, not exactly new.

The episode was (re-)published April 1, 2024. Quah's post was published on April 1, 2024. This seems very odd to me, unless this is some kind of elaborate April Fools joke.

Again, I'm not picking on Longworth or You Must Remember This. I'm not even picking on Quah. I'm complaining that there are a handful of podcasts that consistently fill these listicles which either cannibalize one another or are written by publicists in the employ of these podcasts. These shows are backed by the handful of companies control "big podcast", hosted by celebrities, or a combination of the two. Now, this may be a really bad look for me to complain about the repetition and redundancy of these lists as I've been trying to crack that secret formula of getting on one of them for 13 years. But, the "best new" label for a podcast that hadn't had an episode since October 2023 and whose first episode shows up on the day the listicle is published was just a bridge too far.

Really, it's probably just sour grapesssssss.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

The State of Plagiarism 2023

No one seems to be learning a lesson from Lianne Spiderbaby. Instead, things are worse than ever -- at least on YouTube. This is a great video that looks at several YouTube "personalities" that are shamelessly copying and pasting as a career.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

We Don't Use That Word Here

After my adventures with VMLY&R, I moved over to Quicken Loans. This was something I thought I'd never do. Hell, I didn't think they would have ever hired me since I've written so many bad things about Dan Gilbert (the founder of Quicken) over the years. His shenannigans had cost me a pretty penny due to some stock options I had at ePrize years before.

Regardless, somehow I snuck into Quicken -- and landed a director level position at that. Though, it was a bit odd that I was a director reporting to another director rather than a director reporting to a VP. And reporting to that VP as well.

That would change just a few months into me being there. It was a day in October 2019 when I learned that my boss, Sarah, was leaving for another company. That should have been my cue to start looking for another gig. If that wasn't it, then my complete humiliation that same day should have been.

Quicken has a weird corporate culture that tries to pretend it's not corporate. Rather than a "boss", I had a "leader." Rather than a "co-worker", we were all "team members." That same October day I was in a meeting with about 20 strangers where we were going around the table and introducing ourselves. I said, "I'm Mike White and I'm in the Experience Strategy and Design division...." Suddenly I was interrupted by a guy across the table, "We don't say that here!"

I was flummoxed, trying to replay my own words in my head. I started again... "I'm Mike White..." (Did I say that part right?) "And I'm with the ES&D group..." (Maybe he liked abbreviations rather than me saying the whole word). I could see the steam coming out of this guy's ears again when a "team member" next to me said, "We say 'team', not group or division."

I wanted to say, "You gotta be fucking kidding me." Instead I restated who I was for the third time, making sure I said "team" before the next person had their turn. I sad there, my face as red as a beet, flush with adrenaline. I wanted to jump across the table. Instead, I waited until everyone had introduced themselves before leaving the room to compose myself.

That was the beginning of the end. I just didn't know it.

I was on vacation when my boss left. When I came back I was now reporting full time to a veep named JT. He was a nice enough guy but I had a hell of a time understanding him -- as did just about everyone else. It got to the point where I started recording our conversations so I could play them back and try to make sense of them later. I also had been "tricked" a few times by hearing him say one thing but him meaning another. Not only did I have to record and play back his conversations, I had to start writing down what I had heard and send it to him no more than 24 hours after we met. Then he'd add corrections/ammendments to my notes which were meant to clarify but only made me feel like I was being gaslighted.

During one of my meetings with JT, he came out and asked if I thought I was meant to be in my position. Two weeks later he did the same thing as well as saying that I was more suited to a position a few rungs down the ladder. If not that, how about I start looking around the company for another job altogether? This freaked me the fuck out.

I ended up going to HR (of course we don't call it that, it's fancy name is "Team Relation Specialist") and they told me how I was just one of many people having issues with JT. We ended up setting up a meeting between me, JT, and his boss, Rebecca. We cleared the air a bit and JT assured me that he wasn't trying to threaten me with his suggestion... "I'm new to this culture," he would say, even after he'd been at Quicken for a year. At least my "team" faux pas was only six months after I had joined.

I kept my distance from JT as much as possible after that. He moved me literally across the floor to work with the "Partner" team. I was just starting to get into the swing of things when the global pandemic hit. Right around that time, too, I could tell that Rebecca had been busting his chops. He seemed frazzled and my HR person's assurances to "Act like JT isn't your boss," felt like they were carrying more and more weight.

When we went into the pandemic, I was still the director of UX Strategy at Quicken. JT was my boss and I had quite a few people reporting to me. JT was the kind of guy who liked to switch stuff up all the time, whether things worked or not. He would get frustrated at me because I was more of the "wait and see" person. I would do trial periods of things rather than just knee-jerk decisions that would upset the apple cart every few months. Obviously, the pandemic upset the apple cart quite a bit.

My primary concern when the pandemic hit was to try and maintain a sense of normalcy while checking in with my people quite often. I encouraged people to take time off, to not get stressed about this new world we were thrust into, and to keep me in mind if they needed to talk. I continued to be in meetings nearly 8 hours every day so I didn't feel very lonely. If anything, I was getting "Zoom Fatigue" from being on camera all day. More than half of my time was in meetings, the rest of the time was spent talking with my folks.

