Archive for July, 2012

Stopping the jokers

The day before the shootings at a movie theater in Colorado I took issue with a screenwriter who uses his scripts as a platform for his campaign to disarm the American people of defensive firearms. My title was Aaron Sorkin, You Magnificent Bastard!

This time I’m just writing about vicious and stupid bastards.

The 24-year-old creep who bought a ticket for a first showing of the new Batman movie at a multiplex in Aurora, Colorado a couple of nights ago — and after propping open an exit door re-entered the theater protected by body armor and shot up the place with a high body-count of women and children — was not the Joker.

The Joker is an iconic comic-book character created by Bob Kane, first appearing Spring 1940 in Batman Issue No. 1 and portrayed on screen in TV and movies by actors including Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger.

You can’t blame people who write comic books, or make movies, or wear costumes of characters in their favorite comic books and movies, for what happened in a darkened movie theater.

James Holmes was not only not the Joker but he also was neither Sherlock Holmes nor John Holmes. He wasn’t a brilliant mind or a movie actor with an enormous prick.

He was just a cowardly little prick with delusions of grandeur who bought a ticket to a children’s movie and used what the theater management had declared to be a gun-free zone to shoot and kill unarmed civilians. He had potential but wasted his life. He is nothing special.

Massacres of the unarmed are not infrequent events on this planet, and every time they happen there are jokers with no ability to learn from history who use these killing fields to call for further victim disarmament. What the Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas; Columbine High School in Littleton Colorado; the Long Island Railroad; the campuses of the University of Iowa or Virginia Tech; Dunblane, Scotland; and the United States Army Base at Fort Hood, Texas all had in common is that it was illegal for the victims to carry firearms in case some demented joker who didn’t abide by gun laws decided it was their day to die.

I’ve written on guns and criminology. A lot. My first Op-Ed for the Los Angeles Times, published January 1, 1992, was titled “A Massacre We Didn’t Hear About.” It was about a mass shooting in a coffee shop that was prevented by a civilian carrying a concealed handgun. I interviewed that gentleman, Thomas Glenn Terry, plus on other occasions other gun-carriers who also stopped shooting attacks.

“Buy a gun. Learn to use it safely and appropriately. Carry it with you at all times. Be prepared to defend yourself, your loved ones, and your neighborhoods.”

-J. Neil Schulman on ABC TV World News Tonight, May 2, 1992, during the Los Angeles Riots

After the Spring 1992 Los Angeles riots I applied for and received a California license to carry a concealed firearm — which I carried in California until 2007 — and as training I took California’s PC-832 course, and passed the California POST exam. My Powers of Arrest and Communications and Tactics instructor, Jim Saharek, was a retired U.S. Secret Service agent; my Firearms instructor, Barry Dineen, was an LAPD officer. I got a perfect 4.0 grade in all three modules, as well as on the final POST exam.

POST Certificate
POST Certificate

James Holmes apparently wanted to survive his attack so he wore body armor and a gas mask and incapacitated his victims before shooting them by throwing tear gas cannisters into the theater. He was armed with a handgun, a shotgun, and a rifle.

A family member who lives in Colorado, and has a license to carry a concealed handgun, tells me every Cinemark movie theater she’s gone to has the same sign the Cinemark Century 16 Theater displayed to its customers: Firearms Prohibited. This sign informed James Holmes that the management was guaranteeing nobody would be shooting back.

Colorado Cinemark Sign
Colorado Cinemark Sign
Photo by Ray Hickman

Nonetheless, Holmes was concerned enough about the possibility of an off-duty police officer deciding to take his kid to the movies that he armored up.

I’ve heard over the last day or so a lot of uninformed chatter about how nobody with a gun could have stopped James Holmes because he was wearing body armor. It’s crap. Body armor is designed to save the wearer’s life but it doesn’t stop the shock and pain of being shot. A handgun round to the center of body mass would have knocked the wind out of James Holmes and the shock might have caused him to faint. In any event, the pain of being shot would have distracted him. Further, defensive handgun courses teach head shots, and a round would have easily penetrated the plastic gas mask, making a kill shot to the head possible.

As demonstrators have learned, wrapping a shirt around your mouth and nose can slow the effects of tear gas, and by shooting at Holmes’ muzzle flash in a darkened theater, Holmes would have been stopped from randomly shooting children, and created some cover for theater patrons to escape.

James Holmes did not have to be killed with a round through his body armor to stop his shooting rampage. He just needed not to be the only one firing a gun.

Yes, some innocent person might have been shot by “friendly fire.” But the outcome would have been a lot fewer shooting victims than the dozen deaths and 58 other shooting victims that happened with no one shooting back.

Once again, the media focuses on the psychology of the shooter rather than the practical question of how to defend against these unpredictable shootings.

Here are the actual facts on Defensive Gun Use that Fox News or CNN won’t tell you in their endless moaning about how tragic and unpreventable this latest shooting gallery was.

According to the National Self Defense Survey conducted by Florida State University criminologists in 1994, the rate of Defensive Gun Uses can be projected nationwide to approximately 2.5 million per year — one Defensive Gun Use every 13 seconds.

Among 15.7% of gun defenders interviewed nationwide during The National Self Defense Survey, the defender believed that someone “almost certainly” would have died had the gun not been used for protection — a life saved by a privately held gun about once every 1.3 minutes. (In another 14.2% cases, the defender believed someone “probably” would have died if the gun hadn’t been used in defense.)

