Sunday, October 31, 2010
It was a little before the Christmas of ’75 when I first got to New York. My filmmaker friends Julia Reichert and Jim Klein had driven me from Dayton, Ohio and dropped me off at the West Fourth Street Station. Hugging my duffel bag to my chest—everything I had was inside it—I pushed through the turnstile and got on the downtown F. I had a buddy who had agreed to let me sleep on his floor in Park Slope until I could find a place to live.
I’d only planned to spend my first summer after college in Dayton, and get to New York by September. I’d taken a job designing a catalog for a local film distributor called Twyman Films, with the idea of having a little more money in my pocket before I hit the big city. Unfortunately, I was robbed the first day I got to Dayton. The guy cleaned out everything I had except my clothes, so I had to stay until December to make up for everything I lost on the first day.
In addition to my duffel bag, I had a check for $2000 in my pocket. I didn’t realize that Citibank was going to hold it for two weeks until they would let me get access to any of it. So I basically had the hundred bucks I had on me to pay for the next two weeks. But stuff was cheaper in those days. The cost of a subway token had just gone from thirty-five to fifty cents. My Park Slope pal thought that fifty cents was outrageous so he used slugs.
I had run a film club back at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, so I started my job hunt by visiting the offices of all the companies I’d been booking films from. The prize of my duffel bag was a pale blue denim leisure suit with ultra-wide lapels and huge white buttons, the kind of thing Fred Willard would wear on “Fernwood 2-Night.” Today you could get laughs just putting on this 70s atrocity as a Halloween costume, but I sincerely intended it as a classy presentation for job interviews. Luckily for me, on my second meeting, a guy kindly told me that it wasn’t necessary for me to dress up.
After a few meetings, I found my way to a guy named Josh Balgley, who was setting up a distribution venture called UA Classics. Unlike all the studio classics divisions that would follow it, Balgley’s classics division actually handled classics… as in Humphrey Bogart movies, and other treasures in the UA collection. Josh liked my Twyman catalog and hired me to design one for him.
In the coming months, I spent a lot of time at the UA building at 729 Seventh Avenue. It had its own ad agency, Carluth, and I was very intimidated by the hardboiled guys who worked there. They smoked cigars and said weird male things like, “you should move that logo a cunt’s hair to the right.” I felt like I’d wandered into an X-Rated version of “The Front Page,” and was totally cowed by the sexist smog of the place. It was hard to believe that a few months ago I’d been in my Earth Shoes, spouting off on “Ruby Fruit Jungle” in Women in Literature class.
Balgley wanted to have unusual stills in the catalog, so I was granted access to a room where the “Linen Books” were kept. These were beautifully bound copies of all the contact sheets from classic movies. I remember going through all the stills from “Some Like it Hot.” That movie was an obsession of mine and I’d written a term paper on it. Now I was following the whole history of its making as if it was a comic book. Maybe I had heard too many stories about its production, but I thought I could see how pissed off people were waiting for Marilyn to show up on set. I lost all sense of time down in the Linen Book room and I often had to be nudged when office hours were over.
As these were the days before computerized graphic design, I did this catalog old school: drafting table, t-squares and triangles, typesetting, photostats, technical pens, X-Acto knives, Best-Test cement, and pickup squares. You had to know what you were doing back then—you couldn’t futz around endlessly with the fonts and sizes--you had to make your choice in your head with no budget for second tries.
I shared a duplex apartment with five people on east 22nd, near Gramercy Park. Rats scurried around under the floorboards under my head as I tried to sleep. I put poison down there, which shut them up, but then I had to deal with the smell for a few weeks. Still, as roommates left I kept moving up into better bedrooms until I had one with four windows, a fireplace, and a breathtaking city view--the best New York City room I’ve ever lived in to this day.
