You might wonder how powerful people get away with doing disgusting things, particularly things like sexually harassing less powerful people. Why don’t more people who know about their actions blow the whistle on them?

Harvey Weinstein, currently in prison until at least November 9, 2039. One of the few living with the consequences of sexual misconduct. Why is it so hard to nail these guys?

There’s an easy answer. Nobody wants to get involved. It’s an ugly, murky business, often characterized by only he said/she said evidence. And powerful people are powerful for a reason. They control who gets to work, earns a living, and has a career.

Shortly before the end of the last century I directed a couple of episodic TV shows on the west coast. Like most episodic shows, the budget was squeaky tight and the shooting schedule meant that the director’s shot list had to be scraped to the bone. Bringing the show in on time and on budget was the usual struggle against time and circumstances. This particular series helped the directors out by providing a second unit camera crew to pick up shots the director simply didn’t have time to set up. In this case the second unit camera was operated by a very attractive young woman. She was doing great work, and I was grateful for it.

“You’re saving my life here,” I told her. “I don’t know how I could get this show in the can without you.”

And then she was fired.

I heard that the producer said she was incompetent. That didn’t make any sense to me, but maybe there was something she shot that the producer didn’t like, or decided was a waste of money. Producers can be hard to please.

I heard from the camera crew that the producer had hit on her. She had turned him down flat. And then she was fired. That would explain a lot.

Some weeks later I got a phone call from the producer. She had gone to the union and lodged a complaint against him. “She’s saying that the great Zale Dalen told her that her work was saving his life,” he told me, his voice an audible sneer when he said my name.

The implication, of course, was that he wanted me to deny telling her that her work was valuable. A lot of emotions were running through my body and tightening my breathing at this point. Chief among them was that I didn’t like this guy. Possibly there was a bit of pride in his sarcastic suggestion that my name carried weight in the industry. Also there was a slight annoyance at the woman for dragging me into this situation. By this point in my career I had learn that pissing off a producer, even a low level West Coast episodic producer, could be career suicide.

Case in point: I went to an interview with a PBS producer in Seattle. He told me: “I hear you are hard to work with.” and I knew exactly where that had come from – a producer I worked with in Toronto, almost on the other side of the continent. The movie industry is a small club. Producer talk, and don’t mind exercising their power and influence by killing a job prospect for a director.

I remember sitting in a sushi bar with George Lazenby. He told me that Albert R. (Cubby) Broccoli wanted him to do another James Bond movie after starring in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and he had refused because “the producer made me feel mindless”. Cubby Broccoli told him he would never make another movie, and pretty much made it stick. “After the Bond argument nobody would touch me,” George told me. “Harry Saltzman had always said, ‘If you don’t do another Bond you’ll wind up doing spaghetti westerns in Italy. But I couldn’t even get one of those. My agent couldn’t believe it. But the word was out – I was ‘difficult’.”

Being difficult is the kiss of death for a director, unless you direct a huge money maker. Then being difficult is not only expected, it’s essential. A director is expected to have a vision and fight for it. But even so, one must be aware of power and influence. Phil Borsos had a good run after making “The Grey Fox”, but his career did a steep dive into the toilet after he pissed off the producer of “The Mean Season”, David Foster, a man with a list of major credits as long as your leg and an entrenched member of the Hollywood industry elite.

So, what could I do? I certainly wasn’t going to deny that I said what I said. I told the producer, listen, this isn’t my business. I don’t know what went on and I wasn’t there. But what I saw of her work looked good. If anybody asks me, I’ll say so.

I later heard that the young camera person settled, i.e. was bought off. And, predictably, she became known as “difficult”. Though I managed to hire her for one small project, I don’t think she got a lot of work after that. Another reason why I don’t like the film business. It’s full of assholes who trash careers out of spite.

Strangely enough, I also didn’t get any work from that producer after that.

It’s really encouraging that the “casting couch” has been sent to the landfill and abusers like Harvey Weinstein are getting what they deserve. But it’s still an industry that lives on gossip, word of mouth, and reputation. Becoming known as difficult is the kiss of death, and that will never change.

What will also never change is that there will always be ambitious young women, and men, willing to not “be difficult” when a career advance is dangled in front of them. So that confuses the situation. And such compliance is fraught with danger and disappointment. “Did you hear about the Polish actress?” a disgusting Hollywood joke that manages to be both sexist and racist (plus a reflection of the bitterness writers often feel as their work is butchered by producers and directors). “She fucked the writer.”

Damn but it’s an ugly business. Makes me sincerely glad my phone stopped ringing years ago.

Who Am I?

For that matter, who are you? Someplace back in my distant past, possibly during my teen years, I came up with a theory about my identity. It goes like this: I am a combination of three things – what other people tell me I am, what I tell myself I am, and what I really am.