In 83.5% of these successful gun defenses, the attacker either threatened or used force first — disproving the myth that having a gun available for defense wouldn’t make any difference.

In 91.7% of these incidents the defensive use of a gun did not wound or kill the criminal attacker (and the gun defense wouldn’t be called “newsworthy” by newspaper or TV news editors). In 64.2% of these gun-defense cases, the police learned of the defense, which means that the media could also find out and report on them if they chose to.

In 73.4% of these gun-defense incidents, the attacker was a stranger to the intended victim. (Defenses against a family member or intimate were rare — well under 10%.) This disproves the myth that a gun kept for defense will most likely be used against a family member or someone you love.

In over half of these gun defense incidents, the defender was facing two or more attackers — and three or more attackers in over a quarter of these cases. (No means of defense other than a firearm — martial arts, pepper spray, or stun guns — gives a potential victim a decent chance of getting away uninjured when facing multiple attackers.)

In 79.7% of these gun defenses, the defender used a concealable handgun. A quarter of the gun defenses occured in places away from the defender’s home.

Source: “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun,” by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, in The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, Northwestern University School of Law, Volume 86, Number 1, Fall, 1995

More gun-control could not have stopped James Holmes. The strictest gun control in Dunblane, Scotland — or even mass killings using a knife in Akihabara and Osaka, Japan — have never stopped these kinds of unprovoked massacres.

A public with a critical mass of individuals carrying handguns, ready at all times to shoot back at sudden attackers, has worked to minimize casualties from terrorist attacks in Israel. See The Israeli Answer to Terrorism by Massad Ayoob.

Israel does not have more civilians who can carry defensive firearms than the United States. We have the Second Amendment and Israel doesn’t.

But by disarming its theater patrons Cinemark accepted legal liability for their safety, and the victims disarmed by these enablers need to sue this corporation into bankruptcy for its failure to protect them from James Holmes.

The jokers who keep enabling gun massacres are the advocates of making us work, shop, and see movies in gun-free zones, and these massacres won’t stop until we stop these jokers from disarming us.

My 1994 book Stopping Power: Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns made me a celebrity to the Second Amendment movement. Charlton Heston wrote of the book, “”Mr. Schulman’s book is the most cogent explanation of the gun issue I have yet read. He presents the assault on the Second Amendment in frighteningly clear terms. Even the extremists who would ban firearms will learn from his lucid prose.”

Dennis Prager who had opposed private ownership of guns, told his national radio audience, “He has truly helped change my mind on guns and self-defense.”

Liberal Los Angeles talk-show host Michael Jackson said of me on his KABC radio show, “His research is impeccable. Nobody expresses the other side better.”

My writings on firearms have been used by witnesses on both sides of the gun-control debate in congressional hearings before the House Subcommittee on Crime.

I’m webmaster of The World Wide Web Gun Defense Clock that calculates and comparies the number of defensive-gun-uses to criminal uses, suicides, and accidents, based on peer-reviewed academic, and law-enforcement, criminological studies.

One chapter from Stopping Power was chosen to be reprinted in the book Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Health and Society, Second Edition, Edited by Eileen K. Daniel, (Dushkin Publishing Group/Brown & Benchmark Publishers, 1996), as rebuttal to “Guns in the Household” by Jerome P. Kassirer, MD, editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. Another chapter, “Talk At Temple Beth Shir Shalom,” was reprinted in the book, Guns in America : A Reader , Jan E. Dizard, editor (New York University Press, 1999), and my chapter was praised in the Village Voice’s review as “a tough Jew manifesto.”

Stopping Power: Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns
Stopping Power: Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns


Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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Aaron Sorkin, You Magnificent Bastard!

The title of this essay is a paraphrase from the 1970 movie Patton, dialogue in which World War II General George S. Patton, Jr., says, referring to Rommel’s book, “Infantry Attacks”: “Rommel… you magnificent bastard, I read your book!

Aaron Sorkin is quite possibly the best screenwriter working in Hollywood today.

I look at his IMDb filmography and I see movie after movie that I love, including Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, Moneyball, and — yes — The American President. I watched every episode of his signature TV series, The West Wing, watched most episodes of his sitcom Sports Night, and I’ve set my DVR to record all first-run episodes of the TV series he’s created, writes, and executive produces on HBO, The Newsroom.

Aaron Sorkin
Aaron Sorkin

When I’ve given talks to libertarian audiences about why they need to support libertarian authors and filmmakers like me in getting our projects financed and distributed, Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue in The American President is often one of the examples I use as to how “the other side” uses mass entertainment media to present their propaganda as unchallenged facts. Sorkin’s screenplay for The American President peppers Michael J. Fox’s character’s dialogue (a presidential advisor) with false-to-fact propaganda from the Brady campaign about how privately held guns increase violent crime, but has no problem with his fictitious President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) sending weapons systems to Israel for their defense. Then in a climactic press conference President Shepherd advocates that the Second Amendment be trashed by having government soldiers going door-to-door to collect Americans’ privately-owned handguns, because — in this Imperial President’s personal opinion — private gun ownership is a clear and present danger to public safety.

Oh, yeah. The rest of the sparkling political dialogue Sorkin gives his characters in The American President is horseshit about how the internal combustion engine needs to be eliminated because man-made carbon dioxide emissions — a greenhouse gas that represents less than one percent of ordinary cloud-carried water vapor — is threatening life on this planet.