As long as I had slugs, all the boroughs were mine, but I preferred to walk. The New York streets provided an endless source of free and illicit feasts for the eyes: the NYU girls of summer, who, luckily for me, cut the class on keeping breasts inside tank tops. the 3 card Monte dealers of Times Square, whose skillful and shameless fleecing of tourists provided excellent prep for the people I would soon meet in the film biz; the junkies in the east village with the razor blade necklaces circling their necks, the drag queens, magicians, the singers, the drug dealers, the hookers… particularly the hookers. It was so dirtily glamorous to be in a town that had so many prostitutes. “Wanna date?” That was always such a nice, friendly question.
Balgley kept making changes to my design, which was costly for me as I was on a flat fee. I kept struggling to find some rhyme or reason to his perverse decisions. His assistant had a very concise explanation: Balgley was an asshole. He called him “Bag-of-Shit.” When I would come home, my roommates would all laugh and ask me, “How’s Bag-of-Shit?” The unpleasantness of working for Balgley snapped me out of my reveries in the Linen Book room and I got the job done.
Around that time, an opening came up at Dan Talbot’s New Yorker Films. I went to their office in the Sofia Building on West 61st Street. When I walked in, I was confronted with a brick wall painted “La Chinoise” red. This was it! The temple that housed all my favorite films! I was dying to work there. I was ushered by my longtime phone buddy Jose Lopez and introduced to Dan Talbot, the legendary crowned head of foreign film. As I nervously pulled my Twyman catalog and college film posters out of my portfolio bag, I was happy to see Dan’s eyes light up. I could do all the other work, and save him money on graphic design too! As I would learn, any opportunity to not spend money filled Dan with glee. When he told me the job would involve working with critics, I started jibber-jabbering about how thrilled I would be to meet my idols Sarris, Kael, and the rest, until I saw his look of pity and shut up.
Once I had proved I was reasonably film-literate, knew how to thread a projector, and could save them money, there was one final hurdle—I had to submit a writing sample. Right after the interview, they dispatched me to the office screening room with a 16mm print of Fassbinder’s “The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant.” The next day I dropped of my “Petra Von Kant” blurb at New Yorker, so that the quality of my just-out-of-college prose could be adjudicated by Dan’s wife Toby. That night I splurged on a bottle of Mateus and tried unsuccessfully to not think about how badly I wanted the job.
The next day Jose called. I would start the following Monday. I had no way of knowing it then, but that phone call would, as the cliché goes, dramatically alter the course of the rest of my life.
But I was young and it was impossible for me to think too much about the future. I was just happy I didn’t have to work for Bag-of-Shit anymore.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
There’s a pattern of critical judgment in festival reviews of Errol Morris’s “Tabloid” that is manacling itself to the film as tightly as its heroine, Joyce McKinney, trussed her Mormon ex-boyfriend to a bed. It’s the notion that because the subject of “Tabloid” isn’t a subject of monumental historical significance like “The Fog of War” and “Standard Operating Procedure,” then it is somehow a throwaway, a mere Snickers bar amidst the strong meat of his career. I can imagine two reasons why they might think this.
The first possibility is that they haven’t seen most of Errol’s films. This is borne out by the way some are surprised that Errol is funny, which is exactly like saying they’re stunned that Zach Galifianakis is funny. Despairing but still laugh-out-loud gallows humor is what made “Gates of Heaven” and “Vernon, Florida” controversial—“is he making fun of these people?”—and what made “The Thin Blue Line” hysterically funny to audiences, despite the Kafaesque tragedy it chronicled.
The second explanation is that these critics haven’t been curious enough or taken the time to think about why they like his movies. Even if they have praised him as one of the world’s greatest filmmakers, if they are honest with themselves, they just know that his films have an impact on them that they can’t exactly put their finger on.
For my defense of “Tabloid,” which, by the way, is my second favorite Errol Morris film, let me start with his debut, “Gates of Heaven.” The film was not about the Vietnam War, Enron, environmental catastrophe, or the struggle for civil rights,” it was seemingly about two pet cemeteries, one that failed and one that succeeded. Yet Roger Ebert considers to be one of the top ten movies of all time, along with films like “2001,” “Casablanca,” Citizen Kane,” “Raging Bull,” “La Dolce Vita,” “Notorious,” and “The Third Man.”