A few weeks into the pandemic, my HR person's advice came to fruition. No more JT as my boss. I was now reporting directly to Rebecca. One of the first conversations we had was at my review where she hand't worked with me at all and just delivered what JT had written about me. He liked to portray me as weak and indecisive.

A few months after the pandemic started I had a really bad week:

  • One of my reports and her reports were having a series of miscommunications. I thought I defused the situation and set up a meeting with our HR person to talk things out.
  • I was having a lot of issue with one of the people I worked with -- he liked to talk down to and bully my co-workers. I made mention of this to Rebecca in a meeting. "He's really good at managing projects but not so good at managing people."
  • A leader in another division contacted me to see about moving two people from their area over to my area. Made total sense to me and it seemed to be fitting with the plans of another director so I started that process going. There was one stipulation, that one of the people coming over would be getting a promotion. I talked to Rebecca about this and she said that no one would be coming over in a leadership position. I had to go back to the guy who was asking and tell him this -- running from one side to another like a damned middle-man. That didn't fly with him, esp. as he had told the person that they'd be getting a promotion. So, back I went to Rebecca...

"Did you not ask this question before? You're not acting like a director!" She read the the riot act about this situation which really caused by a lack of communication between Rebecca and another director. There was another major communication gap between the two that had come up that same week. Rebecca also told me that I had handled the situation with my report and her report. And, last but not least, I shouldn't have "spoken out" about the bully co-worker like I had. I felt like I was just handed the shit end of the stick and most of the shit on it was hers.

She "politely encouraged" me to step down as director and take a role as a Team Leader.

I knew this was a losing battle so I conceded.

Demotion One

The next time we spoke, two days later, she let me know what kind of pay cut I'd be getting. This was news to me.

So, I was now making $7K less than I was the week before (less than I had been making at VMLY&R), and now reporting to someone that used to report to me.

I spun it as "I'm stepping down as director to spend more time with the Partner team."

That was all well and good until the end of 2020 when we finally got a replacement for JT. More than a replacement, it was replacements. I spoke with the User Experience portion of the two-headed director just a few times one-on-one. I was often in meeting with him and his other half dicussing how we were going to reorganize the team. Funnily enough, the idea of the reorganization was exactly the same as what two of my "team mates" and I were working on. But, no one said that or gave credit where it was due.

The reorganization came and I noticed a very funny thing: no where on the presentation of the new structure could I see my name. It was like I had been fired by ommission.

No, no, no... that's overreacting of course. No, it was all clarified at 4:30 on a Friday when the two halves of the director met with me to ask where I wanted to be. "Would you rather be a UX Designer or a UX Researcher?" I made a pitch that I would be great in a QA (quality assurance) role. Nope. That was quickly brushed aside.

The next Monday I met with them again and said, "Out of the two positions, I think I'd be a better UX Designer." "Great," they said, and made me a UX Researcher.

That was when I knew I had been set up for failure.

Demotion Two

Not only was I supposed to be a UX Researcher but I was supposed to be among the best. Here was something that I hadn't done, hadn't been trained to do, and I was supposed to be great at it. "You've got thirty days and then we'll revisit this."

Spoiler alert: Thirty days passed and I never heard from them. I never had another (two on one or one on one) meeting with him again.

After I wasn't a Team Leader anymore the touch-base meetings with the whole team went away. The re-organization put people in places where I no longer saw most of my co-workers. I went from 8 hours of meetings a day to maybe 1 or 2. Nearly a year after the pandemic started, I suddenly felt the loneliness that I had tired my best to help my reports from feeling.

Sixty days later, I ended up hearing from my new boss (this is the fifth one!) who had also reported to me when they started less than a year before. I was told that I should be doing a much better job at the position I hadn't asked to be in.

Two weeks after that I saw that my boss had made some notes in my personnel area. What I read there sealed the deal. I knew that I was going to get demoted for a third time if I didn't do something soon. I learned that:

  1. I was only taking on easy projects (I was taking on projects that were assigned to me).
  2. I was asking for help from my fellow researchers (I thought this was called collaboration).
  3. I was ignoring my boss's feedback (I had acted on every point they ever gave me).
  4. I wasn't presenting things at our weekly learning sessions (as I'm learning the job myself, I didn't feel like I could contribute anything).

I found out in this post to my record that I had been given a verbal warning (the first of three steps in firing). I didn't know I got a verbal warning. Again, I felt like I was beign set-up.

I began looking for a new job in earnest.

I managed to get a job with Quicken's biggest competitor in the "Partner" space. I had heard that anyone who moved there would be "dead to" the rest of the team so I held my tongue after I put in my two week's notice.

That is, until my exit interview.

The Exit Interview

I wanted to unload all of the above and more at my exit interview but didn't. I thought I'd go out gracefully. No use burning bridges. Plus, nothing I would say would be taken seriously. I was just bitter and holding a grudge, right?

So, I let it slip in my exit interview where I was going. That was at 2PM yesterday.

At 3PM I missed a few messages via Teams from my boss and their boss -- the same one who wanted to connect after I put in my notice but never made the effort to actually do it.

