Sunday, March 19, 2023

'Everyplace else is a location'


     I was in Barcelona last October, crossing the Ramblas toward our hotel, one of those wide, wide intersections by Catalonia Square where armies of people come thundering across the street. I looked down at my feet, where the tiles were designed by architectural genius Antoni Gaudi, at the mobs of people, and cars, and bicycles, vibrant urban life, and had a thought I've been reluctant to put in the newspaper.
     "Now THIS is a world class city!"  Yes, Barcelona has more than a million fewer residents than Chicago (though Madrid has slightly more). And yes, that may have been the thrill of travel, of seeing new wonders, eating new foods in new places. But Chicago, in its reduced post-COVID, post-George Floyd form, hasn't gotten its mojo back. Something tells me a NASCAR race won't help.
    What's a world class city? One that doesn't have to ask the question.
    Yes, running down your home is never a good idea. The American returned from abroad who speaks with a slight accent and is gushing with unusual wonders — journalists get into museums free! — is a cliche, and a bad look.
     That said, I thought of my moment in Catalonia about the third reader who said, "Give us a third column!" when I cut Hollywood director Michael Goi off at the end of my second piece on our interview without going into detail about his putting Chicago in its place as a film capital. I started with the above observation because I didn't want to let Goi go anywhere I wasn't willing to go myself. It seemed cold compensation for keeping me and my readers fascinated for two days, maybe three, depending on how this turns out.
     Though offering a civic reality check, however unwelcome, is one role of the journalist.
     And there was something unusual about that interview. Since we talked on Zoom, I taped it, rather than typing as he spoke. The first column of course related to his journey to Hollywood as an Asian-American, the topic of the moment. Transcribing to the recording, I wrote the interview, and it ran far too long. Normally, I'd have taken what I wanted, and not necessarily even listen to the rest. But I turned in the column — at over 1000 words, almost 50 percent longer than usual — then not only did listen, but kept typing it out, figuring I might use it later. When I finished, I clicked the wrong button and lost half a dozen paragraphs of his remarks. So I groaned, tapped my fist on the desk, and then listened again, and typed it again. That never happens, and what prompted me to write the second column, about interviewing for a job.  I figured, why wait?
     I could have sliced off the top, about the tension between ethnicity as a draw and a distraction, crowding out other aspects that are also of interest. Perhaps greater interest. But I like that line of thought. It doesn't get said enough during our Carnival of Identities. So I briefly summarized what he said about Chicago.
     Four readers asked for a third column, even demanded it. That's a lot. So while I'm not a short order cook, here goes.
     I asked Goi about raising kids in Los Angeles — he has three children, two teens and a preschooler. He agreed that raising children in Los Angeles can be a challenge.
    "Personally, I'd rather live in New York City," he said "I think growing up in Chicago and not just dealing with the snow , but dealing with everything, it kinda makes you tough and makes you understand how to navigate different people and personalities. It's different if you have to take the 'L' and interact with people than if you are driven in a car to school as happens in Los Angeles. But this is where the film industry is, where dad's work is, this is where we are."
    Goi sees an honesty in Chicagoans that might be harder to recognize among those remaining in the daily claw and grind of the city.
   "Most of the people I work with who are from Chicago, a lot of us already knew each other, knew what we were all about," he said. "Part of the nice thing, there is no bullshit. You can't bullshit another Chicagoan. They'll see right through it. That's refreshing in a lot of ways. The fact you know when somebody tells you something, no matter how you don't want to hear it, you're hearing the truth. That's incredibly valuable. I appreciate that candid way of approaching things. I never feel there is anything I have to hide anyway, being able to talk to Tyrone Finch (producer of ABC's "Station 19,"actually hailing from Cleveland) or Joey Mantegna or Charlie Carner (producer, known for "Blind Fury" and "The Untouchables" TV series). Any of these people I know from Chicago in this business, we know they're not going to be any level of deception in our relationships." 
Michael Goi
     Pretty to think so, as another former Chicagoan, Ernest Hemingway said.  I would counter that the supposed Chicago attribute of savviness is at odds with the notion that Chicagoans are inherently honest with each other, even Chicago expats in a distant city. But that's what he said, and he obviously believes it.
The part that came next pricked up my ears, for being red meat in the water for film board booster sorts:
    "The film industry in terms of the decisions being made in terms of what shows will actually be made is still based in Los Angeles," he said. "Everyplace else is a location, including Chicago. New York City, Atlanta, New Mexico, Vancouver. They're locations, They will pick up and travel to shoot at whatever place on earth is the cheapest to shoot in that moment  of time. People deceive themselves in some locations. I remember when doing shows in New Orleans, 'American Horror Story.' New Orleans at that time was getting a lot of work, I did a seminar and said, 'As soon as you stop being the cheapest place on earth to shoot, all these productions are going to pick up and going to move to wherever is the next cheapest place on earth to shoot.' And it happened to them. They didn't think it was going to happen to them. It happened a year later. Atlanta, Georgia, enacted tax breaks that were much more favorable and everything picked up and left New Orleans and went to Georgia. 
   "In this industry, you accept being part of the traveling circus. If you are going to survive in this industry, you will be packed up and shipped out to wherever is the cheapest place on earth to shoot at that time. It sounds very glamorous: 'Oh wow, you've done two, three movies in South Africa. You're done two movies in Morocco.' It sounds very glamorous. It's more the reality of what you have to do to stay in this business and make a living in it. You have to be able to go work in these places."
      I know nothing about making movies except that being on a movie set is like watching paint dry. But the above struck me as having what I call "the tang of veracity." It sounds entirely true.  Anyway, I think I've gotten my money's worth out of my hour with Michael Goi. I can't say we got on — he was very dry, very professional, with zero interest in me or in chit-chat. But he had that rare quality of being honest and forthcoming, and I had to share it with you.