Each of these are unknowable. I can’t know completely what other people are telling me I am. So much of it goes into my subconscious unnoticed. So much of it is a result of the culture I was born into. So much remains unexamined no matter how much I navel gaze or submerge myself in introspection. So much is open to interpretation. It was only fairly recently that I discovered that being left handed caused the world to tell me that I’m an oddball, that I don’t fit in, that I’m a weirdo. This became part of who I am through constant comments about my left handedness, through the pause on the first day of school while the teacher searched for a left handed desk I could use. Of course this is all trivial. Still, it became part of my identity, of who I am.

Similarly, who I tell myself I am can never be completely known. I am constantly revising my description of myself, usually when I make a discovery that is at odds with what I tell myself I am. For example, I tell myself that I am an honest person. Yet I am constantly reminded of occasions when I was less than honest, or when I tried to avoid having others see the truth of what I am. Lately this has taken the form of not wanting my wife to catch me taking a late night chunk of chocolate. Doing so while pretending to watch my weight is dishonest. Again, trivial. But still an indication of a tendency to be dishonest.

Finally there is what I actually am, which is an amalgam of these three things, what other tell me I am, what I tell myself I am, and what I really am. All of which is so tangled together that it is impossible to know what I really am. I continually surprise myself, or how I will actually act in any real situation. Will I be the man I would like to be, a paragon of virtue and courage. Or would I be the sniveling coward or succumb to temptation. I never know until the situation happens to me.


I remember, years ago, discussing a scene with a very well known and accomplished character actor. I think it was Ed Nelson in an episode of J.J. Starbuck. In the scene he would play, he would be threatened with a gun. He had been in so many movies in which he was killed that he actually made of show reel of clips – being thrown out of an airplane, thrown off a building, shot with a hand gun, shot with a machine gun, hanged, burned alive, drowned. He also made a show reel of him committing homicide in as many and various ways. He told me that he had always wondered what he would actually do in a real life situation facing a man with a gun.

One day he found out. He was in his Malibu bedroom when he heard a noise from the ground floor. He came down the stairs to suddenly find himself facing a burglar pointing a gun at his head. He told me that he would never have guessed how he would really react in that situation. He had always assumed he would be movie hero cool, perhaps coming up with a James Bond quip. What he actually did, he said, was to go into immediate hyperventilation. He lost all control of his body. He couldn’t catch his breath. He was helpless. The robber pushed him into a chair and tied him up, then proceeded to collect anything in his home that had resale value.

I was delighted to hear this story from my actor, and asked him to play the scene exactly that way. That’s television that nobody has seen before. But of course the actor couldn’t do it. It was just too far from his TV and movie persona. Too far from what the audience would expect or accept.

End of Digression

So there you have it. Three things that make up an identity: what you are told you are, what you tell yourself you are, and what you really are. All unknowable. It’s what makes self discovery so endlessly intriguing.

This theory of identity lead me to a governing principle of my life. As Kurt Vonnegut put it, “You are what you pretend to be, so you better be careful what you pretend to be.” Very early in my life I decided that I wanted to change the composition of what I am, to reduce the percentage that came from what people tell me I am, and increase the percentage of what I tell myself I am.

I wanted to be more self-created, less a product of my environment and culture and more a person who is really a self made man.

I was telling people that I am a movie director a long time before I had managed to direct anything at all, let alone anything of significance. I kept this up long enough that the world started to agree with me. If you Google my name today you might learn that I am a Canadian movie director. It’s amazing. Now it’s not just me telling people that I’m a movie director. The world is also telling me that I’m a movie director.

Is this a proof of concept? It seems that way. But of course if I hadn’t had the directing success that I’ve had, admittedly far more limited that I would have hoped, saying that I’m a movie director would just make me delusional. Maybe it takes a touch of madness to create yourself. I think I can lay claim to that too.

The Big Dipper

The big dipper is the only constellation I can recognize. Okay, sometimes I think I recognize Orion’s Belt. But the Big Dipper is unmistakable.

It was my father who showed me the Big Dipper. We were walking on the family farm on a warm summer evening and I had my son, a toddler at the time, on my shoulders. It was a clear night and the Big Dipper was very obvious. Dad talked about how you would learn to recognize it even when only part of it was visible. I’m sure he was thinking of the big sky in Saskatchewan of his childhood.

Since then there have been several occasions when I was anxious or under stress or depressed. And somehow the Big Dipper would show up in the sky.

I remember one occasion when I was alone at the wheel of a rather large ship, the Wawanesa, an old wooden fish packer and former rum runner with half the ribs removed to lighten it for races against the coast guard patrols. It was the end of the fishing season and the crew were celebrating and not much help with navigation. Standing at the four foot tall wooden wheel with the chain link to the rudder, I was feeling the stress and responsibility of piloting down from Prince Rupert through the inside passage. And there was the Big Dipper. It felt like my father was with me, a great comfort. Foolish, but there you have it.

To be clear, I am the last person to harbour woo beliefs. But confirmation bias is hard to avoid, eh.