The Start-Up Beatdown

Chapter 1: The Interview

I sat in Sean Etin’s clut­tered office, read­ing what I thought was very pos­si­bly the worst thing ever writ­ten. It was the sto­ry of Stoogle Google, a fur­ry, mul­ti-col­ored, four-eyed alien that lands on earth and secret­ly befriends a lit­tle boy. Ignor­ing the always-dicey ‘secret-rela­tion­ship with a minor’ plot­line, there were numer­ous prob­lems in the book, the most glar­ing being a syn­tax error in the first sen­tence (with more scat­tered through­out). The cov­er art, obvi­ous­ly drawn by the author, fea­tured the pear-shaped alien pos­ing awk­ward­ly in front of a Pho­to­shopped out­er-space back­ground. So, draw­ing and writ­ing obvi­ous­ly weren’t this man’s strong suits. “May­be he was good with ani­mals, or some­thing,” I thought as I tried to speed through it …

I looked up at the clock hang­ing in Mr. Etin’s office and let out a groan. I had been left alone for the last forty min­utes, and was well into the third hour of my job inter­view. Had they for­got­ten about me? Did I get lost in the shuf­fle? It was entire­ly pos­si­ble. The place was a chaotic mael­strom of activ­i­ty and crack­led with an intense ener­gy. Some­thing very impor­tant was hap­pen­ing in the com­pa­ny that I did not under­stand. Some­thing to do with emer­gen­cy meet­ings, law­suits and replac­ing board mem­bers. Mr. Etin was in attack mode when I first met him, spit­ting out a dozen names and phone num­bers from mem­o­ry in quick suc­ces­sion, as he briskly walked through the hall­way, West Wing style. Before that, my first of what turned out to be four inter­view­ers, Flo, was called away two or three times dur­ing our meet­ing to deal with some cri­sis, leav­ing me alone in a tiny kitchen, with noth­ing to do but stare through the win­dow at the hun­dreds of geese con­gre­gat­ed on Sean’s lawn, dec­i­mat­ing it with their feed­ing.

It could be that they were test­ing me. I had read that some­times com­pa­nies pur­pose­ful­ly put their poten­tial hires through uncom­fort­able or strange sit­u­a­tions in order to gauge how they would react. It’s pos­si­ble. Leav­ing me alone with a book whose very let­ters and words seemed flecked on with fecal mat­ter, and, I thought, would prob­a­bly make my ass dirt­ier had I used its pages as toi­let paper, for seem­ing­ly no pur­pose seemed a lit­tle odd. Was I sup­posed to seek some­one out and remind them I’m here? Am I sup­posed to wait patient­ly for Mr. Etin to return? And what about the book? Beyond its obvi­ous test to my intesti­nal for­ti­tude, was read­ing it a test as well? If Mr. Etin, God for­bid, asked me what I thought of it, I could be in big trou­ble. He could be test­ing my tact, my hon­esty or my taste. Or, worse yet, may­be he didn’t know it was hor­ri­ble. I began sweat­ing under my itchy gray-brown suit as I tried to come up with the most diplo­mat­ic way of say­ing the book wasn’t fit to prop up fur­ni­ture. I real­ly need­ed this job …

****************

All of my life, I want­ed to make car­toons. I grew up in the 1980s, the Gold­en Age of vio­lent, cheap­ly-ani­mat­ed, but ulti­mate­ly enjoy­able car­toons. I avid­ly watched GI Joe, Trans­form­ers, He-Man, Teenage Mutant Nin­ja Turtles, Vision­ar­ies, Thun­der­cats, Sivler­hawks, Chal­lenge of the Super­Friends and even Go-Bots. Basi­cal­ly, if it was on TV, I’d watch it, and with great inter­est. Every day after school, I’d invite my friend over, dump out my box of GI Joes, and we’d make up new, vio­lent adven­tures. The­se prac­tices end­ed up hav­ing a pret­ty large effect on both of our lives, as I tried my hand at turn­ing my love of children’s ani­ma­tion into a pro­fes­sion, and my friend lat­er joined the army …

