Sadder Yet

Let no one doubt that Hollywood Elsewhere is an influential, shaker-upper column. Not just in terms of influencing the conversation about Oscar nominees and the Best Picture race. But also in terms of getting people fired. Or one guy, at least. Which doesn’t feel very good if the facts are what they seem. Call me chagrined and somewhat appalled.

I learned a few hours ago that Ivan Infante, a screenwriter and maker of short films who’s been the most friendly and recognizable face at West L.A.’s Laser Blazer for nine years, was canned last Wednesday by owner Ron Dassa, and that one factor in his termination was a piece I ran on 7.20 — 11 days ago — about the sagging fortunes of Laser Blazer. It was called “Saddest Video Store.”

Like all retail video stores Laser Blazer has been going downhill for the last couple of years, so Dassa would have had to cut bait sooner or later. The business has been running at a loss, so Infante, who’s been the store’s product buyer for several years, figured the blade would drop by September or October. It happened sooner, he strongly suspects, for reasons of spite and revenge over the 7.20 article.

Infante says Dassa told him it was also because the article made him suddenly realize that the business was doomed, despite Dassa having assessed Laser Blazer’s financial situation on a regular basis all along. That’s bullshit, of course.

But there does come a time in every dying business when an owner realizes he needs to reduce overhead. Dassa claims he had to cut Infante because he couldn’t afford to pay his salary. Okay, I believe that part. But not 100%.

I think the severing was probably 60% or 70% about revenge for the article, and 30% or 40% about facing economic reality. Okay, 55% to 45%.


Laser Blazer owner Ron Dassa

The first email blast I got was that Infante had been whacked because of the piece. But what was in the article that was so damaging to Laser Blazer’s income or rep? “Business is down,” I wrote. Hello? Video retail is down everywhere. “The mood is down,” I wrote. As it naturally would be inside any store that feels like a storage closet due to a lack of air-conditioning. “Excess inventory is being sent back to distributors”…is that what ticked Dassa off? “And the air conditioning is on the fritz, and in fact hasn’t been repaired for several weeks,” I wrote. That was a simple climatorial fact. You can’t run a business in the summer without a.c.

So Dassa was angry at Infante for sharing honest and/or obvious information about the store’s diminishing business, and particularly for sharing the fact that Dassa had refused to fix the air-conditioning system since it stopped working last February, and he wanted to take revenge because Infante, he felt, was using HE to agitate Dassa to get the a.c. fixed. Or something like that. It sounds semi-plausible to me.

I just don’t see whacking a good employee after he’s been with you for nine years without showing a little kindness. Dassa offered no goodbye severance check, no farewell party, no thanks or hugs….just a chilly, straight-from-the-shoulder “you tried to pressure or embarass me about the air-conditioning so you’re gone…sorry.” I don’t blame Dassa or any businessman for cutting costs when he’s forced to, but I wouldn’t cut a guy loose who’d been with me for nine years without giving him a little renumeration and maybe a farewell dinner or something. End it with a little class and grace.

If anyone in any aspect of video business is reading this, understand that Infante knows film backwards and forwards and that he’s very good with people and that he’s loyal and trustworthy and considerate and well-liked, etc.

Here’s the piece that caused the ruckus.

50 thoughts on “Sadder Yet

  1. So he got whacked eh? I imagine, you were Hyman Roth and Infante was Fredo in this ordeal. Gave information and paid the price. Treat this like Moe Greene’s death, and just accept it’s part of business.

  2. Wells to DTG: Bad karma for calling a spade a spade. Good or neutral karma for keeping silent about something like the above. Is that how it works in your realm?

  3. Jeff,

    You should really get your facts straight before you bash a store that you have patronized for over 18 years. Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, the video industry is on a steep downward trend. Ivan has been one of the best employees in our store and we’ve kept him on board for as long as we could. He will be missed. We are a neighborhood store and are continuing to make changes to survive in these tough times. Our air is back on, but Blockbuster’s air may be more to your liking.