Don’t misunderstand me. The American President is a brilliantly written high-concept romantic comedy wonderfully directed by Rob Reiner with superb acting performances throughout by a sterling cast led by Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, and Richard Dreyfuss. It has a great Korngoldesque film score by Marc Shaiman. It’s one of my favorite movies that I’ve watched probably two dozen times. It’s just that when I’m watching it I realize that in about half a day I could rewrite the script retaining all the exact same plot points and character interactions, except that it would be a Republican President falling in love with the chief lobbyist of the NRA. The propaganda in this movie is just a fill-in-the-blank operation, the politics grafted on without affecting plot or character arcs, and the exact same characters and storyline could be used to propagandize anything.

Alfred Hitchcock called that which motivates the plot as “the McGuffin.”

Aaron Sorkin uses politics in his scripts solely as a McGuffin.

Sorkin just pulled the same crap on the latest episode of his new series, The Newsroom, but I need a few more paragraphs before I get to that. Apologies if I’m burying my lead; but I’m writing commentary, not news.

On the day I’m writing this the Los Angeles Times is reporting in its national news section on an incident in an Internet cafe in Florida, where a 71-year-old man with a handgun-license-to-carry used his pocket policeman to chase two armed robbers out of the store, slightly wounding one of them. This was particularly notable to me because back in the 1990′s, when I was writing Op-Eds on handgun-related topics for the Los Angeles Times, the Times would not report defensive-gun-uses on its news pages, and I stopped selling Op-Eds to the Times‘ editors after I organized a lunch-hour demonstration in front of the Times‘ downtown L.A. editorial offices when they ran a five-day editorial series calling for a complete gun ban.

I’m also writing this as the Fox News Channel is covering a just-released (but classified) FBI report on the November 5, 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, where a single military officer with a handgun he’d illegally brought onto the base was able to reduce dozens of disarmed army soldiers — some of them just returning from deployment in Iraqi and Afghani war zones — to running away, crawling away, and screaming like teenagers at Columbine High School. This happened because classified regulations put into place at the same time the Clinton administration was pushing the Brady Act and the Assaults Weapons Ban, not altered during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration, and not declassified until the Obama administration — removed from base commanders the decision to authorize soldiers on base to carry sidearms or rifles with them, and transferred that authority to the politically-appointed Secretary of the Army with a civilian-pro-gun-control agenda guaranteeing it would never happen.

My articles referencing “The American Humiliation Buried at Fort Hood” are linked here.

Now to Aaron Sorkin’s current series, The Newsroom.

The Newsroom is about a network anchorman (Jeff Daniels) whose nightly news casts have been tabloidish to increase ratings, but whose boss (Sam Waterston) decides to return the program to the earlier standards of Murrow, Cronkite, and Huntley-Brinkley, and report the news focusing only on facts and information informed voters need. In fact, this is not what the plot shows them doing; the news reports in the show instead follow in the muckraker tradition of Pulitzer and Hearst, columnists like Drew Pearson, and CBS’s Mike Wallace.

We are repeatedly informed by Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue that Jeff Daniel’s anchorman character, Will McAvoy, is a conservative Republican, but every target of his ire is one that is anathema to the progressive left and labor movement — George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Wall Street bankers, the Tea Party, the NRA, Charles and David Koch, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Halliburton, Dick Cheney, Bill O’Reilly, and just about everyone else on Fox News and talk radio. In a country in which Neocons have brought to the American right all the lying scumbag tactics the Wilsonian/Stalinst/Castroist hard left refined for close to a century, there’s plenty of lies, corruption, and hypocrisy to be exposed.

I, myself, spend much of my time writing about the lies of the Neocon/Pentagon/Homeland Security axis-of-evil — a lot of my ire was directed at all the right-wing talking heads asking only whether Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Hasan was a Muslim terrorist or just a wack-job, and never asking why our own army was disarmed and had to dial 911 to wait for a female civilian cop to show up and save them — and most recently have criticized the NRA for abandoning its forever-used bumper-sticker “Guns Don’t Kill, People Kill” by blaming the BATFE Project Gunrunner firearms possibly authorized by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder — and not blaming the criminals who shot U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

The problem is, when you expose only the lies and hypocrisy of your enemies, you’re an in-the-tank partisan propagandist.

When you never acknowledge the virtues of your enemies it’s also propaganda.

Sorkin pulled this in Charlie Wilson’s War by passing over Charlie Wilson’s alliance with President Ronald Reagan in arming the Afghan rebels during the Soviet occupation with shoulder-fired missiles they used to bring down Soviet attack helicopters.

It’s a sin of omission that General Patton never made with respect to his German counterpart.

Today I finally got around to watching the episode of The Newsroom my DVR recorded this past Sunday, July 15th, titled, “I’ll Try to Fix You.” The “lie” exposed on this program broadcast in 2012 is a truth for the 2010 time period the show takes place, when it was a Fox News, right-wing talk radio, and NRA mantra that “Obama is coming for your guns.” During that period, the Obama administration was — correctly portrayed on the show — not pushing a pro-gun-control legislative agenda before Congress.

But that’s a lie by omission.

On March 18, 2008, U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement represented the Obama administration in oral arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), arguing that the Second Amendment was not intended to protect an individual right to keep and bear arms, but that the intent of the amendment was merely to ensure an armed militia with officers appointed by the President and no longer present in contemporary America — an attempt by the Obama administration to neuter constitutional recognition of private ownership of guns as an individual right … a necessary precondition to any such legislative agenda.