This morning when I got up, I was excited for my last day at Quicken. I was going to clean up my laptop before sending it back, say goodbye to the Partner team at 11:45AM and then have a lunch with my fellow UX people at noon to say goodbye to them.

That was the plan.

The reality was that when I got up at 9:24 (why not sleep in, it's my last day?), I had a 9:30 meeting waiting for me with my boss.

When I signed in, I found her and another HR person waiting. Without any explanation I was told that I was no longer needed at Quicken. I was to sign off as soon as the meeting was over and close my computer. This was less than three hours before my farewell lunch and basically I was getting fired on my last day. At least, that's how it felt.

The day I got humiliated for not saying "team" should have been the beginning of the end but, after all that, I ended up exactly where JT wanted a year and a half before. It felt like he had been working behind-the-scenes the whole time to bring his plan to fruition. I know that sounds paranoid but I know my boss's boss spent a lot more time talking to JT than he ever did to me.

It was a dick move but not out of character.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

The Clay Files

Here's a little story I had to write (to document) at my last job. Enjoy!

I had heard rumors about Clay Carpenter before I started here at TPM (Taylor Properties Main), one of many satellite offices of the Ford Motor Company. Almost more than making cars, Ford is really good at owning real estate and they certainly have quite a lot of it around Metro Detroit.

While I knew of Clay by his reputation, I did my best to come at him with no preconceived notions. My presence at TPM was meant to signal a new day; a breath of fresh air. At 46, going on 47, with 20+ years in the web world, I was supposed to bring an air of experience and a calm demeanor.

However, it’s been difficult to remain the calm center of the universe. Clay’s reputation, it seems, is well-earned.

At 38 going on 39, Clay has the demeanor of a teenager. I find it difficult to not treat him like a very junior designer. I am constantly surprised that his demeanor has allowed him to progress to where he is in his career. Clay has a habit of starting every sentence with an exclamation: “Look!” he’ll say before launching into a pedantic explanation of why he has the best ideas and that everyone around him is wrong.

In particular, Clay feels that VMLY&R – the company for which I work – is a useless organization and has the incorrect impression that VMLY&R are interlopers who have insinuated themselves into the Ford Motor Company organization and add no value to the work being done. This first became evident toward the end of March 2019, when the team on which we both work was asked to participate in an exercise in “board building.”

If you’re not familiar with the advertising / marketing world, there’s an idea that the best way to garner feedback and insight is to deal not in the abstract but the concrete by physically presenting one’s work and ideas. This is done most often by taking a “gator board” – a large (roughly 7’ by 4’) black foam core board on which you tape actual pieces of paper that can include drawings, wireframes, designs, user flows, ideas, etc. These can and should be marked up or littered with sticky notes featuring comments, ideas, etc. It’s something like an open dialogue that can help shape the overall trajectory of a project. It’s like a living brainstorm.

As the gator boards began appearing in our area and pages were being hung, I received a rather large earful from Clay about how this is not how Ford does things. I told him that that was the idea. It’s the way VMLY&R – and just about every other creative agency – does things and it’s helpful for dialogue. Also, it was something that we (VMLY&R) wanted to do before a few upcoming meetings with some of the higher-ups at Ford.

As I hadn’t really been properly introduced to the project on which I was working I began the process of tracking down all of the background information so that I could speak intelligently to it and build the board as Clay was not willing to lift a finger to help.

I began soliciting the help of various members of the VMLY&R strategy team. On March 28 I was sent an incredibly helpful deck describing the overall idea to overhaul the vehicle service process and where the work I had been doing fit in to the big picture. I went over this deck with one member of the strategy team via the phone and physically met with two others (on April 3) for more insights.

I worked with another member of my team, Aravindh Baskaran, to help locate other insights about the research that had been done around the project. As we talked together about this, Clay couldn’t help but interject into our conversation that VMLY&R’s research was incomplete and that only Ford’s research has merit. He asserted that VMLY&R had not done anything. I tried to correct this by saying that VMLY&R had initially come together with Ford to craft the research and strategy. He didn’t think that was the case and seemed to get angry that I was trying to find out more information.

This incident was coupled with another one a few days prior where Aravindh had suggested that we speak to a strategist about another project that we had both been working on – Service History. We both wanted to know how this project would operate on both the FordPass (App) channel as well as the Ford website.

I am always frustrated to learn that multiple people or teams are working on the same project and not sharing information. To that end, I’m always searching for as many pieces of the puzzle as possible before diving in to form the larger picture.

Again, this idea incensed Clay. He also interjected into this discussion of the Service History conversation that he had already come up with everything that was needed for it and proceeded to bring up a drawing that he had shown me a few times before. I assured him that he had done a great job with this but that I wanted to see who else was working on the same thing. I tried to make him a partner in this, “I’m sure you’ve seen how different teams might all be working on the same thing. I want to make sure that your vision of this process is known. You’ve already done so much work on it, I don’t want it to be lost…”. This didn’t appease him. This was March 27. Clay didn’t speak to me on March 28 or 29.

To clarify, I was doing my due diligence to locate as much information as possible about the projects on which I was working. I was reaching out to people who knew more about things than I did, or that might have information that could further enhance these projects.

