x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Desperate times make the best of friends

For two enemies to bury the hatchet, at least one of them needs to be desperate.

A friend of mine, who worked at a large US investment bank, was fired a few months ago. I'm not sure why, exactly - he insisted that it was totally unfair, which may be true, though I did seem to get a lot of random text messages from him in the middle of the working day, and his Facebook posting was pretty prodigious. But if he says it was unexpected and unjust, who am I to gainsay him?

Barely two weeks later, though, I got one of those blast email messages telling me he had a new job at a different financial outfit in another city. He had, it seemed, moved on.

If you work in an industry that's large and spread out - let's face it. There are investment banks and financial institutions all over the place, unfortunately - it's probably not much of a trick to make a mess of things in one place and glide effortlessly to the next, without too many details of your bad reputation trailing behind you.

It's harder to do that in the entertainment business, which often feels like a nasty little village. When people in this business get fired or have a conflict, there's nowhere for them to go. It's a small town. Everyone you've ever worked with, or hated, or cheated, or shouted at is still around, somewhere. It's only a matter of time until you run into them at the local coffee place.

It's a statistical certainty. If you live and work in Hollywood long enough, two things are going to happen. You're going to get into a small car accident, and you're going to leave a certain amount of broken career glass behind you. There are going to be people with whom you never want to work again, who probably feel the same way about you.

There are really only two kinds of enemies you have in show business. The first kind are the actual enemies, with whom you exchanged threats and bad words. These are the best kind to have. Everyone knows where everyone stands, everyone had their dramatic scene, nothing was left unsaid or festering.

It's the other kind that make things awkward. These are the secret enemies. People you just didn't like, or who didn't like you, but you worked together and then, as show business goes, whatever project you were working on just came to an end, and you never really had it out. You never spoke your piece, or had a piece spoken to you, you just swallowed the sourness and moved to the next gig.

Even I have some pieces of broken career glass in my wake. And because this really is a kind of a tiny toxic village, I see those people a lot. In television network lobbies. Walking along the studio soundstages. Behind me in restaurant booths. People in show business don't move to other cities, they just move to other projects. You're going to see them again. You just never know where.

And I never know what to do when it happens. Do I say hello? That seems highly complicated. Do I somehow acknowledge the rift? That seems like a lot of effort. Another possibility: I suddenly become engrossed in my phone. This is the one I usually choose. It's cowardly, but effective.

A friend of mine had a similar problem. An executive he worked with on a project had let it be known - never directly, of course - that they were blood enemies. He was banned from her world. And because she was a powerful executive at a large television network, this was a major career problem. His agent told him: "This relationship needs to get healed, so send a present, send flowers, do what you can because she hates you and is never going to buy another script from you and that's going to cost you a lot of money." The agent didn't have to add: "And it's going to cost me a lot of money, too." That was understood.

But my friend had no idea what had poisoned the relationship. This is often the case with secret enemies. So he didn't do anything, until a year later, when he was walking into a restaurant, and she was walking out. Before he could busy himself with his phone he heard her voice calling his name: "Hey! How are you! I miss you! Let's get together for lunch!" And then he was swept into a hug and that was that. The feud, apparently, was over.

"Oh yeah," said his agent later, when my friend called him to describe the odd events, "she was fired this morning. Pretty brutally, too. No one knows where she's going next."

And that is the most foolproof way - in Hollywood anyway, but probably everywhere else, too - for two enemies to bury the hatchet. At least one of them needs to be desperate. And luckily, in show business, this happens all the time.


Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood

On Twitter: @rcbl