For starters “Gates of Heaven” is about a hell of a lot more than pet cemeteries. The topic is actually nothing more than an opportunity for Errol to let people talk about all sorts of things, beyond people’s relationships with animals, business strategies, and death. Before making his debut film, Errol had done numerous audio interviews and had discovered that people will often talk a very long time before he asked the first question, a method he has since described as “leave people alone, let them talk, and in two or three minutes they’ll show you how crazy they are.” As Roy Grundmann and Cynthia Rockwell wrote:
Morris uses the cinematic medium to seek realism in a philosophical rather than objective sense, by exploring the intersections of the “fictional” and “real” worlds we create and inhabit. In Morris’s world-view, people live inside personal story worlds that they construct for themselves about who they are and what they’re doing, worlds that may be divorced from reality and which are revealed by a person’s language, through the stories that they tell about themselves.
Errol elicits unexpected revelations about his subjects’ interior life through interviews that go far beyond two or three minutes, but more commonly six hours or more. One of his favorite starting gambits is to ask people about what they wanted to be when they were children. A crucial part of his aesthetic is what he calls his first-person visual style, where his subject speak directly into the camera eye—and to the audience—just as a TV anchorman or politician does. This is an artistic choice Errol made before he ever shot a frame of film. For his first films, he approximated it by placing his head as closely as possible to the lens. Unsatisfied, he invented a device which allowed his interviewees to see an image of his face in front of the camera lens. In addition to perfecting the First Person effect, this contraption, which his wife Julia dubbed the Interrotron, had the effect of taking him out of the interview room. This distance boosted the power of the effect, because, as he has said often, people will tell you a lot more on the phone than they will face to face.
Errol begins the process of making his movies with a complete openness to whatever happens once he starts listening. More than once he has begun a film on one subject and changed it to another. And his biggest process of discovery is in the editing room, which can take a very long time, even years. It’s not unusual for him to take a film to a level to a certain place, tear it apart and start over.
Standard documentaries tend to be jigsaw puzzle narratives constructed and solved by the filmmaker.They are filmed, written and edited to fit together a certain way. One by one, the filmmaker lays a puzzle piece down until an overall picture is revealed for the audience: Enron was a very bad company; the war in Iraq was mismanaged; our [health care, education, environmental, fill in the blank] system is a disgrace. The audience leaves the theatre with fascinating information that has been shaped by the filmmaker’s agenda for their benefit.
Errol makes jigsaw puzzles too, but they don’t function that way. He gives the audience pieces from many different puzzles, and he doesn’t solve any of them, he leaves that work to the audience. And then the audience has the even bigger task of uncovering what the connections are between the puzzles. I don’t actually think that Errol makes movies, rather he creates experiences that just happen to be movies—and going through an Errol Morris experience is an assignment for the impossible quest of connecting the dots.
This explains why Roger Ebert has shown “Gates of Heaven” dozens of times to people in all walks of life, and every viewer has something completely different to say about it. There is no possible way to watch “Gates of Heaven” without being forced to invent your own movie.
Four men with unusual professions are interviewed in “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control”: an M.I.T. robot scientist whose creations are inspired by insect behavior; a lion tamer, an artist/gardener who trims topiary into “Edward Scissorhands”-style giant animals; and a man passionately engaged in the study of the African naked mole rat. At first they might seem to have nothing in common, but as the film unfolds, certain similiarities emerge, from the comic absurdity of their obsessions, to themes like man’s attempt to control animals, and finally the melancholy understanding that some good and noble things are destined to fade away. The lion tamer is practicing a craft that he believes will die out soon after he does; the elderly gardener knows that a storm could destroy years of his effort and in any case, his sculptures will disintegrate when he dies; and the robot designer cheerfully talks about the future, when robots will outlive our species. Driven by Caleb Sampson’s wistful music, and a cornucopia of cinematic styles from slow motion, multiple film stocks, and offbeat angles, “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control” is a film that is as easy to love as it is hard to summarize. The odd impact of “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control” is that nobody in the audience needs to give a damn about mole rats or animal topiary design before or after they see the film. It’s beside the point. The emotional power of the film comes from the connections that each member of the audience makes while watching it.
