The Startup Beatdown
Chapter 2: The Next Jeffrey Dahmer
I came in for my first day of work, not knowing what I would be doing, or even where I would be sitting. All I knew was that, for the time being, I was to be reporting to Flo, the company’s office manager. The problem was that Flo wasn’t in. I didn’t see Sean Etin either, which was strange, considering we were all working out of his house. I was lost – I didn’t know what to do, where to go, or who to ask.
There were about 10 workers stuffed into the crevices and strewn about the hallways of the “office area” of Sean’s house, but none of these people were exactly rushing to my aid. Nobody introduced themselves to me. Nobody asked who I was or why I was standing around aimlessly. All I got was a few furtive glances and a cold reticence that made me think I was not wanted. There was something else. Something in the air. I tried to attune my little-used empathic senses. Did these people … hate me?
I finally saw a familiar face walking down the hallway – Rita, the HR Director, who I met during my marathon interview a week earlier. She was a blond, middle-aged, somewhat heavy-set woman with gobs of blue mascara surrounding her steely eyes. I later found out she was Sean’s little sister. I wished her a good morning, hoping my minor pleasantry could expand into more serious business – such as which desk I can sit at so I could at least pretend to do work. My greeting, however, was met with a look of unmasked repugnance and sheer hostility that I imagine would normally be reserved for a butcher of children and fans of certain reality TV shows. She walked on, eyeing me as if I was a piece of shit under her shoes.
I guessed she would not be the one to go to for questions.
I had decided to settle myself at what I hoped to be an unclaimed desk in the hallway, just so it would look like I wasn’t milling around on my first day (– that would come later). I opened up ‘Indigo Children,’ a hippie-dippy book about the auras of modern children (they’re indigo!) that Mr. Etin gave me during my interview (and was later paraphrased for me by a fellow employee as “children are more spoiled now, and should be rewarded”), and put on my “I’m-doing-important-work-here” face, hoping to fool anyone who looked my way.
After a few minutes I heard, “You’re not doing anything now, are you?”
The question was asked by Perry, a lanky guy, about my age, who was one of the programmers for Seashel’s websites. He asked me to do some simple internet research on children’s websites for him, and happy to have something to do, I quickly obliged. This hour of research would be the last time I did any work that involved me using an iota of brain power for the next several months.
Flo arrived at around noon, and started showing me my daily tasks. They included:
- Printing out Sean’s daily horoscope and adding them to his horoscope folder.
- Feeding the company’s pet chameleon crickets.
- Feeding the crickets yellow, booger-like crystals because (FUN FACT!) chameleons only eat creatures that are alive.
- Any bitch work nobody else wanted to do.
She then handed me two tall stacks of glossy papers and a can of aerosol spray glue and brought me into the kitchen, where I was to spray one sheet onto the other. Nobody spoke to me for the rest of the day and I left work with sticky hands and a massive aerosol-induced headache.
After two days of “work,” I still wasn’t one-hundred percent certain if everybody hated me in particular, or if the place was just unfriendly in general. All I knew was that, as a former intern and someone who had oversaw interns at my previous job, I was doing intern’s work. The fact that I was getting paid for this strangely didn’t make me feel any better. I was willing to do this sort of work for a limited amount of time, but only because I was promised by Mr. Etin before I was hired, the opportunity to prove myself creatively. I didn’t see Mr. Etin at all until the end of my third day, when he bustled in as everyone was getting ready to leave. He kept everyone there and began going on about how the “pendulum was swinging” and important litigation news that he couldn’t talk about, spittle popping out of his mouth. Nobody looked impressed, and I got the feeling they had all heard this sort of speech countless times before. In fact, I had heard this same speech during the course of my interview. An hour later, when he finally ran out of steam and let people go home, he pulled me and Joel, the head of Marketing aside and told us to stick around.
“Joel, you’ve met Danny, right?” Sean asked.
“Good. Danny here is a film genius and he’ll be doing creative work for us.”
Before I had time to feel good about that statement, Joel exclaimed, “What?!? No, Sean, you can’t just put people in my department without telling me.”