The Supreme Court ruled otherwise, and again treated the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right to own guns in McDonald v. Chicago, 130 S. Ct. 3020 (2010).

Nor, on the date of first broadcast of this episode of The Newsroom, when the Obama administration’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is attempting to bypass the Constitutional protection by supporting the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs proposed Treaty on Small Arms that would ban private gun ownership worldwide, it’s another lie-by-omission to write a fictitious 2010 news report ridiculing the NRA, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh for sounding an alarm that the Obama administration favored banning American private gun ownership.

Sorkin could argue that as a writer, and an American citizen, he has the right to disagree with the Supreme Court. I agree. But his method of writing on these topics is entirely one-sided. He always puts the strongest face possible on the arguments he agrees with, and either doesn’t present any argument for the other side or presents its weakest rebuttal.

But then Aaron Sorkin puts dialogue into his characters’ mouths that are just outright lies.

In a scene in this episode Will McAvoy is invited by a woman to go into her purse looking for a joint, and he instead finds a loaded handgun in the purse. He asks her about it.

Here’s the exact scene, dialogue injected by Aaron Sorkin into the mouths of the actor’s he’s paying:

Her: I’m a Southern liberal, dude. It’s Northern liberals who are afraid of sex and guns.

Him: Well, both at the same time and I’m a Republican from Nebraska. But do you mind if I — ?

He unloads the gun and hands it to her; she accepts the gun without checking herself to make sure it’s unloaded, violating a basic safety rule taught in all NRA pistol safety courses.

Her: You’re disarming. Get it?

Him: Here’s the thing –

Her: (interrupting): Yeah, yeah. I saw the show tonight. I’m a liberal’s liberal; I worked for Hillary. You were dead wrong on guns.

Him: I didn’t take a position on guns. I took a position on lying. I came out against it.

Her: “Well, if I’m walking the streets of Manhattan at night and a guy your size wants to rape me (raising gun, pointing it at Him) then this is gonna happen.

Him: Actually, statistics show that this is gonna happen.

He slaps the gun into the air and catches it.

Aaron Sorkin can write anything he wants to in his script, and as the showrunner the director and actors have to say the words he’s written and play the action the way he wrote it.

And that artificially created reality is how propaganda in entertainment works. If it honestly reflects reality, no harm, no foul. If it represents the writer’s honest opinion, it’s the First Amendment, babe.

But when the statistic quoted is provably false, then the writer has a moral obligation to fact check, even in fiction, or it’s a God damned lie.

I’ve written non-fiction on guns and criminology. A lot.

My 1994 book Stopping Power: Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns made me a celebrity to the Second Amendment movement. Charlton Heston wrote of the book, “”Mr. Schulman’s book is the most cogent explanation of the gun issue I have yet read. He presents the assault on the Second Amendment in frighteningly clear terms. Even the extremists who would ban firearms will learn from his lucid prose.”

Dennis Prager who had opposed private ownership of guns, told his national radio audience, “He has truly helped change my mind on guns and self-defense.”

Liberal Los Angeles talk-show host Michael Jackson said of me on his KABC radio show, “His research is impeccable. Nobody expresses the other side better.”

My writings on firearms have been used by witnesses on both sides of the gun-control debate in congressional hearings before the House Subcommittee on Crime.

One chapter from Stopping Power was chosen to be reprinted in the book Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Health and Society, Second Edition, Edited by Eileen K. Daniel, (Dushkin Publishing Group/Brown & Benchmark Publishers, 1996), as rebuttal to “Guns in the Household” by Jerome P. Kassirer, MD, editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. Another chapter, “Talk At Temple Beth Shir Shalom,” was reprinted in the book, Guns in America : A Reader , Jan E. Dizard, editor (New York University Press, 1999), and my chapter was praised in the Village Voice’s review as “a tough Jew manifesto.”

And, I’m webmaster of The World Wide Web Gun Defense Clock that calculates and comparies the number of defensive-gun-uses to criminal uses, suicides, and accidents, based on peer-reviewed academic, and law-enforcement, criminological studies.

Here are the actual facts on Defensive Gun Use that Aaron Sorkin has spent his professional career as a screenwriter ignoring or lying about:

According to the National Self Defense Survey conducted by Florida State University criminologists in 1994, the rate of Defensive Gun Uses can be projected nationwide to approximately 2.5 million per year — one Defensive Gun Use every 13 seconds.

Among 15.7% of gun defenders interviewed nationwide during The National Self Defense Survey, the defender believed that someone “almost certainly” would have died had the gun not been used for protection — a life saved by a privately held gun about once every 1.3 minutes. (In another 14.2% cases, the defender believed someone “probably” would have died if the gun hadn’t been used in defense.)

In 83.5% of these successful gun defenses, the attacker either threatened or used force first — disproving the myth that having a gun available for defense wouldn’t make any difference.

In 91.7% of these incidents the defensive use of a gun did not wound or kill the criminal attacker (and the gun defense wouldn’t be called “newsworthy” by newspaper or TV news editors). In 64.2% of these gun-defense cases, the police learned of the defense, which means that the media could also find out and report on them if they chose to.

In 73.4% of these gun-defense incidents, the attacker was a stranger to the intended victim. (Defenses against a family member or intimate were rare — well under 10%.) This disproves the myth that a gun kept for defense will most likely be used against a family member or someone you love.

