Top 10 Ways to Quickly Earn the Wrath of the AD

Top 10 Ways to Quickly Earn the Wrath of the AD

Hat tip for this to an assistant director it has always been a pleasure to work for, Paddy Connor!  This is a brilliant and necessary quick read for ANYONE who wants to survive and thrive on any TV or film set, even if you’re not one of those strange itchy people scurrying around like Charlie Sheen on serious tiger’s blood, talking into their hand like you’re not even there.  They one of the many Jedi of the Director.  Ignore or disrespect them at your peril.

Heroteers Saved Me, So I Heroteer to Feed 56k in LA Thanksgiving

Attempting to not only survive the Great Recession but find success and significance as a father and actor/writer, I got mad during a job interview yesterday.  I already have a part-time job telemarketing for NGO’s, after submitting 30+ resumes and job applications.  (Somehow making a difference for survivors of Super Storm Sandy feels so much better than taking a mortgage loan application for someone’s ski lodge.)  So as I interviewed by offering a sales plan that gave back to the community, I realized I was teetering between dream employee and someone who threatened egos.  The interview confirmed my suspicions based on a cursory Google search of the firm: it lives in the old paradigm of profit and banking relationships, the country club members of Caddyshack.  I anticipate an America more like Gangs of New York or Les Miserables.  I see how a business could easily avoid the branding of Bernie Madoff and instead become superhero to those attempting to secure enough income to feed, clothe, house and keep healthy their family.  I pitched ideas not far off the mark of what other Fortune 500 brands implemented years ago.  “You should be in politics” is what I heard, from a man apparently trapped in position and corporate dictates, instructed to give lip service to change, but not empowered to implement outside the current paradigm.