  1. This is better than most I've read in the Los Angeles Times, which considers its home a one-industry town, truthfully.

    Insightful on many levels and tellingly carefully crafted. First-rate example why this blog needs to continue. There is so much to unpack. Thank you for this.

  2. Traveling Circus is a perfect description. Complete with tents. We were almost filming year round prior to COVID. It's creeping back to life and the renewed tax incentive certainly helps. Now we hold our collective breath for the WGA strike to pass. Fingers crossed, it will be a very busy summer. Picture's Up!

  3. Thank you for part 3! And I love Barcelona!

  4. Familiarity breeds contempt. 58,000,000 tourists visited in 2018. there must be many things of interest that draw people from around the world to visit besides al Capone , deep dish pizza and the cubs. some of which must be " world class".

    as far as a transplanted resident of LA LA Lands view of the place let alone someone in the film industry most of whom I have very little respect for. Focaccia!

    happy to live here , inside the actual city limits . can't wait to leave

    1. Same goes for me. Only my F word is Fukuoka. And if you don't like Chicago, Oka, tough noogies. There's a plane leaving O'Hare in two minutes.

      Chicago born, Chicago bred, lived half my life in Chicago before leaving for Cleveland, thirty years ago, to marry my college sweetheart and soulmate. I miss Cub games and live jazz and the "L"...but I'm missing the Chicago I left behind, not the Chicago that is, because so much is either gone or changed.

      Don't miss the expense, the increasing danger, the traffic, the parking, the bitter cold. All this "world-class" business is a lot of silliness and bushwa. Makes the boosters and the hornblowers sound like rubes and hicks. Chicago is what it is... far better than a lot of places, far worse than others. It all depends on who you are, what you do, where you live, and especially what skin tone you are.

      Gotta say that despite his Chicago origins, the more I heard from this guy, the less I liked him. Part Three was the topping on the deep-dish. It wasn't just his "Industry" background, which automatically earned him the stink-eye, mainly because I have zero love or respect for Hollywood.