I got to work on my gator board March 29. As soon as work began, Clay got up from our desk (we share a very small workspace) and wasn’t seen again for the rest of the day. Aravindh was very helpful, getting everything printed for me as I don’t have access to the printers at TPM.

The following week (April 3) I had heard that “the designers” would be presenting the boards to the Ford client at 7:45 AM on April 5. “I’m not presenting anything,” Clay assured me. “Friday is my day to sleep in.” I told him that that would be fine and that I could speak to the work “we” had done. However, Clay was singing a different tune just a few hours later at our weekly team meeting where he presented concerns about me presenting to the Ford client.

“Mike doesn’t know anything about this project,” he asserted. “What if Jamie (the client) asks him something and he doesn’t know the answer?” He quickly rallied two other Ford employees to his side and eventually bullied his way into presenting the board – on which he had had no input – two days later.

The next morning, April 4, I was given the silent treatment again.

The meeting with the Ford client went pretty well. When Jamie asked about the future of the project, I showed him some of the examples of the next steps that came from the strategy deck on the gator board. Then I turned the proceedings over to Clay.

The strangest part of that morning was when Clay started talking to Jamie about the Service History project and requested five minutes of his time to go over the aforementioned picture that Clay likes to show about it.

Going back a bit, I had heard from the two aforementioned strategists that while I had been working on my main project that there was also a group of people who had “submerged” themselves in the same project. They were in what we call “a submarine” – away from the fray of Ford and solely dedicated to exploration of a single subject. This was the same kind of swirling that I had been afraid of. Rather than just plunge ahead with our assumptions, I reached out to one of the people who had been in the submarine, Jeff Huber, to see if I could get a debrief and include his learnings in the work I was doing.

I set up a meeting with Jeff to talk about the project. Clay heard about me doing this and told me that he needed to be at the meeting. I’m not used to having a designer following me to every meeting, especially when I’m on a fact-finding mission. This takes some getting used to in this environment. I forwarded the meeting invitation to Clay, but he didn’t get it. Rather than realize that VMLY&R employees can’t forward Ford invites to Ford employees, he thought I was trying to exclude him. I told him what room I was going to be in, but this wasn’t good enough. He wanted that invite.

He also wanted me to invite his boss, Sumanth Muthyala, to the meeting. I was hesitant to have too many people in the meeting. This wasn’t supposed to be a big production but a rather simple conversation. Clay has a way of wheedling and being aggressive at the same time. He was insistent on Sumanth’s inclusion. Again, I tried to forward the invite from Jeff Huber but it wouldn’t go through. Clay even watched as I forwarded the invitation. Finally, at the end of the day, I set up my own invitation and sent it to Sumanth and Clay.

The meeting with Jeff Huber on April 9 went well, though he has yet to share the information from his “submarine” (as of April 17). Though Clay took over the meeting about half-way through to again show his Service History drawing and turn the meeting into a Service History discussion rather than sticking to the intent of the meeting.

Through the project that I had been on as well as another Aravindh project I realized that there were two concurrent discussions of how users of FordPass would receive reminders for service due. One project had users getting calendar reminders while another gives users getting in-app “push” reminders. I decided that we should test the two ideas and see which users preferred. I began working on how these two things compared and contrasted while also telling the product owner of my current project that we should shelve the reminder process until the user testing results were in.

When I informed Clay of this, he got very close to my face and told me that I was wrong to want to formally test these ideas. “We should go down to the first floor and grab twenty people and find out what they like. I’ve done this tons of times before.” I asked if there was any proper documentation or survey process that he might have archived to help me set up such an ad-hoc process. He had none.

Clay was so insistent and so forward with his firm opinions that I felt shaken the rest of the day, as if I had been assaulted. I didn’t fear any physical violence, but I felt cowed by him. I wanted to get out of the building and get away from Clay.

I met later with Aravindh to discuss proper user testing and we have since pursued a path with several people to determine the various user testing platforms available to us from surveys to more formal tests. This is still in process as of this writing. I’m waiting for Clay to find out that we want to do things the right way rather than the quick way and getting up in my face again. Even as I’m writing these words, I’m getting a bit of a stomach ache at the thought.

On Tuesday April 6, Clay went on a fascinating tirade about those darned gator boards. When Juan Castro came over to my desk to ask Aravindh and me how long we would need to update boards for monthly meetings with the aforementioned Ford client, Jamie. This set Clay off. He began railing against the boards, saying that several people had come to him and told him that they looked like “grade school projects” and that his boss had charged him with improving the board process. Why not use PowerPoint?

Juan pointed out that PowerPoint is not a public thing and does not invite the collaboration of the boards. Clay countered that boards were a waste of time and that he spent sixteen hours working on them. I don’t know if I laughed out loud at this outright lie or managed to maintain my composure. As Juan and Clay went over to the boards I do remember saying, “If this wasn’t so pathetic it might be funny.” Clay railed against the placement of items on the boards, insisting it was undignified to have items so low on the board that one might have to squat to see things.

This “discussion” went on for at least 20 minutes. I really had hoped that Juan would say, “These make your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss happy so that should be good enough for you.”

But, no, Clay knows better than all of us.