In over half of these gun defense incidents, the defender was facing two or more attackers — and three or more attackers in over a quarter of these cases. (No means of defense other than a firearm — martial arts, pepper spray, or stun guns — gives a potential victim a decent chance of getting away uninjured when facing multiple attackers.)

In 79.7% of these gun defenses, the defender used a concealable handgun. A quarter of the gun defenses occured in places away from the defender’s home.

Source: “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun,” by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, in The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, Northwestern University School of Law, Volume 86, Number 1, Fall, 1995

So, the statistic put into Jeff Daniels mouth, along with directed action which “proves” it, turns out to be a lie.

And on a TV show the theme of which is that Aaron Sorkin’s political foes are liars, Mr. Sorkin is lying.

Note: I wrote this the day before the mass theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado. You can count on gun-control advocates like Aaron Sorkin to argue as they have after previous shootings that gun-control could have stopped this. It’s another provable lie, since the strictest gun control in Dunblane, Scotland — or even mass killings using a knife in Akihabara and Osaka, Japan — have never stopped these kinds of unprovoked massacres.

A public with a critical mass of individuals carrying handguns, ready at all times to shoot back at sudden attackers, has worked to minimize casualties from terrorist attacks in Israel. See The Israeli Answer to Terrorism by Massad Ayoob

I cover the Aurora shootings in detail in my next article, Stopping the jokers– JNS


Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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I’m Out of Their League

First published here on J. Neil Schulman @ Rational Review on April 7, 2010.

I just sent out an email to a producer in which I took a pass on submitting my materials to potential investors in my next project.

Neil, are you crazy, or just retiring?

Neither one.

Last Friday, when I returned home from a week in California, I played back a message on my home telephone’s voice mail, left three days earlier. It was from someone I didn’t know, but the message said these magic words, “I want to talk to you about a project.”

That was enough for me to open up my subscription to IMDb Pro and look up various spellings of the caller’s last name.

When that didn’t pin it down I Googled the phone number left by the caller. That did the trick: it provided me with the correct name for what turned out to be a line producer whose credits I could look up. It showed him as line producer on a project in pre-production, with a budget of $8 million.

You need to understand at this point how things work.

A film listed as being in “pre-production” means that it’s supposed to be a go project — financed and with a start date for principal photography. IMDb Pro is often enough inaccurate about such things, but if a project is actually in pre-production, the line producer would be the guy who’s hiring the crew.

I have a lot of credits on Lady Magdalene’s beyond the ones I usually front-load — writer, producer, director. I acted in it. I wrote songs for it. I did a lot of post-production work with various job titles. These are all jobs I have experience doing and can do for someone else. So if a line producer is calling me when he’s listed on IMDb Pro as having a multi-million dollar movie in pre-production, that sounds to me like a possible job offer, and it’s a call I’m going to return.

Being Easter weekend, it wasn’t until Monday that I was able to get this line producer on the phone. And it quickly became apparent that the call I was returning wasn’t for a job offer. He was someone who didn’t know me beyond seeing my name in a discussion on film financing on LinkedIn, and he was pitching himself to me as someone who could put me in touch with sales agents for Lady Magdalene’s, or put me in touch with investors for my next project.

The guy has real producing credits listed on IMDb. But he said all the wrong things.

The first thing was that he didn’t know my credits. He wasn’t aware I’d written for The Twilight Zone. He didn’t know I’d written, produced, and directed a completed indie feature film. He didn’t know me as an author. He didn’t know I’d won awards and accolades for my work over the past four decades.

Then he told me that he had gotten distribution for hard-to-sell indie features. I guess Lady Magdalene’s is one of these because it hasn’t sold to a distributor yet. “There probably wouldn’t be money up front,” he told me, “but these guys go to all the film markets — including AFM!”

Er, I’ve been to the American Film Market, myself. Lots of times. I can go through the book and see who’s there and buying indie features as well as anyone else. Someone who does that for a film producer isn’t a distributor — he’s a sales agent. He can no more put my movie into theaters or displayed in Walmart than I can. And if “there’s no money up front” then someone is asking me to tie up the rights to my ready-to-show movie with no money put up to show me that someone is matching my risk in having produced it.

Wrong answer.

Wrong answers again when he started telling me which stars could get a movie financed and which couldn’t. He knew — like everyone in the business knows — the low-end-budget films without any stars that have been huge box-office successes: The Blair Witch Project, Napoleon Dynamite, Juno, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Paranormal Activity. “Those are the exceptions,” he told me. “The investors I know won’t put money into a movie unless there are certain stars attached.”

I know this list. It’s the list of the flavor of the month — whichever actor was in a movie that did well recently. It doesn’t matter if the actor can’t put a coherent sentence together and how hard it would be for a director to get a performance out of him or her. And most important from the investor’s standpoint, the attachment of an A-list star to a movie is not in the slightest an accurate predictor about whether the movie will be successful enough to earn back the investment. The list of A-list-driven box-office flops is endless.

Then the kicker. He wanted me to print out and snail mail him synopses of my scripts, because “My investors won’t read a script without reading a synopsis first.”

And they want to see the movie poster for a film seeking distribution.

I actually agreed to send this guy a DVD of Lady Magdalene’s along with synopses of several of my scripts before I hung up.

Then I woke up today as if from a nightmare, practically screaming.

I don’t want these illiterates getting anywhere near any of my projects.

I don’t want these ignoramuses anywhere near the movie business.