An Errol Morris film rests on the bedrock of self-deluded people. Some center on a single person, who has two strange moments associated with their life, like “Mr. Death”’s Fred Leuchter, Jr., who is a designer of humane execution devices and a holocaust denier, and “Tabloid”’s Joyce McKinney, an American woman in a 70s British sex scandal who later on clones her dog in South Korea. Films like “Gates of Heaven” and the under-rated “Vernon, Florida” feature an ensemble of eccentrics. For example, the residents of Vernon, Florida include a red wiggler worm salesman, a couple with a jar of sand they believe is growing, and my favorite, a turkey hunter with a plaque with three pairs of gobbler feet and their beards, who tells glorious stories of how he bagged each one. Put all that stuff together, why don’t you? You’re on your own. Errol sure isn’t going to help you.
I can hear somebody saying, “What about ‘The Thin Blue Line,”? That has a wrap-up. Errol solved a murder! I think it’s wonderful that Errol got an innocent guy out of jail, but that’s only a distraction from what makes the film a masterpiece. It’s not that it finds the solution to a murder trial in Texas, but rather that it is an exploration of the mysteries of the human mind and its endless need for self-delusion. The “reenactments” in the film are said to have inspired everything from History Channel crime shows to “Man on Wire,” but in fact they the opposite of reenactments—they were illustrations the falsehoods and confused thinking behind what the eyewitnesses claimed to have seen. The movie demands that the audience try to interact and make sense of it. “The Thin Blue Line” poster tagline is: a softcore movie, Dr.Death, a chocolate milkshake, a nosey blonde and The Carol Burnett Show. Solving this mystery is going to be MURDER.”
Errol told me when we were at the Toronto Film Festival that during the Bush/Cheney years he felt the imperative to make more political films. It’s understandable that when you live through a time when your Vice-President says, “Yes, we torture! We make no apology for that!” you might want to make a movie like “The Fog of War,” a film about the past which resonates so well with the Iraq war. I can obvious why he felt the need to make a movie like “Standard Operating Procedure,” that proves indisputably that the jailed servicemen and women who snapped photos at Abu Ghraib got a raw deal. Of course, in that film he does that by employing his current fascination with the battle photography and truth (as elaborated in his New York Times blog and his upcoming book), but to me, this kind of stuff is really nothing new for him. I admit I haven’t read it all, and I know I’m being laughably reductive of what I have read, but basically his point is that you can’t trust photos to be true because they are looked at by human beings, and the reasoning of human beings is subject to many variables, that distort judgment. He doesn’t believe that seeing is believing; he believes that “believing is seeing.” To me, this is a corollary to his notion that people live in the movies they have written, directed and starred in, and find distribution in the theatre inside their heads.
Even if you don’t agree with what I’ve written above, I hope you can understand why “Tabloid” is my favorite Errol Morris film after “Gates of Heaven.” My reasoning couldn’t be simpler. I find Joyce McKinney to be the quintessential Errol Morris character, a miracle find. If his stated career goal is “sick, sad and funny,” she is by far the sickest, the saddest, and--oh my God!—the funniest one ever. And like all his films, you have to connect the dots. What does a woman’s tabloid sex scandal have to do with her cloning her dog years later? (Errol thinks he knows and he answers the question in Q&A’s and interviews. I wish he would stop doing that, as I think it’s like giving away the secret to a magic trick.)
But there is more. For the first time in all of his movies, Errol hands over the camera to his main character. There’s a sequence of Joyce’s home movie footage that he incorporates into “Tabloid.” Joyce is videotaping her father sleeping and her empty yard. “Nothing is happening here,” she says. In a literal sense, Joyce is documenting that there is no reason for the dog to be incessantly barking next door, but when Errol runs it over and over the meaning is obvious. After all her Lindsay Lohan-style escapades on the world stage, this is where Joyce’s story ends.