When Clay hasn’t fucked off to places unknown in the office, he’s often working projects that are unfamiliar to me. I found out recently that Clay claims to be part of the Innovation Team. This runs counter to what I was told initially that he’s a dedicated resource to the projects on which I’m working. Though, to be honest, there’s not enough to keep either of us busy during the day. Eventually some projects will be transitioned to us but even those run at a snail’s pace.

For every ounce of work, there’s a pound of reviews and opinions.

Since I’ve been at TPM I’ve primarily worked on a single aspect of the FordPass application. This has branched into a few side conversations as noted above such as in-app reminders, scheduling, and even button shapes and sizes. All of these are things that should be vetted before implementation though Ford has troubles with testing insofar as there’s one guy who is allegedly in charge of testing, Mark Duer, but there’s a lack of trust in his ability to actually get the work done.

Jeff Huber describes Mark’s work as “a black hole” into which projects go but never come out. In the meantime, I’m also trying to work with my own team regarding testing while also being told that Sumanth Muthyala is also taking up test organization. This feels like more of the “Ford on Ford Crime” that I’ve heard about since joining VMLY&R. It’s something we desperately try to cut through but it’s often like running one’s head against a brick wall.

I know this is supposed to be a documentation about working with Clay, but I have to say that the whole TPM / FordPass experience is pretty screwed up.

In Mid-April there was a gathering to let everyone on FordPass know that there would be a switch-up of teams of who was working on what. This seemed a completely arbitrary decision and was not communicated well with the people doing the work. Likewise, the roll-out of these new teams has been haphazard at best.

I started receiving emails about something called “Hydra.” (Hail, Hydra). A few weeks later I was added to a group on Slack called “Orion.” These are apparently code names for two of the teams I was suddenly on. I was never introduced to the team leaders and have yet to get any invitation to a physical meeting with the Orion team. Meanwhile, I keep meeting with the Hydra team and what they’re working on seems to have nothing to do with what I’m working on or have been assigned to do. Color me confused.

Two of the projects to which I’ve allegedly been assigned deal with insurance and integrating it with the FordPass application. I’m having a really difficult time with at least one of those projects which is meant to help users when they’ve had an accident to document the accident, call for help, etc. The interface is complicated, and the core idea seems flawed. It feels like FordPass is trying to intrude on a user’s life, not help them. Likewise, it’s another case where FordPass is trying to be all things to all people.

The App as it stands wants to do things that other Apps do better. There are maps, guides, and the weather (for just that moment). I already have Google Maps, Yelp, and a weather app on my phone. I don’t need FordPass for that. Allegedly there are many more things that the App can do but even as a Ford owner, I can’t see these things. Meanwhile, the testing tool that I have been promised since day one at TPM still has yet to come through meaning that I’m flying blind most of the time, unable to see various user scenarios and the actual interaction of the interface. This kind of thing exemplifies the divide between VMLY&R and Ford.

Another example of the “bass ackwardsness” of the whole TPM/Ford set-up is the need to have two laptops. There’s the VMLY&R laptop which can do 99% of tasks and then there’s the Ford laptop which does 1%. On the Ford laptop I can print, and I can read my Ford email. In order to do anything, I have to keep switching from the Ford WiFi to their Public WiFi because proxies have not been set up. This means that I usually save all of my printing for Fridays when I go to the VMLY&R office – though over there I can only print 8 ½” x 11” as a lot of the other printer functions are locked out to VMLY&R employees. This just give the impression that everything is being held together by masking tape and bubblegum.

And, I suppose, the real kicker of it all goes back to our good friend Clay. He’s not someone conducive to a good team environment nor is he really that good of a worker on more “menial” projects.

After we had an employee who walked out after six days at TPM, there was a concerted effort to circle the wagons and figure out what’s wrong here and if the situation can be fixed. It took a few weeks, but we had a “team building event” happen on May 1. It took a little bit for some of my fellow VMLY&R folks to realize that this was related to the walk-out, though I’m not sure it’s important that they did. Some people thought a “team building event” would be something like whirlyball or a customer experience workshop. Instead, it was partially the customer experience workshop and partially a bitch session about sins of the past.

There were three people at the workshop that I had never met before. These folks were from the “Innovation Team.” Color me surprised when the next day Clay told me that he’s a member of the Innovation Team. That finally explained some of the work that he’d been doing, though his statement doesn’t pass the sniff test.

There’s a lot about Clay that doesn’t pass “the sniff test.” He always strikes me a sneaky guy. He’s like Eddie Haskell but so many people see through his act in seconds – at least that’s the case with VMLY&R people. After we had our “team building event” I was told that the VMLY&R moderator easily picked out my “little buddy” after just a few minutes into the proceedings.

If Clay being the sore thumb wasn’t obvious at the start of the meeting, it was clear by the end when we went around the room saying how we were feeling. “Hopeful,” “Energized,” those were some of the words being bandied about until we got to Clay who brought down the entire room with one phrase, “Déjà vu.” He felt like all of these issues had been brought up and discussed before, so he managed to deflate everything. Rather than discussing this, the group was already dispersing. This is something that should have been addressed right then and there either with the group or between Clay and the organizers. Instead, it was just another act of Clay being pithy and not facing any consequences.

