I write a column for the Journal of the Caucus of Producers, Writers, and Directors. It is part of my position as Co-Chair, along with my business partner of 35 years, Bob Papazian, and my additional job as Co-Chair of the Caucus Journal with my friend and colleague Norman Powell. The article is normally titled: A View from Hollywood, and it is personal; my own musings, as someone who has spent over fifty years in the entertainment business. I don’t claim that my view is the most important or the most authentic…just my own perspective gained from a lifetime of writing and producing.
Only for this spring issue, I decided to do something different. I would write a column about the amazing individuals who were going to be our honorees at our annual American Spirit Awards. The luncheon would occur on June 3rd and among the honorees were Art delaCruz, President and COO of Team Rubicon; Gail Katz, a renowned professor of cinema and tv at USC; Tom and Jeanne Townsend, whose non-profit, Pianos for People helped thousands of underserved kids through music; Michael Colbert, the man behind the patriotic Memorial Day and July 4th televised concerts in Washington, D.C. and our colleague, Vin Di Bona, who made the idea of our everyday foibles recorded on video into an industry all its own
I began by writing about what I thought the American Spirit means to all of us and why and how our chosen recipients had demonstrated that thing we call the American Spirit. It was such an upbeat and positive piece and I was happy and excited to begin. And then, in an instant, the world changed.
It took only a couple of days for the effect to overwhelm us. I was at a Caucus meeting when my son, Charlie, texted me from his home in Chicago, that March Madness had been cancelled. March Madness? Cancelled? Charlie had attended Kansas and he grew up here in L.A. on UCLA basketball. We talk incessantly about March Madness and we were both excited as his Kansas Jayhawks were ranked number one in the country and my Wisconsin Badgers were doing great and we were both upbeat about UCLA’s chances of getting into the dance. There is nothing in our lives, nothing more fun in this country than the excitement of March Madness. That’s been written about a million times. It stands as almost everyone’s favorite time of year in sports. College basketball, the NBA, NHL Hockey and Major League’s Baseball spring awakening. And now it was all gone, gone in an instant. Suddenly my view from Hollywood was no longer clear.
The effect was just beginning. Major sports were quickly followed by movie theaters and Broadway and rock concerts and just about every other form of entertainment there is. Television and film production halted. All those who work in front of the camera and all those behind the scenes…all sent home to hide. College and high school students no longer able to do their spring musicals; that once in a lifetime opportunity for a senior to play in his or her final game…to walk proudly in front of family and friends in the graduation ceremony. All of this, and so much more, taken away in a heartbeat. Our escape hatch slammed shut.
In our entire history, and certainly in our modern history here in America, no matter how dark the moment, no matter how dire the straits, these “entertainment outlets” have always been our escape. The movie business continued to thrive and expand wildly during the great depression. Gatherings like Woodstock carried us through the confusion of the world altering sixties. We were encouraged by President Bush to gather and go out and see movies and plays and ball games after 9/11. Let those social gatherings heal our anguish and our loss and our uncertain fear as we’d watched the towers fall.
And what we couldn’t actually attend, we could experience at home on television…in any size group we could gather…at bars and restaurants and our neighbor’s house down the block. And now, because of a minute little piece of biology, an entity barely visible in a microscope, we have come to a standstill. Las Vegas, dark and empty and joyless. Hard to imagine and even harder to experience. And it is not just us. This silence, this shut down, this social distancing…it is everywhere…all over the world.
Yet we are a social species. We are not made to be kept apart. And if anyone ever doubted the value of these recreational escapes such as art and music and theater and sports…take a look at us now.
So what can we learn, what can we gain, from this world altering event? What do we have to look forward to? What does tomorrow hold? None of us knows. Someday, of course, this will be over. But it won’t be without an unbelievable amount of loss. Loved ones will be lost. Jobs will be lost. Savings will be lost. Opportunities will be lost. Sounds positively apocalyptic, doesn’t it?
But here is the overriding truth: All will not be lost. When this is finally over and recovery begins, maybe, just maybe, a few important lessons will have taken root. If this teaches us anything, it is that the virus cares not what your ethnic background is…or your religion, or your political party, or your sexual preference, or the color of your skin or whether you’re a boss or a worker or rich or poor or fat or skinny or beautiful or a talented athlete…we are all the same.
And we will learn the hard way that we are not guaranteed what we hold most dear. We are not promised a life of pleasure and enjoyment…we have to create those things and make them happen. Music, art, theater, sports…they are more than diversion, they are what make us the only species on earth that can create what is not already there. And we must continue to create.
Ultimately, maybe, when the pandemic is finally put back in Pandora’s box, we will be better for it. Better able to love those around us and not just those who look or think or speak like us. Maybe, just maybe, we can find a way to turn all this agonizing fear and uncertainty into something that makes us all better. I hope so. And that, today, is my “View from Hollywood”. “God bless us, everyone.” A quote from a book and a movie. Why not?
James G. Hirsch co-founded Papazian Hirsch Entertainment with partner Robert Papazian in 1988. In 1997 they built the first independent film studio; RAY ART Studios and in 2005 they received the coveted ARPA International Film Award for lifetime achievement. Hirsch has written and/or produced over 50 movies, series, and mini-series which have won multiple Emmys and for which he has been a WGA Award nominee and this year’s recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Caucus. Since 2004, he has been an adjunct professor of screenwriting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.