In col­lege, I trans­ferred into NYU’s film and TV pro­gram, where I stud­ied ani­ma­tion, script writ­ing, sto­ry­telling, pro­duc­tion and edit­ing. I stayed in New York for the sum­mer and interned for Sun­bow Enter­tain­ment, the com­pa­ny that made so many of the car­toons I loved as a kid. I con­tin­ued to intern there until I grad­u­at­ed, and lat­er, was offered a job as a Cre­ative Assis­tant, where I scout­ed for new projects, spoke to agents, sto­ry edit­ed scripts, and learned the ropes from a real­ly great boss. It seemed like I was quick­ly climb­ing the lad­der, and would soon ful­fill my dream of devel­op­ing and pro­duc­ing my own show.

As it turned out, I climbed the lad­der too quick­ly. Short­ly before I joined, Sun­bow was bought up by a Ger­man con­glom­er­ate. This move con­firmed what I had already sus­pect­ed to be true: Ger­mans and children’s car­toons don’t mix. The first thing they did was take a look at the bot­tom line: “Ach du lieber! The­se employ­ees who have been mak­ing suc­cess­ful children’s shows for the last 20 years are cost­ing a lot of mon­ey!” “Ja. Let’s fire them and get down to real busi­ness,” I’m sure they said, as they got ready to schiz­er in their secretary’s mouth. So, they fired all of the long-term employ­ees that made the com­pa­ny great. The next move the German’s made was hir­ing the CEO’s child­hood friend to be the COO. Here’s anoth­er help­ful hint to those that are read­ing this and hap­pen to own a com­pa­ny: Don’t put a known drug addict in charge of your company’s mon­ey. The COO, work­ing out of the conglomerate’s Lon­don office, quick­ly pro­ceed­ed to dri­ve every­one crazy. The sto­ry goes that one of Sunbow’s prop­er­ties drew inter­est from MTV. Con­tracts were drawn and every­one was ready to head into pro­duc­tion. All they were wait­ing for was the COO to sign the papers, which he was too strung out on Codeine and Mor­phine to do. After two weeks of wait­ing, MTV took their busi­ness else­where. So did the cre­ator of the prop­er­ty. So did many of the remain­ing employ­ees, who knew a sink­ing ship when they stood on one, and jumped to anoth­er com­pa­ny. When I start­ed as an intern, there were about 20 employ­ees work­ing out of the New York office. By the time I joined as a full­time, paid employ­ee, there were only four. Soon after that, it was just two – me and my boss, who I could tell was absolute­ly mis­er­able work­ing for the Ger­mans and their drugged-out, incom­pe­tent mon­ey­man. With­in months of my hire, she left for a car­toon com­pa­ny in Eng­land, bequeath­ing me as the sole employ­ee of the New York office, and in charge of all cre­ative deci­sions.

I tried to make the best of my sit­u­a­tion and do as good a job as a 23-year-old cre­ative exec­u­tive with no staff and no con­tacts could. I got in touch with cre­ative folks and their agents, and tried to make car­toons that I would want to watch. Deals always petered out when the COO got involved. I stayed there for a year and a half and final­ly got so sick of the incom­pe­tence that I quit. As a strange coin­ci­dence, the day I left was the same day that the CEO of the Ger­man con­glom­er­ate stepped down from his post. It turned out that he got in trou­ble in Ger­many for major tax eva­sion and had to flee the coun­try. The COO, whom every­one knew had a drug prob­lem, was fired a short time lat­er. Sun­bow offi­cial­ly closed its doors about a mon­th after that.

I had mean­while moved to LA, ready to work for an ani­ma­tion com­pa­ny that wasn’t run by Ger­mans. I thought with my unique expe­ri­ence and resume, I’d get a job in no time.

That turned out not to be the case. I sent out hun­dreds of resumes and used the con­tacts of my orig­i­nal, good boss to meet with some of the most impor­tant peo­ple in the busi­ness. Though they gave me their time and their advice, they could not give me a job. I didn’t give up hope, though. I knew some­body would have to offer me a job at some point.