I could never have written this without the book Errol Morris Interviews, edited by Livia Bloom. My thanks to all the authors of the interviews and essays within. If you like Errol’s films, this book is a must.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
In all the coverage of the miracle rescue of the Chilean miners, one thing that I haven’t seen mentioned much is that President Piñera is a billionaire, one of the richest men in Chile.
Imagine if this was the U.S. and something really terrible happened. Let’s say there was a hurricane that hit New Orleans, or there was an oil spill in the gulf. If a U.S. President dashes to the site, and dedicates his attention every step of the way, he would be attacked from the moment of his arrival. No matter what happened, it would be spun into a negative by the opposition. In our current political/media culture, it would be exactly as if he was the one who caused the hurricane or the oil spill. To keep from committing political suicide he would need to keep a certain distance from something that nobody knew how to fix.
Fear drives all of current American politics. On the most obvious level, politicians use terrorism to manipulate voters, and fears about financial security make tax cuts and deficits into emotional buttons. But these uses of fear are just instruments of the actual fear, the terror politicians have of being out of office. So they pander to those who can give them the money to keep them there--the corporations, the unions, the churches, and the haters. They gerrymander. They think twice about taking actions that would look too good on an attack ad. As we have seen with John McCain, they will say and do practically anything, no matter how deplorable and against the principles they have fought for their whole lives, to hold onto power. Of course there are exceptions like my one-time Sunday School classmate Russ Feingold. Good luck to ya, Russ!
So who can afford to do and say what they really want to? Gazillionaires like Mayor Bloomberg, that’s who. He’s a Republican who stands up to the gun lobby, supports the right to abortion, has taken strong action on global warming, opposes the death penalty, thinks that illegal immigrants should be given permanent status, supports stem cell research and gay marriage, passionately supports the Muslim Community Center, and when asked if he smoked marijuana, said, “You bet I did. I enjoyed it!” Even if you think he went to far with his TransFat ban, smoking-in-restaurant ban, or muscling himself into a third term, you have to admit he knows how to get what he wants. Compare his political career to the dysfunction that permeates national American politics.
Bloomberg is relatively free from the predations of the corporations, the unions, and the special interest groups. If he’s gung ho Wall Street it’s because he’s gung ho Wall Street, not because he has his hand out for their money. What you see is what you get.
Even though I’m an admirer of Mayor Bloomberg, I find this absolutely terrifying.
To return to President Piñera for a moment, Wikipedia points out that “despite much goodwill in Chile following the mining rescue many Chileans are still waiting for him to rectify anti-terrorism laws in Chile which effectively mean the indigenous Mapuche people can be dealt with as "terrorists." This matter has led to hunger strikes which started before the mining disaster, and are set to continue afterwards.”
Sunday, October 17, 2010
This week I received a call from Nina Barnett, in the office of Randall L. Stephenson, the Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer and President of AT&T Inc.
At no point in our conversation did Nina broach the subject of my anti-AT&T blog post going viral or my being invited by the FCC to speak at a press conference on “Bill Shock” in Washington, D.C.
She offered me a 50% refund on my bill and made it clear it was that or nothing. So I took it.
But, as I had her on the phone, I took the opportunity to ask her about the AT&T “My Wireless” iPhone application:
Me: The iPhone app can’t possibly work in real time—as we know, you don’t pick up this information until later. It can’t work in real time.
Nina: Right. And that is correct. So with you being advised that it would, that was actually misinformation and that will be addressed as well.
I then elaborated about how it wasn’t just that I was “advised” by an operator that it would work, the application itself indicated that it would work.
Nina: Right. That is correct, and again that’s something that I’m glad you did bring to our attention because customers are being advised wrong and we want to go ahead and address that, and make sure that no one else is provided with that misinformation.
So here we have someone from the office of the the Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer and President of AT&T Inc. stating that they have put out a product that they know doesn’t work, something that deliberately deceives and consequently increases profits for them. In my dictionary, that’s called fraud. They can’t claim they don’t know about it because someone at the highest level of the company told me on tape that they did.