There are the issues with the team structures, the pace of work, the core functionality of the App itself, the bureaucracy, and more. It’s not just a Clay thing but he doesn’t make anything easier. If Clay wasn’t part of the FordPass app team, I don’t know how much better things would be. There’s still the awful lack of personal space – I had some of my things disappear because they were apparently inconveniencing someone.

Not having a spot to call one’s own at work is an odd feeling. I’ve never “hotelled” before at work. When I return to the VMLY&R office I feel welcomed by both the people and my desk. It’s great to have a mug for coffee, a few toys, a couple of decorations, and just a place to call my own. At TPM I get about six inches of space on either side of my computer -- things constantly threaten to fall off my desk onto the person’s next to me or intrude into Clay’s spot. Likewise, his stuff is always infringing on my area but it’s easy to do when even having a sheet of paper in one’s area can violate boundaries.

Having my stuff disappear (thrown away) was more upsetting than it should have been. Why should I get bent out of shape about losing a few protein bars and the cup I use to make my daily shakes? Probably because it feels like a little violation and yet another sense of invalidating me as a person. Yes, there are lockers here at TPM and I have taken over one of them though these tiny lockers get pretty full between one’s coat and bag. It’s typical of the lack of space at TPM.

For a while it was discussed that the VMLY&R people (and their Ford counterparts) would get a space of their own at TPM - someplace to brainstorm and collaborate. And, when I first got to TPM I sat at a desk that had three other VMLY&R people. Unfortunately with the team rejiggering people were dispersed across the floor, most of them too to see from where I sit.

On May 14, Clay spent a good 20 minutes trying to tell me about a vast Masonic conspiracy that has infiltrated the music world. “Look at this triangle on this Steve Miller album! And over here on Dark Side of the Moon. Even Justin Bieber has a triangle tattoo…” This reminds me that Clay allegedly moved from Wisconsin to Michigan to meet his wife after he had a dream about her and was inexplicably drawn to work at a company where his “dream woman” just happened to be. That sounds like a stalker situation to me, “You’re the girl of my dreams…” Man, what a creep.

Speaking of creep… Just last week I was on a personal call and Clay messaged me via Slack to ask me where I was. I told him and let him know when I would be done. Instead of waiting, he just barged into the room, plopped his ass in a chair, and listened to my half of the conversation. Whenever I would speak he’d respond as if I was talking to him.

Every day I was set to go into TPM I would wake up the night before at 3AM and not fall back into a peaceful sleep. I dreaded heading back into that place. I dreaded seeing and interacting with Clay. There was such a relief when I would come in and his chair would be empty. That hour/hour and a half I would get in before he would arrive was the only time I felt I could really get any work done. Otherwise I had Clay in my shit almost all day. It got to the point where I couldn’t even wear headphones and listen to music while I worked. Every time I would put them on, Clay would start talking to me -- almost like he was just waiting for it. It was like a bad “Saturday Night Live” skit. Then again, are there good “Saturday Night Live” skits anymore?

I ended up putting in my notice and Clay ended up ostensibly being promoted.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Cult Documentary Survival Of The Film Freaks to Premiere at HorrorHound Film Festival

August 6, 2018­ – How does cult cinema survive and thrive in the 21st century? This notion will be explored when Survival of the Film Freaks has its World Premiere at HorrorHound Weekend Film Festival (#H2F2), Sunday August 26 at 11AM CST in Indianapolis, IN.

Joe Bob Briggs, Ted Raimi and Adam Green are just a few of the familiar faces that you'll see in this documentary that is both a love letter to and in-depth study of "cult."

"It's a wonderful, full-circle feeling," says co-director Kyle Kuchta. "Bill and I both started our respective professional careers at horror conventions; that's actually how we met. So to be able to premiere our film at one of the biggest conventions in the country feels amazing."

Kuchta was directing Fantasm, a documentary about horror conventions when he met Bill, the host of the cult film podcast Outside The Cinema.

"Ever since I was a young kid I always remember being fascinated by the idea of weird and wonderful films," Fulkerson states. "So after over two years of work, it's really exciting to premiere the flick, especially for a group of like-minded individuals. It makes me happier than the VHS box art for The Barbarians."

Film Freaks will be premiering in good company that weekend. #H2F2 will also include the world premiere of the Joe Dante-produced Camp Cold Brook, screenings of horror favorites Jason Goes To Hell and The Lost Boys, and more. The film festival is part of HorrorHound Weekend, and all details about the convention can be found here.

Keep up on everything at the Survival of the Film Freaks Facebook page.

Friday, February 23, 2018

It's The (Gasp!) Rondo Boys Club

It's awards season, ladies and gentlemen, and this always brings to mind the questions of legitimacy and purpose for awards overall.

I've given my share of awards over the years. As a judge at the MicroCineFest I often encouraged my fellow jury members to go beyond the standard "Best Feature" and "Best Short" to come up with many unusual awards, knowing that sometimes that laurel leaf design wrapped around "Best Whatever" can often give a filmmaker a shot at being in another festival or even garnering something greater. I'm not saying that we single-handedly helped Rian Johnson land the Star Wars: The Last Jedi gig but... we didn't. His Evil Demon Golf Ball from Hell was in the 1997 program before the festival had awards.