I have as much an appetite for politics as Mark Twain.  Promised a second interview, I left realizing I had to leverage my position for a job that might not even be appreciated.  I thought of researching the competition, perhaps playing one against the other. Why should I fight so hard for a company that clearly does not appreciate it?  How is it I have absolutely no problem taking direction on a film or TV set, but the second I enter any sales organization, I suddenly become the over-achiever, a bit too confident and creative but without the proper pedigree or mercenary results?  Perhaps because I respect directors and film?  Perhaps because I’ve worked for too many sales organizations across the fruited plain?  Perhaps Glengarry Glen Ross and Office Space ring too real for me?  Perhaps the signs of ignorant privilege muttering “let them eat cake … and get a job” I can spot too easily?
So I reflected on the last three months.  I thought of the heroes who stepped up and gave me a hand when I was against the ropes in the eleventh hour. People who were not blood relatives, people who I may have met once.  People who looked more like relations of the re-elected First Family than my own.  People who had their own significant challenges, yet found a way to give me the help I desperately needed.  At the end of August I had admitted myself to a hospital for thoughts of suicide and became homeless.  Now I have a nice $450 place to live in Studio City, weekly therapy sessions, a part-time hourly plus bonus job that feels fantastic, and much of my notoriously optimistic and creative mojo has returned.  When I reluctantly reached out for help, family ignored me or offered trite platitudes and “prayers”.  Some “friends” took offense that I asked for help in a manner that caused embarrassment.  Because I asked.
Others came out of the woodwork, eager to write the obituary to my career as a performer.  (I share Bryan Cranston’s incredulity at what “making it” in Hollywood even means.  I love live audiences and rolling cameras.  I hate selling shoddy products.  The end.  I just want to do what I love without perishing in the process.)  But a few rallied behind me.  Without fanfare or platitudes.  They just helped.  Cash.  Bus fare.  Rent.  Lunch.  Constructive ideas and strategies that respected my mojo.  Truly encouraging words, the ones the singing cowboy imagined.  They honored the hero they still saw in me, even when I failed to see it myself.  The gave me what I needed in a moment of crisis.  They were heroes who volunteered.  They were my heroes.  No, they were … heroteers.  Yes, this culture desperately needs a new word.  It will take heroteers to harness the best in us in spite of our worst.
Heroteers are people who recognize needs and step in with their resources and abilities, solving the problem at hand.  In spite of differences.  In spite of the way things have always been.  Engaging and even enlisting perceived villains.  But by inspiring the hero we all want to be.  Because a human had need.  But it takes courage.  It takes faith of a kind.  Faith that humans who can invent the smart phone, be the Beatles or Stones, learn to recycle or eat organically, create the United States of America or travel to the moon and Mars can end hunger, poverty, homelessness, disease, slavery and war.
I’ve lived in a country club.  I’ve been homeless.  I’ve had a six figure income.  I’m now under-employed, living on food stamps under the poverty line.  I once looked a college president in the eye and refused to fold the independent student newspaper I founded.  I’ve been kicked out of college.  I’m an Eagle Scout on the FBI’s subversive list.  I’ve sold stuff.  I’ve driven taxis and limos.  I’m at my best when I perform before a camera or live audience.  That is my strength.  I have challenges that threaten my success, even my survival.  But I refuse to submit to the failed patterns of this culture.  I choose to find and encourage the significance within all of us.  I’m going to stop focusing on my needs to earn money.  I choose to rally the heroteers and actually help people.  
Heroteer Mission #1 is to feed LA Thanksgiving 2012.  According to the LA Food Bank, 1.7 million humans in LA County struggle with hunger.  In 2012.  Nearly 31 LA Dodger Stadiums FULL of hungry humans.  I don’t know how, but I intend to feed at least 56,000 people in Los Angeles this Thanksgiving.  Yeah.  The one this Thursday.  Yes, Dodger Stadium fits 56,000.  I’m not clear exactly how.  But you know someone who can help.  We all do.  You know someone who can heroteer and help with specific challenges, whether they be the legal, financial, transportation, safety or other logistics of feeding fifty six thousand desperate and hungry people in one day.  Yeah, you’re on the hook now to spread the word.  You can click or call or think for a moment to make a difference in the lives of fifty six thousand of your fellow humans who are literally STARVING.  In America.  In the town of film production and other magic.  I’m heroteering to lead the better angels within the residents of the City of Angels to get this done.  How will you heroteer?  Follow “Mission: Feed LA Thanksgiving 2012” on Facebook for the latest.
So I want us to rally around that new verb “heroteer”.  Like and follow it on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.  Use the word.  Be the word.  Discover the hero within you, and rise up to defeat the evils that remain in this world, one human need at a time.  Quantify it.  Analyze it.  Make it more efficient.  Make it better.  Tap into the power of your own unique emotions, passions and talents.  Overcome faults and fears and differences to cooperate with those outside your cave of comfort.  Transform your lifestyle into a force of overwhelming daily influence and change that replaces hope with joy and significance.  You’ll feel like a superhero in the process.  Because … you are.

To Be, Or Not to Be: Tony …

Tony Scott took his life about the time the hospital discharged me. Unlike Tony, I have not taken my life. But like Tony, I gave the matter serious thought. Which is why I admitted myself to the hospital the night before he left us.

I never knew Tony. As with everyone else immersed in American culture, I could not escape the humanity, power and emotion of Tony’s films. To call them quintessentially Hollywood may seem dismissive to some. Not me. To this day I cannot hear a certain song from Top Gun without feeling my heart again, remembering a high school crush unrealized, a sense of what love could be.

As an actor and comic, greater is my sense of loss of such a vital member of the artistic community. Too many artists, too many of “the good ones”, we seem to have lost since the advent of the Great Recession a few years back. Given Tony’s success, one would think that food, drink, clothing, shelter and other survival necessities were not among his concerns. His family assures he had no medical condition or crisis. He had many colleagues and friends. He considered his fellow filmmaker brother Ridley his best friend. So why did Tony take his own life?

Like everyone else, I do not know what went through Tony’s mind. I do know what it is like to have struggles not understood. I do know the despair of failing to find the right words to express to the right people. I do know the pride and stoic resolve of those who share the ancestry of Churchill’s island. I do know the frustration of inner turmoil in a world that can only see what they want to see in you: good cheer and success over any adversity. I do know of the despair that leads to thoughts of suicide.