I felt uncomfortable. Sean obviously didn’t tell Joel whatever ill-defined plans he held for me, which I guess was fair, since I didn’t know them either. I was witnessing the beginning of a power struggle. Fortunately, before they got into it, I was excused and ran off.
The next day, I got called into the kitchen by Joel. Rita was sitting next to him, and my resume was on the table. They had me close the door and sit down.
“I don’t know what Sean told you,” Joel began, “but you’re not going to work in my department without my okay.”
“All right,” I said, not sure what was going on.
Joel, only slightly shorter and slightly less stocky than Sean, began going down my resume, line by line. “What does it mean to ‘provide coverage for new submissions?’ ” he would ask, wanting an explanation of every job task, degree, skill and hobby on my resume. I sat there and answered him.
“It says here, that you listed ‘drawing’ under hobbies. Are you any good?”
“No,” I answered truthfully. “I like to draw, but I’m really only a doodler.”
I pulled a few sketches that I happened to have in my backpack and showed him.
He took a quick look at them and said, “Yeah. You should have put doodling on your resume. Not drawing.” He then took out his pen and crossed “drawing” off my resume, and wrote in “doodling.”
Happy that he found something to embarrass me with, he continued. “Now, you do realize this is a children’s entertainment company, right?” That was the one aspect of the company that I was sure of, having read about their creative property, the Googles, during my interview — though I was confused on how they were going to entertain children if they would rather busy themselves with preferable activities such as rubbing their faces against the sidewalk, and eating paste. “I ask,” he continued, “because the movies you made were very dark.”
Things were finally beginning to make sense.
“You saw my movies?” I asked.
“Everybody here did. Now, I’m not saying they’re badly made, or insulting your artistic talents, but we thought your movies were extremely disturbing and not appropriate for children. I just want to make sure we’re not hiring the next Jeffrey Dahmer.”
Now I got angry. I may be a mass-murderer and I may keep the bodies stored in my fridge, but I do NOT eat them! Perhaps I was overreacting. Maybe Jeffrey Dahmer made some movies that I was unaware of, and the comparison was apt. Nevertheless, I tried to defend myself. “Those films and videos were meant to showcase my experience in directing and editing, and not meant to showcase what I’d be bringing to the company content-wise. Those movies are not meant for children and I only sent them to Sean because he expressly asked for my reel.”
My reel consisted of about 10 short films and videos I made either during or shortly after college. Every movie was a comedy (usually involving me making an ass of myself), and I never had to defend their “darkness” before (though they have been accused of being sexist …). In fact, compared to most of the student films I saw and worked on in college, my movies were marshmallow fluff. Out of curiosity, I asked what everyone was offended by.
“Where to begin,” Joel said, seemingly shocked that I would ask such a question. “There’s that movie about sock puppets being murdered.”
It took me a moment to realize that I was supposed to defend myself at this juncture. “It’s a slasher movie starring sock puppets,” I said, thinking that was all that needed to be said. It obviously wasn’t, since Joel and Rita kept looking at me. “It’s a comedy.”
“Okay. Then there was a film about a serial killer.”
This one I really did need to explain. “A serial killer brings a date home and has to frantically hide all the bodies he left scattered around his apartment. I unfortunately ran out of film while shooting, and I never shot an ending. But it was supposed to be a dark comedy.”
“Well, it just came off as dark,” Joel said, and to his credit, I could agree with him on that one.
“What about the movie about rape?” Rita asked. This was apparently the big issue, which I thought bizarre since I had no idea what they were talking about.
“I didn’t make a movie about rape.”
“Yes you did,” Joel said. “The movie about some woman being pulled over a bed and pounded from behind. This movie was so graphic that all of the women in the office had to leave the room.”
I still had no idea what they were talking about. I searched my memory and finally remembered. There was movie of mine with a rape scene. “You mean my documentary on the making of someone else’s movie?” I asked.
In college, I taped behind-the-scenes footage of the making of a friend of mine’s film. His film was a dramatization on how women in abusive relationships usually don’t leave the men that mistreat them.
There was a moment of pregnant silence. “How were we supposed to know it was a documentary?” Rita finally asked.