Nina, who was very nice, says that they’re going to address it, which I suppose they think it will make it all fine. Except that they won’t give me a full refund and they won’t offer any refund at all to people who don’t know how to create an outcry on the web.
Incidentally, in addition to being the head of AT&T, Randall L. Stephenson is a National Executive Board member of the Boy Scouts of America and Chairman of the BSA's 100th Anniversary Celebration. As per Wikipedia, the Boy Scouts of America’s goal is to train youth in responsible citizenship, character development, and self-reliance through participation in a wide range of outdoor activities, educational programs, and, at older age levels, career-oriented programs in partnership with community organizations. For younger members, the Scout method is part of the program to inculcate typical Scouting values such as trustworthiness, good citizenship, and outdoors skills, through a variety of activities such as camping, aquatics, and hiking.
Is there a merit badge for hiking up prices?
Monday, October 11, 2010
This week I was a bit stressed out and I started thinking about the worst experience I ever had in the publicity business. I wrote about a certain film and I thought it was really funny. Lots of what I thought were amusing stories about depressed people doing absurd things they shouldn’t do. And me in the middle wallowing in all that delicious failure. I took all the names out so it wouldn’t be mean of course. The problem was I wrote it far too quickly and didn’t take the time to see how easy it would be for some film-savvy folks to identify the film. Of course, someone figured out the title of the movie right away.
All of a sudden I didn’t think my post was funny anymore. I felt like an asshole. So I took it down.
That is the risk with blogging. I try to come up with something entertaining and interesting each week, usually taking things from my life. But sometimes I’ve written complete posts that I’ve thrown in the garbage for one reason or another. For example, when Tony Curtis died, I wrote a post on him. It’s a story about an encounter I had with him that I’ve told my friends for years. It’s a pretty good story. But the timing was all off and I didn’t run with it.
I have a job that keeps me pretty busy. Every Sunday I try to get another post up and in this case there wasn’t enough time to think it through.
I’m not going to say that I might not write something very similar to this story in the future. But I will only do it when I have the time to disguise the characters so that no one could ever figure out who I was talking about.
Thursday, October 07, 2010
Some interesting developments since my last post.
I was contacted yesterday by Roger Goldblatt of the FCC, who asked to take part in a press conference in Washington next Wednesday and speak about “Bill Shock.” (There’s more information about the FCC event at the bottom of this post.) I don’t think I’ll be able to go, but it’s fascinating—or scary?-- that my blog got into the hands of the FCC within days, don’t you think? I think it’s most likely because Andrew Sullivan linked it. I hope that I will be able to contribute to the FCC’s effort in some way. There should be laws against phone companies selling a few cents of data for thousands of dollars.
I haven’t been near my computer lately so I wasn’t able to approve a lot of comments about my first post. Apparently this was ALL MY FAULT. I could have found out all the info on the internet. The fact that AT&T lied to me on tape is fine. The fact that they only sell a maximum of 200MB of data in their international plan—nowhere near enough to have met my needs—that’s all fine. Granted, my needs were very specific and few people would have my specific data requirements. And if I had only been able to work in rooms that had wifi my bill would have been much lower. But it would still have been outrageous.
Apparently if a multi-billion dollar corporation wants to sell two cents of data for hundreds of dollars that is peachy. Let the buyer beware and do a lot of browsing. Or stay home.
That same day I received a phone call from AT&T just as I was sitting down to lunch with a client. The operator informed me that he was going to shut down my phone service that instant if I didn’t pay my bill immediately. I said that was impossible, as I wasn’t anywhere near my computer. He also said I had to pay the bill I hadn’t received yet in advance or he would turn off my phone service. I said I’d pay everything that night. He wanted to know what time and how I would pay and how long it would take for the transfer to kick in, etc. I thought to myself, okay, maybe I had forgotten the due date and, as I had to pay this bill anyway, I would do it tonight. When I got home I discovered that my bill was due on October 11th, five days away. Why was I being threatened with instantaneous loss of service for a bill that wasn’t due yet? Not to mention a bill I hadn’t even received yet?