If I was in the Mafia, I’d be putting out contracts on them.

These clowns — and I have no idea who they are — are not qualified to invest in movies. If they want to put money into films, it’s easy to watch movies then pay attention to the credits, to find out whose work it is that they like. It’s easy to attend film festivals to get in on the ground floor of new talent. It’s easy to read books and watch plays and decide which ones would make a good movie.

I’ve spent a lifetime doing work that has got me a reputation, that has built a fan base. If you’re looking to invest with me, I make it exceedingly easy to find out who I am and what I’ve done.

My credits and resume are on IMDb and LinkedIn.

My books are on Amazon.com and linked from my official website, listing reviews and awards.

There’s a Wikipedia article about me.

A Google search on me links to thousands of pages.

It costs all of $2.99 to watch Lady Magdalene’s on Amazon.com Video on Demand.

A fan of the Twilight Zone episode I wrote, “Profile in Silver,” put it on YouTube.

I have serialized one of my novels on my blog, and another of them has been a free download — with over 80,000 downloads already — since last June.

Any film producer can get in touch with my manager or agent — or me, directly — and ask to read any of my scripts. They’ll have a download link for the script’s PDF in their email box within minutes.

And if you’re too lazy to do any of this, kindly go sell cleaning products. It’s philistines like you that are producing unwatchable dreck that’s robbing people like me who love movies and have paid our dues from the opportunity of getting our handmade-with-love movies in front of audiences who might love them.

Pass.

Now let me tell you the right answers.

There’s nothing that I, as a creative artist, like more than someone who “gets” me. Art is communication, and if there’s nobody out there who can receive and understand the communication, it’s a tree falling in a forest … and in this particular case there really is no sound.

Ayn Rand could talk all she liked about how the work itself is everything, but please note that she was fooling nobody except, possibly, herself.

Barbara Branden tells us in The Passion of Ayn Rand that when, upon its first publication, Atlas Shrugged was panned by the book critics — when Ayn Rand felt that no literary figure of major consequence stood up to defend the masterpiece she’d spent a decade sweating bullets to write — she went into a deep depression.

Because she felt she had failed to communicate to an audience that meant something to her, Ayn Rand never wrote another word of original fiction for the remaining quarter century of her life.

We are all so much the poorer for it.

A creative artist — writer, painter, composer — often enough works in solitary, and has to contemplate a future audience to be able to work. That’s what Ayn Rand meant about the work coming first. The artist has to be the first audience for the art. But it’s a tragedy when the audience for art only shows up when the artist can no longer hear the applause.

An investor who appreciates my work enough to finance its distribution is a jewel beyond ordinary price to me.

But that’s a job title to be earned, just like any other.

Speaking for myself, I’ve been in this business long enough to know what I do, and do well. I’m going to hold a damn strict job interview for anyone who wants to invest in one of my projects.

But speaking on behalf of all artists looking for distribution to their audience, finding someone who exists in both the circle of “dedicated fan” and the circle of “investor” is a hell of a Venn diagram to fill out.

Owning a checkbook doesn’t make you a qualified investor any more than owning a guitar makes you Eric Clapton.

Capitalism is also an art. The art of capitalism fails when talent is missing … and all that’s left is stupid money.


Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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Classic J. Neil: The Pitchman and the Oracle

This article was published on The World According to J. Neil Schulman in 1996. My treatment of inadvertent “spamming” is long outdated; but I reprint this article here because the fundamental truth about the problems an “indie” has in getting a message out is more true than ever.

Are you a bigot?

It won’t surprise me if you don’t think so. Bigotry, to most people, means intolerance of, or discrimination against, a person on the basis of race, color, creed, ethnic origin, gender, or what used to be called a handicap and now, using a euphemism for a euphemism, we call “challenged.”

The assumption that drives the social disapproval against bigotry is that the object of the bigotry not only has no choice about her or his condition, but that this condition is an ephemera to the person’s true worth. We obviously have no choice about our particular mix of chromosomes, so discrimination against one of us on the basis of race, color, creed, ethnic origin, gender, and physical or mental incapacities seems unfair.

Nowadays it’s not only socially acceptable, but socially encouraged, to be intolerant of people who engage in activities which are generally regarded as anti-social. Right-thinking people, often thinking themselves tolerant, would pour a glass of water on someone’s cigarette if he lit up in a restaurant, and would likely be applauded by other people who think themselves tolerant.

There is equally little tolerance for the man or woman who wears an animal’s fur as a coat but, practically speaking, there seems to be more tolerance for people who wear animal skins tanned into leather. Maybe the reason is that if you splash red paint on some “rich bitch’s” fur coat you might get sued, but if you splash red paint on a biker chick’s leather jacket, you’ll be talking to your lawyer from a hospital burn ward.

But if there is one class of people whom almost everyone seems to agree it’s okay to be nasty to, it’s the person who gets in your face and wants to give you a message. If the message is commercial, it’s coming from some sort of pitchman; if religious, from some sort of evangelist; if political, from some sort of rabble-rouser. What they all have in common is that they have no access to the monied means of communication — getting their words into books or magazines, or their message on TV, or their song on the radio. They can’t do what the big guys do which is bait a trap to get you to come to them — so they do all that’s left to them, which is to knock on doors, make phone calls, hand out leaflets on street corners, or write on bathroom walls.