    Ron

  4. I re-read the 7/20 article twice and I can’t find a single thing in the text that incriminates Infante. Unless Dassa sussed out that the man was giving you inside information behind his back, there’s nothing you wrote that starts approaching grounds for canning somebody. And the air conditioning issues along with the partitioning of the space are things you can tell for yourself as a regular patron of the business, so I don’t even see inside information in the piece. Weird, weird…

  5. Jeff knows he is responsible for getting the guy fired. Not because it’s true, but because he can feel it in the air.

  6. Eee… A dude getting fired from a nine-year job is a pretty big blow and seriously worrisome in this economy. I can’t entirely crystallize what the tone of this entry is going for, but it’s at least in part gloating and somewhat flippant while some poor sap’s out of a job. Something feels very off about posting this info on a well-read blog.

  7. Agree with Lex … this post is really odd and feels inappropriate in tone.

    However, Dassa must be a pompous moron for taking offense at the original article, which simply stated the obvious. People like Dassa got caught with their pants down as the world changed around them. Not happy about it, but just stating the facts.

  8. I don’t know what LexG, Tapley, DeRousse and DTG are on about. At all. I just laid out what happened. The 7.20 piece was the honest truth, and then Ivan seems to have gotten whacked as a result. Anf for what? And I’m supposed to do what in response to this news? Sit tight? Swallow my tongue? Go to a yoga class? If Ivan’s salary could no longer be afforded then that’s the economy and what are you going to do? But if he was cut due to that 7.20 article I wrote, it seems snarly and petty. And no send-off money seems wrong for a guy who’s been there nine years. That’s what i said. What’s your fucking problem with that? You’re all reacting to the lede graph, which, I agree, sounds a bit flippant. But the rest of the piece is straight-up.

  9. It’s probably the fact that you started off this entry with the following statement:

    “Let no one doubt that Hollywood Elsewhere is an influential, shaker-upper column. Not just in terms of influencing the conversation about Oscar nominees and the Best Picture race. But also in terms of getting people fired. Or one guy, at least.”

    An opening paragraph phrased like that, no matter the kinder things you write later on, can be taken for real hubristic pride in the face of a man losing his livelihood. Sorry, but I picked up on the same vibe the others did.

  10. Pretty much what Hallick said.

    Granted the post is prescient on-the-ground reporting about the changing climate of home video, but the opening graf was more than flippant, it seemed callous and cruel. Especially coming from a man blessed to be jetting to Cannes, NY, Toronto and driving up to Santa Barbara with the wind at his back.

  11. I read this differently — I thought it was a ballsy post about an awkward situation, with Jeff taking some responsibility (not blame, just responsibility) for what was obviously an unfortunate outcome of his previous post. The opening paragraph was obviously written with self-awareness — no one would gloat over having the influence to get someone fired from a video store, you spazzes.

  12. Jeff,

    You could so easily have opened this thread in a thousand different ways… “A while back I wrote a piece about LaserBlazer and their financial difficulties. Well, now one of their staff has been fired…”

    That way no one could have accused you of smug, self-righteous gloating. But you chose your words and your critics are choosing theirs. Thing is, they are correct, you’re not.

  13. Man, this is bad. I wouldn’t wish what Wells did on m worst enemy in these hard times. Better not show your face around that store anymore.

  14. So you wrote a letter to management and got a lower-level employee at a local business fired…just like what happens every day at Olive Gardens and 7-11s across America. Not exactly Louella Parsons, but I guess it’s a start.

  15. I definitely interpreted that opening paragraph as Jeff gloating about HE’s power in getting someone fired.

    After reading the rest of the piece it becomes apparent that Jeff feels bad about the guy getting canned but it’s still a surprisingly poor lead-in to the story.

  16. Yeah, the opening line is one of the most shameful things I’ve ever read by Wells (and that’s really saying something).

  17. if you can’t get special order the Twilight Zone Blu-rays, you’re not doing much business.

    amazon has most of them for half off

  18. I rewrote the opening graph. Maybe some of you were right. It’s less ambiguous & more caring now.

    On the other hand some of you are real shits to presume that I was actually gloating over a man’s misfortune. I’m pretty much an open book on this site and some of you thought that of me regardless. How perceptive and brotherly of you, fellow dicks.

    I was actually thinking of the narration in Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett’s Sunset Boulevard. The tone I was going for was dark irony. HE influences the Oscar race PLUS gets the occasional guy fired. And some of you thought I was feeling smugly pleased about this?

