Best known as the co-host of TV's Dinner and a Movie, actress, writer and comedienne Annabelle Gurwitch was fired by Woody Allen about three years ago. After being told "you look retarded" by Allen, Gurwitch turned the experience into a new project.
Gurwitch, who has appeared in films including Daddy Day Care and The Shaggy Dog, collected stories of being fired from her celebrity friends and wrote Fired! Tales of the Canned, Canceled, Downsized and Dismissed. The book was released in March.
"My experience (with Woody Allen) became the catalyst for this project," says Gurwitch. "It's very cathartic to tell your story and read other people's stories. When you are fired, you feel like you are the only person who has been fired. Reading other people's stories gives you perspective."
Gurwitch says the book contains a variety of stories, with the majority from people in the entertainment industry, including Tim Allen, Patricia Heaton and Felicity Huffman. Their stories are about acting and regular jobs: Heaton was once a crossing guard. Huffman was once fired from a Neil Simon play. But she was not told directly. Instead, she read in the paper that she was no longer in the play.
"There is something to be learned from people in show business," says Gurwitch. "You constantly face rejection. It takes a tremendous amount of stamina to live through rejection. They develop the ability to withstand it and get back out there."
Gurwitch says the book also contains facts pertinent to the workplace. "I include information about CEO pay, severance packages ... and give a historical perspective. As I was collecting information, I learned that since 2001, the only people making (significantly) more money are the top 5 percent wage earners in America. People are losing their jobs and not getting jobs at the same pay rate. I began to ask, 'What's going on?'"
That question led Gurwitch across the country, where she met with professionals including human resources managers, a grief counselor and an economist. She went to job fairs and met a lot of people who had been fired. Her journey across the country is detailed in her new film, Fired! The Documentary.
Gurwitch will screen Fired! The Documentary at 7 p.m., Friday, May 26, at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd. Also appearing are Scott Carter, the executive producer and writer for HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher, who will tell his Fired story, and Roy Zimmerman, a musician who wrote and will perform the film's theme song, "I'm Fired." Admission is $10, $8 for students, seniors and Tucson Film Society members. For more information, visit www.firedbyannabellegurwitch.com.
Gurwitch says the film has been shown at the Aspen Comedy Festival, South by Southwest and the San Francisco Documentary Festival. It will have a limited theatrical release in the fall and will air on the Sundance Channel in the winter.
While the book focuses more on tales from those in the entertainment industry, most of the film's stories come from people who are not in show business. "The central question to the film is, 'Is being fired going to be the worst or best experience in your life?' And the answer is two-fold. It can be the best or worst. No one likes the crappy experience of being fired, but it can turn out very positive. ... It can be a transformative experience and can lead to a change for the better in life. And sometimes, it just makes a great story."
Gurwitch was surprised by what she learned when making the film: "I was stunned to hear how dramatically cruel the workplace can be." She heard stories from Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development) being fired in the middle of an act on stage in Lake Tahoe, to a 15-year employee going to work one day and getting a police escort out of the building without prior notice. "I was stunned to see how dramatic everyone's story really is. ... And I felt inspired (to see how) people found a way to take the negative experience and turn it around."
For the hundreds of employees being laid off by AOL in Tucson, Gurwitch offers a bit of humor and advice. "I have an AOL account, and I'm thinking of changing it!" she deadpans. "Reach out to the community and talk to people. People tend to isolate (when they are fired). Talk about it. Get together with people. ... It's a black comedy. There's always someone's story that is worse than yours. Laughter is very healing. And dark chocolate can be very helpful."
As she tours the country showing her film and signing books, Gurwitch looks to spread some humor and perspective about being fired. "If my story about being fired by Woody Allen can help someone feel better, then I added a little bit to the culture."