In religion, do we have more tolerance for old, established religions with magnificent, centuries-old cathedrals and a millennia of pillaged statuary or the Jehovah’s Witness knocking on our doors?

In charity, are we more likely to give to some public-TV station which spends half its budget on fund-raising , or the plain-looking woman blocking your way into Wal-Mart who’s trying to raise money for a battered-woman’s shelter?

Of the three message-pushers, the commercial pitchman is likely the most despised throughout history. The late semanticist, college president, and U.S. senator, S.I. Hayakawa, in the first edition of his book Language in Thought And Action, had a chapter on “The Marginal Businessman.” Hayakawa argued that much of the popular resentment against Jews was directed not at supposed deficiencies in the Jewish religion but on the ways Jews made a living. Since Jewish dietary laws forbid the eating of game, Jews were not hunters; since Jews were often forbidden to own land, they could not be landlords or farmers. Laws commonly forbade Jews from attending universities or practicing professions. So Jews became merchants and money-lenders, rag-pickers and trinket salesmen. Hayakawa documented history showing that every struggling businessman, of any ethnicity, is despised because of his in-your-face sales practices.

Half a century ago, the small businessman was still pictured in newspaper cartoons with a hooked nose. Since that’s no longer acceptable, we are instead given the ethnically sanitized image of the small businessman as Schemer on the PBS children’s show Shining Time Station, or the greasy fast-food inventor Falafel on Hercules and Xena. But the point is the same. Small businessmen are usually shown as despicable.

Falafel, from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
Falafel (actor Paul Norell), from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys

Who, among car salesmen, are the ones we despise the most? Is it the Mercedes-Benz dealer wearing an Italian tailored suit in a plush showroom or the guy in the loud sports jacket selling used-up wrecks off a recently vacant lot?

Are we more annoyed by chain stores situated in an upscale shopping mall or the mail-order outfits operating out of a warehouse somewhere in North Dakota that fill your mailbox with “junk mail”?

The fact is, we live in a noisy marketplace and we are all suffering from agoraphobia to one extent or another.

Agoraphobia is usually thought of as fear or dislike of open spaces, but historically and etymologically, the agora wasn’t an empty space but a bustling, jostling market with people shouting at you to sample their wares. Agoraphobia has now evolved into the fear and loathing of the unsolicited sales call.

What most people don’t seem to realize is that this fear and loathing serves the interests of those who want to control all means of mass communication. The old method of censorship used by ruling classes was to try to keep you from getting your message out by using violence against you if you said or wrote something that wasn’t approved. Since human ingenuity seems boundless, the messages got out anyway — and usually were even made sexier by being forbidden.

The ruling classes have learned their lesson from history. They don’t bother trying to suppress discontented messengers anymore. They just buy up all the means of slick communication — movie studios, TV networks, recording companies — and manufacture the messages they want you to hear. They don’t have to censor the opposition — they simply drown it out in a sea of glossy, sexy, manipulative entertainment products. And if everyone hates the pitchman, it’s because we are surrounded by them all day long.

The pitchman is on TV and radio — even on so-called “public” TV — hawking his wares. If we pay extra for commercial-free channels, she’s telling us about the next week of movies we can’t miss. He’s selling us oranges, bananas, and peanuts when our car stops at a light in Los Angeles, or trying to clean our windshield with a greasy rag if the stoplight is in lower Manhattan. He’s selling us the Los Angeles Times before the movie previews start in a Southland movie theater. He’s asking us for a handout when we get out of our car, and waiting to ask us for a donation before we enter the mall shop. She’s leaving messages on our phone answering machines. There’s no avenue of communication they won’t use.

Even the Internet.

The Internet is the most efficient means of distributing information the human race has ever invented. I describe it to people who don’t understand computers as the world’s greatest library with the world’s best card catalog. But information is precisely what those in power most wish to control. You can’t package lies to everyone consistently if there remains a single open channel for getting the truth out to lots of people fast.

A few conglomerates today own the TV and radio stations, cable networks, movie studios and movie theaters, recording companies and music stores, movie rental stores, newspapers and magazines, book publishers, telephone companies, cable companies. Now they’re moving into the Internet with World Wide Web sites.

In each of these media that these major corporations control, they can sit back and wait for you to come to them to receive their pitches. You want entertainment. They control entertainment. They don’t have to get in your face to pitch to you because they control the movies, TV shows, and music you want and will willingly approach them, listening to their sales pitches along the way.

And it’s the outsider — the real social critic, the radical, the small enterpriser, the religious dissenter — who has to get in your face and shout to get your attention away from the officially sanctioned sources of information. Let’s call the information monopolists the “Oracles.”

Here’s where I come into the story, personally.

I’m a writer. I’ve been a writer for a quarter century now. I’ve written novels, screenplays, poems, articles, short stories, essays, and speeches. I’ve won awards, had my picture in the newspaper, plugged my books on TV, had a script I’ve written produced for network TV.

I’m also in the publishing business. I can’t think of a job in the publishing business I haven’t had hands-on experience doing. I’ve read manuscripts for literary agencies and publishers, done rewriting, line-editing, and copy-editing, supervised cover jacket artwork and book design, picked out binding materials, proofread at all stages, called distributors to get orders and both shipped books out and received them back. I’ve managed to get a small press book into chain bookstores and gotten stiffed when a distributor went bankrupt, owing me for 400 hardcover books they’d already been paid for by the chain to which they’d sold it. I’ve picked up pallets of books at the printer in Vermont and driven them cross country, then loaded them into a storage locker in Los Angeles.