    A narration line from Sunset Boulevard (read by William Holden) reads as follows: “Funny how gentle people get with you once you’re dead.” He was referring to the gentle way the cops pulled his body out of Norma Desmond’s swimming pool, and how un-gently and callously he felt he was treated by the Hollywood film industry when he was alive.

    If a 2011 version of Wilder-Brackett had written this line in an online column, you guys could have written in and said, “How dare you speak so heartlessly and cynically about a dead person! The poor man is floating dead in a swimming pool and you make dark cracks about it?”

  19. The Lazer Blazer guy wrote that the AC was back on. If so, it must have come back on in the hours between the time he posted that at 9:07 last night and my visit to the store at about 2 yesterday afternoon. Because when I went in, there were fans going, but it still felt sweltering. Once I walked out the front door, the temperature seemed to drop about 15 degrees. I understand the economics of hard times, but it was just too humid to browse at length in there, and it wasn’t even a hot day.

    I should also say it was my first visit in at least a year (I’m not a west sider, or else I’d be in there renting every week), and yeah, it was sad. Not another customer in the 15 minutes I was in there, though I saw someone walking in after I left the newsstand later.

    I wanted to buy something to support them, but then I remembered that everything is $5-10 cheaper on Amazon before (no) taxes, and my economic reality is that I’ve already decided I can’t afford to be buying Blu-Rays anymore even at Amazon prices. I’m all too typical, I suspect. But I sure gave them a lot of my money once upon a time, so I hope that counts for some good retail karma.

  20. As much as I know you want it to be, real life isn’t a movie. So maybe it’s best to step away from your Joe Gillis avatar every once in a while.

    In any case, all I could think about was how mortified I’d be if I was poor Mr. Infante having to read my personal shit scattered on a site like this. Not everyone wants to live in public.

    By the way, did he know that whatever he said about the place would end up in a column with his name attached to it? Because now that I read the piece, it’s clear all the background came from him and there was zero reason to attach his name to the bits about Twilight Zone being out or whatever, thereby fully linking him to any and all info about cost-cutting. The vibe I get is he sent you a “fuck you” email (or called with similar grief) and now you’re trying to make amends in embarrassing public fashion.

  21. Jeff,

    You write about movies daily and so, as a writer, you are more than aware of the power of words and how they can be used. So, don’t blame your readers for being “real shits to presume that I was actually gloating over a man’s misfortune.”

    Your words were so ill chosen you had to change them and then had to go on record to “explain” to us that “the tone I was going for was dark irony.”

    Learn to choose your words, Jeff. I made a dick of myself a while back about Barry Lyndon and owned up and apologized for it. No excuses.

    Be a mensch.

  22. Lex was very much correct that the tone was weird here, but I agree that while Jeff seemed flippant he was making more of a crack about the weight that HE has- it was not gloating by any stretch. I do wish Jeff would ask why people would even think that about him- and whether they would have thought that 5 or even 3 years ago.

  23. Rashad: “So he got whacked eh? I imagine, you were Hyman Roth and Infante was Fredo in this ordeal. Gave information and paid the price. Treat this like Moe Greene’s death, and just accept it’s part of business. ”

    I’ll try to contain my shock that Rashad has not seen, or doesn’t understand the plot mechanics of, “The Godfather” films.

  24. Controversy aside, equally disturbing to me is Jeff’s habit of rewriting offending posts (not to mention his editing/deleting of comments).

    Blogging has been around long enough for rules to be established. One of the cardinal rules is you NEVER delete a post after a very brief amount of time (sometimes posts go up in error or too early, shit happens). You also never rewrite it. If something changes, you append extra info.

    Yet, time and again, Jeff rewrites aposts as if he never wrote the words, as if his readers didn’t read them, as if the commenters didn’t complain about them. As if things like screen caps and Internet archives didn’t exist.

    The rule is simple: think about what you write before you release it, regardless if the medium is print or electronic. ESPECIALLY if you write for a living, and your livelihood depends on your reputation for honesty and integrity.

    Professional bloggers understand this. Journalists understand this. It’s called ethics.

    Well, some do.

  25. Fuck all that. If clarity or fact-correction or grammatical-improvement requires it I can or will change any fucking thing I want to, whenever I want to, anywhere, anyhow.

