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Winning to Lose

Two years ago, I wrote an editorial called, “Reality TV & Filmmaking Lessons, Pt. 1.” I had anticipated having a number of other editorials derived from reality TV, a cultural phenomenon that is nothing if not chock full of strange life lessons. (Many of which are not the life lessons the people or the editors behind the shows want you to get, but this is neither here nor there.)

However, for some reason, nothing popped into my mind from this strange source, save for my commentary that was drawn from last year’s “On the Lot”. (Which, as any of you who saw the show or read my commentary may remember, didn’t take much interpretation.)

However, this year I was watching Spike’s reality show, “The Ultimate Figher, Season 7,” and, what do you know, out popped a new lesson that can be gleaned from a reality show.

For those of you who didn't see this past season of The Ultimate Fighter (“TUF”, for short), there were two people who managed to get all the way to the finals: Jesse Taylor, a massive ground-and-pound bulldog of a man with a definite arrogance about him, and Ahmir Sedala, a humble kickboxer with some sick jiu-jitsu skills. On the line for whoever won was a six figure contract and guaranteed fights in the UFC, the largest mixed martial arts showcase in the world. (And, unlike most reality shows, the winners of TUF have actually been put into real fights, earning serious reputations for themselves, like light-heavyweight contender, Forrest Griffon, who won Season 1 of TUF and coached Season 7 of TUF.)

Both fighters finished the recorded season in the training facility in Las Vegas and were to go back to their homes to train for a few more months before the Finale was filmed live. Before they left, Dana pulled both fighters aside and gave them permission to stay in Vegas for a few days if they so chose. However, he warned them that, if they did stay, they were to be on their best behavior as gentleman and show the UFC in a good light. (Since mixed martial artists are often looked down on as “thugs” by the rest of society, Dana White has a zero tolerance policy for his fighters behaving like thugs or miscreants. This is why, to date, no UFC fighters have gotten busted for rape, drugs, armed robbery, or murder, unlike athletes in most of America’s other professional sports.) Ahmir took this advice and, rather than stay in Sin City, he simply headed back home to train. Jesse, on the other hand, decided a few days of hard partying in Vegas would be just what the doctor ordered.

After drinking enough booze to drop an ox, Taylor proceeded to rent a limo and have it drive him to an upscale hotel/casino on the strip. Rather than opening the door of the limo, Taylor kicked the reinforced window out of the limo! He then barges into the hotel and begins trying to get aggressively “friendly” with female patrons, who proceed to call security. When Security tries to escort him out, he resists and begins hollering, “Hey, I’m a UFC fighter.”

The next morning, Dana White received a security tape documenting the whole sordid situation at his home. Jesse Taylor was brought back from the airport by White’s people and was shown the tapes, at which time it was explained to him that he had lost his shot, the only fighter to ever be thrown OFF the show after he had won the title shot for the finale! As soon as that sunk in, Jesse began to weep because he realized how badly his actions had ruined the shot he had been working for all his life.

So, what does this have to do with filmmaking? Quite frankly, everything.

Too often, filmmakers think that if they can just get through a production, their behavior doesn’t really matter. Filmmakers who subscribe to this theory rarely realize that this mindset leads to poor behavior both during and after production. Even if you can get great performances out of your actors, if you act like a jerk to your crew in the process, they won’t want to help you make any more films. Not just that, but you may just find that, even if your film is critically acclaimed, no one in the industry wants anything to do with you.

This was never more true than with a young director named Rob Weiss, a bright and shining filmmaker that was working on a slick-looking Indie action/crime film called, Amongst Friends, in 1992. When he couldn’t find enough funding to complete the film, he ended up asking Indie film benefactor, John Pierson (the man who helped phenoms like Spike Lee and Kevin Smith get into Sundance and get distribution) to finance the rest of his film. Impressed by the film (which would go on to be nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1993), Pierson came on board and brought the necessary funds. Unfortunately, as Pierson recounts in his book, Spike, Mike, Slackers, and Dykes, Weiss behaved like such an arrogant slacker that he quickly regretted ever getting involved with him. (To give you an idea of Pierson’s concluding enmity toward the director, his chapter about Weiss’ film was entitled, “Amongst Enemies.”) Weiss was full of demands, including insisting on having hotel rooms rented for him for months at a time, so he could be “more productive” on script rewrites. He would frequently take naps on set while he should have been directing the film. By the time the film was finished, although it received a lot of favorable press and had been nominated for awards at the Sundance and Deauville Film Festivals, Weiss’ directing career was through.

His bad behavior caused him to essentially not work in any form of filmmaking until 2000, when he finally managed to co-produce Christian Bale’s American Psycho. Since his attitude and performance have improved drastically, he’s managed to produce on MTV’s Punk’d and write/produce on HBO’s Entourage. However, in the 15 years since Amongst Friends, he’s never been allowed to direct again.

Obviously, no-budget filmmakers have a lower tendency to act like self-absorbed nut jobs. However, in a world where fame can always strike, we need to remember that humility is an endearing trait to casts, crews, the Industry, and even the press. Strange how old Judeo-Christian concepts like the Golden Rule and humility hold up even in the completely secular society of modern America and Hollywood.

God Bless,

Jeremy Hanke
Microfilmmaker Magazine

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