The essence of writing and publishing is the creation and distribution of information — which puts me in direct competition with the information Oracles. On those occasions when I have written something that didn’t offend the Oracles too badly, they’ve bought my work and disseminated it. But any time I want to get down and dirty and offer a viewpoint that doesn’t fit their vision, I’m on my own, and good luck to me trying to get your attention with the racket you’re already getting from the Oracles.

I ran into this problem when I tried to send an email letter to a few hundred people on the Internet, telling them about my world wide website which is offering downloads of books which the Oracles have decided not to publish. I chose to mail to a list of people who had openly published their names and email addresses on a website opposing Internet censorship. I sent each one a single message telling them how the book industry nowadays is channeled through one guy in New York who buys for the biggest bookstore chain — and no major publisher will publish a book of any consequence without checking with him first to see what his order might be. I suggested that when one guy sitting in an office can control what books a quarter billion people got a chance to buy, we might as well call it censorship.

And I ran headlong into the prejudice against the pitchman.

Because my message was “unsolicited” and “commercial,” I got back dozens of email replies accusing me of mailing “spam” — which is a term of art on the Internet for sending out multiple messages to unrelated public news groups or private email accounts. Most “spammers” use the Internet to pitch scams, phone sex, and CD-ROM’s offering dirty pictures. They’ll send messages to unrelated news groups, hundreds at a time. They’ll send from anonymous email accounts so Internet service providers can’t cut them off. They’ll buy lists of email addresses drawn from people who have posted messages in public news groups.

I didn’t do any of that. I mailed to a list of people who had freely self-published their email addresses in support of a cause — and I was sending them a message on a related cause. I sent them one message — and I told them that I wasn’t going to send them any more.

They didn’t believe me. It appears this was what every “spammer” said as part of the pitch. I was cursed out, insulted, threatened with legal action, and sent a huge message designed to cripple my email for about an hour. Even the most mannered and eloquent of those people who had received my email were offended by its being an unsolicited invasion of their privacy, and they acted with the zeal of white blood cells attacking a foreign DNA strand attempting to fend off my unwanted intrusion. They were guardians of the public good, defending their polity.

In other words, they were people after my own heart.

Just a few years ago, the Internet was the preserve of a few academics and government employees, free from any commercial enterprises — and those people want it kept that way. They probably feel about me how Pocahontas’s dad, Chief Powhatan, felt when he saw the Susan Constant sailing into harbor filled with English boatpeople.

But the objection to “spam” on the Internet is, at its essence, the same prejudice that ruling classes throughout history have used to maintain their power. If they can get the people to despise the pitchman, the evangelist, and the rabble-rouser, they can continue to enjoy a monopoly of their subjects’ attention spans so that our money and energy will be spent how they want it spent.

The World Wide Web is, largely, a level playing field, where the small enterpriser, the evangelist, and the rabble-rouser can enjoy messaging opportunities equal to that of the corporate Oracles. It is, perhaps, the first time in history that communication has been so free and democratic.

But the Oracles still can command attention on the World Wide Web using vast gobs of money, using Internet directories such as Infoseek and Yahoo! to display advertising banners. “Directory” is the correct name for these services — for they direct millions of people to a few select websites every day — and the Oracles maintain their grip on your attention thereby.

The small fry like me — with an alternative website — is, like the door-to-door salesman, the telephone pitchman, and the panhandler — forced into the undignified and despised job of attempting to grab your attention by any means left to us that does not require thousands or millions of dollars in advertising. And I tried sending out email about my website to some people I thought would be interested because I can’t afford to sit back and let people find me the way the Oracles can.

I will not soon try that again because the Oracles have conditioned their subjects to reject the pitchman, the evangelist, and the rabble-rouser, and I don’t appreciate getting insulted, threatened, and outright damaged by the guardians of public morals.

Which, it would appear, leaves the Oracles with their monopoly on mass communication intact and unthreatened.

Ladies and Gentlemen: the people who eat caviar have a good reason to make you hate spam. Spam threatens their monopoly on communications. If you buy from the lady who’s selling cheap oranges on the street, what do you need the overpriced produce in the high-rent supermarket for? If I can use a $12.95 a month email account to send a message to thousands of potential customers, how can they make you buy their overpriced junk with million-dollar Superbowl commercials?

It’s only by fostering your hatred of the pitchman who’s in your face with an alternative product that the Oracles can maintain their lock on your pocketbook, your vote … and your soul.

If you despise spam — the pitchman, the evangelist, the rabble-rouser — you are allowing the people who are already rich and powerfulto make sure that they brook no competition from new ideas and alternative enterprises.

If a pitchman, evangelist, or rabble-rouser has to shout for your attention, it’s a clear signal to you that what they have to say is not something the Oracles want you to hear.

If the Oracles wanted you to hear it, they wouldn’t have to get in your face. They own the media. They don’t have to shout. They already have you where they want you and they don’t want to lose you.

At some point, people who are seriously concerned about freedom of speech are just going to have to figure out whether they’re willing to put up with the inconvenience of having some nasty, ugly, cheap low-life’s like me get in your face on occasion in order to preserve your freedom of choice.

Getting in your face to tell you this is, admittedly, a nasty job, but somebody’s got to do it. Otherwise, the Oracles will own us forever and a day.

This article is Copyright © 1996 by J. Neil Schulman and Copyright © 2012 by The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.

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Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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