    An online column is a fluid, moving, changing, shape-shifting thing at all hours. Nothing is chiselled in stone, or committed to inky newsprint. Everything is changable and negotiable, depending on whatever occurs or manifests.

    Jeff and.or Danny Is Always Wrong is apparently some kind of 20th Century print dinosaur who obviously doesn’t get it. One more snide, judgmental post like this and he’s gone. I’m getting quite sick of his ass.

  26. Jeff: Re: Your post 22, which you also emailed along:

    I think in addition to the flippant thing you corrected and which I registered issue with early in the thread, I think my main complaint, stated by others, is this isn’t a public guy. I’m not gonna feign much more outrage over this entry, especially after your edit, and for all I know the guy appreciates the show of support… but I think my bigger objection was just, this is a dude working a job he at least liked enough to stick with for nine years, which is a pretty big deal, and a guy who’s probably not used to having his personal and financial woes written up for the public to see on a popular blog. Most of the people you or the collective “we” here write about are people in the public eye, or at least other critics, journos and blowhards who actively put themselves out there on-line. I know you say the guy has some creative pursuits, but my guess would be a low-key service industry worker probably wasn’t expecting to have his business reproduced in print in public.

    Just speaking as someone who’s worked a zillion sadsack post jobs, if I got fired for pissing off the boss at some dubbing bay job, I would think there’d be legal ramifications even for having a famous movie blogger who’s ON MY SIDE trumpeting the facts of the case in print.

    Or maybe we’re just being assholes about this, I don’t know.

  27. “On the other hand some of you are real shits to presume that I was actually gloating over a man’s misfortune. I’m pretty much an open book on this site and some of you thought that of me regardless. How perceptive and brotherly of you, fellow dicks.”

    If all of your long-time readers have the same response to something, maybe you haven’t been putting out the vibe you think you’ve been putting out. I notice that the only person in the whole thread who thought you didn’t mean it the way everybody else took it was speaking abstractly, “Nobody could mean it that way,” whereas everybody else was basing it on actually reading you.

    The biggest step for a professional writer is getting over the ego-moment of “Why can’t everybody look past the words because they know me and should know I don’t mean it the way it seems?” It’s a tough step. But when everybody responds the wrong way, and it’s not how you want it to be, you’re the one who has been doing it wrong.

    That said, it’s a good, valid edit, because the first paragraph now genuinely reflects the rest of the story, rather than being a bizarre offshoot that didn’t fit the rest of the article. And, also, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with re-writing after the fact. The only critique of that that seems valid to me is that you should acknowledge at the bottom of the post “edited at (time/date)”. To use a way over-baked metaphor (I’m laughing at how silly it is to say about something this trivial), it seems like an Orwell-style re-write of history.

  28. With all of his long-accumulated wisdom over all the hard-and-fast established “rules of blogging” that have been , um … “set in stone”, I guess… I’m sort of astounded that “J.D. Wrong” never got the memo on an axiom which has been observed *forever* on the interwebs….

    That is, when a blog’s commenter christens himself with a “handle” which in-and-of-itself casts aspersions on the blog’s author…..that person is invariably a troll to be ignored.

  29. You banned someone for saying you are getting bad karma for getting some poor schlub at video store fired?

    Seriously, your skin is that thin? Seriously?

  30. One more snide, judgmental post like this and he’s gone. I’m getting quite sick of his ass.

    And I don’t care.

    I’ll show myself out, thank you.

  31. Seems Jeff has played fast and loose with the facts here.

    For the original post, the A/C wasn’t broken – it was being installed. Seems Ron had to put in a new system and leave the old with the new tenants next door when they reconfigured the place.

    (For the record, went to the store yesterday and it was pretty cool.)

    As to the titles he wanted: BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES is out of print. In other words, NOBODY has it. “Twilight Zone” could have been special ordered, but Jeff didn’t want to do it that way.

    Word is, the employee was horrified to learn Jeff was blaming a reaction to the post on his termination and called to apologize. He not only got a severance package, but was offered part time work. He had been the only full time employee.

    Get your facts straight, Jeff. You’d think after 40 years of professional writing you’d least know how to to do that.

    Ghost of DtG…..

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