The week@work – It’s in the stars: Hollywood stories, #YearInSpace & 18,300 applications

The stories behind the headlines this week@work originate in Hollywood, Geneva, Washington D.C., and on the International Space Station.

The careers of a U.S. deputy trade ambassador and an executive editor for the Washington Post converge in Hollywood, astronaut Scott Kelly captures the final week of his #YearInSpace in photos, and 18,300 applicants aspire to take his place.


Would you get up at 4:30 AM every day to pursue your dream? Alexandra Alter reported on a ‘behind the scenes’ Hollywood story about working beyond your ‘day job’.

One of the most successful global trade negotiators added a few hours to his work day 17 years ago to write a novel about fur trader Hugh Glass. His book, ‘The Revenant’ was published in 2002 and sold 15,000 copies. Last year publisher Picador reissued the novel, selling over half a million copies.


Michael Punke, the deputy United States Trade Representative and the United States ambassador to the World Trade Organization and author, has become a rock star among colleagues in global trade.

“We all think it’s quite cool,” said Keith Rockwell, a spokesman for the W.T.O., who added that colleagues occasionally tease Mr. Punke by asking him how his buddy Leo is doing. “The W.T.O. isn’t normally known for having a Hollywood connection.”

Some of his colleagues marvel that he has such a successful side career, while steering the country’s international trade policy from his post in Geneva.

“The guy is so talented, you read his bio, and it’s like he has two lives,” said Christopher Wenk, the executive director for international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

Joining Ambassador Punke at the Dolby Theater on Oscar night is current Washington Post executive editor and former Boston Globe editor Martin Baron.

In November, Esquire Magazine ran a career profile asking ‘Is Martin Baron the Best News Editor of All Time?’. In the Oscar nominated film, ‘Spotlight’, actor Liev Schreiber’s performance channels the editor who led the Pulitzer Prize winning team investigating the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.


This week, Mr. Baron used his time in the Oscar ‘spotlight’ to reflect on the long term rewards of the film and journalism today, ‘I’m in ‘Spotlight’, but it’s not really about me. It’s about the power of journalism.’

“Aside from the acclaim of critics, “Spotlight” already has delivered one gratifying result. In emails, tweets and Facebook posts, journalists have declared themselves inspired, buoyed and affirmed. That is no small matter in this badly bruised profession. We have felt the traumatizing financial effect of the Internet and been berated by just about everyone, especially politicians in a campaign season that has seen us cynically labeled “scum.”

One journalist wrote me that “the story that inspired the movie serves as a wonderful, wonderful reminder why so many of us got into this business in the first place and why so many stayed despite all the gloom and doom and all the left hooks that landed squarely on our chins along the way.”

The article is required reading for all who earn a living pursuing a journalism career. It should be framed on the walls of journalism schools and be the first google search result on the world ‘journalism’.

Two additional stories about work in Hollywood this week addressed the ongoing conversation on inclusion:

‘From C-Suite to Characters on Screen: How inclusive is the entertainment industry?’ USC Annenberg professor Stacy L. Smith authored the MDSC Initiative’s first report on diversity in the entertainment industry.

Melena Ryzik profiled 27 industry professionals in ‘What It’s Really Like to Work in Hollywood*  (*If you’re not a straight white man.)’

Before leaving the week@work, let’s travel to the International Space Station where astronaut Scott Kelly is completing his 240 day mission in space.


“10,944 sunrises and sunsets

“The International Space Station zips around Earth at more than 17,000 miles per hour, or once every 90 minutes. That means over the course of Mr. Kelly’s stay, the space station will have made 5,440 orbits, and the sun will have gone up and down 10,944 times from the perspective of the astronauts aboard. Of course, Mr. Kelly did not see all of them. He is not continuously looking out the window, and he sleeps, too.”

(Scott Kelly tweeted the photo above of sunrise on February 27 and ice earlier today)CcT9mfcW4AAZFvx.jpg

NASA announced this week that it had received 18,300 applications for 14 open spots in the new astronaut class. The recruiting effort which began in the fall demonstrates a rekindled interest in exploration and discovery.

“Now that NASA’s Feb. 18 deadline for applicants has passed, the agency’s 18-month winnowing process has begun.

NASA staff will look at 400 to 600 applicants who survive the initial purge and identify those who pass reference and background checks. Then 120 will be invited to the Johnson Space Center for interviews.