      Yeah, Mikey, we get it... Los Angeles is where the work is and where the power is and where the money is, and that even New York and London and Paris, let alone Chicago, are just locations to film crews and directors, But did he really need to be so goddam snarky about it, and to admit that, like so much else in America, it all comes down to the bottom line? Toronto's cheaper and can stand in for anywhere these days...and it does, right? I call 'em like I 'see 'em. And what I see here is a smug, self-satisfied jamoke.

      Sorry you were hosed, Mr. S. No personality, no warmth, no small-talk, distant and aloof, patronizing and condescending. And all that was revealed in his opening pontification: "I don't wanna hear your ideas, because they suck, and they can't possibly measure up to mine. I'm a're not. So don't TELL me about a scenario for a movie...go make one and SHOW me, so I can dismiss it out of hand. But mainly, GTFO of my face, because I don't have the patience to hear your bullshit."

      Time's a-wastin', dude. Enough Zooming for one day...or for a lifetime, Mikey, Stay in Hollyweird. This ain't your town anymore. Mine, either...but at least I don't shit on where I came from..or where I am. If you'd really rather live in New York, just do it. You've earned your BFD now, so what the hell's stopping you?

    2. Must be some extra fluoride in the Cleveland water today. I left my heart in Chicago too, Grizz.

    3. I've lived in six states. Cleveland's water is the best of any of them. A glass of Chicago water is so chlorinated that it tastes like it was ladled from somebody's pool. So where did YOU end up?

    4. Wow, someone has a different opinion than you Grizz & you go ballistic. Since my wife who grew up in the city, (my mother/in-law still does), says she would never move back to Chicago, (we live just over the border in Wisconsin), does she earn your ballastic attitude as well? Lighten up Francis.


    5. No, pal...YOU lighten up. I am what I am. Don't like it, don't read it...

    6. I'm the water guy comment Grizz.
      I was trying to be funny online, my bad.

      I enjoy your comments. I ended-up in the middle of the ocean, domestically.

      Great Lakes water is tops, that we agree on.

    7. Hey gents. I was in the city today, taking in a baroque concert and having dinner with friends. Try not to maul each other while I’m not looking, okay? I try to run a civilized shop here.

    8. Mr. S is would be a lot easier replying to a name. Chicago puts too many chemicals in its water. Cleveland does not. It tastes as good or better than any of the bottled spring water. People elsewhere think Lake Erie is a sewer and that it's undrinkable and unusable, but those who live on its shores know better. Those same people also think our river still catches on fire. Mopes. It's used by kayakers and fishermen every day. Our waterways have have vastly improved over the last few decades.

  5. For all of your subject’s apparent indifference, you offered close attention. Your impatient diligence is also (I think) a treasured hallmark of the Chicago style. Thank you!

  6. I'm no homer, or Homer, for that matter (though close enough to Homer Simpson, maybe), and I'm as quick to complain about things as the next guy, but I do think you're selling the ole burg a bit short.

    Yes, the city is having a rough spell and has not rebounded from Covid or the Floyd protests quite as briskly as one might have hoped for.

    But, as Franco notes, LOTS of people still love to come here and are often pretty damn impressed when they do.

    Not sure what all officially qualifies as "world-class," but I AM sure that the Chicago Symphony and the Art Institute and O'hare Airport (despite its many shortcomings), for starters, surely do.

    Seems to me that on a given summer weekend, with 14,000 people at the Pritzker Pavilion to hear either a fine orchestra or some other engaging performance, thousands more milling around the Bean and the fountain and ambling up and down Michigan Avenue, many headed to various first-class museums, one might be tempted to consider this place world-class. And those activities just represent a sliver of the action going on around the area. A sports mecca, if one discounts the value of winning! One of the best theater towns in the world. Uh, the remarkable 26-mile stretch of lakefront parks. Etc. Personally, I wish fewer tourists descended on our fair city during the prime months and that he things I'd like to do weren't always so packed.

  7. Interesting guy. Thanks for all three installments.

  8. lol You have some serious issues Grizz. You can dish it out, but can’t take it. I read you because it it’s like listening to my late bitter father. Have a nice night Grizz.


    1. LOL? Seriously? Grow up, Arthur. You could start by signing in with a real name.


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