Again, I was mis­tak­en. I didn’t get a sin­gle inter­view in the nine months I was in LA. I was quick­ly run­ning out of my sav­ings and decid­ed enough was enough. If I were to be unem­ployed, it should be in an area where the air was clear, the traf­fic didn’t dri­ve me crazy, and the peo­ple weren’t two-faced, image-obsessed scum­bags. Fur­ther­more, it should be a place where I knew my food and board would be free. It was time to move back in with my par­ents. So, I packed up my car and drove 3000 miles across the coun­try, back to sub­ur­ban Mary­land and the very house I grew up watch­ing car­toons. As a final ‘fuck you,’ I got a call on my cell phone as I was dri­ving through Nowhere, Okla­homa. It was an ani­ma­tion com­pa­ny want­i­ng to inter­view me, but only if I could make it the next day. I hat­ed LA.

Things began to turn around in Mary­land. I put a tourni­quet on my cash flow prob­lem, and con­tin­ued to send out resumes online, chang­ing my address to LA, New York and any­where else that had a job that was some­what relat­ed to what I want­ed to do. My plan was, on the off chance some­one would actu­al­ly con­tact me, to fly, dri­ve, or run to where the inter­view was to be held, and pre­tend to live there. Then, in the two weeks I said it would take me to quit the job I didn’t have, move there.

For some rea­son, my par­ents had a prob­lem with their 25-year-old son and for­mer cre­ative exec­u­tive liv­ing in his old room with­out a job, so I also applied to area jobs that I felt I could be some­what com­pe­tent at. With­in a cou­ple of weeks, I got calls for inter­views, both in the area and in New York. It seemed like a mat­ter of time before I was to get some­thing. It was either going to be a cool job in New York, where all of the mon­ey I earned would be drained away towards an exor­bi­tant­ly priced, minis­cule apart­ment, or a crap­py job in Mary­land that would allow me to save my mon­ey. I thought to myself, “if only there were car­toon com­pa­nies around my parent’s house. I could stay here, replen­ish my now near­ly nonex­is­tent sav­ings, and get some more expe­ri­ence for my resume. I wish that were pos­si­ble.” Inci­den­tal­ly, I think in a very unre­al­is­tic style…

I was ready to inter­view with Blue Sky Stu­dios in New York, but it got post­poned at the last min­ute. Strange­ly enough, I got a call on my cell phone that very day from Seashel Pro­duc­tions, a children’s enter­tain­ment star­tup com­pa­ny housed not 5 miles from my parent’s house. They want­ed to inter­view me.

A high­er being (God? The dev­il? Bob?) heard my wish, gave me just what I prayed for, and then laughed mani­a­cal­ly when I real­ized that I wasn’t quite being speci­fic enough … But I’m get­ting ahead of myself …

****************

Sean burst through his office and rushed to his desk. “You fin­ished read­ing yet?” he asked, as he pow­er-walked to his chair.

Yes,” I lied, pray­ing there were no fol­low-up ques­tions.

A piece of shit, right?”

I breathed in a sigh of relief. “There were prob­lems with it,” I replied, want­i­ng to sound at least a lit­tle diplo­mat­ic.

Sean Etin was a big man. Tall, thick and wide, he had a clas­sic ‘body­guard’ build and kind of remind­ed me of that bull Bugs Bun­ny some­times fought in those old Looney Tunes shorts. He had a bar­rel chest, and a bar­rel stom­ach to go with it. I had already pegged him as some­one who used his intim­i­dat­ing stature as a tool to get what he wants. I prob­a­bly would have hat­ed him in high school. He was a top-of-the-food-chain kind of guy, and not afraid to stomp on a few throats. He was in his late for­ties, with neat­ly trimmed, short brown hair combed back, and wore an expen­sive suit that did lit­tle to hide his immen­si­ty. His large, pota­to-head was accen­tu­at­ed by pock­et of fat hang­ing under his chin. He crossed his thick, sausage fin­gers and told me a lit­tle about him­self.