The final 14 will be announced in July 2017 and begin two years of extensive training on spacecraft systems, spacewalking skills, team building and Russian language. Those who complete the program will be assigned to NASA’s Orion deep space exploration ship, the International Space Station or one of two commercial vehicles in development.”

As @StationCDRKelley vacates his spot on the ISS, it’s good to know there are thousands who hope to fill his seat.

This week@work – it’s in the stars, and the dreams of those who aspire to be actors, film makers, journalists, writers, astronauts, and international trade negotiators.


The Saturday Read ‘West of Eden: An American Place’ by Jean Stein

Were the initial seeds of relocation planted when you read a novel or work of non-fiction that transported you to that place on the globe where you could find success? In the Saturday Read this week we arrive in Hollywood, where author Jean Stein interweaves oral history and memory to tell the story, ‘West of Eden: An American Place’.

If you read the book through the lens of work, you come away with the story of the three industries that built LA: oil, real estate and the movies. As you turn the page, you listen to voices describing the culture and its effects on lives and careers.

When Po Bronson wrote his book, ‘What Should I Do With My Life?’, he had already spent time as a producer and writer in television. His observations on culture echo through Ms. Stein’s narrative.

“Every industry has a culture. And every culture is driven by a value system. In Hollywood, where praise is given too easily and thus has been devalued, the only honest metric is box-office receipts. So box-office receipts are all-important.

One of the most common mistakes is not recognizing how these value systems will shape you. People think that they can insulate themselves, that they’re different. They’re not. The relevant question in looking at a job is not What will I do? but Who will I become? What belief system will you adopt, and what will take on heightened importance in your life? Because once you’re rooted in a particular system — whether it’s medicine, New York City, Microsoft, or a startup — it’s often agonizingly difficult to unravel yourself from its values, practices, and rewards. Your money is good anywhere, but respect and status are only a local currency. They get heavily discounted when taken elsewhere. If you’re successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and opportunity can lock you in forever.”

‘West of Eden’ is the story of five families: the Dohenys, the Warners, Jane Garland, Jennifer Jones and the author’s own family, the Steins. As I read each section, I was reminded of Bronson’s comment. For the most part, the real life actors in the book were chasing the dream of wealth, status and celebrity; not considering the consequences, finding themselves in a world of praise and opportunity, locked in, in some cases, with tragic results.

Writer and historian, Mike Davis opens the book with his memories as a guide for Grey Line Tours, and it’s the map of celebrity homes that provides an outline for the book. We are introduced to the five stories by street address. Second stop, 1801 Angelo Drive, Beverly Hills, the Warner home. Arthur Miller captures the essence of early Hollywood.

“Jack Warner’s generation invented what turned out to be the major world culture – not just American, but a world culture. The world’s dream to escape the dreadful, ordinary, industrial, technological life. An you can understand how it happened if you think of where they came from, a place where there was absolutely no chance for anybody to do anything. They were living in a mud hole, but here the dreams were absolutely feasible. If you could think it, you could do it. It was magic. And they filled the movies with magic. George Cukor told me once, “Our object was to escape reality. We were quite conscious of all that.” It was a never-never land, a construct. These immigrants, these Jews from Eastern Europe, had developed this dream that had blond hair, blue eyes, and a straight nose. It all had to be beautiful. This was a fairy tale, because they were immigrants who saw this country as a fairy tale. It was incredible: it captured the whole country.”

These were the ‘culture builders’ whose legacy remains in the mansions, oil wells and studios, that fund the dreams of workers today. Their stories are told through neighbors, colleagues, family members and employees. David Geffen, who purchased Jack Warner’s home connects past to present:

“Jack Warner was a great character, like all of them. They were remarkable guys, but they were monsters. The movie business is a hard business, and you had to be a monster to create this industry. 

Jean Stein has called upon a lifetime network to craft and preserve the unique story of a place built on escape from the ordinary. A set of biographical notes at the end gives the reader thumbnail bios of each narrator, and it’s quite a cast of characters!

The book is required reading for the uninitiated and aspiring L.A. resident. There is drama worthy of an academy award, in every category from acting to costume design to hair and makeup and of course, visual effects.

“Another quality that all Californians who have spent any time on the edge of the Pacific are aware of is that the light is different. There’s a pressure on the eyes from the light. I’ve never felt it on the other coast.” (art curator, Walter Hopps)