After a night in the hospital listening to a doctor tell a woman with diabetes she is one drink away from death, the shrieks of a 93 year old woman at the receiving end of a catheter as she lay it would could well be her deathbed, and the sound of my autopilot blood pressure sleeve inflating every few hours, A Los Angeles County Mental Health professional diagnosed me as having depression with suicide ideation. After her cursory portion of an hour with me, she was satisfied I would not take my life that day. She gathered I did not feel adequately heard as a child, and so that remains a hot button for me today. She told me I had a strong desire to please others, which often leads to me acting as a victim.

I’ve never been sexually violated by a priest or a coach. If I had, I suspect I’d be classified as a victim, not as one who merely acts as a victim. I am an Eagle Scout raised in a strict born-again Christian home. My high school transcript is littered with A’s and one B+. I attended college on academic scholarship, where I served as treasurer of the student government, the opinion editor of the one school newspaper, and as a member of the award-winning debate team. Just the son many would claim to want, but perhaps one a bit more macho and into sports. I was delighted to spend time with my childhood idol, William F. Buckley, Jr. before he hosted one of his Firing Line debates at … no, Mr. Buckley, that is not the dining commons. That is the George Roche Sports Complex. One of my chief lessons at Hillsdale College, “Harvard of the Midwest”, was that I should be a key member of the football team or have the right parents.

My biggest lesson was that one should never engage in honesty or free expression without powerful friends and generous financial resources. (I’m reminded of this lesson with each new chapter in the Julian Assange saga … as if I need reminders.) I first kissed a girl in college in the arboretum where Lissa Roche was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The gun was her husband’s, whose father she discovered the day prior was about to dump his cancer-stricken wife and marry a professor from North Carolina. Such was the noble character of George Roche, the President and heroic raiser of funds for private Hillsdale College and the Hillsdale Vision of “family, church and local community”. Lissa had good reason to expect she would be the lucky girl swooped up by George. Her affair with him, her husband’s father, had been long and torrid if effectively discreet.

A decade prior I founded an independent student newspaper, The Hillsdale Spectator. Editorials explored the gap between the loudly heralded “Hillsdale Vision” and what many students and faculty had experienced over the years, issues that also found expression in such unseemly academic rags as The Chronicle of Higher Education. In retrospect I question my journalistic credentials. I never broke the story of George’s diabetes, or explored the many rumored DUIs. I certainly didn’t get the scoop on George’s incestuous affair. But then Shakespeare might be hard pressed to imagine such drama.

I’m the student journalist suddenly dismissed by Hillsdale College for accepting free student folders from a promotional publishing company … without proper authorization. I’m that guy. They claimed I signed a “contract” that was “tantamount to fraud”. Curiously, no legal action was ever brought against me by any of the businesses I allegedly defrauded. I was assured my dismissal had nothing to do with my “activities” with the “Spectator newspaper”. Despite the efforts of a local attorney and sitting Michigan legislator who represented me pro bono in the “appeal”, my dismissal stood.

The ACLU told me I had no case outside a private contract dispute. Other law firms and legal advocacy groups concurred. I myself wrote of the private college’s legal right to dismiss me. That doesn’t make what Hillsdale College and it’s champions did … right. The following year I learned my name had been added to the FBI’s subversive list. This fact was verified by my college roommate’s father, a sitting US Congressman at the time.

A decade later the Lissa suicide, officially “A Tragedy at Hillsdale College”, was all over CNN and other media. An article appeared in the March 2000 Vanity Fair, and I was the subject of a small paragraph towards the end:
Not only the faculty was scared. Dissident students…were dealt strong penalties: the sudden
loss of a campus job, bullying sessions with administrators, even expulsion, as happened in the case of Mark Nehls, who started his own newspaper, The Hillsdale Spectator, financed by ads he sold to local merchants. After clashing with the administration over censorship and other issues, Nehls was thrown out of Hillsdale on charges, which he strongly denies, of having defrauded local
businesses by misrepresenting himself as an official of the college.

