“…You may have read a lot of things about former coach Mike Hvizdo who recently lost his job over his acting in a video I wrote and directed back in 2003, entitled “Forbidden Fruit”. A lot of people felt rightfully bad for Mike, as an example of how people can dig up “dirt” on the web about someone’s past and use it to hurt them.” writes filmmaker/actor/musician Steve Moramarco (via his site Moremarkable.blogspot.com) about a film he made years ago and a turn of events that could become a familiar scenario to many people.
FC – When did you find out the film you shot went viral? How long ago was this? What was the film about?
SM – I don’t know if you can say the film went “viral”. I shot the film, entitled “Forbidden Fruit” in 2003 when I lived in NY and was taking improv at Upright Citizens Brigade. YouTube didn’t exist until a few years later, and when I uploaded it in 2006, it received 80,000 views pretty quickly, which I thought was pretty good. The news of actor Mike Hvizdo, who later became a basketball coach and got fired because of this film, started with an article in the local paper, got picked up by Gawker, and then went worldwide with the Mail UK and Good Morning America.
Overall, my film only received 2,000 more views because of the hoopla.
The film is an R-Rated comedy, about an uncomfortable sexual situation. It was prompted by a male friend of mine from my neighborhood in Brooklyn who was always trying to get me to do a threesome with his girlfriend. But it wasn’t a gay thing – in his mind, it was more like two-on-one, and seemed to be an acceptable amongst men on the East Coast – several friends I knew had done this. I imagined what would have happened if I went along with his idea, and came up with the script.
FC – What happened to the actor in the film? What prompted all of this?
SM – Mike Hvizdo, who was also studying with me at UCB in 2003, eventually decided to give up acting. He moved back to Connecticut, got married, opened a successful business, and became a part-time basketball coach for the local high school. Apparently, there was a disgruntled parent, unhappy with Mike for not giving their son enough game time, and they did a Google search on Mike. Because he was listed in the credits to the film on IMDB, the parent must have clicked that link, which also had the full 9-minute video on the site. (I uploaded it there many years ago for extra publicity.)
The parent must have immediately called the head of the school board, who called Mike into his office without any warning and confronted him about the film. Mike was pressured into immediately resigning, and the school board issued a statement that said: “This film is vulgar, contains offensive sexual language, and depicts sexual acts among multiple partners in which Mr. Hvizdo is a participant. Unfortunately, material posted on the Internet takes on a life of its own, and there is no way to guarantee that this video will not be viewed by our entire community and most importantly, by our student athletes, now and into the future.”
Then all Hell broke loose in the community, with most people rightfully standing up for Mike.
FC – Have you seen/encountered similar situations where a video or photo going viral and someone is fired from their job (such as the teacher who used to be in porn)? Do you think we will see more of this in the future? We read an article that so many Facebook posts may come back to haunt young people in the future such as if they ran for politics, etc.
SM – I think everybody has heard about situations like that, and, perhaps, worries about something in their past coming back to haunt them. America is supposed to be about “Freedom” but we now are taught we must constantly be on guard about what we say or do.
It’s mainly the politics of Fear that operates in this zone. At the same time this was going on, The Onion apologized for a tweet they sent out. I thought that was outrageous and cowardly – the REASON THEY EXIST is to outrage and provoke. They said they disciplined the members of their staff because of it. So it’s the same thing, essentially. Some person or persons, judging something completely out of context and stirring up controversy about what would essentially be a non-event. But when we act defensively and apologize for something that doesn’t merit it, it chips away further at the First Amendment.
There are so many double standards, of course. It’s OK for James Franco to be in both the year’s most popular children’s film (Oz) as well as the most raunchiest release (Spring Breakers).
Photo from The Great Intervention LA screening
FC – We’re heard stories from people we know and featured in the news of individuals losing their jobs and/or being singled out by management/employees at their place of employment because of an outside creative project? Although, we can understand if there is a conflict of interest (such as working with a competitor, compromising of company values/mission statement), however, when those elements are not present, why should what an employee does in their off time or in the past affect their employment?
SM – I think the short answer is: never.
FC – Has this ever happened to you personally? Have you ever received backlash from an employer about a past/present project?
SM – Not that I am aware of. I have worked as an actor or writer for most of my life – most people in this business understand.
FC – How would you advise others to handle this? Suppose an employee is the subject of a ‘witch hunt’ and feels their job is on shaky ground, what would you say?
SM – The most important thing is to stand up for yourself, don’t give in to fear. When we start apologizing for something that doesn’t merit any apology it creates the impression of wrongdoing.
FC – We live in an age where nothing is private anymore. Many people say ‘If you don’t want it out there (i.e., photos, stuff about one’s personal life), don’t put it online or allow people to tag you in photos, etc. It reminds us of the excuse many who have strong opinions about celebrities use stating that a celebrity’s life is public domain – we should have the right to our opinions and call them out whenever necessary. How much of these beliefs do you agree with,stem from freedom of speech, and how much is online harassment?
SM – I don’t think anybody should be stalked or harassed. Public figures in some senses also need to be more careful of what they say because everything they do has the potential to go viral. Some could say it’s the bittersweet side of fame. I think everybody should be aware of their sharing status of all their social media. But the most important thing is to own it. Many years ago, when the Paris Hilton sex tape came out, that could have ruined her life – instead she owned it, and went on to fame and fortune. I’m not making any judgement or comment about her, personally, but she took charge and turned it into something good for her.
FC – What is the current situation with your short film and the actor in question? Where do things stand? Has he received his job back?
SM – The short answer is: he got his job back. If you would like to read the full story from my side as well as watch the entire video, please visit my blog here.
If you would like to watch my latest video in this R-Rated series, please watch: Goin’ Anal!
Stephen Moramarco is a writer/actor/director/musician and now a filmmaker. He lives in Lincoln Heights, CA.
Connect with Steve:
On Twitter @moremarkable
Actor/Filmmaker Stephen Moramarco shares his tips on How To Make A Movie for $5000.
Also, check out Steve’s prior Film Courage posts:
Check out Steve Moramarco’s Film Courage Podcast interview here.