x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Memories may fade, but enemies will always be close

I prefer Hollywood feuds, with their drama and emotion, to Wall Street feuds. They're not as lucrative, but they always deliver a happy ending.

A few years ago, during the production of the crucial first episode of a new series, we asked a veteran comedy writer to help us out for a day.

The term is "punch up": you invite an experienced veteran to come to a run-through of your new show, then over a nice dinner you hope that he suggests a dozen or so killer jokes and "punches up" the script. There's no pay for this kind of gig - it's strictly a friendly affair - but it's customary to present each volunteer with a handsome gift.

Television writers form a loose but comprehensive web of friendships, and older writers, who are rich and bored and eager to help out, are sometimes the difference between a lacklustre pilot that never becomes a series, and a hilarious pilot that makes it to air.

This guy was one of the best, and we were excited to have him agree to help out.

"One question," he said, "before I get there."

"Ask away," I said.

"Who else will be working that day?"

I named a few of the junior-level writers. Then I named an older writer, a guy who's been around.

"Him?" the older writer said. "That guy is coming?"

"Do you know him?" I asked.

"Know him? Yeah, I know him. I hate him. I know him and I hate him."

"Oh. Will that be a problem?" I asked.

"Not for me," the veteran replied, "because I won't be there."

"But what did he do?" I asked, frantic. "Why do you hate him?"

There was a long pause on the telephone line. "Truth? I'm not sure. I can't remember."

The only thing he remembered, naturally, was that he hated the guy.

When I called the other guy, the hated guy, he couldn't remember ever working with the old veteran and was completely bewildered by the feud. Bewildered but philosophical: "If the guy hates me, then he hates me," he said. "I never met him before in my life, but it takes a lot of integrity and discipline to hate a guy you've never met or worked with." And then he added: "And you gotta respect that."

Neither one of them ended up helping us punch up the script. It was less about confronting a longtime enemy, I think, than confronting the realisation that there was no reason for the enmity in the first place.

Of course, the entertainment business is a ludicrous hotbed of grudges and feuds, and while they might be more intense than in other businesses, every business has them. A friend of mine who runs a hedge fund remembers his early days as a young investment banker when he was entrusted with the "deal book" - back in the bad old days, before laptops and tiny flash drives, confidential legal documents and spreadsheets were collected into an enormous notebook, which the youngest member of the team was supposed to safeguard.

It was an honour, apparently, to be chosen to hold the deal book.

As a mean-spirited prank, one of his young colleagues stole the book and hid it, resulting in my friend having a shrieking panic attack and for a few moments, according to his still-vivid recollection, standing on the roof of a skyscraper on Sixth Avenue in New York and thinking seriously about jumping.

It was a legendary prank, but it also engendered a legendary feud. For many years, he waited. And then, a few years ago, with the astonishing collapse of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and a few other spectacular failures, there were a lot of high-flying bankers looking for work.

Unlike the veteran comedy writer, my hedge-fund pal remembered exactly why he was feuding with his former colleagues.

The job-seeking bankers were, I'm sure, utterly baffled by the brick wall they faced.

And my pal, all those years later, couldn't claim to have been satisfied either. Too much time had passed. Too much money had been made in the intervening years. Still, the experience he had on the roof of that skyscraper had done its duty: he had risen to the top of his profession and amassed serious wealth.

On the other hand, I heard last year that the veteran comedy writer and the object of his feud sat down to lunch and made peace. Which was easy to do, because neither one knew what the war was about in the first place. And that's why I prefer Hollywood feuds, with their drama and emotion, to Wall Street feuds. They're not as lucrative, but they always deliver a happy ending.

 

Rob Long is a writer and producer in Hollywood