Regardless, awards can be helpful. Movies that are nominated for Academy Awards can suddenly regain box office momentum. This "seal of approval" from peers earmarks a work or a person as being special, of being noteworthy.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Academy Awards. I watch the show religiously though I am not necessarily invested in it. I don't rush out to see all of the Academy Award-nominated films in hopes of winning my Oscar pool by knowing which films, performances, audio editing, or costumes truly deserve to walk home with an award.

I think back to Dustin Hoffman railing against the Academy Award for which he was a winner in 1980 (for 1979's Kramer Vs. Kramer):

I'm up here with mixed feelings. I've been critical of the Academy, and for reason. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to be able to work.[...]I refuse to believe that I beat Jack Lemmon, that I beat Al Pacino, that I beat Peter Sellers. I refuse to believe that Robert Duvall lost. We are a part of an artistic family. There are sixty thousand actors in this Academy – pardon me – in the Screen Actors Guild, and probably a hundred thousand in Equity. And most actors don't work, and a few of us are so lucky to have a chance to work with writing and to work with directing. Because when you're a broke actor you can't write; you can't paint; you have to practice accents while you're driving a taxi cab. And to that artistic family that strives for excellence, none of you have ever lost and I am proud to share this with you. And I thank you.

And that brings me to the Rondo Awards. The website states: "Since 2002, the Rondo's have been fandom’s only classic horror awards — decided by fans, for fans." Let me say up front that The Projection Booth podcast - which I have co-hosted for seven years now - has been nominated five times. Also let me say that The Projection Booth is not necessarily a "horror podcast". The name of the Rondo Awards is officially "The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards". A better name would probably be "The Rondo Hatton Genre Awards" where "genre" typically gets translated these days into Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy.

Take a look at the nominations this year for "Best Film of 2017" and you'll find films like Blade Runner 2049, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Justice League, Thor: Ragnarok, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, War for the Planet of the Apes, and Wonder Woman. Those clearly are not horror films.

What's stranger is the second part of the Rondo credo: "decided by fans, for fans." The nomination and voting process of the Rondos is murky at best. I'm not asking for Price Waterhouse Coopers to oversee the process but a little more transparency would be nice. As it is, the nominations seem to come from the Classic Horror Film Board. I don't want to cast aspersions upon the members of this particular forum but they seem to be rather myopic.

The man behind the Rondos, David Colton, says: "It's an imperfect process, obviously, but we try the best we can to represent the best each year. [...] there's so much out there that sometimes things fall through the cracks."

While that may account for a few things getting by Colton and the 8600 members of the Classic Horror Film Board, it seems very odd that almost an entire gender escaped notice this year. When the Rondo Nominees were announced on February 18, 2018 there was a glaring gender gap.

This year's Rondos have 29 categories. Of those, six are strictly write-in categories, leaving 23 with nominations. Of those 23, roughly a dozen recognize individual achievements (categories like "Best Blog" or "Best Multimedia" can be argued to be group efforts). Of those, there were only seven that had a single female nominee of any kind and only one that had two or more female nominees (Best Short Film).

This caused a small uproar on Facebook, leading to the addition of two more nominations -- one in the Best Commentary category and one in the Book of the Year category. Yet, this felt like a case of "too little, too late."

Traditionally, people picture the stereotypical nerd living in his mom's basement as the the kind of person that would be interested in the horror genre but that is an outdated and incorrect. Shock of all shocks, there's even been a concerted effort to shed a light on women in horror with the aptly titled Women in Horror month!

Setting aside the gender gap for a second, let's look at the nominees overall and ask if they're even worthy of being in the running. Some of them are doing fantastic work but among their ranks are several writers, producers, podcasters, etc. who are just "phoning it in" and getting awarded for their flagrant mediocrity. Let us not forget that Lianne Spiderbaby is a Rondo Award winner. She could get a nomination (and win) while the people she ripped off for her articles and YouTube show did not: Lianne wasn't cribbing from the handful of consistent Rondo-nominees that have shown up time and again since the 2002 inception.

Where are the people who are doing the work? Putting in the hours, pounding the pavement, providing quality research into the horror genre? Where are Amanda Reyes, Heather Buckley, Bill Ackerman, James Gracey, Kier-la Janisse, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Chris Hallock, and Heather Drain? Where's The Cultural Gutter website and the Daughters of Darkness podcast? That's just a cursory list. I can't even say that I am a "Monster Kid" and those are just a few names that come to mind. The people who know horror will know these names and many more. These aren't the kind of people to nominated themselves on the Rondo thread (which I saw repeatedly when just taking a cursory glance). They're too busy actually busting their butts to do the work and then don't get kudos when the time comes for the farkakte nominations get announced.

If David Colton and the guys who provide the nominations need help, I suggest they join a few Facebook groups and follow some sites. As it is, I'm a casual fan and seem to know more of what's going on than these ardent fans. Or, is it just that they don't care? Or, is Facebook too new of a medium? Are they stuck with forum groups? I mean, the awards themselves still rely on antiquated things like "Email me your votes" rather than any kind of real online tabulation system. It would be nice to know who's actually getting votes. But, again, that's transparency and that's not what the Rondos are about.