AT&T confirmed that this call did come from them. They had the name of the operator who called me at that time. Of course his report on the call differed completely from mine.
Am I paranoid or did this threatening phone call come because of the way my blog post has been tearing through the internet?
Postscript: Here’s more information on the FCC Press Conference
Avoiding Cell Phone Bill Shock
October 13, 2010, 12:00pm – 1:00pm
Click here to watch the event live.
About This Event
Cell phones, smart phones, and other mobile devices are increasingly an essential part of Americans' everyday lives. But as minutes, messages, and megabytes quickly add up, avoiding "bill shock"—a sudden, unexpected increase in your monthly mobile bill—can be a challenge. According to a recent survey by the Federal Communications Commission, one in six mobile users—30 million Americans—have experienced bill shock. More than half those consumers saw an increase of $50 or more, but few were alerted by their mobile phone company—before or after the bill arrived.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will join Sarah Rosen Wartell from the Center for American Progress to discuss his consumer agenda, including the proactive steps that the agency is taking to empower consumers with simple solutions for avoiding bill shock. At the event, the chairman will outline the findings of a new FCC paper on bill shock and hear directly from consumers who have experienced an unexpected increase in their mobile bills.
Julius Genachowski, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission
Sarah Rosen Wartell, Executive Vice President, Center for American Progress
A light lunch will be served at 11:30 a.m.
Click here to RSVP for this event
For more information, call 202-682-1611
Center for American Progress
1333 H St. NW, 10th Floor
Washington, DC 20005
Map & Directions
Nearest Metro: Blue/Orange Line to McPherson Square or Red Line to Metro Center
Sunday, October 03, 2010
I’m sorry, but this isn’t a film post, a memoir, a musing, and it’s definitely not funny.
I went to the Toronto Film Festival for 5 days and 4 hours and received a $1524 AT&T bill for data charges on top of the $199 paid for the first 200 MB. A total of $1723.
I am very angry about this and would greatly appreciate it if any of my readers would tweet this and post it on FaceBook.
I’ve learned since that bills like these are a commonplace with AT&T. (See the videos below.) Here’s why:The 200MB plan is pro-rated by the dates of the monthly plan, which in my case was Aug 17th to September 16th. In order to get all 200 MB I had to backdate to August 17th Otherwise I would have paid $199 for 50 MB.
I knew in advance I was going to use a lot of data because I was going to be working at the Toronto Film Festival setting up publicity for “Tabloid,” a new movie by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Errol Morris. I would always be on the run, needing to receive phone calls and email everywhere and at all times. Worse, when I got there I discovered there was no wireless—only wired—internet service in my hotel room and the interview suite that was used for Mr. Morris’s interviews.
I was told that the AT&T iPhone app worked in Canada by an AT&T operator. The application had a line graph that tracked international usage. But as AT&T cannot finish their accounting for international charges until 90 days after the data is used, it’s impossible for them to display charges they haven’t received yet. There’s no possible way it can work and they know that.
If AT&T hadn’t provided the app, I wouldn’t have been comforted by the low readings it was providing me. I wouldn’t have had any idea how much data I was using, and that would have put the fear of God into me. Still, I did try to turn the data off—via “Airplane Mode” and changing the settings—but this shut off the phone too. What I didn’t know, and no one told me until afterwards, is that if I turned off “roaming” I could have had telephone service without data. I didn’t imagine that it was possible to use a phone in a foreign country without turning roaming on.
When I got on my plane in Canada, the AT&T app said I’d used 120 MB, but after I got home apartment in New York it was a heart attack-inducing 300+ MB. 20 minutes after I shut off my international plan, I received an email and text from AT&T stating that they were suspending my already canceled international data planAND domestic data plan. The email falsely claimed that I had ignored an earlier text and email about excessive usage sent to met while I was in Canada. An operator later confirmed that no such email
or text had been sent.
Eventually I found a sympathetic operator who filed a 4-page application for a full refund.
On Friday I received a text saying there would be no reduction of any kind. An operator confirmed that there would be no explanation for the denial or any possibility of reconsideration.