Saturday, April 26, 2014

Defending the Indefensible or A Tale of Two Liars

Lee Goldberg has been posting quite a bit about James Strauss, the man who passed himself off as a successful television writer at conferences and today, Lee mentioned how, even though there are multitudes of people who feel duped for trusting James Strauss at conferences and individually with their screenwriting questions, career guidance, and industry educations as well as their hopes, aspirations, and dreams, there are just as many defending James Strauss and lashing out people who have uncovered his cons and criminal convictions.

While this may puzzle a lot of people, it does not surprise me a bit. I've seen it before.

Last year, I wrote an off topic post about Eric Williams, a mild-mannered former attorney and Justice of the Peace in Kaufman County, Texas, prosecuted for stealing some computer equipment from the County and sending office supplies to his private practice on Kaufman County's dime. Later, when the Assistant District Attorney, Mark Hasse, was gunned down on his way into the courthouse and people began pointing fingers at Eric Williams, it was an obvious witch hunt. Even Mike McClelland, the District Attorney, seemed to be out to get poor Eric Williams and vowed on television to catch the slime that murdered Hasse and he made no secret of his opinion that Eric Williams needed to be looked at immediately. Then two months later, Mike McClelland and his wife were shot to death in their home.

The Eric Williams accusations flew. But he had passed a gun residue test. But he had an alibi. But his home had been searched. No way he did this. No way.

Of course he did. You've surmised that by now.

Eric Williams and his wife are now awaiting trial. His wife has confessed and truckloads of evidence have piled up against them including the cars he and his wife drove to commit the murders, the weapons, their clothing, computers, phone records. And, his wife has disclosed even a FOURTH planned murder so horrific the imagination can barely comprehend it. Williams' wife told investigators that he had planned to murder former state district judge, Glen Ashworth, with a crossbow. Williams then planned to cut him open while still alive and set him on fire with homemade napalm. As bizarre as it sounds, it explains the "go bag" investigators found in his storage building. The bag contained a cross bow, hunting knife, napalm, and surgical gear.

Denial. Denial. Denial. Eric Williams' supporters are still in denial. And I totally get it. I do. They cannot reconcile the Eric Williams they know based on the allegations of a bunch of investigators they do not know. And, in the beginning I, too, was in denial and I didn't even know the guy at all! I just couldn't imagine a man -- any man -- murdering a human being over being prosecuted for a minor theft.

But then, a few days after the McLellands were murdered, I saw Eric Williams interviewed on television and he was smirking. SMIRKING! Two more people were dead and he was incapable of expressing sympathy without a Chesire Cat grin on his face. My liar-liar-pants-on-fire-radar went off and I knew this man was guilty. A week later he was in jail.

But Eric Williams is a con. He's a narcissist. He may even be a sociopath. And, he can easily convince people he is who he says he is or who he wants to be. People still believe in him even though he is facing death row for murdering three innocent people. Well, they can believe in him all they want but that does not change the evidence against him.

James Strauss, whom I have never met, may also be all these things. I really do not know. I'm not saying his next step is homicide. I'm just saying that people still defend him and people still believe in him even though they KNOW he is not what he says he is and even though they know he lied to them and even though they KNOW he does not have the screenplay or teleplay chops to be paying him to critique their work. Like Eric Williams, people cannot let go of the James Strauss they know based on the allegations of a lot of people they DO NOT know.

Regardless what things people do or say or the evidence against them, there will always be people who fall on their swords defending the guilty. And, I get it. But it does not change the evidence that James Strauss is not a television writer.

Friday, April 25, 2014

I'd Rather Be a Writer

The Ellie Kanner directed film, "Authors Anonymous" is about a dysfunctional bunch of Los Angeles writers who each sink into their own version of author-envy when the seemingly least talented of their group secures an agent, publishes her book, and gets a film deal. The girl doesn't even know who Jane Austen is but she's suddenly the "it" girl living a charmed life with a famous author boyfriend. Written by David Congalton, "Authors Anonymous" missed the mark for me as a snarky mockumentary but I have met, in real life, every sad character in that film.

And, you just feel bad for them.

You know them, too. There's an egomaniacal Tom Clancy wannbe who has a self-published book signing in a hardware store, a romance novelist who is really just exploring her inner sex kitten, and a Fitzgerald devotee who probably has some real talent but doesn't spend as much time writing as he should because he is delivering pizza and cleaning carpets to pay the bills.

We've all met people like this. Some have talent. Some don't. All believe they've been given the go-by. And some decide to do something about it.

Like this guy:

Introducing James R. Strauss, a man who was outed by Lee Goldberg as living the screenwriter life and speaking at seminars as a guru acclaimed for working on television shows that there's no real evidence he worked on. He apparently bypassed all the slammed doors and rejection letters and just went straight to getting paid to teach about a career he never had.

It reminds me of the book, "The Woman Who Wasn't There" about Alicia Esteve (Tania) Head who pretended she was in the World Trade Center when the towers fell.  Her deception went unexposed for quite some time among survivor groups and she gained some acclamation for her heroic story of escape.

The difference in these two people is that while both of them appear to have some kind of deep-rooted need for recognition or acknowledgment, Alicia never made money off her lies. She broke a lot of hearts but didn't profit by it. James R. Strauss, on the other hand, is being vetted by Lee Goldberg's internet friends and has a colorful history of being accused of fraud and profiting from it.

How many times have I had the discussion about writing for the sake of writing versus writing to be produced and how even though screenwriters want to see their words breathing on film, there is also a level of satisfaction in putting pen to paper and doing what you set out to do?

Rhetorical question. Duh.

Point is, jumping to the finish line without running the race seems like an excruciatingly unsatisfying life. And I genuinely feel a deep sense of regret for the choices made by this person I've never met.

I think I would rather write and be unknown than not write and be known for writing.