Going beyond the bigger question of "should there even be awards?" I want to ask:

Who did the Rondos miss for work that appeared in 2017?
Who should get a little notice that hasn't?
And, should you even bother writing them in or are the Rondos just a sham?

This rant will likely preclude me from getting another ill-conceived nomination for a Rondo Award but, as Groucho Marx said, "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member."

Update: Apparently this piece along with some better sentiments have managed to touch a nerve. Mr. Colton writes:

I hesitate to do this, because if you have to list the women we've nominate then yup, there must be a problem (which there is). But just for those who might not know, this year's Rondo ballot includes: directors Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, Natalie James, Izzy Lee, along with writers, artists and pros like Sheena Joyce, Susan Svehla, Heather Wilson, Samm Deighan, Kat Ellinger, Deborah Painter, Tiffany DuFoe, Holly Interlandi, Stacey Asip-Kneischel, Andrea Subassati, Amanda Reyes, Laura Wagner, Sara Deck, Elvira, Graveyard Shift Sisters, Women in Horror Month, Etheria Film Festival, Rebekah McKendry, Homicidal Homemaker, Joanne Fulton, Vanessa Harryhausen, Susan Sarandon, Arachna, Marlena Midnite, Robyn, Penny Dreadful, Clizia Gussoni, Sara Karloff, Nancy Allen.

Past Rondo winners have included Jovanka Vuckovic, Kier-La Janisse, April Snellings (Writer of the Year, 2016), Jessie Lilley, Donna Lucas, Marian Clatterbaugh, Kathy Burns, Julie Adams, Lorraine Bush, Hannah Neurotica, Jackie Blaisdell, Vicki Smeraldi, Sue Howison, Sara Karloff, Vampira, Elvira, Linda Wylie, Trish Geiger, Rhonda Steerer, Debbie Rochon, Heather Buckley, Alycia Forum, Victoria Price.

Me thinks he doth protest too much. I also wonder if all of those winners even add up to half the total of Rondos that Tim Lucas has won over the years.

Also please note that even more things have been added to the list since I wrote this piece yesterday.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Tarantino Tales

As I mentioned way back when the Lianne Spiderbaby scandal broke, I'm the guy that people bring their Tarantino news to. I'm also the guy people bring their wild stories to.

The "take down" of men who have been accused of sexual misconduct has also brought about some incredible conspiracy theories as well. "Look at who's being accused! They're lower level nobodies, no one who's making Hollywood any significant bank these days. They're all sacrificial lambs while the real criminals carry on..."

Couple those two things and I've gotten an in-box full of Tarantino Tales that implicate him as a sexual predator -- specifically against Death Proof actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead -- and that his disavowal of Harvey Weinstein was nothing more than a smoke screen and that Sony is now protecting Tarantino from any accusations of misconduct now that he's in pre-production on his Manson film.

Let's not forget that Quentin Tarantino was dating Mira Sorvino -- playing a role in getting her in The Replacement Killers, which was right around the time Peter Jackson was in pre-production for Lord of the Rings. Some say this was an orchestrated revenge against Sorvino on Tarantino's behalf. ("Some say" is that same kind of crappy phrase Trump uses like "People are saying...").

There are also "casting couch" stories in regard to all of the movies that Tarantino has bandied about but never made: the Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill remake, the Vega Brothers movie, etc. But, again, those are rumors. Baseless accusations.

While these allegations against Tarantino have yet to come to light, they still may. However, I've also been treated to some stories about Tarantino that Alex Jones may find far-fetched.

Let it be said right now that I don't think that these hold any water. I don't think that Quentin Tarantino gave Roger Avary a spiked drink, leading to a fatal car crash nor do I think that Harvey Weinstein pushed Tarantino's long-time editor Sally Menke off a cliff while Tarantino video taped it, in order to make a snuff film to which he could masturbate later. Quentin Tarantino may be a lot of things but I don't see him as a Bond villain-level mastermind committing a string of crimes.

I don't even buy him throwing Hadrian Belove to the wolves as Cinefamily is a digital threat to the analog New Beverly; or doing the same to Harry Knowles because Knowles no longer serves a purpose. No, I see Tarantino as a guy who likes to hole up in his house and smoke too much dope.

I also don't see Harvey Weinstein as a serial killer who had both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams killed. This seems the definition of "fake news" and batshit crazy.

I'm sure not what to think about Robert Rodriguez's involvement in the Weinstein story. The casting of Rose McGowan in the notorious Grindhouse project presents some problems especially when I remember that Rodriguez cheated on his wife with McGowan before he abruptly broke up with her.

And what role does Amber Tamblyn play in all this? She allegedly encouraged Quentin Tarantino to "come clean" about what he knew about Harvey Weinstein but it all seems overly-calculated. This is both show and business.

I don't see it as any coincidence that Bryan Singer was removed from Bohemian Rhapsody right before being sued for sexual assault.

Now I am starting to sound like a conspiracy theorist but I will say that not only do I think we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg in regard to the mechanisms of the entertainment industry but that what we've read reeks of pre-approved studio releases.

There's absolutely no journalistic integrity to this blog post so it shouldn't be considered news. Consider it a bit of "pulp fiction" as it were. If there are hard facts out there to support any of these things, it's improbable they'll ever come to light but stranger things have happened.