I sued Hillsdale for defamation. I lost. In the process I was deemed a “limited-purpose public figure” by a federal judge. I’m still trying to determine if and how that fact has a useful place on my acting resume. Yes, I’m an actor. I used to be a mortgage broker. Not a good one. It seems so many of the good ones tended not to have repeat clients and/or now wonder when they’ll be subpoenaed. I thought I could help people and earn a buck. Clearly earning a buck is not of enough interest to me. In 2007 I left the mortgage industry. By 2008 I fell below the poverty line and was driving a cab. In early 2011 an acquaintance strongly believed I should pursue comedy and acting in LA. He let me stay in his unused apartment to the end of the lease. By summer 2011 I was couch-surfing, taking the bus to my frequent background actor gigs. I learned much on set. It was the happiest I had been in a while. I felt I was rebuilding my life, building a future. In 2011 I even earned just above the poverty line.

In October I met someone. She would not have me couchsurfing. Apparently that is frowned upon in this society, even during this Great Recession. So I moved in. She was very generous. But I reduced my work availability. I continue to want to please people, especially a wife (I’m divorced) or a girlfriend. I became more dependent. I became more frustrated. I wanted to work more, pull myself up by my own bootstraps. But my efforts to communicate yielded argument, not understanding. I did not feel heard by the woman I loved, the woman who called me “an AMW: actor, model, whatever” but showed me generosity my own family could not even imagine. Because of her I was able to visit my 13 year old son for a week, the first time since 2007. But the bald weaknesses of my survival coping mechanisms over the decades grew. My desire to please led to ever more disappointment and I acting as a victim. I felt I had no options that pleased others and allowed me to recover if not survive. I felt despair.

When I considered suicide again, this time I realized that I truly needed help. Having partially liberated myself from the mental prison of my religious upbringing, the notion of seeking help from mental help professionals no longer seemed like consorting with Satan. I voluntarily admitted myself to the hospital Sunday because I had thoughts of suicide. I’ve come to find that is quite a different matter from admittance against one’s will, the notorious 5150. But it is so much easier to perceive that which we fear in broad strokes. It is the details that tend to take the sting out of superstition or that which we don’t fully understand.

Thanks to the efforts of my brother, I now have a free therapist via the Veterans Project. I saw him Thursday. I’m scheduled to see him again Monday. But now I need to find a new place to live by Sunday.

I have no car. I have less than $100. My parents wrote me off years ago as my walk with Jesus was not right (no small reason why I’ve preferred the stage name “Mark Roman” to “Mark Nehls”). My brother and aunt (who’s been like a mother to me) I credit for doing all that they can for me, which is quite a bit. Friends have helped as they can over the years, but I also found some of the wrong friends. I have many new acquaintances now, and feel any broaching of the subject would be immensely uncomfortable for all. So I don’t.

I feel like an enormous burden, powerless to fight or solve anymore. I have spent decades fighting inner turmoil. Call me a wimp. Call me un-American. Call my attitude rotten. Call me a quitter. Call me acting the martyr like my father and others have. I agree. I’m equally disgusted with me. What English blood there is in me feels great shame, even if there is no Michael Caine as Alfred in my life to properly express it. But I am emotionally spent.

I don’t want to take my life. But I have nothing more in me to solve problems any more. I’m spent. I’m broken. I’m sorry. I cannot distinguish between the theatrical writer that is me and the mentally healthy me others wish I would act. What I’m writing now is the best way I can express myself. It is the only way I know how to ask for help, if several dollars short and a few decades late.

I suspect mine is the story of more people than you may think. People who may look good, appear healthy and vital, sound intelligent and capable of overcoming challenges to the inspiration of others. Epic figures like Tony Scott. Others without the name, but who may seem eternally sturdy and resilient. Those who never fail to act the words of Alfred and Bruce Wayne’s father: “Why do we fall? So we can get back up again.” Until we can’t.