My answer came quickly, with mild exasperation in my voice. “Because it said so in the beginning of the doc and was filled with talking heads who talked about the making of the movie.” Anyone who watched it for more than a few seconds would be able to see this. Then it came to me.
“Did you guys even watch it?” I asked.
There was more silence.
“Well,” Joel said sheepishly, “some of it.”
Perry and the other young co-workers that I eventually befriended later filled me in on what happened. As it turned out, the Friday before my first day of work, Sean called everyone in to his office to watch my reel. As is his custom, he called everyone in as they were getting ready to leave for the weekend, and promptly left them alone to watch the movies, with no explanation why, or an apology for making them stay late. My reel is made up of about an hour’s worth of material, and for many months I believed they did what I would have done in that situation – skim it and leave as soon as possible. I had assumed that they had it on fast-forward and pushed play on the most visually jarring images – the sock puppets being murdered, the serial killer, the rape – which helped enforce in them a belief in my sick, twisted lust for violence and rough sex.
As it turned out, though, the events of that night played off a lot more sinister. I found out weeks before I left the company that Marcus, the (then) Vice-President of the Seashel, had seen my reel before the public viewing and for reasons that had nothing to do with me, did not want me hired. Marcus was in charge of the remote the night my reel was shown, and cherry-picked only the scenes that made me out to be a monster (or, if one were to think about it rationally, a guy that made ‘rated R’ movies). In fact, I heard he showed the rape scene three or four times, rewinding it before asking the gathered staff if they wanted to work with a rapist (confusing the author with the speaker and the speaker with the actor and the actor with the character – but whatever). One woman who worked there did not, and actually quit because I was being hired – though during the time she worked with me during her two-weeks notice, she was very nice to my face. Marcus, meanwhile, went on to show the shareholders my reel, trying his hardest to get me fired behind the scenes. Again, to my face he was very nice.
I knew now why everyone hated me. I was an ignorant pariah, unaware that the scarlet “A” was on my chest and the mark of Cain was on my forehead. I spent the rest of the week trying to repair my image. The first thing I did was write Sean Etin an email. I tried to word it in a way that explains the situation, addresses the concerns of my co-workers and clear my name. This is what it said:
I’ve been working here for a week now, and I’m getting the idea that perhaps I did not make a great first impression on my co-workers. Apparently, your staff saw my film/video reel before they met me, and because of this, I feel that a few things need to be clarified. The first, and most important thing is this: I am very much aware that this is a children’s production company dedicated to educating, entertaining and safeguarding children, and I am also aware that these tasks take good judgment and maturity. I feel that my good judgment and maturity was taken into question by the people that (unknowingly by me) saw my reel. I can understand why, considering many of these films are thematically inappropriate for a children’s production company. If you remember during our interview, I never once mentioned my videos, nor did I have them listed on the original resume I gave to you. I purposefully did this because I knew they had nothing to do with the company and the job I applied for. I used good judgment. It wasn’t until I accidentally pulled out another version of my resume (which I use when I apply for film/video production jobs) when I met with Shelia that I let it be known I make videos.
Sean, when you asked for my reel, I honestly thought it was out of creative curiosity. I am glad that you seem to enjoy my work, and am honored that you would like to see me take more of a creative role in the company, but I need to make sure you and the staff understand that my films/videos was made for either school or my own edification and are in no way reflective of my professional demeanor or the work I plan to do here.
I got a quick, one-sentence reply from Mr. Etin, promising he would take care of it. I was expecting a staff-wide meeting (he seemed to love those), officially introducing me to everyone and explaining that he had made a mistake in showing them my reel. Or at least an email attesting to this idea. As far as I know, he did nothing. So, I dealt with the issue myself – by buying snack food for the office. It actually worked pretty well, and my co-workers, regardless of whether or not they liked me, would at least talk to me for pretzels and cookies. That was enough. Beyond the interview with Joel and Rita, nobody ever brought up my movies again, but I could tell that in the back of many of their minds, I would always be “the Rapist.”
Sadly, this is not the worst thing I was called during my time working at Seashel Productions. Not even close.