This was his fifth star­tup com­pa­ny. He was a mil­lion­aire by the age of twen­ty and tripled his mon­ey with his sec­ond star­tup com­pa­ny a few years lat­er. He lost all of his mon­ey in his third and forth star­tups. The point of the sto­ry, he said, was that he knew how to run a star­tup com­pa­ny. “Well, half the time any­way,” I thought to myself. He had just got­ten out of the real estate and land devel­op­ment busi­ness and proud­ly stat­ed that he devel­oped his man­sion, where we were inter­view­ing and where his com­pa­ny worked out of, along with all the oth­er man­sions in the area.

What he didn’t tell me was what the com­pa­ny did, and what I would be asked to do if I joined. “This is a star­tup com­pa­ny, and you’ll be asked to wear many hats,” he would say when I pressed him to what exact­ly I’d be doing.

He passed me back to Flo in the kitchen. I tried to ask more ques­tions as to what the com­pa­ny did. I heard things about web­sites, music, tech­nolo­gies, TV shows and mer­chan­dise, but noth­ing in terms of a busi­ness plan. I asked about who was in charge of the cre­ative deci­sions. That would be the head of mar­ket­ing (which, for those that know, is nev­er a good sign). She also warned me that Sean was a very dif­fi­cult guy to work around, and if I couldn’t work in a high-stress envi­ron­ment, I should just walk away. “Sean can be gruff and some­times ver­bal­ly abu­sive. But he’d nev­er hit any­one,” she said. I found the fact that she need­ed to say that wor­ri­some. She con­tin­ued, “If he ever hit me, I’d quit on the spot.” “No,” I thought, as I scanned her tiny body, “if he ever hit you, you’d be dead on the spot.”

I was into the forth hour of the inter­view, and was passed off once again, this time to Sean’s wife, She­lia. I was very tired and didn’t know why I had to be inter­viewed by the boss’s wife. I asked her what she did at Seashel, and she told me she didn’t work for the com­pa­ny. She very polite­ly asked me for my resume and scanned it for a sec­ond.

I didn’t know you also made movies,” she said.

Crap! I acci­den­tal­ly gave her my ‘pro­duc­tion resume.’ In addi­tion to the resumes with dif­fer­ent cities on them, I also made a ‘pro­duc­tion resume’ for when I applied to jobs like direc­tor or edi­tor. This resume list­ed the assort­ed films and videos I made while I was in col­lege and cou­ple made just for fun. Most of them con­sist­ed of me mak­ing an ass of myself.

News of my pro­duc­tion expe­ri­ence spread fast. Flo came back and asked me why I nev­er men­tioned I had video expe­ri­ence. I was pulled aside by Rita, the head of (and only mem­ber of) Human Resources and she asked me about the dis­par­i­ty between the two resumes I had. I was in trou­ble. I told her that I didn’t think my pro­duc­tion expe­ri­ence was rel­e­vant to an office job and explained to her that I acci­den­tal­ly hand­ed She­lia the wrong resume. Sean came in to the kitchen and told me he want­ed to see my reel and to drop it off to the house the next day.

I was final­ly allowed to leave, five hours after the inter­view began.

I went home and cob­bled togeth­er my assort­ed films and videos onto a DVD and deliv­ered it to Mr. Etin’s home on Sat­ur­day, along with a spec script to show I could write for children’s tele­vi­sion. On Sun­day, I got a call from Mr. Etin. He was extreme­ly impressed by my movies. Espe­cial­ly my music video to “Lady In Red,” a project I put togeth­er just for fun because the inher­ent sap­pi­ness of the song made me gig­gle. “Chris DeBurgh is my favorite singer of all time,” Mr. Etin explained. I didn’t tell him that the video was a con­temp­tu­ous par­o­dy. “We’re going to need some­one with your tal­ents and expe­ri­ence very soon,” Mr. Etin spat into his phone. “We’re this close to being out of our start-up phase in the com­pa­ny, and we’re going to rush into pro­duc­tion.” With what, I was still unclear about. “I’d like it very much if you were to work with us.”

And with that, I began work­ing for Seashel Pro­duc­tions, the worst com­pa­ny in the world …

 

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